Adapting the Julia shawl to laceweight yarn
Friday August 31st 2007, 12:59 pm
Filed under: Knit

First, the technical stuff: Ruth asked about doing my shawls in finer needles. I’ve done the Bigfoot and the Nina shawls in one skein each of Fino, which is an 80/20 baby alpaca/silk laceweight, 875 yards/100g, on size 7 needles, and loved how they came out. But she’s asking about using 4s and 5s.  (That’s 3.5mm and 3.75 mm.)

I saw someone doing the Pacific version of the Julia shawl, the one with the smaller number of stitches, expecting it to come out bigger because the picture (done in kid mohair) was of a bigger shawl. But her project was in laceweight and was going to come out sized to fit a child. I knew she had enough yardage, so what I had her do was an extra increase row at the bottom of the yoke, doing a row of k1, yo across, ending k1. That brought it to 481 stitches, which would work well for her–and Ruth, I think that would work with your 5s and some laceweight, maybe one of the heavier ones like Malabrigo. I don’t know what kind of gauge you work at; you might want to double the stitch count for one of the larger shawls instead? Shoot me an email at if you need any help figuring out how to get the counts right in the extra increase row to match up with whatever pattern you’re doing.cocoa Malabrigo laceweight

Meantime, I’ve been eyeing the Malabrigo laceweight at Purlescence for some time now, swooning over the softness of the baby merino and waiting for inspiration to strike. I tend to use fingering weight and larger needles because of arthritis issues, but variety is definitely an enticing thing.

Lynn, a commenter on Lene’s The Seated View blog, teased me about always being able to find the chocolate, after I figured out what that Danish word meant in someone’s birthday greeting to Lene. I was thinking about that all the way to my knitting group last night, egged on by my friend Nancy, who started telling me I had to knit something on the theme: rectangles to represent chocolate bars? Hershey’s kisses in lace?

Nah, I was telling her, I’m much more into hot cocoa with my morning email than chomping on a bar. Besides, Scharffenberger, Dagoba, Rapunzel, the really good stuff. That’s the only form of “milk chocolate” I go for: liquid. And I make it good and dark. We both agreed I needed to find the exact right yarn for this imaginary shawl we were concocting in the air–if it only existed.

One guess to what I found in the Malabrigo cubby at the shop immediately after that conversation. I was not going to buy more yarn, I was not going to buy more yarn… It was absolutely perfect. I bought more yarn. And after coming home with it and swatching, Ruth, you’re on: the size 5s pleased me the best. The shawl is designed, 518 stitches in the body, and the swatch is swatched. It may take me awhile because it’s a lot of stitches and I’ll have to take lots of breaks, but we’re off. Thank you for jump-starting the process, Lynn, Ruth, and Nancy. It’s all your faults. I can wear my chocolate and drink it too. I am having way too much fun!

(Edited to add: I owe one to Jasmin, too, who was knitting away on her own Malabrigo laceweight and not only declaring it lovely stuff, but encouraging me to keep reaching over and fondling the fabric she was creating, till I finally couldn’t stand it and went and looked at that cubby and that chocolate leaped out at me.  Oooh.  Nice.)

Summer’s water colors
Thursday August 30th 2007, 3:49 pm
Filed under: Knit

I was once gifted with some beautiful but impossibly-fine handpainted silk, and half a pound of it; as is, it would take me years to knit up at the gauge it would need. But put it with another yarn, and it would sparkle and glow and really set it off while working up quickly.

So that’s what I did with it, a large shawl, and this is what I just finished with some of the leftover: an easy, mindless carry-around project, one that says to the nonknitters, lookee what I can do with the time you waste sitting in that waiting room, expecting to be entertained by old magazines that might or might not be there. Pretty, and soft, and gonna make someone’s day… imgp3169.JPGNeener neener.

Not that I would ever think that.

Twenty minutes
Wednesday August 29th 2007, 1:49 pm
Filed under: Life

The rest of the story:

So, there was the vice principal knocking on my window, thinking he recognized me but asking to be sure, “Are you Mrs. Hyde?” Yes. Can’t I just park? I mean, look at this jam! “No, I don’t think he can walk that far.”

MY kid??

Those 20 minutes it took me to get all those parents out of my frantic way so that I could drive around to the back of the high school gave me enough time to calm down and figure out what likely had happened, although, I only guessed the half of it. I finally got back there, pulling up alongside the firetruck, and saw someone gesturing dramatically with both arms, “In there!” Walked into the classroom to see my son half-lying half-propped-up on the floor, a cup of glucose solution in his hands, and asked him wryly, “So. You didn’t pack your lunch?”

“I TOLD YOU! I *TOLD* you!!” he exclaimed at the paramedics in total protest. My goodness, not one single ounce of sympathy from his mother, huh?!

It had been a beastly hot day, and he’d skipped breakfast. Hadn’t made a lunch. Didn’t want to drink out of the fountains, “They’re gross, Mom.” Got a real workout in gym. And then, the last class of the day, not feeling too well, he suddenly fainted as he stood to hand his test in to the teacher, and smacked his head hard on the desk on the way down. Out cold. The teacher called 911, the bell rang, I can just picture the other kids stunned, hesitating, and then stepping around him–and then the rumor went around the whole school that they’d watched this kid die in their class.

“They made me drink this really gross stuff, Mom.” Yeah, I know–I’ve done the glucose tolerance test, Type 2 diabetes is genetically dominant in my family.

And he was fine. And guess what? I didn’t have to nag him about making his lunch anymore.

But the next day, he watched jaws dropping all day long, time after time after time, every time he walked into the next classroom or across the Quad.  “But–you’re dead!”  Right, dude, do I look dead?

Make your own lunch. And for heaven’s sake, kid, don’t forget the water.

The teachers’ turn
Tuesday August 28th 2007, 12:57 pm
Filed under: Life

Here’s Sonya pulling another post out of me. I was thinking especially doctors, she mentioned teachers, although of course everybody could use a good thank you now and then.

Here in California, Proposition 13 in the 70’s did away with school buses, pretty much. Which means each family has to figure out on their own how they’re going to get their kids to school, and the school dropoffs, which were not designed at all to be used by parents in individual cars, get pretty crowded. (There’s a story about the vice principal knocking on my window to tell me to drive over to the back of the school to meet the paramedics, and it taking me 20 minutes to maneuver my way through the parking lot, pulling my hair out that he’d told me not to just ditch the car and run, but that’s a post for another day.)

So. I often drove other people’s kids as well as my own. My oldest, in high school, had a friend whom I frequently gave a lift home, and one day the two girls were very late showing up at the car. Thirty-five, forty minutes of sitting there after the bell with the three younger kids, cooling our heels. Now, there were often music lessons to be dashed off to or various other things on the schedule, but this particular day, there was no immediate rush, it was a beautiful day, and we just sat back, wondering where they were, but figuring, well, hey, they had to show up sometime.

They came to the car with Jennie trying to motion behind Jo’s back to me to be calm. She didn’t need to worry. I think that was the same day that I handed Jo a small Trader Joe’s box with three chocolate truffles in it, something that had cost me all of a buck and that I’d seen in the store and thought, I bet that would make Jo’s day; I’d bought it. Jo went, “Wow. Is this a Random Act of Kindness?”

I laughed, not having thought of it that way, but, yeah, I guess you could say so.


It was after we dropped Jo off at her house that Jennie told me Jo had been having a really hard time, and that Mr. Hodges, the math teacher, had taken the time after school to really listen to her and hear her out. That’s why they were so late. Jo had needed that.

I thought of some of my own high school experiences, and mentally thanked Mr. Hodges for being there for our kids, glad that all of mine now knew they could go to him, too.

And then, as I kept thinking how much that meant to me, the next day I made a batch of cinnamon rolls. Now, I make really good cinnamon rolls, more a pastry than a bread. I timed them just so, and when it was time to pick up the kids, I found Jennie and Jo and asked them to lead me to Mr. Hodges’ classroom, quick, before he left for the day. The rolls were still warm.

What he said in response absolutely dumbfounded me: he was totally blown away, which was great fun, but then he said he had never had a parent seek him out in person to say thank you. He’d had a few send a basket of fruit from time to time, and once, some bubbly. But not once in his years of teaching had he had a parent show up in person to tell him thank you for looking out for their children.

My stars. And this in a school district that is justifiably famous for how involved the parents are. Well, it was about time, then!

And to think that to me it had almost felt like cheating, because I’d made something that had taken me only a few hours of work and would be eaten and gone in no time, rather than something knitted.

Small world
Monday August 27th 2007, 1:11 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life

Technical stuff first: Jellybeanz colorway, Lisa Souza’s baby alpaca laceweight, my friend Tim’s new wife’s wedding shawl pattern, not yet published, this one just finished and not yet blocked. Lace looks like crumpled tin foil till you add a bit of water, and then, suddenly, the stitches settle into their natural places and you see what it was meant to be all along.

Saturday I got a note from someone I have occasionally emailed with for years via the Knitlist; she had started reading a bit of my blog, and had gone, Hey. Wait. I remember that park… She emailed me, saying, I went to Cabin John Jr. High, I used to live in that area.

That brought me up short real fast. When? (!)

She told me. I was on the edge of my seat, silently begging her to answer immediately: What was your maiden name?

She told me. I echoed it back to her with her name in capital letters. You’re !!??!!

Yeah, and what was your… And then, YOU’RE ALISON JEPPSON??!

So now she knows that Karen of the Water Turtle shawl fame in my book is her old buddy Karen, too. All these years, we had no idea we were talking to childhood chums when we talked about knitting to each other. All these years.

And the stitches settle into their natural shawl pattern in Jellybeanz baby alpaca

That’s half the story
Friday August 24th 2007, 10:57 pm
Filed under: Life

Reading Sonya’s comment got me thinking that she’s right, but there’s a flip side to it: the medical personnel who take care of us are, by and large, people who were drawn to the profession wanting to spend their days helping others. But in real life, that translates to their being immersed in the problems and troubles and pains of their fellow men, day in and day out, and that’s got to be hard at times. It about broke my heart to read one doctor’s lamenting to Dr. Rachel Remen in one of her books, that, if they make a difference to their patients, “The patients never tell you.”

Think what a difference a thank you can make.

I have a close friend I grew up with who was hospitalized for awhile, who felt his doctor had gone well above and beyond for him. He wrote the attending a note telling him that, and how grateful he was for it. He was quite surprised to get a long letter back, thanking *him*.

When I was in Stanford Hospital four years ago in critical condition, there was one resident whose comings and goings I mostly slept through, but I did see him a few times. We never had any kind of a real conversation, it was mostly just him reciting the list of meds I’d be transfused with that day. One of which was experimental, after the normal ones didn’t work; I guess that helped make me a little more memorable.  Surgery wasn’t really an option–I had too many other things wrong.

So. Quite a few months later, I was at a concert of the Harvard Glee Club, and the director, at the end, invited all former members of the Club to come up and join them for a rousing final number.

And I saw a suddenly-familiar face stepping forward out of the audience a little ways back. Hey!

I found him in the crowd afterwards, and thanked him for taking good care of me. He couldn’t quite place me… And then suddenly it hit him. “OH! YOU’RE the CROHN’S patient!!!” Yes. He looked at me, standing there, just looked in amazement: I was well, I was standing on my own two feet, hair brushed, wearing something infinitely nicer than a hospital gown and enjoying a night out at a concert, something that, the day he’d met me, there seemed no hope could ever happen again.

And there I was. With a big smile on my face, then laughing as he recited that last list of meds again from memory, and telling him thank you for looking out for me.

That young doctor went home with a spring in his step and all being right in his world. This was why he did this. This is why he put up with the hassles of it all. This was what it was all about. Seeing people becoming well again and rejoining day-to-day life, if he had any possible say in the matter. And I’d remembered him! He was absolutely radiant. I watched him heading off, beaming, and I know I was, too.

Tell’em thank you. Make a difference to them, too.

And that will make a difference to all the patients who come after you.

Bryan’s scarf
Thursday August 23rd 2007, 1:22 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life

Patricia’s scarfI finally finished it!

Bryan’s scarf

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been in this longterm lupus study for awhile now. July marked the first time I actually had to go to San Francisco in person, and I got to meet some of the people that have been behind the names and the phone voices for so long.

One of whom was exactly the right person to get that green shawl. And she got it, and loved it, and I am absolutely thrilled.

So. A few weeks later, I got a thank you card for my participation from the fellow I’d spent most of that day with. Bryan.Bryan’s card

The thing I like least about this multiple-major-illness thing is how it sometimes smacks you hard in the face when the subject of a longterm plan of any sort comes up. As we finished up that day, Bryan told me warmly that he looked forward to the follow-up session two years out. That hit me. I made myself ask him the question I’d been having: in this new part of the study, if I’m not here to do the rounds at the follow-up, would the results of July be tossed? Would they be of any value, still? He assured me with a smile from the heart that they would. Good. That was a relief.

But somehow his being somebody I could open up to and ask that question of, and the comfort of the warmth in his response, left me looking forward to that next round. I will be there. Just try to stop me.

Bryan sent me this note recently. Not on official UCSF stationary, it was something he’d apparently picked out himself. Opening it up, it wowed me: I am the daughter of an art dealer. I was taught to look for the patterns in things, to observe. My grandfather was a US Senator, I grew up next to DC, and the ornate patterning in the old government buildings downtown seemed all over this card. My other grandmother, long widowed, had lived not far from San Francisco, and I remember Golden Gate Park and its art museum from my childhood–again, ornate and grand, as are some of the other older buildings in that city–which I live 45 minutes from myself, now. (The De Young was destroyed in our ’89 earthquake, though, and rebuilt in a far more modern style.)

The card from Bryan, then, seemed an instant visual connection between my youth, my life here, and somehow on into the future. Amazing the sense of continuity one artist’s creativity can make, while that artist, whoever designed this thing, will never know.

Inside, Bryan thanked me for taking part in the study, not mentioning anything about his colleague’s shawl; I don’t doubt that it would have seemed to him too much like angling for me to knit him something, too. But he wanted to wish me well, and he then took the time to take it over to the phlebotomist who had waited for me to put down my knitting so she could draw my blood, and as she did so, had mentioned to me that she was a knitter, too. Cool! She’d signed her name after his. I wasn’t just the blood draw at 1 pm; I was someone who, weeks later, still mattered to her. That group has just incredible people in it.

How could I not answer this. Bryan, this is me saying thank you the way I know how. Patricia, that Zinnia scarf–the one with the story in my book, singing, “If you go to San Francisco…” These are for you guys. Check your mail. Cheers.

On its way
Wednesday August 22nd 2007, 12:47 pm
Filed under: Knit

There’s nothing quite like coming home from the post office feeling like the sun is suddenly shining brighter, the water in the marsh alongside the road by the bay more full of life–look, there’s a snowy egret!–like wanting to dance to the music, any music, turn some on, enjoy!

Priority mail.  Ain’t that the truth!Bigfoot shawl in Fino baby alpaca/silk laceweight

Zinnia scarf in silk/merino
Monday August 20th 2007, 5:42 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Knit

Been a long time since the man-eating plant got into the blog. ‘Bout time. Photographing projects there requires that I stand in the sunlight: I can do that now. Not for too long, but hey, cool, progress.

Zinnia scarf in Plymouth Royal Silk Merino, 51/49 silk/merino

When I put my zinnia scarf in my book, I did it first in a very bright, soft, fluffy, reddish-orange yarn, because the story was about a four-year-old African-American child; that was exactly the kind of thing I imagined she would have reached for first. I knitted it originally in two pieces, kitchenered at the top. Now, I don’t kitchener-stitch often enough to be as breezily comfortable with it as I’d like to be, and I kept coming back to the thought that a lot of people wouldn’t attempt it, or would have the finished halves as terminal UFOs in their closets.

So I tossed that idea aside, finally, and reworked the motif as bottom-up and top-down, figuring that anybody who preferred the sharper bottom-up version and didn’t mind kitchenering would know enough to be able to work out the idea of knitting it in two pieces if they wanted. But I wanted to offer a way out for those who sit there, computer screen or book on one side, project in hand, trying to figure out how on earth do you do this grafting thing just right, and why is it hard to remember from the last time…? (One could also do a three-needle bindoff, but it would add a somewhat flattened-out sideways line.)

The computer program I’m typing on is refusing to accept “kitchen” with any suffix added on as a normal word. And I’m finding it highly amusing.

Nine Rubies
Sunday August 19th 2007, 1:40 pm
Filed under: Knit

Nine RubiesShall we dance? Jocelyn saw me pulling out my camera and pointing it at her as she was moving the mannequin in the store’s window display. It had just dropped its skirt, and she totally cracked up, knowing where she was going to see that picture. So, not wanting to disappoint her, here it is. Knowing that my parents are going to see this, however, some judicious cropping took place.

The folks at Nine Rubies were wonderful yesterday, and asked lots of questions about the book; after three years of working on the project, getting to talk about it to people who are interested is quite a treat. As we were draping shawls around the place, one customer picked the best spot to display one of them: on her. She promised to give it back, repeatedly, just to see me laugh each time. Quite a few comments were made that my shawls were something you could casually throw on, to look best in or with jeans, and not have to worry so very much about extreme fragility like you would with, say, a Shetland shawl. I told them, can you imagine throwing a purse strap over your shoulder with a Shetland on? They all shuddered. But something in a fingering weight? There, you’re okay. And they work up so much faster.

Once upon a dpn
Saturday August 18th 2007, 12:27 pm
Filed under: Knit

dpnsSomeone was asking on KnitTalk, if you were a 6″ Crystal Palace double-pointed needle, where on earth would you be hiding so she could finish her project?

Boy, did that one bring back memories. Probably a dozen years ago, my youngest was having middle-ear surgery in an outpatient center, and I was in the waiting room knitting away with my dpns. We had been there quite a few times before, between our four kids. One of the nurses, it turned out, was a knitter, and when she had a moment we talked shop a bit.

When they moved our groggy John into recovery, they summoned us parents, and I gathered up my stuff to move into the next room–and, I found out after I went to go knit some more in the next room, dropped a dpn back there somewhere. (One of those moments when I regret having lousy hearing.) I immediately went looking for it, but it was never to be seen again. There weren’t that many places it could be, I mean, come on! I looked under the chair, under and down the sides of the couch, under the cushions, across the floor. But no luck. The nurses glanced around a bit, too, while I promised them I wasn’t trying to drum up business for them, honest!

A year ago, I had a colonoscopy done, and the assisting nurse happened to be an old friend. Pat told me gleefully that she’d been talking with some other nurses she knew, and they were talking about a mom who’d always knitted in the waiting room. It had suddenly hit her–they were talking about me!

I laughed and allowed as how she was likely right. I told her that one of them was a knitter, too.

And then I told her just why, though, probably, it was that they remembered me… I’ve always wondered who found that needle. And, um, how.

Came in the post
Thursday August 16th 2007, 10:09 pm
Filed under: Knit

Blue Moon Fiber Arts boxChristmas comes faster and faster the older you get. I mean, look at this: it came in August this year!

Long story I won’t go into the details of now, but, Tina of Blue Moon Fiber Arts really really liked my Backstabber shawl. I’m not sure why it’s always a surprise to me to find that a person has actually read my blog, but hey, she’d seen it and she really liked it. So… A few days after I talked to her, you know what showed up in her mailbox. And I had way too much fun doing that.

There was a return address on the box, of course, so here you see what she got back at me with today. Tag, I’m it. I can make another Backstabber colorway shawl, and there’s enough yarn to knit for a bunch more people as well. Christmas! Maybe I can make it come again this year before August is even over. Cool! Thank you, Tina! I particularly like the saying on the card she sent with it, that the strongest thing in the world is a woman with an open heart. I’ll extend that to men and children–it is amazing what you can learn from the emotional straightforwardness of a child–and add a fervent “Amen!”

Jellybeanz in Hardtwist Petite
Wednesday August 15th 2007, 12:46 pm
Filed under: Knit

Jellybeanz Bigfoot Shawl in Hardtwist Petite

I know I said I pictured this with a mom with her baby in a highchair. What I didn’t say, since it hadn’t arrived yet and I didn’t want to spill the beanz, is, it’s actually for the grandmother, to represent a beautiful woman who works wonders with dyes and yarns–to look like how I imagine the backsplash around her stove would look like, in her dye-raj, as she calls her workplace. She and her husband just moved to a new home near their small grandson, up in the Sierra mountains. How could I have knit any pattern for her out of her yarn other than this one? Bigfoot. How perfect is that?

A shawl in a merino spun tight to have the resilience and bounce she needs as she copes with having done the right thing, having taken her aging mother into her home, on top of all the other changes that come with uprooting and moving her own household.

Lisa Souza, just so you know, your fan club is looking out for you. Have a great trip to the show in Santa Monica.

(P.S.  I should add, the Jellybeanz yarn was a gift from Lisa in the first place, and there was no possible better place it could have ended up.   Go Lisa!)

Booksigning Saturday, Nine Rubies
Tuesday August 14th 2007, 10:32 pm
Filed under: Knit

Come if you’re healthy… I’d love to sit and knit a spell with you.  Booksigning this Saturday, 3-4:30, Nine Rubies at 28 E 3rd Ave # 100 San Mateo, CA 94401  (650) 685-6205.

Not lace?
Monday August 13th 2007, 6:16 pm
Filed under: Knit

When most of your yarns are fingering or laceweight, and you want to work with something with more heft to it, combining yarns creates a chance to combine and play with color a bit. I find that the finished effect tends to be somewhat flatter than had it been knitted up in a single strand–and yet, the laceweights have more twists per inch in the spinning than a comparable worsted strand, so it seems to me to be less likely to pill in the finished project.

Yarns: Schaeffer Yarn’s handpainted “Anne,” Elann’s “Baby Silk” in Sapphire, and random stash 90/10 silk/cashmere that I dyed royal blue ages ago.

Anne Schaeffer, Elann Baby Silk, and cashmere/silk laceweight