Still Life, With Cats

This content shows Simple View


Festively warm

Today is National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day (no, I don’t know who came up with this either, but it’s a thing, so let’s just go with it).

I do not own an ugly Christmas sweater. I am, in fact, not entirely sure I have ever owned one (no, friends and family, that is NOT a go-ahead to get me one). But a few months ago, I knit one.

I may or may not have mentioned that occasionally I do test knitting for various designers and yarn stores and companies. I usually can’t really say much about them beyond fairly generic ‘I am knitting on a thing’ comments, and it is rare that I get to share pictures of them with the general public.

But in honor of it being National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day, I am going to share one of my most recent test knits. Yes, I made one of the sweaters for this collection.

The sweater itself is a basic crew neck. The pattern was then double-knit onto it, which was only difficult because my particular sweater was done in black and so the individual stitches were next to impossible to see. Each of the other sweaters in the collection has similar construction, although some have more complicated bits and pieces (the reindeer comes immediately to mind – those antlers crack me up).

And now I am pondering knitting myself my very own Ugly Christmas Sweater. I would wear that snowman one in a heartbeat, any day of winter, because I think it’s actually kind of adorable. And the elf one is really calling my name (although that one definitely has a more narrow window of use). I’m not sure if it’s because of the stripy sleeves, or the crazy i-cord legs and arms, but I’ve kind of fallen hard for it.

So maybe next year, on National Ugly Christmas Sweater Day, I will have my very own sweater to model. In the meantime, though, you’ll just have to be content with a picture of a sweater I made, on someone else.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Making use

I like knitting shawls. I especially like knitting lace shawls.

Of course, I never actually *wear* shawls. Or scarves. Or lace of any kind, for that matter. In yet another way in which I fail at being a girl, I never learned the art of accessorizing – I can barely manage to remember to put earrings on, let alone add in any other sort of jewelry, and the thought of somehow having to also figure out additional items of clothing beyond the basics of pants+top+socks & shoes just escapes me completely.

But now I have short hair. *Very* short hair. Which means, now that it is cold and soggy outside, that my neck is often cold. And I have all these knit things, sitting patiently in little folded piles on a shelf. So I have decided I ought to try actually using them.

I realize, as I toss them casually around my shoulders, that I am about as far from fashionable as it is possible to be, and, based on my height and overall shape, that I look far more like a festively decorated fire hydrant. But at least my neck is warm. And the things I make are getting to see the light of day. And I am going to keep this up at least through the next few months in the hopes that maybe, somehow, simply the act of wearing them makes me look like I have half a clue what I am doing.

Here’s the latest thing I made for the warming of my neck: Thunderstorm.


I made this as a test knit for the designer. My colors are actually reversed from the pattern, which wasn’t intentional, but which turned out just fine anyway. Bonus – it’s all made with sock yarn, so it goes nicely into the washer and dryer, and it’s soft and snuggly around my shoulders and by golly, I am going to be the best dressed damn fire hydrant you ever did see this year. Or if nothing else, at least the warmest.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


I got up this morning and was full of plans for being super productive. But then I got sidetracked by Plants vs Zombies 2, which sort of killed most of the morning. So really, all I managed to do today was scrub down the shower stall (because hoo boy did it need it), go to the library to turn in books and pay my fine (the result of being sick / too busy to go drop stuff off or pick stuff up), and swing by the grocery store to get sour cream and elbow noodles. And then I came home and I spent a couple hours knitting, all the while telling myself that this wasn’t going to work, this really wasn’t going to work. But we knitters, we are a perverse bunch and sometimes it takes a while for us to finally grasp reality. Eventually, though, I finally hit that point where I accepted the inevitable with no small amount of muttered swearing under my breath, so I set it down in disgust and distracted myself by making this Carroty Mac & Cheese for dinner (primarily because we seem to have acquired a rather startlingly large volume of carrots over the past few weekend trips to the farmers market), and oh by the way, you should go to your kitchen right now and make it and then do your best to avoid standing at the counter and shoveling the entire pot into your mouth with a spoon because it is really that good.

Thus fortified with cheese and noodles and enough carrots to surely counteract the rest of it (shut up, leave me my delusions) and having postponed the inevitable as long as I could, I finally sat down and proceeded to rip out exactly 15,680 stitches (yes, that really is an accurate number) and started over again from scratch.

Thankfully there was leftover lemon cake and ice cream to tide me over. Leftover cake and ice cream can soothe a lot of ills, especially when it involves ripping out vast quantities of knitting.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


On the drive to the farmers market this morning, a Volkswagon bug passed us, going the opposite direction. It was followed by another one, and then another, and then a pair of Volkswagon vans. As we all watched, mouths agape, the vintage Volkswagons continued to putter on by, several dozen of them.

Was there some kind of Volkswagon convention? Was there a parade? Had we just driven by the first wave of the vintage Volkswagon invasion? We have no idea. But it was such a wonderful, lovely thing to see, all those adorable cars and vans driving by.

* * * * *

When one reaches the end of a row and discovers that one still has exactly the number of stitches one was supposed to have, it is perfectly acceptable to give a tiny, impromptu cheer. And if one is doing this at a Lacy Knitting Guild meeting, no one there will even blink an eye, because one is surrounded by people who have plenty of experience knitting things with hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of stitches per row, and know only too well the pain of this same scenario *not* working out so well.

* * * * *

I love knitting lace. Seriously, I adore it. It is a toss up between lace and cables which one I prefer more. It is similar to writing a lengthy stored procedure. You have to make sure all your increases / decreases / yarnovers  (or for cables, all your right or left crosses) line up exactly, or else things will go rapidly south, and you will find yourself hunched in a chair over a mess of knitting in your lap, counting backwards down the rows, muttering to yourself and saying words that one probably should not say in polite society, to the point where your spouse recognizes the signs and wisely stays out of the room until you look a bit less stressed. Much like you have to make sure all the parenthesis or end tags line up just right in your code, or else you end up sitting on the floor with sheets and sheets of paper all spread out around you, highlighting tags and muttering to yourself under your breath as you try to track down that *one* thing that is causing everything else to break.

Which, I realize, to a layperson, probably does not sound like fun at all, but seriously, I swear. The time I am happiest when knitting is when I am doing lace or cables, and the more complicated the better. It’s where the magic happens.

* * * * *

Your cat picture of the day – Ingrid, in her preferred sprawling position. She cracks us up when she does this, every single time.


‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Goal, Set

I like setting goals for myself. I do not always meet them, but sometimes I manage to check all the boxes and do what I set out to do. Case in point – I have now done 2 of the 4 5K runs I promised myself I would do this year. The first was in January, and the second was in May (I didn’t manage to run the whole thing in January, but I *did* run the whole thing in May. Go me!). We’ve registered for the 3rd (in October), and I have an idea for the fourth (which, depending on my own ability, might actually be a 10k, but let’s not get too excited about that just yet), plus I’m looking out more long term and have agreed to run Bay to Breakers next May with a group. I am currently ignoring the fact that Bay to Breakers involves at least one nasty hill, and more importantly, that it is actually a 12K route, but I have plenty of time to panic about those pesky little details later.


Richard decided he was going to embark on another Story-A-Week challenge, starting in July, I decided I needed to set myself a weekly goal as well. Spurred by the fact that my yarn stash is still a bit on the large side, I decided I would try to do finish one sock per week (or if not a sock, roughly the equivalent in stitches / yarn knit).

The first sock done was the second in a pair for Richard – these rainbow colored Gentleman’s Fancy Socks. The pattern comes from the book Vintage Socks, with my own modifications; I did not do as many calf decreases as called for in the pattern, and I used my regular slip stitch heel instead of the stockinette heel called for in the pattern.

Yarn is some form of Trekking XXL that’s been in the stash for a very long time.




For week 2, I decided to cast on a pair for myself. Since we spent that weekend attending a local Science Fiction/Fantasy convention (Westercon), I knew I’d have a lot of available knitting time while sitting in panels, or relaxing in the lounge in between sessions. So I cast on for a pair that would be complex enough to keep them interesting, but not so complicated that I couldn’t knit them while still participating in discussions.

Turns out that I had more time to knit than I thought, plus even with all the twisting of stitches, these knit up a lot faster than I was expecting, so instead of finishing just one sock, I actually finished the pair. Bonus – this puts me one sock ahead, which I am sure will come in handy later in the year when I am super busy with work and life and do not have as much time to knit.

Pattern is Inlay. Yarn was from the stash (Opal, I think).


After that I realized I had a lace knitting guild meeting coming up and I really needed a new lace pattern to cast on, so I decided that lace (or in fact any) projects that use up sock yarn work for this challenge.

I cast on shortly before heading off to the guild meeting, and had so much fun with it I kept on working on it pretty much every night and then suddenly it was done. Bonus – it used nearly 3 balls of sock yarn from the stash.



Having no more sock yarn on the needles, I promptly cast on for yet another. Alas, I only finished one of the two before month’s end – Gentleman’s Half Hose in Ringwood Pattern (also from Vintage Socks) in a vintage yarn (dark blue) from the stash (if by ‘vintage’, I mean ‘discontinued’, but why quibble over the details).

Grand total for the month – four socks knit, plus a bonus 3 balls of sock yarn removed from the stash for the shawl. Game on.


I didn’t intend to get up at 5 this morning. But the mechanical whine of the tow truck in the street woke me up, and once I was awake, my hands also woke up, and proceeded to remind me why it is usually considered a very bad idea to try to knit an extremely large project (the details of which I am contractually not allowed to share) out of certain types of yarn in a very short period of time. So instead of trying to fall back asleep, instead I got up and took some ibuprofin to make the hands stop screaming at me, and then I decided as long as I was awake anyway, I might as well finish the thing, so I sat down with some coffee (necessary) and some cats (not necessary, but you try telling them that) and two hours later, the last end was woven in, and I was done. Of course, my original plan had been to finish it this weekend anyway, so as to get it shipped off to where it needs to go and out of my hair with plenty of time to spare. I just hadn’t counted on all the extra work I’ve put into it over the past 36 hours.

Any other weekend I might have been able to just climb back into bed, but not today. I had just enough time to go take a shower and get dressed and scrounge up my usual black performance attire and stuff it into a bag (having learned that attempting to put on black concert attire in a house with six cats is an exercise in futility, massive fuzz, and usually a small amount of swearing), and then dash off to Dixon for the first cantata performance of the day. I zipped in and changed (I am very good and changing quickly when it comes to concert attire) and had time to spare, to chat and catch up with people I only see once a year or less now.

The cantata went well – the director always picks awesome cantata scores, so it’s always a lot of fun to sing – and then I said my goodbyes and changed back into my street clothes and headed back home.

I had grand plans that today I was going to try to get all the baking done that I need to have done for this coming week, but when I got home I realized that we didn’t have everything that I needed. I thought, for a very brief moment, of trying to get to the grocery store and pick up everything and then come home and see if I could somehow mix up the dough, roll out and bake roughly 5 dozen cookies. But it was only a brief thought. So instead of stressing myself out with baking (like I’ve been stressing myself out with knitting the past few days), we decided to go out and get lunch. We went to a new-to-us place downtown and ate brunch food with a lot of bacon, and then we came back home, and while Richard very nicely went off to the grocery store, list in hand, I stayed home and I and a few of the cats took a much-needed nap.

Then it was back to Dixon for the evening performance of the cantata. And my favorite part of that was that the handbell choir performed as well. I love handbell choirs, and they were absolutely terrific. Between the five of them, they were juggling something like 30 bells, and it was obvious they were all having a whole lot of fun.

So now I am back home. The cantata is done. The test knit is done. We curled up on the couches in the living room and watched the latest installment of “The Next Iron Chef” and I did not knit a single stitch. It was wonderful.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.


Yesterday, after I went for the run, I tackled a whole list of other chores. I wrapped all the presents for my little sister and her family, and packed them into a box, and drove off to the post office to pop that into the mail to them. Amusingly, I packed their presents into the same box in which my sister mailed me ours – it arrived yesterday morning just as I was about to get started with the wrapping, and it turned out to be exactly the right size I needed. Some of the wadded newspaper she packed inside ended up on the floor for the cats; the rest went right back into the box before I shipped it back to them.

I also peeled a few dozen apples and cored and sliced them and then crammed them into the crockpot to make apple butter. A pile of apple pieces so large that I can barely get the lid onto the crockpot will eventually simmer down into a thick paste of a bit less than half the volume.

I had fully intended to can the apple butter this morning, but yesterday afternoon I sat down with all the pieces for a test knit I’ve been working on, and as I started putting them together, I realized that, even though I *did* knit a gauge swatch, and I have been checking and measuring gauge all along, somehow the knitting gremlins got involved and everything was very much the wrong size. Because – and this is something a lot of knitters learn – gauge swatches lie. Always. Every. Single. Damn. Time.

Panic set in. Swearing followed shortly thereafter. I set it aside and thought maybe if I checked it later it might all be a bad dream. I checked it later. Still all wrong. More swearing.

And then at that point I realized there was really only one thing left to do. So I turned off the crockpot and put the mostly-finished apple butter in the refrigerator to deal with at some point in the near future. And then I sat down and gritted my teeth and I ripped out fully three weeks worth of knitting, down to the very last stitch, and started over.

I knit all Friday evening, until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more. And then I got up this morning and I knit some more. I took a few hours of break to head off to practice for the Christmas cantata, but then I came back home and kept on knitting. I went down a needle size. I measured obsessively. I checked and double-checked, and as pieces came off the needles, I measured and triple-checked again, and this time things looked like they were supposed to look. We finally caught up on season 7 of Supernatural, and a few episodes from season 5 of Charmed, and I kept on knitting. I had other things I really wanted to do today – baking cookies and doing laundry and maybe finally tackling the Christmas cards and annual wrap-up letter, but ah well. Those will all keep. They will have to keep.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Over and over

At about 7 this morning, a herd of elephants went rampaging through the house over my head, thundering around and crashing into things. This may make no sense until I explain that we live in a roughly 100-year-old high-water bungalow style house that, at some point in the past was raised even higher, so the main living space is on the second floor (as is the front door), and the bedrooms are on the lower level. We also have no carpeting anywhere in the house (a combination of six cats + allergies + we much prefer the look of wood even without the first two issues), so activity on the upper level can often be heard down below.  Completely unrelated (of course – ha), it is always astounding to me how much noise an animal who weighs less than 15 pounds can make when they put their minds to it.

Richard can sleep through anything. Alas, I lost that ability shortly after I left college. So I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was now wide awake, and went upstairs to try to make some significant headway on a particular knitting project.

However, today was apparently one of those days where I was incapable of either counting, or reading a chart correctly. I finished up a sizable piece of knitting this morning, and then I went off to the monthly lace knitting group meeting, where I hit the wall in terms of chart reading (let’s just say I would be *done* with this lace piece by now if I hadn’t had to keep ripping back and redoing the same damn three rows, and the fact that I finished the meeting further ahead than when I started is only due to my ability to knit extremely fast). And then when I got back home I picked up my yarn and needles for the project I was working on this morning and discovered that actually I had done it all wrong, and needed to rip it all out and start again. Grumble.

But the day was not entirely lost. It is not as if I have to have either of these projects done tomorrow. I got to sit on the couch under an afghan and a cat for several hours today, doing something I love, and then go hang out with a bunch of awesome people and do more of it (minus the afghan and the cat, but with bonus added chai). And then this evening we went out to dinner to a new-to-us ramen place downtown with some friends, and we sat there and slurped noodles and talked about life, the universe, and everything including cats (okay, a lot of it was about cats, but that is how we roll), and we finished the evening with house-made mochi and black sesame ice cream and an agreement that we definitely have to go back there again. Soon.

And then Richard and I came home and watched The Next Iron Chef, where the drama of this week, where one of our least favorite chefs was booted off, almost (but not quite) made up for the drama of last week where our very favorite chef was eliminated (sob), and I plugged away on the thing I screwed up on this morning, and this time it all worked just fine and there was no more ripping out to do.

‘Tis the season for Holidailies.

Warm hands

Last year, one of my fellow knitters and I both bought yarn, specifically to make stranded colorwork mittens. Except that then we never actually got around to *making* those mittens. So this year, we decided that January would be the month of mittens. Anyone who wanted to join in could do so, using whatever pattern they wanted, just as long as it was mittens.

I suspect I may be the only one who’s actually *doing* this so far, but that’s okay. I’ve been having fun. A lot of fun. Apparently I had forgotten just how much I enjoy doing stranded color work. No, I really am not kidding. There’s something kind of magical about it. It always takes me a little bit to get back into the swing of carrying two strands at once, and some parts of colorwork (corrugated ribbing, for example) can be really fiddly. But eventually I slide right back into that rhythm and I’m off.

I made some fingerless gloves years ago, but who knows where they ended up. The temperature at my office tends to fluctuate wildly, depending on the weather, and whether or not the wall gauges actually feel like working that day. The front half of the office gets lots of direct sun, but the back half, where I am, is like a little frozen cave, and there have been days when I sit at my computer with my coat on, huddled next to the space heater that technically I’m not supposed to be using (shh), trying to type and use the mouse with icicles for fingers.

So my first goal this month was to whip up some new fingerless gloves. Luckily I found the yarn I bought last year (KnitPick Chrome), so I was all set. Normally I wouldn’t be willing to make something utilitarian out of a yarn that has to be handwashed, but since these were for me, I can be pretty sure that the person using them will refrain from tossing them accidentally into the washer.

The pattern is Wintergreen Gloves. The yarn has long color changes; hence the shift in hue from dark orange to light. I made some minor modifications by lengthening the hands just a bit, since as I mentioned previously, I get icicle fingers.

I finished these in just about a week, and I’ve been wearing them in the car (it’s been really cold out lately) and at the office ever since.

Once I finished these, Richard starting making sad noises about his own chilly hands, so next up were these.

The pattern (Men’s Fair Isle Mittens) was for full mittens, and has a solid color cuff, but Richard only wanted fingerless gloves, and I didn’t feel like slogging through three inches of solid color ribbing. So I switched things up a bit and did some corrugated ribbing, topped with a Latvian plait, for the cuff, and then tacked on a tiny bit of solid-color ribbing at the top for hand and thumb. I whipped these up in only a few days (see above re. getting back into the rhythm of colorwork).

The third pair (so far) this month I actually started about a week ago, and finished the first one before getting side-tracked by the mitts for Richard. When I saw the pattern, I knew I needed to make myself a pair.

The pattern is Recess for Grownups, because puppet mittens aren’t just for kids, after all. It took me just a hair over two balls of sock yarn to make these and the mitts for Richard.

Here’s the palm side.

There are only seven days left in the month, and next month we’re jumping into helical socks and leaving mittens behind. So I am pondering whether or not I want to try for one more pair, or if maybe the mitten obsession is done for a while. Although I am so very tempted by these. And these. And…well, you get the idea.