It’s been a long while since I’ve blogged.  My work life got pretty busy in the fall and I’m finally settling back into a routine that’s a bit more balanced.  This probably goes without saying, but I think life is better when I get to have some down time on a regular basis.

In addition to my crazy fall work schedule and trying to figure out how to get everything made/completed in time for Christmas (which didn’t happen, of course – I stink at knitting to deadlines), I was dealing with a sick bird.  Kira’s health had been declining since May, and after a very bad four days in December I asked to have her put to sleep.  It’s taking a while to get used to being without my beloved conure companion of 13 years; I’m probably more efficient at most tasks without a parrot in the middle, but it sure it a lot less fun around here.

I finished a number of projects in the last six months (including a hat that needed a complete re-working of the pattern charts because the instructions were off a bit on the stitch count for alternating rows).  It’s fun to look back at the lovely things I sent along to new homes where they will hopefully be worn and enjoyed.

After nearly 3 years of knitting, I’ve made over 40 projects – only 4 of which I’ve kept.  Given my inability to knit to deadlines and the stress of trying to create things with a date always looming ahead (just like at work!), I’ve decided that 2013 needs to be the year of selfish knitting.  As much as I enjoy making hand-made gifts, I want to be able to make some things for myself – projects that always get moved to the back burner because I need to get something else finished.  Of course, I’ve just completed and mailed out the last knitted Christmas gifts as of Monday so I’m already 3 months behind on making projects for myself.  Heh.  However, this week I’ve finally cast on a cowl in a lovely yarn I bought over two years ago.

Sewing is taking up some of my time again and I’m glad the mojo is back.  A couple of years ago I replaced my rather useless 15 year-old Kenmore machine with a Baby Lock.  Since then I’ve made some box bags, iPad covers, and tinkered with some small bags to hold note cards.  I finally saw a quilt pattern that caught my eye, and last summer I started picking up fabrics to go along with the main ones I wanted to use.  I cut out the pieces, got most of the blocks sewn, then got too busy with the job and packed everything up for a while.  Over the last few weeks I’ve started organizing my supplies (why didn’t I think of doing that sooner?) and this week I converted my spare bedroom into a proper sewing space.  I pulled out my “rainy day” quilt, finished trimming the sewn blocks, and completed the quilt top!  Actually, “tops” is more accurate because I ultimately decided that I wanted something smaller than the twin size I planned for and I split the pieces among 2 quilts (which I will refer to as quilts #1A and #1B).  Still haven’t found backing fabric so I may have to stop for a while and work on quilt #2.  And #3, #4, and #5 which I’m planning for the kids this (or maybe the following) Christmas.  Because, let’s face it, I’m a bit of an over-achiever and why shouldn’t I have half a dozen projects lined up?

Although I’ve just started working on my first quilt in the last year, I’ve been thinking about them for a long time.  The problem was that I couldn’t find the right pattern to get motivated – I admire most traditional quilts, but along with being gorgeous they’ve always seemed a bit fussy to me and I’ve never been particularly interested in making one.  But all of a sudden I’m discovering patterns I like … ones that inspired me to get started.  In February I attended the vendor/exhibition hall at the Modern Quilt Guild’s QuiltCon in Austin and realized that I am squarely in the camp of the modern quilt style.  After a few hours of viewing I was completely overwhelmed and energized; I came home with a ton of photos, one new pattern, and a few yards of new fabric (and much like my knitting philosophy, I have plans for each and every bit of fabric I purchased).  I’ll include a few of my favorite quilts from QuiltCon in case you’re wondering what it was that made such an impression.

As you can probably tell from this far-too-long blog, it’s been a busy few months.  I’ve been motivated enough to attend QuiltCon and to join the Austin Modern Quilt Guild.  I’ve organized my sewing and knitting supplies and finally set up a craft room so I can reclaim my dining table.  I’m knitting things I’ve been longing to knit.  And, for the first time since last March, I took an entire week off from work to do anything and everything I wanted – and it was fantastic.

How did I get so far behind on project updates?  Guess it has something to do with the fact that Kira has been sick.  She picked up some kind of infection and was on antibiotics for most of May and June, but seemed to relapse; the vet ran a bunch more tests which showed she has an an acute chronic infection.  Still waiting on lab culture results to find out what is making her sick and what, if anything, we can do to help her.

So instead of spending most of my down time doing lots of crafty things, I’ve been driving to the vet’s office with bird — and knitting —  in tow with the hopes of working on projects while I sit and wait.  The Steeping Room in The Domain is a favorite place – they don’t seem to mind Kira hanging out with me on the patio, and when Kira was at the vet’s office for a full 9-hour day they were happy to let me sit outdoors sipping tea, noshing on GF scones and clotted cream, and knitting away a few hours.

As for knitting projects, I finished the purple Aria Delicato, have nearly finished the lovely green/blue Nova Scotia version, and cast off the Double Cross Cowl.  Looks like I need to set aside a day to block these finished projects so I can get some final photos and put them away for Christmas.  I also cast on another Just Enough Ruffles (in a yarn made from recycled denim) because I can’t possibly have fewer than three projects on the needles at any given time.

Most of July was spent preparing for the summer-sporting-event-that-involves-international-competition-and-medals.  After the dust-up caused by the USOC’s cease and desist letter that claimed knitters are denigrating the true nature of the games and disrespecting athletes, I have to say my enthusiasm for watching simply evaporated.  Well, that, and the NBC coverage and online viewing restrictions (since I don’t have a TV or a digital cable subscription that includes CNBC and MSNBC).

Since most of my knitting group is participating in the knit-a-long (KAL) for the Color Affection shawl, and we planned to cast-on during the evening of the opening ceremonies, I got the idea that I wanted to make something to commemorate the event (long before I learned that using the “O” word was something only paying sponsors can do).  Project bags seemed like a good idea, since everyone working on the shawl will need to wrangle three balls of yarn throughout most of the project.  I’ll admit to being partial to any/all of Laurie Wisbrun‘s designs and her Next Stop-London fabric caught my eye  as the perfect theme for my “super secret project.”  Earlier this summer I ordered all four of the collection’s designs, went shopping for lining fabric, craft bond interfacing, and zippers, and started the process of cutting out pieces to assemble into 12 box bags.  The plan was to have the bags sewn and finished by mid-July; of course, I finished sewing them the night before my deadline – because that’s how it always works.

I brought the bags to our Wednesday night knitting group as a fun surprise.  Once everyone selected a bag, I allocated one more for a door prize at the cast-on party that Friday night at The Knitting Nest.  And I still have three left to finish – mine of course (what’s the saying about the cobbler’s kids not having shoes?), one that I messed up and need to rip out and fix, and one that simply got left behind because I ran out of time.  My only regret is that I didn’t get a photo of them all together – I created a pretty impressive stack of London-themed box bags (if I do say so myself).

The yarn I ordered from Pagewood Farm came in earlier in the month, and I must say it was even richer in color and softer to the touch than I expected. The opening ceremony / pot-luck / cast-on party (July 27) was a lot of fun – the store was packed with people, food, yarn and needles!  (I assume there were some crocheters there as well, but I only saw knitters in the section where I sat.)  After a dozen or so attempts I finally got the shawl started … and it’s well on it’s way.  No telling if I’ll actually get it finished by the time the closing ceremonies air, but it doesn’t really matter to me – I’m just happy to be knitting.

We hit our first 100°F day this month – a slightly depressing number that serves as my personal benchmark for the official start of summer.  All we have to do now is get through the next four months and hope that we’ll see fewer record-breaking high temperatures and more rain than we did last year.

Knitting projects are coming along, albeit as slowly as usual.  I decided to work on two smaller projects this month, but much to my chagrin I spent the better part of a week casting on and trying to getting started.  Seriously.  I kept asking myself “how hard is it to cast on 53 (288) stitches?” and the answer — after looking at the end result of my attempts — would invariably be “hard enough to not succeed this time – try again.”  Fortunately, after hours of fighting with broken needles, stitches sliding off too-slick-for-the-yarn needles, inconsistent tension, and all manner of klutz-ery, I managed to get both projects started.

My Aria Delicato no.2 (in a purple silk blend from White Bear Fibers) is finished, although I have yet to get it blocked and packed away.  Began no.3 in Hand Maiden Sea Silk in colorway Nova Scotia.  The color depth is amazing – no doubt due to the silk content – and once again I feel of wave of indulgence every time I pick it up to knit a pattern repeat.  I hope to finish this one and begin no.4 (for myself) before the end of summer.

I also started a Double Cross Cowl in Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool in colorway Hazy Blue.  This yarn was purchased for a cowl of some sort, but it languished in my project box for over a year until this particular pattern inspired me to cast on.  I’m enjoying this pattern quite a bit, especially because it’s a great project to bring along to knit night — meaning that it’s uncomplicated enough to knit accurately while drinking a peppermint hot chocolate and chatting with an animated group of knitters.

Hoping to finish both of these projects before casting on my Color Affection Shawl at the end of July.  Also planning a wee surprise for my knitting buddies are joining in the fun of the knit-a-long.  I should have plenty of time to complete the work involved, but then again I always underestimate the time it takes to do anything, so maybe I’ll crash and burn before it’s all over.  I’m spending the weekend doing the prep work, then hopefully I can spend the July 4th holiday doing crafty things.

So far, I’ve spent most of this year working on gifts.  While I’m making good progress on my Christmas knitting, I’m becoming motivated to make something for myself.  A few weekends ago I met some friends at The Knitting Nest and talked about wanting to make a Color Affection shawl … and shop-owner Stacy thought it would be a good project for a KAL (knit-a-long).  She developed a plan and recommended Pagewood Farm yarns – all of which are gorgeous.

The yarn sample ring from Pagewood Farm arrived this week, and a friend and I made a trip to TKN to check out the selection.  Oh my.  I wish I would have taken a photo of the entire yarn ring … so many tassels of yarn tied onto what must be a 14″ brass ring … it was an incredibly fun opportunity to look at the yarn up close and test out color combinations.

It took a while to narrow down the color choices, but I finally went with a colors very similar to what I originally put together in my head a few weekends ago while knitting in view of the store’s yarn selection.  The yarn colors I chose are navy, grasshopper, and plum.  A bit of a bold color choice for me, but I think I’ll get a lot of wear out of the finished shawl.  Can’t wait to see how the yarns work up together.

I’m really looking forward to the Summer Olympics KAL.  If you’re in the Austin area, come join the fun!

Navy, grasshopper, plum

April is nearly over – how did that happen?  Apparently, staying really busy at work seems to be the key to losing time.  I’m hoping to have the opportunity to take a few vacation days this summer as I’ve found that a day off now and then really helps me get closer to having a work/life balance.

Thank goodness for my weekly knitting group – without them I’d mostly be a hermit.  I am fortunate that they sought me out and welcomed me into the fold – every week I have the pleasure of spending time with kind, interesting, creative women (we’d welcome men, but so far none have joined us).  I am not sure I can adequately express what their friendship and camaraderie mean to me, but I look forward to knitting night and consider it the glue that holds the rest of my week together.

This week included an exciting announcement from my knitting teacher, Staci.  YouTube did a profile on Verypink and her online knitting instruction videos, and then flew her to California to be a part of their Marketing Ambassadors program.  Check out her blog about the news, which includes links to stories in the New York Times and the Official Google Blog.  Wow.  Just wow.  I’m so thrilled for her!  It only took a few minutes of that first knitting class to recognize that she is a talented teacher (and a knowledgeable, creative, and overall awesome person) and I was smart/lucky enough to take part her ongoing classes over the next year and a half.  Although I’m still a newbie and have a lot to learn, thanks to Staci I learned the basics and gained the confidence to take on whatever pattern catches my interest.

On to the project update:

The Autumn Leaves Stole is finished, blocked, and waiting patiently for fall, when it will be sent to it’s new home. It’s gorgeous.  I love the yarn (Cascade 220 Pumpkin Spice), the pattern, and the overall results.  Unfortunately, this yarn doesn’t seem to photograph the same way twice.  It’s a warm brown with flecks of gold and red.

Because I enjoyed the first one so much, I started another Aria Delicato scarf … and ordered yarn to make two more.  It’s really a joy to knit – and now that I have the 8-row pattern repeat down it’s easy to pick up and do a repeat or two in the evening.  Interesting enough to keep me entertained but not so complicated as to demand my full attention, the resulting stitch pattern is well-defined and elegant.  This time around I chose a fingering weight 50% wool / 50% silk from White Bear Fibers in a gorgeous shade of purple.  Doug, one of the founders of White Bear Fibers, was in the same “knitting 101” class that I took a couple of years ago.  He soon found a passion for dyeing, and I’m delighted to be working with my first hank of his hand-dyed yarn.  I’ll get better photos once it’s finished and blocked. In the meantime, Kira is quite determined to hep me by frequently inspecting the yarn and needles.

Well, there went spring break.  I knew it would go by too quickly, but yikes.  I spent several days at home, several out and about, and managed to have a lovely week off.  In between the usual chores of cooking and cleaning I got a few things crossed of my to-do list.

Spring break accomplishments:

  • Finished my Big Giant Sweater; it’s now blocked and put away in the cedar chest.
  • Started Brooklyn Tweed‘s Autumn Leaves stole – a lovely pattern that is a joy to knit.
  • Un-cabled and dusted the dead TV – and the now-useless VCR and DVD player – and finally got rid of all the VHS tapes.
  • Spent many hours being entertained by the audiobook of  Dragonfly in Amber, the 2nd book in the Outlander series.
  • Went to my first yoga class in a very long time (and discovered that I still have 12 classes on my pass – yay!).
  • Took Kira out for breakfast before her annual checkup.  I had tea and gluten-free scones, she ignored her bit of scone and just yelled at the outside birds.
  • Knit in public twice at Starbucks – once with friends, once by myself.
  • Started sewing up some box bags of my very own – I figure I need at least 2 to hold knitting projects.
  • Finished 2 baby pumpkin hats and mailed one off to a friend in Canada.
  • Hooked up the old TV tuner to the laptop so I could finally watch CBS Sunday Morning.
  • Watched Dr. Pants stream a concert from @TheBloggess ‘s bathroom.  Fine music for a Sunday afternoon!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

How was your week?

Following what has become an annual tradition, the weekend before Spring Break is full of anticipation and preparation.  Saturday began with a quick trip into town and — in between dodging bouts of torrential rain — I managed to get quite a few errands completed by noon.  Groceries, crafting supplies, and two pairs of Danskos have been acquired – I am ready to get busy relaxing.

Saturday was rather productive, especially given that I didn’t actually do anything I had planned to accomplish.  Instead of finishing a languishing project, I indulged in a bit of whimsy and whipped up a fluffy little sheep – my friend, Carolyn, had brought hers to knitting night and I was charmed by the pattern.  I also re-soaked and re-blocked the Aria Delicato scarf to more closely resemble Anne’s example – and I really like the way the ends of the scarf have alternating waves.

My Sunday began with yet another week of listening to CBS Sunday Morning – because my TV refuses to give me a picture.  The trick of smacking the TV here and here worked for a while … but even that won’t fix the picture now.  After an hour and a half of watching a flickering white line I finally got fed up and headed to Target and buy a small all-in-one TV/DVD player.   And because it’s my life I get there to find that  everything under 37″ wasn’t available  for purchase (except a 19″ Sony that was priced near $400) – lots of TVs on display, but nothing on the shelves to buy.  OK, I’m flexible – I figured I’d just go to Best Buy and pick up one.  Heh.  That didn’t go any better. Apparently, Best Buy is where all the owners of McMansions buy their 65″ plasma screens – but we live in a town populated by poor students in small apartments and I’m guessing the stores can’t keep up with cheap small TVs.  After wandering around a while, I decided on a 32″ LG and a Blu-ray player with built-in wifi (because my DVD player is so old that it doesn’t have an HDMI output) … and then decided I was insane to spend that kind of money when I’m not even excited about the purchase.  It costs as much as a new iPad, and I can’t justify buying one of those either (although I am excited about the thought of buying an iPad and have plans for how I’d actually use one).  I came home dejected – not sure if I’m cheap or simply terrified of spending that kind of money on something that isn’t a need.  Thus, the rest of my Sunday will be filled with knitting and an audiobook.  I hope to get my Big Giant Sweater finished soon, seeing as how I only have about 5″ left to stitch on the hood.

As for the rest of the week, I have lined up projects and entertainment.  There are a pair of Mad Men mittens waiting to be finished, a scarf with an odd-looking cable that needs to be frogged and restarted, two little hats that need finishing touches and blocking, and a shawl that I cast on but never got beyond the third row. I’ve also got a couple of tea towel calendars that need to be stitched up, along with a few more box bags (I’m finally going to make one for myself).  These sadly neglected little projects are lined up on my table waiting for attention – and I’d like to get a few of them finished.  To keep my mind occupied while I knit and sew, I have audiobooks, a new documentary on DVD (which I hope I can watch on my laptop), and some still-new CDs vying for my attention.  I’ve also got three books to read when my hands need a break.   I could easily delve into any one of these pursuits for days at a time, but I’m going to attempt some variety so I can do a little bit of everything.

And because I don’t really have enough stuff planned, I’m thinking that my new solid color Danskos need a few embroidered embellishments.  Perhaps a wee daisy or two around the toe?