Sunday, December 18, 2011

Brioche E-Book Review

Beginner & Intermediate Brioche Knitting, by Liat Gat of KNITFreedom is a very nicely done video course. Liat is a good teacher, and shows plenty of repetitions, demonstrating each technique using both Continental and English/American knitting. I particularly like how she uses her knitting mistakes as opportunities to demonstrate how to recognize and fix common errors.

A couple of the videos focus specifically on reading your knitting--an essential skill for becoming an independent brioche knitter. The section on dropping down to fix a single stitch is worth the price of admission on its own. I don't know how many hours I've spent trying to wrestle that problem to the ground. In my photo tutorials on picking up dropped stitches in brioche, I had to admit I'd never been able to drop down one column and recover from it. If I had time right now, I'd be casting on a brioche project just so I could drop some stitches!

I also learned a lot from the section on casting on and binding off. I hadn't realized that the Italian cast on can be combined with a tubular cast on. The video on the Italian bind off made clear that it's a useful technique, rather than a cruel joke. Much as I have benefited from Nancy Marchant's Knitting Brioche, I completely failed to follow her instructions for the Italian bind off (and for dropping down to fix a stitch). Videos can sometimes take you where still photos just can't.

Liat does an excellent job of breaking the instruction into manageable chunks, so each video is short and covers a single topic. This makes it easy to take the time to work through a lesson, and then to go back and use the videos for reference when needed. The sound and videography are clear. The accompanying text is well-organized, both on her web site and on the PDF that "is" the e-book. You can either stream the videos or download them to your computer, and clear instructions are provided for each method. The full download is about 1.3 GB.

My only quibbles are small and technical - a couple of places where the text and video don't exactly match, and the fact that the two-color brioche is done with two yarn colors that aren't clearly "dark" and "light." Also, the videos only covers basic ribbed brioche (aka fisherman's rib), although once you've finished the course, you probably wouldn't have much difficulty extrapolating to stockinette brioche.

At first I blanched at the price of the video course (full disclosure - Liat gave me a free review copy). While the price is a bit high for a book, it's far less than the cost of a comparable live class. Plus, you know the teacher will be good, and you can take the class as many times as you want! And, having recently spent a lot of time compiling photo tutorials, I have a new appreciation for how much work it must be to produce high quality video tutorials.

I await January's promised release of Brioche II - Advanced Brioche Knitting, which includes cables, increases, decreases, and multi-color brioche, with high anticipation.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Pickled Kumquats Are Surprisingly Hard to Come By

I noted in my Twist bio that pickled kumquats and cashew butter on waffles make a fine comfort food. I feel a little bad about tempting people to a condiment that is by no means universally available, so at the end of this post I have included more information on obtaining pickled kumquats.

Since undiluted pickled kumquats are quite, shall we say, lively, I recently made up a recipe for Kumquat Cashew Butter that tones down the kumquats and makes a tasty spread for crackers or baguettes. Lacking pickled kumquats, one could probably substitute fresh kumquats (which are starting to come into season about now), perhaps cooked in a sugar syrup. Almond or hazelnut butter might also be an interesting substitute for cashew butter.

kunquat cashew butter

Kumquat Cashew Butter

1/4 cup cashew butter (I am partial to East Wind brand)
4 tsp cream cheese
2 T syrup from pickled kumquats
4 pickled kumquats, chopped
pinch salt (optional, if using unsalted nut butter)

Mix cashew butter, cream cheese and syrup. Add kumquats. Adjust quantities to taste, and add salt as needed. Garnish with pickled kumquats and cashews. (The jar of kumquats used for this photo was canned with star anise, so I added that to the garnish as well.)

Obtaining Pickled Kumquats

Haddon House makes very nice pickled kumquats, and it might be possible to find them at the grocery store in some areas; they don't seem to be available online at the moment. As of this writing, pickled kumquats were available online from E. Waldo Ward .

After I exhausted my first magical jar of pickled kumquats (which I had nursed along for some years) and discovered how difficult it was to obtain more, Matt came to my rescue last Christmas by giving me everything we needed to can our own. A future post will include our recipe, which turned out very well.

Another year, I plan to try this recipe for kumquat marmalade. The vinegar kick of our pickled kumquats is not to everyone's taste, and I imagine marmalade might meet with wider acceptance.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Building a Modern Calliope

I am thrilled and honored to have my Calliope brioche socks published by Twist Collective. Even though the pattern bears my name, it’s amazing how of a collaborative work it really is, what with yarn choice, editing, layout, photography, and modelling. And a rocking sample knitter (verdigrisknits on Ravelry) who made the red and purple socks, which totally sell the pattern.

Calliope brioche socks
Calliope brioche socks

I work with multiple colors whenever I get the chance, but go to great lengths to avoid working more than one color at a time. Mosaic, double knitting, duplicate stitch – I love them all, but brioche is my favorite.

There’s a lovely rhythm to brioche knitting. It makes a beautiful and luxurious fabric, and can be varied to achieve umpteen million stitch patterns, many of them reversible, of which, Nancy Marchant, to whom I am profoundly indebted for her trailblazing work, has documented all but a few hundred thousand. (I tried to fit a few more dependent clauses in that sentence but ran out of commas.)

Better yet, even after designing several brioche patterns, I’m still not entirely sure how it works. I’m endlessly entertained by the mystery of how on earth I’m actually producing that fabric. With designing, I have started to pierce the veil in places--try enough ways to make the perfect increase, decrease or cable, and something’s bound to sink in. But much remains opaque (such as how to drop down a column, fix a mistake and work back up; grmble grmble ratzen fratzen).

Yet another thing I love about brioche is that it’s an emerging style, so there’s plenty of room for new unventors to make contributions to the literature. Who knows, maybe it’s even possible to invent? There’s no way of knowing, of course. One can only say, well, I was unable to find instructions for this on the Internet.
Calliope brioche socks - sketch
So, I think I may have un/invented the stockinette short row brioche heel. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, really. In fact, when I made my proposal to Twist, I blithely sketched the stripes continuing uninterrupted down the heel, assuming I would easily find instructions on how to achieve this effect. Nope. No how. No where.

I set out on a quest to conquer the short row. The main thing I can tell you about the process is that there are many, many wrong ways to do stockinette brioche short rows. Finally I decided there might be only one right way to do them. This was an astonishing notion, because that is just not the way things work in knitting. In fact, I rather hope that stating my conclusion publicly will prompt someone to step forward and disprove it.

As a side note, I hope I’m not the only designer who writes down in excruciating detail exactly what she did, follows those instructions to the letter to confirm them . . . and arrives at a different result. This does not facilitate the xxvention process. Fortunately, the Kollage Sock-a-Licious was more than up to the task of repeated frogging and re-knitting.

Oh, and the name. I could write something high-flown about how the socks were inspired by the rowdy music surrounding striped big top circus tents and curlicued carousels.* But in truth, I was inspired by men’s stockings of the Regency era. Probably one didn’t find stockings with both stripes and clocks back then, and a dandy certainly would not have worn wool stockings. But one of the great things about inspiration is that it can accommodate a fine and appropriate disregard for the facts.

*By the way, the Wikipedia article on calliopes is an excellent read (although in my neck of the woods, we do NOT pronounce it "kal-ee-oap").

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Twenty-Seven 8 by 10 Color Glossy Photographs

Replacing Dropped Stitches in Two-Color Stockinette Brioche

...with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was...

I’ve posted on Ravelry the first of a series of three photo tutorials on knitting two-color stockinette brioche in the round. The whole series actually has only twenty-four photos, but it’s got enough circles, arrows and paragraphs to make up for the slight numerical shortfall.

I’ll post the next two tutorials over the next couple of weeks. Enjoy!

(all links fixed 2013-04-26)

Part 1: Replacing Dropped Stitches

Part 2: Increases – Right- and Left-Leaning (posted 2011-12-01)

Part 3: Decreases – Right- and Left-Leaning (posted 2011-12-06)

Here's hoping you all have yourselves a Thanksgiving dinner(s) that can't be beat.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Knitters Index

Number of tiny hand-knit gnomes in Anna Hrachovec’s gallery installation ‘Gnomes vs Snowmen: the Battle for Mochimochiland,’ inspired by the Bayeux Tapestry:

Percent of patterns in Jane Austen Knits 2011 with references to Pride and Prejudice:

With references to Mansfield Park:

Number of patterns on Ravelry with ‘Pemberley’ in the title:

Number of forum posts on Ravelry using the word ‘squee’:

Percent of contributors to the Winter 2011 Twist Collective stating that macaroni and cheese was among their favorite comfort foods:

Number of patterns listed on Ravelry with 2-D or 3-D representations of octopi:

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


When it is well done, bridal [sic] photography takes a girl who is actually rather pretty and, without telling any falsehoods, clothes her in an aura of romance and splendor. In that spirit, I would just like to say that Jamie Dixon is a brilliant bridal photographer.

Calliope Brioche Socks - in Winter 2011 Twist Collective

Calliope Brioche Socks

Calliope Brioche Socks

Calliope Brioche Socks

Calliope Brioche Socks

Calliope Brioche Socks

Monday, November 14, 2011

How Not to Fix a Dropped Stitch in Silk Mohair

Laceweight silk mohair blends, like Rowan Kid Silk Haze and Schulana Kid Seta, make glorious fabric, but can be challenging to wrangle when you need to fix a mistake. And mistakes such as dropped stitches are all too easy to make when knitting nothing into something.

Dropped stitch in silk mohair

The light grey shows my first attempt to fix a dropped stitch on my Picturesque Cape (piece is worked from the bottom of the photo up). I used a crochet hook to pull the dropped stitch up between its neighbor columns, but the neighbors were completely uninterested in making room for the new stitch, and blocking was no help. Blech!

My next attempt, on the darker grey layer, worked much better. Don’t see any dropped stitches on that layer? Exactly. On the darker layer, I turned to the wrong side and tied a loop of yarn around the dropped stitch and the nearest bar above it to keep the stitch from slipping further. (Still can’t see it? Drop to the bottom of the post for the solution.)

Another reason this technique comes in handy is that dropped stitches in this kind of yarn may be so unobtrusive that you don’t notice them until long after you’ve bound off (so pulling the stitch up would no longer be an option anyway). Luckily, they are not likely to ladder far before you catch them.

Unless your pattern requires a specific stitch count, the fabric is squidgy enough that you don’t need to increase to compensate for a dropped stitch. If you can’t afford to be so free and easy, and actually need to rip back, don a strong pair of reading glasses and work slowly and gently, using a tapestry needle to tease the mohair fibers apart as needed.

File under: High Needs Yarns and the Women Who Love Them

Dropped stitch in silk mohair - repaired

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Picturesque (aka Dust Bunny)

photography by Christa Tippman
I am very proud to have a new pattern in an Interweave Knits publication. I do feel a bit goofy about it being in Jane Austen Knits (digital edition / print edition), because I’m not a trendy gal, and Ms Austen is certainly trendy these days. Still, my Austen credentials are solid and longstanding, so I’m not too fussed. In fact, the title of this blog is an allusion to an Austen piece that most folks would be hard put to identify (NB: the original quote has nothing to do with knitting).

I know I should lead with the quote from Northanger Abbey in which Henry Tilney instructs Catherine Morland on the art of the picturesque.* But this quote is priceless, and I couldn’t resist:

Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. To come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can.
"The advantages of natural folly in a beautiful girl have been already set forth by the capital pen of a sister author [anyone know who this is?]; and to her treatment of the subject I will only add, in justice to men, that though to the larger and more trifling part of the sex, imbecility in females is a great enhancement of their personal charms, there is a portion of them too reasonable and too well informed themselves to desire anything more in woman than ignorance.

(People do tend to forget what sharp claws Austen had.)

I’ve always been fascinated by historical clothing, so it was great fun to pore over the local library’s collection of books on Regency costume.

garrickThis garrick, from A History of Costume by Carl Kohler [Dover Publications, 1963], stopped me dead in my tracks. Although the piece is wildly romantic, a man’s overcoat may not at first seem very promising for conversion to a feminine nonsense. I think I’m going to have to stop claiming I’m not very girly, because I didn’t find it all difficult to see the frippery potential (although I found it quite challenging to realize that potential.)

I decided early on that I wanted to use a laceweight silk-mohair yarn. I also knew I wanted the bottom of the cape to hang fairly straight across, which argued for having some kind of shoulder shaping. Most Excellent Matt, King of the Short Row, eventually showed me the way, drafted the schematic, and rendered the sketch for my submission package.

In the mysterious way of fashion, this Regency-inspired garment also works as Mid-Century Modern.
Picturesque Cape in mid-century modern sweater clip from It's A Swindle
Mohair? Sweater clip? Marian the Librarian glasses? Check, check and check.

This excellent clip (the Audrey) comes from It’s a Swindle on Etsy which is definitely not a swindle, especially at the moment, when everything is discounted for Halloween.

This project was the first time I’d used laceweight silk-mohair, and the Schulana Kid Seta turned out to be really lovely to work with – so long as you don’t need to tink or frog (and so long as you’re not the long-suffering tech editor trying to count stitches through the haze). But knitting a strand of nothing into a cloud of lusciously soft dust bunny glamour is so magical that it’s more than worth the unholy alliance the yarn forms with itself.

If grey is not your only color, here are some palette ideas in similar yarns.

With glitter! Schulana Kid Seta Lux (71% mohair, 20% silk, 9% lurex) in 206 Purple, 202 Grey and 201 Silver.

The classic. Rowan Kidsilk Haze (70% mohair, 30% silk) in 641 Blackcurrant, 632 Hurricane and 639 Anthracite.

DROPS Kid Silk (75% mohair, 25% silk) in 17 Dark Rose, 10 Gray, and 09 Pearl Grey.

* Here's the quote that actually inspired the cape’s name:
It seemed as if a good view were no longer to be taken from the top of an high hill, and that a clear blue sky was no longer proof of a fine day…she confessed and lamented her want of knowledge, declared that she would give anything in the world to be able to draw; and a lecture on the picturesque immediately followed, in which his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in everything admired by him, and her attention was so earnest that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste….Catherine was so hopeful a scholar that when they gained the top of Beechen Cliff, she voluntarily rejected the whole city of Bath as unworthy to make part of a landscape. Delighted with her progress and fearful of wearying her with too much wisdom at once, Henry suffered the subject to decline…
--Northanger Abbey

Thursday, October 13, 2011


not until my husband informed me that
is a man's hat,
while this
is not
did it became fully manifest to me
that even a lifetime of study
will be insufficient to plumb the intricacies
of the male mind

pretty cool, huh?

(Green and purple hat is Matt's Runner Beanie. Blue and black hat is my newly published Tidepool Hat.)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

What to Do with 40 Pounds of Plums

It was a banner year for our Italian prune plum trees, partly because we’ve been letting the trees get too big.

  • Dried 18 pounds for prunes
  • Froze 12 pounds for cakes and eating with breakfast oatmeal
  • Canned 4 pounds in savory plum sauce (per the Ball Blue Book)
  • Canned 2 pounds as preserves (per the Ball Blue Book)
  • Made a pie and a bread pudding (per Sharon's tinkering)
  • Ate some and gave some away
  • Discovered a fabulous way to cook them with pork chops
We often eat pork chops with savory plum sauce, but it seemed silly to open a newly canned jar. Still wanting to have pork and plums, we did the following:

Pork Cutlets with Plums

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 small, thin boneless pork cutlets (~ 3 oz each)
salt and pepper to taste
2 Italian prune plums, diced (~1 oz each)

Heat the oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Rinse cutlets, pat dry, and season both sides with salt and pepper. Add cutlets and plums to skillet. Cover and cook 1 1/2 - 2 minutes on each side, or until done. Serve. The plums will taste slightly of burned sugar, which is part of their divinity. (I can’t really explain the rest – the divine does not easily reveal its secrets.)

You could probably do something similar with larger pork chops – just add the plums later in the cooking process.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Rhubarb Cream Crumble

I know I'm breaking the primordial rule of blogging by not including any photographs or hyperlinks. Just imagine this post is from a very old-fashioned cookbook. Like, say, the 1950s Joy of Cooking, where I found this excellent rhubarb cream pie recipe.

I made the pie as a crumble because I generally find crumbles both easier and tastier than single crust fruit pies. I realized belatedly that 2 cups of rhubarb was an absurdly small amount, and rifled the freezer for some plums to bulk up the fruit. The plums and rhubarb turned out to be a congenial combination. I suppose the only reason it hasn't garnered more fame is that plums and rhubarb aren't really co-seasonal.

When I make a crumble topping, I usually do it entirely by feel. This time I thought maybe I could make up a simple rule, so I tried using a half cup of everything, except the butter, of which I used a half stick. This made a serviceable topping, but nothing like what it could be. I have suggested a variation in the recipe below that should be closer to the mark.

Rhubarb Cream Crumble

Note: With only two cups of fruit, this dish is more like a clafouti. With the addition of plums, the "cream" becomes just a tasty thickener.

Place 2 cups diced rhubarb and 3/4 pound halved Italian plums in a 9 inch square casserole.

Mix together:
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tbsp flour
2 egg yolks
2 tsp lime juice (or lemon juice or water)
1/8 tsp salt
The consistency will be similar to creamed butter and sugar.

Spread mixture over fruit and bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes.

While fruit is baking, make crumble topping.
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup thick cut oats
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
Cut in:
3/8 cup (3/4 stick) butter
Or, ignore these quantities entirely, and use whatever amounts you like. It's hard to go wrong with crumble, so long as it has enough butter and sugar.

Turn oven down to 350, spread crumble topping over fruit and bake for another 20 minutes.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Not Your Grandma's Knitting Books

I'm very excited to have two knitting designs in Cooperative Press' forthcoming Fresh Designs book series. Online publication is great, but there's nothing like print to make you feel you've hit the big time (actually, the series will be available both in print and online).

Visit Cooperative Press on Facebook to see a gallery of designs from some of the books. Can you guess which is mine? (Hint: the gal can model a trench coat way better than I can.)

I am highly entertained by the styling of the photos. My other design for the series is baby booties in the yet-to-be-photographed Kids book. I can't even begin to imagine how that picture will turn out.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hey, bud!

If that rutabaga won't glow
Mama's gonna sell you a letter O

And if that letter O is hot
You'll still be the sweetest readers I got.

(Song and dance version here.)

For the curious, the foam letters are held on with the hook side of hook and loop tape. The attachment method makes it easy to remove the letters when making a sale, but is not particularly secure.

This is the last of the seasonally inappropriate posts. Next up, actual knitting! And another trench coat.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


If that dog named Thor is faux
Mama's gonna bake you a Totoro
And if that Totoro lacks flavor
Mama's gonna carve you a rutabaga

Actually, Matt did the rutabaga and the one-eyed turnip. I did the turnip that looks like a droopy alien cow. At least, I think it does. The rutabaga puts me strongly in mind of the turnip head scarecrow from Howl’s Moving Castle.

The carving of the pumpkin is a critical Halloween ritual in this household, but sometimes more labor-intensive than is strictly desirable, especially when there are costumes to construct as well. Inspired by a post on Craft Magazine's web site about carving turnips, we decided last year to go small.

It turns out that rutabagas and turnips are quite easy to carve. You can hollow them with a melon baller and carve them with your favorite carving implements. One tool that I find particularly useful is a grapefruit knife (with serrations on both edges).

I was very pleased to not be faced with pumpkin seeds demanding to be cleaned and cooked. Of course, the root vegetable innards are edible, but much easier to prepare. You can make a tasty root vegetable puree in the same way you would make mashed potatoes, using whatever combination of rutabaga, parsnip, turnip, carrot and potato seems good to you.

For lighting, we knew that candles were right out, given the wee size of these lanterns. Small Christmas tree lights turned out to be a good solution here.

The next problem was display. While the turnips could technically have sat on the ground, the rutabaga couldn’t, and all the lanterns were too small to be effective at foot level. So we mounted them on dowels jammed into the tops of bamboo poles. We dropped large washers over the dowels to provide a flat resting place on the top of the pole. Voila! Shrunken heads.

The lanterns aged nicely, becoming more intensely charactered as they drew in on themselves. The happy Cyclops got happier, the droopy cow droopier and the scowling rutabaga fiercer. And since they were up on poles, the squirrels didn’t get to them – much.

Spurred on by our success, I can imagine we might host a root vegetable carving party next Halloween and plant a whole forest of lanterns.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A Buyer's Guide to the Greybrador

(for Charlie and Melissa)

Yes, boss!
Right away, boss...
You know,
I don’t think we’ve covered that one.

50 degrees out?
No thanks, I can hold –
Ooh, is that the ice breaking up?
Lake frisbee!

A rabbit!
I will chase it into the next county
and shake it until it is dead
and carry it softly back for you.

Where is all the food from the fridge?
I believe there might be a bit left
under that cushion.

I love everyone!
But most especially you, boss.

And your bed.
Yes, I do need that much of it.