Voilà: Happy Hat

September is a Happy Month around here. First, a cool front blew some Happy Rain into Texas last week and the weather has allowed the wearing of long sleeves. It’s still spiking into the 90s in the afternoon, but the nights, oh the Happy Nights have been dropping into the 60s. I’ve slept with my Happy Window open, which is just about my idea of heaven.

I made some Happy Decisions for my health and future, resulting in the loss of four Happy Pounds. It took eight Bleepin’ Weeks to shed even an ounce, but it’s finally starting to Happ(y)en.

And my Happy Hat has been released!

©Geneve Hoffman Photography

Is that a stinkin’ cute Happy Baby or what?

I have self-published many designs and have been published in several Knit Picks collections, but this is my first design in a proper book.

The gestation period for this Happy Publication was about the same amount of time a baby takes to come into the world.

An elephant baby, that is.

I began working on it almost two years ago. As with most of my designs, I started with a swatch of a stitch pattern that spoke to me the day my eyes fell on it while browsing through one of my German stitch dictionaries. I didn’t know what it was going to be, but a basic pattern like this one would look great on many types of items.

And then I saw the call for submissions from Storey Publishing and knew that it should be on a hat. Around the same time, I was reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and so this design that looks like little smiles all over the place will forever be linked with the Cheshire Cat.

I submitted my design to Storey in February 2014 and they accepted it in July 2014, and now, 14 months on—after signing contracts, reviewing proofs and finding an error in the chart (theirs), conferring with the editor about their conflation of two sizes into one for the final version of the pattern, getting an initial pub date of August 25th then seeing a different pub date of September 8th, and accommodating their requests to get back to them ASAP about everything—the Happy Book is out.

One-Skein Wonders for Babies: 101 Knitting Projects for Infants & Toddlers edited by Judith Durant is 288 pages packed with ensembles, tops and bottoms, dresses, hats, socks and booties, blankets, toys, and other baby things to knit.

I hope my Happy Hat will be one of yours. It’s on page 151.

To Ponder: An amazing thing happens when you get honest with yourself and start doing what you love, what makes you happy. Your life literally slows down. You stop wishing for the weekend. You stop merely looking forward to special events. You begin to live in each moment and you start feeling like a human being. You just ride the wave that is life, with this feeling of contentment and joy. You move fluidly, steadily, calm and grateful. A veil is lifted, and a whole new perspective is born. |-Unknown-|



A Gift of Yarn and Magazines Part 1: The Magazines

A couple of weeks ago, during my Saturday afternoon volunteer shift at the library, I was able to get in one or two rows of knitting. I can usually knit quite a bit on those shifts because we’re not busy and because I work with a partner who loves to shelve books. But summers in Texas are indistinguishable from the molten core of a volcano and the library is air conditioned, which means more patrons and more checkouts. I can’t remember when I had time to even take my knitting project out of my bag.

But that day, I was knitting when a woman came to the circulation desk to check out books. She said, “Oh, I used to knit, but I don’t any more. And no one in my family knits.”

Bummer, I thought, as I scanned the barcodes on her books.

“I have a bunch of yarn,” she said. “Do you want it?”

My first thought, was OF COURSE I WANT FREE YARN. But then I asked the critical question as non-snobbily as I could: “Is it wool?”

She said it was, and that some of it was cashmere from Italy that she bought without having any plans for. “You know how you go to a yarn store and just pick stuff off the shelves.”

I nodded, thinking, I don’t pick cashmere off the shelves.

I wrote my name on her book receipt and she said she would drop the yarn at the library for me.

Around 10:00 AM on Monday, I got a call from one of the morning shift volunteers.

I was there in 15 minutes.*

When I walked in, Jackie, who had called, smiled at me from behind the circulation desk. Take. me. to. the. yarn. NOW, I started to say, but remembered my manners and first thanked her for letting me know it was there. She held up a stitch dictionary she had been browsing through and assured me that she was just looking at it. “I like to cro—”

“There are books, too?” I asked.

“—chet,” she finished, then nodded.

Manners shmanners. “Where?”

Jackie led me to a two-shelf book cart in the back room near the kitchen. On the top shelf were four dusty file-size clear tubs stuffed with crack yarn.

Treasure chests.

Jackie watched as I opened each tub full of vintage yarn—Unger, Bernat, Del Avo, Indiecita, Lane Borgosesia, Katia, Brunswick—careful not to let any of the skeins leave my sight. I felt like a prisoner guarding my breakfast in the mess hall, ready to defend my haul against Jackie or some other crafting bully who wandered by and thought the yarn was just another donation, there for the taking.

On the second shelf of the book cart was what looked like a foot-tall stack of books and magazines, also vintage, and mostly from the 80s.

In reality, only about 7″ high.

What a collection!

Stitch dictionaries.


Pingouin and Phildar magazines.

Vogue Knitting magazines.

As with some books that came into my possession, these Vogue Knitting covers were so familiar to me, I thought I already owned most of them.† I didn’t, though, and they’ve filled in a lot of gaps in my collection.

Unfortunately, my knitting donor is a smoker. As soon as I can get the smell out of the yarn, I’ll do a post on what’s in the tubs.

Coffee grounds seem to be working to absorb the smell.

*There are other knitters at the library, including the director, whom I’m almost positive would not have exerted eminent domain over my yarn, but I wanted to get it out of their way as soon as I could.

†I did own them at one time, but they had been donated to Goodwill by a dumb college girl who had no idea what she wanted to do with her life, but was sure she would never knit again.

Cool Old Book: Knitting Wildlife

One of my favorite vintage pattern books is Knitting Wildlife by Ruth Herring and Kim Manners. It’s not rare or anything, so you can pick up a copy for less than $1.00.

That’s 1976 Model of the Year Marie Helvin looking ferocious on the cover.

Themed sweaters are so 80s, and I would never knit any of these (the intarsia colorwork is evil beyond my desire to execute), but who doesn’t love a pattern book with a cause?

The editors collaborated with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to “pay homage to the world of nature and spread the message of conservation.”

From the inside cover:

Wild animals captivate us with their grace and beauty, their compelling strength and sensitivity, but we are increasingly aware of just how vulnerable they and their habitats have become. Knitwear designers Ruth Herring and Karen Manners have been inspired by this predicament of global proportion to create no fewer than 19 fresh and exciting wildlife designs in association with the World Wildlife Fund who will receive royalties from this book.

Each pattern is introduced with a story about the beauty and plight of the animal featured in the design. But the best part is that they got celebrity Brits of the day—athletes, actors, models, and musicians (and their kids)—to model these designs.

A very young Elizabeth Hurley models the Whooper Swans and Daffodils cardigan.

Before botox, bazooms, and Hugh Grant.

Michael Palin, one of the geniuses of Monty Python, models the Orcas Breaching Whales pullover.

Looking rather smug after saying something very funny, no doubt.

Genesis founder and guitarist Mike Rutherford models the Lionesses Sleeping in Acacia Tree pullover.

He hasn’t changed his mane in 25+ years.

Marie Helvin gets a second entry in the book modeling the Great Barrier Reef dress.

Neither has she.

The book also has patterns for elephants, polar bears, panda bears, a rhino, and even a badger.

If you were going to create something to support a cause, what would it be and who would you want to model it?

I’m thinking maybe a collection of menswear designs to benefit the World Literacy Foundation, all of them modeled by Toby Stephens.

Maggie Smith’s son.

Sometimes a Great Novel

I just last night finished Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, a story about logging and family and never giving an inch, but with an over-arching theme about the ruthlessness of living in the past and the dangers of making assumptions (and the life-altering consequences of acting on them). “When you sow the wind, you reap a whirlwind.”

I suck at book reviews, but I will say that this is in my list of top five favorite books. She also loves A Confederacy of Dunces and The Debt to Pleasure (which she judged and bought because of its cover) and reads them when she’s feeling literarily disturbed and wants to reclaim her mind and climb back into God’s pocket.

I can’t wait to forget it so I can reread it.

How is this related to knitting?

This morning, while the ending was gelling in my consciousness, I did a little browsing on the internets about the book and came across this photo of its author. As crisp and moody a black-and-white photo as ever there was. (You don’t get this depth with digital.)

Ken Kesey in a hand-knit-with-love Cowichan vest.

I have a certain obsession with Cowichan sweaters, and now I’m pretty sure I need one with dragons on it.

I’m getting closer to knitting intarsia, which doesn’t seem like such a great notion, but she could do it if she put her reclaimed mind to it.

What’s inspiring you today?

It’s Who You Know

Last week, I got an email from one of the librarians at my library. She’s the one who handles inter-library loans (ILLs), so I often get emails from her that one of my requests is ready to pick up. Sometimes I request books that I’m thinking about buying, especially out-of-print knitting books. Sometimes I request books that our library should have, but doesn’t, like Dante’s Inferno*. But lately I’ve been ILLing The Rockford Files and Columbo DVDs. I was between series and rewatching Numb3rs  until one or the other came in.

But that wasn’t what this email was about. This gem of a friend, who is also a knitter, was writing to tell me that someone had donated “a bunch of knitting books” to the libary. She decided not to add them to the collection, so she saved them for me.

A lot of retired people live in my city, and about once a week the library gets a large donation of mildewed books without dust jackets when people move, or, more likely, after someone passes away. I figured a bunch meant five, and I’d find one I’d like to keep.

I was there as soon as they opened the next day, and the librarian led me to a storage room in the back. She told me that some friends of a board member donated the books that belonged to their daughter who had died suddenly. I sent up a prayer for their loss, then did some quick maths: daughter = young = Stitch ‘n Bitch**.

Here’s what I saw in the closet:

Christmas in March.

Here’s what shut my mouth:

Ethnic Socks and Stockings  by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts

Viking Patterns for Knitting by Elsebeth Lavold

Simply Socks: 45 Traditional Turkish Patterns to Knit by Anna Zilboorg

I’ve wanted these books for so long, and the covers were so familiar, I actually thought I owned them. But of course I didn’t because they were out-of-print, rare, and expensive.

For those who love detail, I also got Folk Bags, Swedish Sweaters, Learn-to-Knit Afghan Book, Best of Lopi, Big Knits and Great Big Knits by Dawn French (how cool are patterns by The Vicar of Dibley?), Celtic Knits, Enchanted Knitting, Family Knits, The New Knitting Stich Library (hardcover), Kids Kids Kids, Colorful Knitwear Design, Knitting Lace: A Workshop with Patterns and Projects (I don’t enjoy knitting lace, but maybe I will after working through this), Vogue Knitting American Collection (which I own, but this was a nicer copy), Jean Moss World Knits, Charted Knitting Designs (hardcover), A Treasury of Knitting Patterns (which I own, but this is the 1968 version), and two German books: Burda Handarbeiten Leicht Gemacht I and Perfekt Stricken. Twenty-two books in all.

On my way home, I thought about this daughter whose library I was hauling home. From the titles, I knew that she was an accomplished and ambitious knitter, and that she was probably someone I would like to have known. My own library has similar types of books, heavy on the colorwork and cables. Like her with her German knitting books, I also have some fun vintage ones (it pains me that the 80s are considered vintage), like Knitting Wildlife and Around the World in Eighty Sweaters.

I wondered if she ever knit any of Anna Zilboorg’s Turkish socks or Elsebeth Lavold’s Viking pullovers. Or, if, like me, she wanted those books because they were beautiful and inspiring, knowing that she could knit a pair of Crazy Curl socks or Ragna one day if she had the time and the yarn, and wanted to put in the effort.

If she did knit those things, I hope her parents recognized them as accomplishments and kept them as they would her first finger painting or spelling bee trophy.

Thank you, daughter, for these books. I’ll treasure them and take good care of them, and I’ll think of you, knitting in heaven, every time I use them.

*I’ve never ILLed Dante’s Inferno, but still.

**There’s nothing wrong with Stich ‘n Bitch, but a) my library has it in their collection, and b) my knitting skillz are a little more advanced. (Also, the title of the book should have two apostrophes thusly—’n’—to represent the a and the d missing from the word “and.”)

The Time I Met the Yarn Harlot

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, the Yarn Harlot, is in the middle of a book tour for her, I think, 497th book, The Amazing Thing About the Way It Goes.

She came to Texas one time, in October of 2011, to promote her 349th book, All Wound Up. I was there. See? In the first crowd picture. In the center, wearing black boots.


(c)BookPeople – Contemplating the heat.

Even though she was tired from traveling and overheated from spending time in the cruel Texas humidity in October, she acted as if this were her first stop on the tour. She started by telling us that she walked to the bookstore from the Driskill Hotel because someone at the front desk said it was walking distance. (It’s not.) Then she said how proud her mum would be that she accessorized her outfit with a necklace. (Now, this is not funny in and of itself, but if you read her blog and you know her history of boring outfits and you know how her mother is always trying to get her to liven up her wardrobe, then you would laugh.)

Then she read two essays from her book, which she said was a new feature of her book tour. Usually she just talks. The first was “Knit Junkie,” about a time she went to dinner without her knitting, then “Personal Filters,” about how she wants to answer dumb knitting questions vs. how she actually answers them.

Well, she didn’t read the essays, she performed them, using proper pauses and inflections and body language and yes, sarcasm.

I’m sure that all of us would have stayed there for hours listening to her read and answer questions and give advice, but the bookstore had a schedule to keep.

The Harlot and I have a previous connection in that we are in the same book together—Knit Lit the Third: We Spin More Yarns. At the time that book came out, I didn’t know anything about her or her enthusiasm for knitting, but I loved her story (“Airport”) of enduring the torture of a) having her knitting needles disallowed at the discretion of airport security, and b) a delayed flight. I remember wanting to read more essays by this funny writer who spoke to the heart of a knitting obsession.

The first line of my essay is mentioned in this Booklist review of KnitLit the Third.

The first line of my essay is mentioned in this Booklist review of KnitLit the Third.

When it came time to meet her and have my book signed, I mentioned our literary cohabitation. She nodded, probably thinking, “Yeah, well you’re holding an entire book of essays written by me.” I told her I had written “Cast Off,” about how I never finish anything I start. She smiled and said, “Oh, I love that essay.”

Now, I don’t know if she was just being Canadian (i.e., polite), or if she really recalled my essay out of the dozens that were in that book. And could she distinguish that book from the other two KnitLits (one and too) in which she also had essays? I’m going say yes, she distinguished and she recalled, and I’ll take the compliment.