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

December 23, 2011

Holiday Greetings!

Dear Kay,

As the holidays are upon us, here's a very random list of things that are making me smile.

1. Joseph's bar mitzvah. Kay, seeing your 13 year old standing up in front of a huge crowd, doing that ancient thing, was tremendous. And to see you being such a menschy mom was likewise totally overwhelming. (Your hair was having a particularly good day, too.) (Also those shoes were great.) (Lunch was delicious.)

2. Snowflake Brenda sold out of snowflakes.

3. Finding the right yarn for the right project. I swatched for Kate Davies's Boreal using handspun alpaca from an alpaca named Henrietta. It is beautiful stuff, but even as I swatched, I was troubled by the lack of match with the other yarn I'm using, Tess' Designer Yarns Grand Manan. Henrietta is slightly thinner stuff; she would not have Fair Isled happily with the chunkier gray. I don't want to go all mixed media on this sweater. I want it to look Not Warbly And Weird.

A couple of skeins of undyed Grand Manan magically appeared in my mailbox.


It's so pristine and smooth, unlike the gray that was fighting a Rhinebeck of attention back when I rescued it. I expect the cream yarn will puff up once it's washed and blocked. I mean: it's the same dang yarn, right?


I'm working the Fair Isle inside out, so that the floats have to travel a teeny bit further between stitches, thus making pinched Fair Isle less likely. Nobody wants pinched Fair Isle.

4. Our first natural gas bill since The Great Geothermal Experiment began. Waiting for these results is the middle-aged woman's equivalent of waiting for SAT scores.


68% lower than last December. WE'RE GOING TO YALE! That's 170 therms less than last December. A therm is 100,000 BTUs. Units of energy. (I just learned what a therm is. Probably should have learned this a long time ago.) Not to be confused with thrums, which happen on mittens mostly.

Now, our electric bill hasn't shown up yet, and it will be higher because the heat pump runs on electricity. So things won't be quite as dramatic as that awesome chart up there. But at least we're using fewer therms, somewhere, somehow.

By the way, I am encouraged that our heat still feels exactly like heat. It's not like going vegetarian and discovering that baked tofu doesn't really taste like baked ham. (Note: I LOVE TOFU. NOT BASHING TOFU!)

5. More daylight every day from now until June.

6. That feeling of beginning to slow down. I hope you have a day or two of doing exactly nothing, or whatever it is you'd like to do.

7. Gratitude to everybody who comes by our blog. I wish we had a giant room somewhere where we could all hang out whenever we felt like it. Oh wait--that's what the Internet IS.

Love, cheers, and I'll be back after the new year,


Posted by Ann at 11:46 AM | Comments (33)

December 12, 2011

Vote with Your Dollars

Dear Kay,

I have GOT to stay away from the Twitter. Yesterday, Julia lobbed out a link to a pattern that she declared to be a redemption of the dreaded snowflake sweater.

I instantly investigated, being in the throes of snowflake fever thanks to Brenda and her avalanche of crocheted snowflakes. (A few flakes remain if you hurry over there.)

What I discovered is Kate Davies's brand-spanking-new pattern, Boreal. She introduced it YESTERDAY, people.

Love it! Stand aside, all other snowflake patterns! This one has a very cool positive/negative thing to it. It looks as sturdy as a tree, warm as a blanket, in fact a modern reinvention of the familiar snowflake sweater.

My mind instantly drifted to the pile of gray yarn I confiscated at Rhinebeck, the insane wool/mohair Grand Manan by Tess Designer Yarns, along with the creamy homegrown yarn that came from an alpaca owned by a neighbor of Veterinarian Knitter Mel Who Lives In Maine. You know: Henrietta the Now-Deceased-Yet-Semi-Eternal-Because-Of-This-Yarn Alpaca.


This somewhat lumpy and misshapen swatch happened last night in some mysterious way. Crazy. Yarn drunk. I don't even recall how I found size 7 needles.

Anyway, I am sort of proud that I got to be one of the first to buy Kate's pattern, because it's just so stinkin good. I am becoming convinced that we as consumers should think of our dollars as votes. VOTE FOR GOODNESS. Encourage people like Kate Davies to continue cooking up astonishing patterns like this by sending her your money votes. Here's where you can find Boreal. Kate has tons of inventive patterns at her website, Needled. An excellent rabbit hole.

I can't believe I started a new sweater yesterday.


Posted by Ann at 11:53 AM | Comments (29)

December 09, 2011

Brenda's Blizzard of Snowflakes


Dear Kay,

Snowflakes snowflakes snowflakes. That's what I'm thinking about.

A couple of weeks ago, cruel, merciless Erin tweeted about crocheted snowflakes. Her Tweet sent me into an instant nostalgia spin about the crocheted snowflakes of my youth that my mom found long ago at a Christmas bazaar at Cheekwood.

I have exactly one of those snowflakes left, a dumpy and misshapen one which is the fate of treasured Christmas ornaments, I guess.

I wondered who in the world might still be cranking out crocheted snowflakes.

The answer is Brenda S. Miller of Warrensville, North Carolina.

Etsy makes many things possible, doesn't it? It let me discover Brenda's Christmas Shop, where there is a blizzard of snowflakes, drifts of them, gorgeous and intricate.


I asked Brenda about her snowflakes. She writes:

My grandmother taught me to crochet when I was five years old, although I did not know how to read instructions for several years.

I was always amazed at the snowflakes on Frosty the Snowman cartoons, or in pictures, and even the snowflakes that fall every winter here in the mountains of North Carolina.

I asked God to give me some snowflake designs and I started dreaming about designs and made drawings of them. I have over 1,000 drawings and I can make several snowflakes from each drawing. Now I just sit down and make snowflakes from drawings, from pictures, from just a thought. I made one that has eagles inside the snowflake, I even made some for a lady the other day that wanted snowflakes that were 1 1/2" or less. To finish the story the set of snowflakes that you ordered, has stitches that are seldom used in snowflakes or anything else any more. I think it is because you can't make money making snowflakes with complex designs, but I love them and I want to share my new designs with others.


You can buy a collection of her crocheted snowflake patterns, Brenda's Snow Storm of Lace. But for the crochet impaired, she makes batches of snowflakes.

In the spirit of the season, I hope you all will give Brenda's snowflakes as gifts. You can see them right here. They cost about as much as a box of store-bought ornaments, but these are completely handmade, out of string. Something from nothing. I love that so much.

I hasten to point out that snowflakes are the ultimate in ecumenical decor. I'll keep mine up until the great thaw. Thank you, Brenda, for these spectacular snowflakes.



Posted by Ann at 11:34 AM | Comments (38)

December 06, 2011

Mrs. Shayne's Adventures in Geothermal, Part 6


Dear Kay,

Before we begin, I would like everyone to fire up the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing "Hallelujah" as the soundtrack to this blog entry.

Because, honey, on Tuesday, November 29, at 10:42 am CDT, I was singing the fire out of this song, right after Tim The Genius Of The Wires came upstairs and pointed at my heating vent. And nodded.

"Is it . . ." I asked.

"That's geothermal. Right there."

It looked so different, this heat. So loamy, so earthy, so deep. I'd never seen air like that before.

I know that Tim was tired of me asking him every fifteen minutes whether my life had changed forever. So many times he had answered, "No ma'am. You're still a knitting blogger." "No, Mrs. Shayne. You still talk to those cats." "I'm sorry, Mrs. Shayne, it's just not your time yet."

But last Tuesday, well. It was my time.

It's different now, so different. Someday, with the passage of the seasons and the increased energy efficiency of this house, maybe I'll be able to explain how. Or maybe the damn thing won't work. All I know is that something profound has happened in this house. Something profoundly tubey.

I just finished reading Willa Cather's O Pioneers!. The weirdest guy in the book, Ivar, lives in a sod house dug into a hill on the Nebraska prairie. I wish I had read this book about four weeks ago, because Ivar figured out how to harness the earth's constant temperature in a way that probably took half as long and I'm guessing a bit less expense than this little project.

Behind the Furnace Door

As a final climax to this project, we go now into the red-hot center of this project: the furnace room. I know it's what you've been waiting for. Fasten your seatbelts.


Here's the heat pump. Please don't ask me how it works. It makes a whispery hum and looks really busy all the time.


This is the gizmo that sucks the juice through the loop that is buried in my yard. If you get too close, it will suck you in like Augustus Gloop going up the tube by the Chocolate River.


This is where you can get a mammogram, right there in my basement.


This is the tankless water heater. I promise you, there is no tank on this thing. That blue tank somehow keeps it all from blowing up. I am not going to read any more of the warning labels on this stuff. I want to forget that any of this equipment is even in my house.


This is a free bonus faucet they gave me for agreeing to install this system two weeks before Thanksgiving.


This is the scariest thing I have ever seen. Remind me never to look up again, ever. Where did those Ethernet cables come from? Is that Wikileaks guy spying on my system?


For those of you who actually want to understand how geothermal systems work, God bless you and here's a good description.

Thank you all for joining me on this journey of catharsis and renewal. I'll set up a GeothermCam so you can watch my system at work, 24/7. That may be the only thing more fascinating than following this saga of installation.

Meanwhile, Please Join Us for a Big Night of Knitting Fun

We're teaching a class! Here in Nashville! One night only, Feb. 28, as part of the Evening Classes at University School of Nashville. All course fees benefit USN's scholarship fund. If you live anywhere within 500 miles, come be a part of this epic evening. We had so much fun doing this last year that we can hardly wait. Snacks, door prizes, who knows what will happen.

Registration opens tomorrow, Wednesday, December 6 at 9 am CDT. Here's the course registration page. We're Course #710, "Composting for Fun and Profit." JUST KIDDING.

There are four other great knitting/felting classes being offered, so the clever knitter could stack up an entire winter's worth of great classes with great teachers. Plus: it's all for a good cause, which is nice.

Off to go blast the Hallelujah chorus again. Hallelujah!


PS Because it's holiday time, here's a festive boxed gift set of Mrs. Shayne's Adventures in Geothermal:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

Posted by Ann at 11:56 AM | Comments (45)

December 02, 2011

Last-Minute Schmatta (Free Pattern)


Dear Ann,

Here's a free pattern for holiday gifting and December TV-watching. This is not rocket-science knitting. This is git-r-done while watching a movie on Netflix knitting. But every civilian who sees it wants one, so I think that makes it a good Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Thank You For Teaching My Kid gift.

It's called Schmatta, which in yiddish means "rag." To me it does not have a connotation of abject raggediness, but of modesty. It's like saying, "this old thing?" in response to a compliment. "This? It's just a little schmatta I knitted in front of King of the Hill last night."

What we have here is a flat piece of heavy-duty garter stitch. Occasional elongated-stitch rows give the knitter a moment of (mild) excitement, and eliminate the need to fuss with buttonhole placement. Slipping the first and last stitch of each row is a refinement that can be eliminated for Ultra Beginners, who will find the double-wrapped rows hair-raising enough. But if you're not a beginner, do make that slipped-stitch chain; even a Schmatta deserves good craftsmanship. Using multiple buttons makes the Schmatta work as a high-necked cowl (for the Elizabethan, Tilda Swinton wannabe look that is the dernier cri this season), or as a demure collar inside your coat.

It takes me a few aimless hours to make a Schmatta, plus one week to procrastinate sewing on 3 buttons. You may knit slower or faster, and have more or fewer psychological barriers to sewing on buttons, but in any case this is a project that can be cranked out in multiples, if multiples are desired. A Schmatta takes only one skein of Malabrigo Rasta, or the super bulky yarn of your choice, so it won't break the bank either.

Here you go.


Finished Size: Approximately 31” (79 cm) x 7 1/2” (19 cm)


Malabrigo Rasta, 100% Merino wool, 150g (90 yards), 1 skein


Size 13 (9mm) needles
Stitch marker
Tapestry needle or crochet hook for weaving in ends
Oddment of sock yarn or embroidery thread for sewing on buttons


3 large buttons


Approximately 8 sts + 20 rows (10 garter ridges) = 4” (10cm) in garter stitch

Note: Gauge precision is not critical as long as you like the density of the knitted fabric.

Abbreviations and terms

Garter ridge A garter ridge is formed on the RS by knitting 1 RS row and 1 WS row.
RS Right side
WS Wrong side

Since garter stitch looks the same on both sides, mark the right side of the piece with a stitch marker, and count garter ridges on this side.


Cast on 15 stitches using the long-tail method. Take care not to cast on tightly; loosely is better.

The cast-on forms the first garter ridge on the RS. The first row will be a RS row.

Row 1: Slip 1 stitch purlwise, knit to the end of the row.

Repeat row 1 three more times. You will now have 3 garter ridges on the RS.

Next row (RS) (double-wrap row): Slip 1 stitch purlwise, knit 13 stitches, wrapping the yarn twice around the needle for each stitch, knit the last stitch normally.

Next row (WS) (wrap-drop row): Slip 1 stitch purlwise, knit 13 stitches, dropping the extra wrap on each stitch as you knit it, knit the last stitch normally.

Continue in this pattern: 3 garter ridges followed by a double-wrap row and a wrap-drop row, 12 more times. (Note: the number of repeats is not important. Also, if you knit more or fewer than 3 garter ridges in a given section, it doesn't matter. It's not that kind of a pattern. Do it the way you like it, or like the way you do it.)

Work in plain garter stitch until you judge that you have just enough yarn to bind off. Bind off all stitches loosely, and weave in the tails.

Wet the piece, squeeze out most of the water by rolling it in a towel and pressing on it. Lay the damp piece flat on a dry towel, and even up the edges with your fingers. Allow the schmatta to dry completely, and sew on the buttons as shown in the photos. It helps to try on the schmatta to guide placement of the buttons. Place the buttons opposite a drop-stitch row for ease of buttoning.

Some illustrative photos, in no particular order:

With one button buttoned, it's a collar.

The chain edge makes it look like you found it at Eileen Fisher with a big price tag on it. (At which point you said, hey, I can knit that!)

Suggested button placement for maximum versatility. You need two buttons on one end to get the cowl effect. The buttons need to be large.

I'm not gonna lie to you, I should have bound off a little looser. I only noticed it after I'd blocked it, and it seemed JUST FINE at that point. Design feature!

There are other ways you could button the schmatta around the neck. You're not stuck with fixed buttonholes. Wherever you want to button it, put a button there. Lots of opportunities to button.

Full-on cowl mode. Not sure this is the warmest way to wear it, but this is the look I'm seeing this year.

Collar formation (single button) puts the fat wool closer to the neck. Ladylike.

OK, be sure to knit one for yourself while you're at it!


Posted by Kay at 12:29 AM | Comments (36)

December 01, 2011

Stay Tuned

Dear Ann,

Hey there. I'm knitting and quilting through the tangle of a very hectic time of year, and life. Here is an update on the Dress That For Five Minutes I Thought Would Be Finished For Thanksgiving, aka Allegheny.

This is near the end of Skein 6. A wonderful pattern, just the right level of difficulty for sitting at the bedside of an Australian friend who broke her shoulder in a fall on Second Avenue while transporting two pies crosstown on Thanksgiving morning. Believe it or not, the pies survived the ambulance ride and the emergency room and were pronounced delicious. Friend is mending but OUCHIE, and how terrible to be going under the knife so far away from home.

Twitter followers will silently shake their heads, remembering that I've been at the end of Skein 6 before, and had to rip back a whole skein, and then some, when a mystery hole appeared on the front. Yes I tried to fix it without ripping, but it was not a simple matter of pulling up a dropped stitch; it was an undiagnosable, half-baked mess of a stitch that formed the hole. (No I couldn't stand to just leave it, or put a button on it. I like to knit. I felt much better after the rip and rewind. Leave me alone.) So now I'm back to where I was, and I'm happy.

Pause to reflect upon the beauty of a simple cable within another simple cable, and also on the lovely flatness of the larger cable. I think it's the flatness of that cable that makes the dress so flattering. It's a cable without the pouf. Some of us are in pouf minimization mode, particularly in the Muffin Zone. We appreciate a flat cable.


STAY TUNED FOR FREE PATTERN. This is a button-on scarf/cowl--a scowl--that can be knit up in a couple of hours and given away to stylish friends and also to friends who could stand to be more stylish. It's not rocket science by any means, but I've been around the block enough times to know that the people like the turn-by-turn directions. I solemnly promise to post it by midnight tonight even if it means I can't watch last night's East Enders episodes until then.

Putting the "cowl" in "scowl."


Posted by Kay at 12:58 PM | Comments (21)
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