"The Nation's Leading Bi-Regional Knitting Blog" --Ann's husband • "Kay sure is wasting a lot of time on this" --Kay's husband

January 30, 2012

The Cowl Channel

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Dear Ann,

At what point should I feel embarrassed about the cowl output around here? Never? Is never OK with you? I simply am enjoying a pattern that rings all my bells at this moment. There is nothing wrong with that. It will run its course.

But I recognize that I have reknitivist tendencies (thanks Twist Collective for that coinage). It seems, even to me, a bit simpleminded to knit so many multiples of the same pattern. But I have multiples of people in my life, including myself, who think this is the perfect Winter 2012 accessory. And I have multiples of yarns I'd like to knit up into this cowl. In short, it doesn't seem repetitive to me, or at least not any more repetitive than a second cup of coffee or piece of cake. So on I go. I feel the end is nigh. I think it's just one Honey Cowl after The Current Cowl. Because while knitting the current Honey Cowl, I got a brain wave about a made-up cowl that has captured my imagination, and I bought the yarn for it, so it looks like a switch is imminent.

But let's catch up on my Honey Cowls, shall we?

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Here's niece Maggie rocking my second Honey Cowl, in Socks That Rock Heavyweight. This is a narrower width than Honey Cowl the First, because there is less yardage in a skein of STR than the mega wad of Tess' Designer Yarns that I used.

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But it seems to be doing the job.

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And here, modeled inanimately, is Honey Cowl The Third, which used 2 skeins of Madelinetosh Tosh DK, in Honey Wheat. I think I'm keeping this one. But I cannot see the point of me modeling it, at least not while Carrie and Maggie's jawlines are fresh in everyone's minds.

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It's a good color for me.

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Really sets my puffy coat apart from the 7 million other puffy coats in the city that never wants to feel a chill.

On the needles: Honey Cowl The Fourth, which is at the exact halfway point.

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Lots of progress was made on it over the weekend, as I re-watched old Eastenders episodes because I had forgotten exactly what happened between Janine and Laura, and it didn't seem important at the time, until it really seemed very important (this was all happening in real-time Eastenders in 2004, but WLIW is nearly 8 years behind the UK). Then I got started on Season One of Downton Abbey. Mind you, I watched it twice last year, but short-term memory being what it is, I don't want to start Season Two without a refresher on who's who and what's what. Not that even a memory-impaired person is likely to forget The Turkish Gentleman, but there are nuances. So, that's a lot of good cowl-knitting time, too.

Honey Cowl The Fourth is for a deserving pal who has been hinting for a handknit for a while, and who has just acquired a brown coat. Deserving Pal is one of those people who is always well turned out and stylishly put together, which is why I have dithered so long about what to knit for her. It would be too easy, I fear, to get it wrong. I see Deserving Pal very frequently, so if the item does not make the cut for the New Brown Coat, I will know the sting of knitterly rejection. But how could even the pickiest pal not like a Honey Cowl in Fleece Artist Blue Face Leicester? Could not happen, right? That's my thinking.

[HERESY ALERT} I am not one to spend much time pondering the differences between the wool of the different heritage sheep breeds. To me, wool is wool, or rather, good wool is good wool. I'm more interested in the finished yarn's texture, drape, and color, frankly, than the base fiber's softness, fiber length, crimp and so forth. I love all the sheeps, the great and the small, but the yarns most of all.

But this Blue Face Leicester stuff, wow. I would not have identified it as pure sheep's wool. It's so suave; beautiful drape with no sacrifice of stitch definition. Pretty dang nice. Take that, Barney's accessories department--you think you're hot stuff, but you ain't got BFL, and you certainly don't have BFL dyed by Fleece Artist. I will hand this over to Deserving Pal without a worry in the world.

Love,
Kay

P.S.

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I've also been embroidering on my Prints Charming (Put a Bird On It) kit. (It's not really called Put a Bird on It.) So fun; it's taking me back to 8th Grade Home Economics. In a good way.


Posted by Kay at 04:37 PM | Comments (38)

January 25, 2012

How To Honey Cowl

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Dear Ann,

So. You've made a Honey Cowl. Or two or three. (That's my third one on the needles up there, in Madelinetosh Tosh DK, Winter Wheat.) You want to know: how are the kids wearing them this year? We can help.

These are the Currently Known Ways To Style Your Honey Cowl. Clip N Save.

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The Loop.

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The Wrap.

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The Ellis Island.

And finally, if you dare:

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The InterweaveKnits.

Enjoy your Honey Cowls, people. If you figure out a new way to wear it, send it in on a postcard.

Love,

Kay

Posted by Kay at 05:24 PM | Comments (65)

January 20, 2012

When the Moon Is In the Seventh Cowl

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Dear Ann,

O Baby! What a darling baby is Woodie. And how efficient were you to get her cardi made while she's still small enough to have to roll up the sleeves? My sympathies on Boreal's second sleeve. Git R done, asap, or that thing is going to die just one sleeve short of glory.

But enough about your knitting. What about my knitting? I got a lot of solitary knitting time in trains, planes and automobiles last week as I jaunted around France and Germany, on a mission of business and pleasure.

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First up: world's least imaginative "design" for a scarf: Cast on 55 in Rowan Felted Tweed. Slip first stitch of every row to add that Eileen Fisher finesse to an otherwise pedestrian piece. I was only about 30 garter ridges in when I became utterly bored. To amuse myself, I started doing (6 stitch by 6 ridge) intarsia windows in Rowan Kid Silk Haze. I quite liked the effect, although intarsia with Kid Silk Haze adds a new dimension to the phrase "pull from the tangle." A sticky, ultratangle-y dimension. To be able to do this in a high-speed train and/or on the Autobahn, I developed a technique of clenching the ball of Kid Silk Haze under my left armpit so that it wouldn't come into contact with the 2 strands of Felted Tweed also in play. You had to be there, but it worked. The only place it didn't work was in Seat 36H on the plane home. Seat 36H lacked both leg room and armpit yarn storage room.

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I love this scarf, mostly because of the Felted Tweed. Tweedy but not itchy, light as a feather yet warm. Next time, not so much garter stitch.

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Next up: Honey Cowl, using my treasured skein of Tess' Designer Yarn's superwash merino, scored at Rhinebeck. I lost the label so don't know the shade, but I'm calling it Muskrat Susie. I love the way this slip stitch pattern, with its woven effect, breaks up any possibility of pooling or streaking, but preserves the subtle striping of Susie's pelt.

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Tess' Designer Yarns gets my highest praise for the beautiful job they did with this yarn. I hesitated to buy it, despite loving everything about it, because of the "superwash" label. I do not like the soapy, coated feel of most superwash yarns. This yarn does not have that icky feeling at all. It has an almost cottony hand. Love it. Pre-washing/blocking, this Honey Cowl is 10 1/2 inches wide and 47 inches long; I expect it to grow some with washing, but what do I know. I'm on to my next Honey Cowl!

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This one is in Socks That Rock Heavyweight, in a melange of pale blues.

So. Why a series of Honey Cowls? Because--wake UP, Ann!--cowls are What's Happening Now. The teenage girls in my life are living in cowls, indoors and out. This year's cowl is easily distinguished from last year's infinity scarf, which was looped loosely about the neckline and collarbone, almost like a necklace. This year's cowl is bulky and wide, and wrapped fairly tightly around the neck in multiple layers. Fashion accessory, or cervical collar? Yes! One thing is certain: a girl in a cowl is in no danger of chewing off any sutures.

Full disclosure: I made Aunt Kathy cast on Honey Cowl 2 during the Giants game last Sunday, while I was working on Honey Cowl 1. She looked like she needed something to do. Once again I have to brag on Aunt Kathy's skillz. Kathy hasn't knit for herself for decades. Here is what I told her: Cast on 220, join without twisting, and knit 3 rows. She did that and said, and now? I said, slip 1, purl one all the way around, knit around the next row, then alternate the slips and purls on the next row. And she said OK and did it perfectly. I think that kind of casual savoir faire is extraordinary. It reflects very well on the Bronx High School of Science.

Full disclosure. In the last 24 hours I have laid in supplies for 2 more Honey Cowls. Honey Cowl don't take no crap! Get on the Honey Cowl train!

Love,
Kay

Posted by Kay at 02:19 PM | Comments (39)

Solid-Gold Midwinter Survival Tips

Dear Kay,

As the bleak midwinter descends, I'd like to share some solid-gold survival tips that get me through.

Tip No. 1: Humidity.

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Go to the drugstore, past the bunion aids and the section known as Digestion, and set yourself up with one of those cheapass steam humidifiers. I know you're going to resist this, but listen: once you've had a few nights of sleep with your SteamMaster 2000 filling your room with tropical air, you'll never go back. This is a potentially life-changing deal, I promise you. Your skin will thank you, your poor nose will breathe free, and you will at some point go back for some Vicks Vapo Rub to make the experience a complete return to childhood.

Tip No. 2: Flowering branches.

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This is even easier than forcing a bulb. There's no dirt involved. You go buy flowering quince or forsythia branches, stick them in water, and wait. In about a week, this miraculous thing happens where the branches sprout little beautiful flowers. Right there on those bleak, leafless twigs. There is nothing more heartening than seeing this happen.

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Tip No. 3: Make something.

Even if it is excruciating at every moment. Such as (I don't know why this comes to mind) the Fair Isle-laden sleeve of a sweater that you covet. (Kate Davies's clever Boreal.) This where Mason-Dixon Rule No. 98 kept me going when nothing else would: No project is too ambitious if you crave the result enough.

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I absolutely do not mean to be negative, but the 34 rows of Fair Isle on this sleeve (a re-do, as you may recall, of a failed earlier sleeve) were tedious. Wildly tedious. Doing Fair Isle on double-pointed needles, at large gauge, is weirdly hard for me.

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I kept losing Needle Number 5 in the chair cushions. I couldn't get any speed going, what with the knit 12, move to another needle. Worst of all, Kermit the cat kept biting the ends of my double-pointed bamboo needles, leaving tiny tooth holes that ruined needle upon needle. I went through two sets of DPNs. I am going to refinish them at some point, but what I'd like to do is refinish that cat.

The rapture I experienced upon finishing Sleeve 1 was worth it. I slid it on my arm, and it felt fantastic. It fits.

I have started Sleeve 2. My strategy is to blast through the dread: 34 rows x 55 stitches = 1,870 stitches. A knitter can stand anything for 1,870 stitches, right? I'm going to use my failed sleeve as a Kermit Restraint Device. This is going to work out fine.

Special Bonus Slimming TIp

I can't emphasize this enough. Really don't eat your son's leftover birthday cake for breakfast. The self-loathing and gloom that hit once the sugar high has faded rank right down there with the feeling you get upon realizing the hideous fact that you just called a mom by her daughter's name.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 11:09 AM | Comments (30)

January 18, 2012

Sweetest Baby in a Small Sweater

Dear Kay,

Please join me in welcoming small Woodie to the world of hand knits.

My first grandniece dutifully models the teeny cardigan she got from Great-Aunt Ann.

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To be clear: while I would like to claim that her proximity to a cotton sweater would bring on this sort of unbridled joy, the fact is that this is possibly the happiest baby in the world. She's like this pretty much all the time. And she sleeps. She is brilliant!

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 03:10 PM | Comments (31)

January 13, 2012

The Most Haunting Books: A List

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Dear Kay,

Well THAT was fascinating.

I have long known that the comments on this blog are more interesting than the entries. This is particularly obvious when you look through the response to the question posed in our previous entry: "What's the most haunting book you've read?" Thank you ALL for taking time to share your thoughts.

I've collected all the haunting books into an easy-to-use clip 'n' save PDF download right here. (Be sure to spend some time with all the great comments, too. Such a bunch of smartypantses!)

I love this list so much. Most striking is the way the definition of haunting varies from reader to reader. Fiction, nonfiction, memoir. Physics to genetics. Children in jeopardy and war are huge, but so are wild fantasy and the most realistic of novels. I see so many titles here that make me go "YES! HAUNTING!" and books I'd long forgotten. Surprises too: The Giving Tree is haunting? You know, Susan, you're so right.

Our contest winner, chosen via random number generator, is Dr. Karen, who tells us her most haunting book: "Henry James's THE TURN OF THE SCREW that I read on an overnight train ride from London to Edinburgh 25 years ago has to count as the creepiest full goose bozo kids book for me." A copy of Alma Katsu's THE TAKER will be heading your way soon.

Many thanks to Alma Katsu for inspiring a juicy book conversation. Now it's time to grab a book for the weekend.

Love,
Ann

Posted by Ann at 01:37 PM | Comments (44)

January 05, 2012

Beach Knitting Blowup, and a Contest

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Dear Kay,

Let's begin with a view of a seaside paradise, because today's story is just terrible--a real heartbreaker and by heartbreaker I mean mildly irritating knitting experience.

That's Chalk Sound up there, in Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, where we all decamped for a week that will go down in history as the Shayne family's least productive week ever. No, we didn't snorkel or scuba or catamaran or kayak or parasail or regular sail or anything much except sit in a stupor, either on beach or by pool, and eat. It was fantastic. It's taken me a week even to get up the steam to fix dinner. I don't know what we've been doing for food since we got back. I do know that all the Christmas candy is gone. I ate a stale grapefruit for lunch one day, and a Triscuit.

Anyway, I took three books and read them all.* I took Kate Davies's Boreal, my latest knitting obsession. I'm going to describe what happened with this project not as a deterrent to making this amazing sweater, but more as a cautionary tale about GAUGE. Because gauge is like the prickly schoolteacher you don't really like but who holds your entire destiny in her gnarled little hands. You cannot fail to respect gauge.

Here's what happened.

I was motoring away on this beautiful thing, cranking from the hem upwards to the thrilling Fair Isle portion of the sweater--the party up top. I had made a swatch just as Kate Davies exhorted me to do--a Fair Isle swatch, even, washed and blocked per her advice because we all know that a bath does surprising things to yarn. I went with everybody's favorite needle size, ol' number 7, because that was getting me the 18 stitches/4" I was craving.

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I was rusty on my Fair Isle, having not Fair Isled in a while. I turned it inside out so that the floats wouldn't pull too tight. I got a groove going, around and around, and I crossed my fingers that the stitches would even out once I monkeyed around with them and blocked it.

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Then it was time to make the sleeves, another tubular project. I decided to make the sleeves using two circular needles rather than five hundred double-pointed needles which I despise. Again with the size 7. Again with the groove.

I was actually on the beach with this sleeve when i decided to slide it onto my arm to admire my handiwork. (I can't really recommend knitting merino/mohair while sitting on a beach, particularly a snowflake sweater.) If I kept going, I think this sleeve could easily have functioned as a wetsuit. The only thing less pleasant than sliding a wool sleeve on your arm while sitting on a beach is sliding a wool sleeve THAT IS SHOCKINGLY TOO SMALL on your arm while sitting on a beach.

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So dismayed! So awful to discover that your gauge on two circs is about five stitches tighter than it is on a regular circ. I never dreamed I would get such a different gauge. Appalling!

No quick fix to be had. Not a knitting shop to be found on this desert island, no way to get larger needles except by making them out of palm fronds or swizzle sticks.

After a week-long grieving process, and also a departure through a Caribbean airport akin to catching the last helicopter out of Saigon, I revisited this sleeve. I decided to go with double-pointed needles, size 8. I knit looser on DPNs. I figured this would do the trick.

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Back on track. I can't decide what to do with that awful misfire. Leg warmer?

The moral of the story? Give GAUGE the respect it's due. Don't assume your swatch has answered all your questions. Bring tons of knitting equipment wherever you go. And, most important: if you're knitting a wool and mohair snowflake sweater on a beach, you are a sick, sick person.

Love,
Ann

*The books, the books. I resolved this year to try to read a book a week, or at least give it a try. First finishes:

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TOWNIE by Andre Dubus III. Massachusetts mill town memoir by the haunted son of another writer, Andre Dubus. If page 354 doesn't make you cry, I do not know what will.

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THE HARE WITH AMBER EYES: A Family's Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal. More crying, this time about a collection of Japanese antique netsuke, the little carvings that traveled the world with a wealthy Jewish banking family. Vienna 1938 is not a good place for these netsuke nor the family that owned them.

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Finally, and most lusciously, THE TAKER by Alma Katsu. If you loved Interview with a Vampire, and crave paranormal with a literate voice, seriously unrequited love, and a villain with the darkest possible gothic soul, you will love this. Big debut novel, has made lots of Best lists. I had the great luck to meet Alma via this blog, so it has been a special thing to see her book launch so spectacularly. Two more novels in the series coming soon. To celebrate, here's a contest, with a copy of THE TAKER going to the winner who will be chosen at random:

What's the most haunting book you've read? Leave a comment, deadline Wednesday 10 pm EDT. I'll email the winner. (Please include your email with your comment.)

Posted by Ann at 12:15 PM | Comments (285)

January 03, 2012

Pull From The Tangle

Dear Ann,

A few years ago, I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology to hear our cutest knitting heroes, Kaffe Fassett and Brandon Mably, speak. As you know, one of Kaffe and Brandon's super powers is Intarsia. During the Q & A, someone asked Brandon whether he used bobbins when working with so many colors at once. With a blitheness that can only have come from decades working with Kaffe, Brandon said that his technique was to "pull from the tangle." I sat there smug as hell, because that is my own "technique" for bobbin management: no bobbins. Pull from the tangle.

Ever since, it has struck me that Pull From The Tangle has application beyond intarsia or Fair Isle, or even knitting. Just keep all the strands of whatever it is you're managing ready to hand, and pull out what you need, when you need it. Keep going. Pull gently, pull hard, shake loose what you've got to shake loose, cut something if you must, but KEEP GOING. It may look like a mess just now, but in time you'll have a magnificent chrysanthemum, in 3 weights of yarn and 17 shades, to show for your efforts.

The last 2 months of December, I was in Pull From The Tangle mode as never before. Bar Mitzvah prep/boy management/party planning cooking on all burners, abnormally high activity levels in Real Job, etc. etc.; I'm getting anxious just thinking about all the strands in that tangle. I just kept pulling, once in a while stirring in dollops of overambitious knitting. And on December 17, the tangle yielded up a glorious chrysanthemum: my boy, bookended by kindly rabbis, tunefully chanting the sorry tale of Judah and Tamar. While also looking splendid in his new suit and his first proper necktie, which he had tied himself with the aid of a YouTube video. Hair freshly (but not too freshly) shorn. Mother in the front row, rivulets of mascara plopping onto her neck in joyful fashion.

Kind of a great day. Followed by Hanukkah, Christmas in Nebraska, New Year's, and in two days I'm off on a TBT (tedious business trip) to the Land o' Luther, specifically Ulm, Germany.

I don't know how to catch up with my blogging, so I'll just pull some random threads out of the tangle.

Knitting Is Not the New Yoga

Between Christmas and New Year's, it seemed like a good idea to knit 7 of Kirsten Kapur's raffish Thorpe hats, for the 7 kids who would be New Year's-ing at our house for the weekend. I started on Boxing Day, having nobody to box, but soon got distracted by a new Noro blanket, such that by December 30, the count was a rather anemic 2 Thorpes. Enter my sister-in-law, Aunt Kathy. In 2 days we knit the other 5, using a Henry Ford-inspired modified sweatshop system. I'd do the fiddly moment where you start with 4 stitches on DPNs, knit the crown increases, and then pass it over to Kathy for the straightaway. She'd knit until it was time to bind off for the brim, and pass it back to me for flaps assembly. Meanwhile, I'd have gotten another Thorpe to the straightaway phase and I'd pass that over to her. It did not trouble either of us that the DPNs were not all the same size, that we only had one (slightly-too-long) circ, or that 5-7 children were clamoring for grilled cheese at any given time. PULL FROM THE DANG TANGLE. GIT 'R DONE!

(Aunt Kathy also finished hooking that rug I started after Rhinebeck 2009. She likes to keep busy.)

On January 1, I crocheted the edging on Thorpe the Seventh as Aunt Kathy drove me and a carload of teens to the beach to take the photo that got me started on this idea in the first place.

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Seven Thorpes on the Beach. (What the hell is wrong with me.) (Rhetorical question.)

In retrospect, I don't know why I was so hellbent on knitting all those hats when I had a houseful of hostessing. It puts the lie to that whole "restful and meditative" reputation of knitting. It was not restful, it was not meditative. It was manic. But it was fun, it ate up a few pellets of my pallet of Lamb's Pride Bulky, and it amused Aunt Kathy. I think.

I also knit a dress.

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Still waiting for the modelled photoshoot op. Nobody puts Baby in the corner, or Allegheny in a bathroom mirror shot.

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I also knit a Schmatta (or two), as did Amy Chicken. Amy and I are conspiring to cook up a knockoff of an Eileen Fisher knockoff of a Martha Stewart knockoff of a public domain chestnut from the mid-20th century, early mimeograph period. It is so fun to have Amy on the knitting team!

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Almost forgot: also helped my friend Diana finish her first knitted blanket, a magnificent Fussy Cuts. Diana did narrow borders in Berrocco Ultra Alpaca. It's all done but the end-weaving. Everybody should have a Fussy Cuts on their TV-cave sofa.

The Quality of Mercy

As the new year begins, there is one thing I want to mention with bowed head. Last year, thanks to generous knitters purchasing the Mitered Crosses Blanket pattern, we sent $18,500 to Mercy Corps to support its relief efforts in Japan in the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster there. Now that 2011 is over, we will still send all proceeds of sales of this pattern to Mercy Corps, but these contributions will not be designated for any specific purpose. Working on the Mitered Crosses Blanket pattern, and seeing knitters take it to heart and make so many beautiful versions, to benefit such an amazing organization, was one of the highlights of my year. I'm very grateful to everyone who purchased it, knitted it, blogged it, tweeted it, Ravelry'd it, hosted a yarn shop event for it, or sent supportive thoughts our way.

This is starting to feel like a really long tweet.

Love,
Kay

Posted by Kay at 12:28 PM | Comments (41)
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