Tuesday, April 30, 2013

2013 Knitter's Frolic: black and white and read all over

After I bought all the shiny new colours of romney/mohair yarn at the Stoddart booth at this year's Knitter's Frolic, I went to look for Japanese stitch dictionaries at the Needle Arts Book Shop.

Naturally, the consequence was the purchase of an adorable pin with hardly any colour at all:

Okay, seriously, just try to tell me you would have turned down this happy prancing sheep.  While looking me in the eyes, thankyouverymuch.

The pin was a last minute impulse purchase though; I'd been resisting it for several minutes.  The previous impulse purchase that weakened me enough to give in was this cute trio of zebra buttons (which are round, incidentally, but rolled around on their shanks when I tried to take their picture):

I have no idea what I will sew these onto, since I haven't knit a cardigan in forever, but sometimes you just have to not think twice about things.  I did think very hard about stitch dictionaries though and yay! I scored a new one:

These books are always a little daunting, because there is no English inside: you have to make do with charts and illustrations and a few symbols.

And why does one go through all that, you might ask?  Because the stitches are so adorable.


Meanwhile, I have been knitting (sadly, not Stoddard socks, but soon), so next time I should have some new stitchy stuff to show you.  Do take care of yourself today and if you get to fit in some knitting, I hope it goes swimmingly without the slightest bit of ripping back.  Not that this is a hint as to how things are going for me, ahem.  See you tomorrow!

Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 Knitter's Frolic: new yarn and fiber

Yay Downtown Knit Collective!  I had another great shopping day at the Knitter's Frolic on Saturday. This was the first year I had the whole day free to spend there if I wanted, and, bonus: Trish was also free, so we got to go together.  Trish's goal was, if I recall correctly, not to buy any new yarn, and I'm very impressed to say she stuck to it even though I set such a bad example for her. 

My goal was to buy more of my beloved Stoddart yarn in worsted weight only, to make more superwarm socks for next winter.  I have plenty in the lighter weights as you may recall from last summer, but only two pairs of superwarm, and hello: Toronto?  You need more than two pairs of superwarm socks to live in an uninsulated house here.

The trick with worsted weight is that to get a proper leg on a pair of socks for a size 7 foot, you really need one and a half skeins, with the half serving as contrast cuff, heel, and toe.  So Trish helped me figure out trio combinations where one colour could serve as the anchor for two others.  It was really, really hard because sometimes we would find the dreamiest colours in the wrong weight, and then I'd have to be firm with myself and remember the goal was warm toes, not just loading up on gorgeousness.

Here is combo number one, with the anchor colour in the middle:

and combo number two:

and then Trish must have forgotten that I really only wanted to come home with six skeins because she found two other drool-worthy colours and then we had to come up with combo number three:

mmmm, new yarn.

It was while I was holding all of it that Silvia, whose yarn it is, came over and gave me a big hug and told me she hadn't even needed to look at my face - she knew it was me because of the armful.  Seriously?  Are other people able to exercise self-control at Silvia's booth?  I think really I must just have instantly recognizable hair.

As we were chatting, I learned several important things, such as

a/ I missed this year's wool share program

b/ Because the farm is so busy, they've closed the online shop for the yarn

c/ Silvia has massively cut back on how often she brings yarn to markets in town

By b/ I was starting to inch back toward the table but when I heard c/?  Omigosh.  I panicked and grabbed the first two hunks of roving that I saw.

Because honestly: worsted knits up fast, and I need enough Stoddart stuff to get me through a whole summer at the cottage, at least.

Even though this was totally justified, I did kind of panic when I looked at the haul in its entirety after I got home.

Think I overdid it?

(don't answer that.)

And in case you were wondering: of course I bought other stuff at the Frolic! but I'll show that to you tomorrow, because I'm sure you have many more important things to do right now and even I have to go get a start on my day.

Meanwhile, I do hope you had a marvelous weekend, and that today goes great.  Which it almost certainly will if you give yourself time to knit something yummy, so good luck!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Handknit socks and where to walk in them

This week as I knit up the first of my Koigu socks, I tried to decide what my favourite days were in Italy.

It was pretty easy to choose one for Florence: it was the day I went a little shopping-crazy, because even though it rained we had a really lovely walking tour of the city, saw The David, and got official free time in which to play independently (plus the unofficial free time when I went glove-shopping.)

But the one in Rome?

That one has to be the day our group was taken to the Villa d'Este, in Tivoli.  (check the link for way better photos than mine.)  It's a short drive from the city and afterward when we were returned to our hotel for free time, we had an amazing just-us walk that included a stop at a bakery selling hands down the best pizza I've ever had, plus tarts filled not with raspberry or some other typical North American filling but orange jam.

At some point I really do need to share some photographs from both of those walks, but today: it's got to be the ones from this former summer getaway that features something like 50 fountains in its terraced gardens.  After you've looked at a few of these pictures, try to imagine what the place looks like in summer, when all the flowers are in bloom and not just the bulbs.  (at the link above, you'll see how it looks in the evening, all lit up.)

First up:

Sorry, I just had to get this out of the way.  I was so bowled over when I saw this charming courtyard I had to take a picture: it's the entrance to the bathroom!

Here are two views downward into the gardens, from the terrace of the villa itself and then a little further down.

I'm going to try to post these in the order I saw them, so you can have a virtual stroll of your own...

... but frankly, after a while it's just sort of a gorge-fest of gorgeous garden stonework.

By the time we got this far into the trip, I'd perfected my policy of taking as many pictures as possible, while walking if necessary, in order to actually take a look at them.  On a group tour, you just don't have the leisure to ponder in place.  So sometimes, the places I thought were lovely at the time get more interesting as I look at the files, like this next fountain.  When it first caught my eye, it looked like this:

It wasn't about the fountain at all - you can barely see it from this angle - but all about the vista with the gorgeous statuary in front and the construction below and hills in the distance.  Then, at home, I did a closeup and saw the detail on the top more clearly.

I think that's pretty darned special.  From below, it lures you down a path, like this.

We all need stone like this in our gardens, don't you think?  Never mind that the base alone is bigger than my kitchen.

I'm sure I'm going out of order now, but that last one was taken just over the back wall of a fountain that had another fountain just beyond it.   I think the motto here could have been 'Nothing by halves.'

Two words: terracotta pots.  I see these at home all the time, but somehow, they just don't look the same.

Okay, this fountain was simply spectacular.  I took several photographs of it from different angles because every time I saw it from a new place I didn't believe it could look more beautiful.

I am pretty sure I was wrong.

One last fountain:

One last path:

and then the one thing I wanted a picture of every time I saw one (they were lining so many streets in Rome that we rode along in buses or walked past at night) and only had a chance to get once, in the courtyard of the Villa d'Este:

an orange tree.  heaven.

I have an exciting knitting weekend coming up which I'll tell you about next week, but in the meantime I will leave you with my very best wishes for a serious knitting weekend of your own.  See you Monday!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

A morning with the Pope

Much as I really loved all that gelato in Florence, the most dramatic day of my time in Italy was when we were taken to a Papal Audience in St. Peter's Square in Rome for - if not the first, then one of the first - with the newly-elected Pope Francis I.  The question of the hour: would our choir be invited to sing, or would it not? and for me: did I have the personal fortitude to survive the crowds and the waiting?

Coincidentally that was the only day I missed knitting at all (and I missed it a lot).  Wouldn't it be nice if I'd had pictures of knitting to include with this post?  But I knew better than to try getting sock needles past the security barrier.

I also know better than to think you will all be endlessly (or even remotely) fascinated by the day, so feel free to blow a kiss and drop back in tomorrow when I'll have either knitting or some seriously gorgeous garden-y fountains to show you.

Now, we did get over to St. Peter's Square on the previous Sunday, because the choir we were accompanying was singing at mass there.  We had to be there very early in the morning because crowds were anticipated.  Thanks to our early arrival the crowds looked sort of like this:

When we reached the front of the Basilica, I took this picture of what stands at the top end of the Square, guessing that the tenty thing was probably a/ where the Pope sits when receiving guests and b/ as close as I was likely to be to him, including the three days ahead.

St. Peter's itself?

It's a little imposing.

And rather enormous inside, too.  The choir sang as beautifully as ever - truly, it was just incredible to hear them singing in there - and afterward when I ran into one of the teen-aged choristers I asked him how it was to sing in St. Peter's in Rome.  Was it, like, Zing????  He told me there is about a 10-second echo to account for, which took some getting used to.  (I really love these people, and I can only imagine what it is like to perform often enough in amazing venues to be unflustered by singing in all these once-in-a-lifetime places.)  Then he told me how impressed he was with St. Peter's own choir, with which I could wholeheartedly agree.  They were fabulous. 

Coming out of mass, the Square looked - and sounded - rather different than it did in the morning.  By which I mean: full - seriously full - of people.  Turned out that Papa Francesco was giving an address to the crowd there from a window above, and their surging voices were like a wave of abiding love that rushed all the way up to the steps of the Basilica.

I'm sorry to say my first thought about this was:

Oh dear.  We are in for it.

And as I feared, here is what greeted us when we arrived at St. Peter's a little after 7:30 on Wednesday morning:

This is the very back of the line... for the security gates.   We stood as part of this crowd, watching members of our group shifting hither and yon and farther and farther from the rest of us for perhaps half an hour? during which I tried not to remember how scary it was to move out through that other crowd on Sunday, and to tell myself emphatically enough that if our choir was going to get to sing for the Pope that morning, I really did need to be there to hear it, having already come so far.

Eventually we were given the go-ahead to move into the fray and make our way around rather a lot of fencing, at which point it was too late to think about anything because I was too deeply embedded amongst all those people to do anything but flow.

Unlike Sunday, when the security line was all there was to deal with, we had to go on moving through similar crowds post-security to find our way to some chairs.  Mostly I was fixated on spotting and following anybody from our group, because I knew that if we lost them, we would also lose our choir.  It was pretty crazy, until we popped out into a more or less open seating area into which all of our group was miraculously pouring from every direction and gathering itself back together into a little community.

At which point I realized I was here.

The choir was to our right, directly behind the barriers in reserved seating protected rather grandly by a large gentleman in a tailcoat, and I personally was about as close, if not closer, to the Pope's chair than I was when I'd taken this picture on the Sunday. I still can't quite believe it.

Once we were seated and everybody was together apart from a few brave souls who ventured forth for the bathroom and didn't all make it back (45 minute waits for the early adopters, barred re-entry for some of the stragglers) - that's when I started to miss my knitting.  For two hours.  Gah.  Amazingly, two hours goes pretty fast, even under a now-baking sun without any knitting at all, when you are waiting for something you know you will never ever experience again in your lifetime.  

Then, suddenly, I spotted movement and got this picture before anybody else had a chance to stand and snap their own:

Hello, Papa Francesco!

He arrived just before 10:30am, and the next few minutes we were all pretty giddy, as the Popemobile zipped around all the lanes left open between seating areas and slowed for the kissing and blessing of babies held aloft.  Then the Pope took his seat and many groups were welcomed in the languages of their homelands, by different people who spoke them.  We were welcomed by Father Keenan - no relation, but a former classmate of one of my neighbourhood friends at home: small world, yes?

And then - the moment we were hoping for - our choir stood and sang.  Apparently there were eight musical groups at that particular Papal Audience and all of them wanted to perform, but only three were permitted.  I guess I should have had more faith, particularly given where they were seated, but it was still such a wonderful surprise.

Here is the Pope a little later on in the programme, blessing all of us and our families.  I am so glad I brought my new camera with me.

Of course, having laid down on the job of learning Italian before the trip, I could not understand a word the Pope said on any subject, so I just tried to absorb the experience.  I was especially struck by this string of Cardinals, seated in the chairs I'd stood beside myself a few days before:

I have never seen that many Cardinals in one place... I think my previous high number was 'two.'  At the end of the Audience, all of them stood and lined up for a personal greeting with the Pope.  It took a long time for them all to get through.

And then, around 12:10:

It was done.  Time to meet at the non-running fountain to the south, and find our bus!

Or not.

(the crowds did thin eventually, and apart from a lot of leaping about excitedly taking pictures of our talented choristers, we did all get safely onto our buses again.)

I still don't know quite what to make of the whole experience, which is partly why it's taken me so long to write about it.  I mean, obviously: Pope Francis is huge in the news right now, and a lot of people wanted to be at this event, and I was very, very fortunate that I was able to be there under any circumstances let alone when so many friends actually got to perform for him.

But at the same time, even though I wasn't doing anything special like they were, I just feel so happy that I got on a plane to be there for this moment, and didn't run from the crowds, and was patient about sitting doing nothing when my normal mode is to be juggling at least three things at once.

Now, that's not to say that this learning experience will stick...

(socks in progress, legwarmers started, new socks cast on, Knitter's Frolic shopping frenzy coming up)

... but at least I know I am capable of more than I think I am.

Okay, we're done!  No more crowds for Hugs, whew.  Hope you have a lovely day and I'll see you tomorrow, with bells on.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Knitting stew

Yesterday I was supposed to get a lot of sensible productive things done in my 'free' time, but when I looked at the list again over a cup of tea I decided to be irresponsible and just finish off a lot of knitting instead.

Okay, I did do a couple of loads of laundry and I think one other urgent thing (or not, since I can't remember anything else I accomplished except for putting away the pantry-type groceries that had been sitting on the counter for a few days, does that count?) BUT mostly it was sewing on a button, grafting the toes of some long-finished socks, finishing the toe of a nearly finished sock, and running in a whole mess of ends.

Also, because the laundry I did was lying on top of it, I pulled out the scarf I knit from my very first remotely-viable handspun way back in the day.  I'm pretty sure it went into the laundry at least a year ago and I've been ignoring it, probably because I'm so embarrassed that it looks like its sides were traced out by a seasick person not very much enjoying his or her first go on a unicycle.

This time instead of ignoring it, I tried it on, and you know what?

With the right outfit, I think the bumps and lumps and wavy bits would just look arty.  So now it's in a different laundry basket (the handknit sock one, no less) and maybe I will get it sorted before fall.

There were a few ends to run in on the scarf, and then I ran in ends and grafted toes on some long-suffering socks...

and then just before bed I sorted out one more pair of nearly-finished socks, and now I feel mostly human again... at least where the mounds of unfinished knitting on my work table are concerned.

Actually though, what I really want is to sit down and get working on a book.  And frankly: why not?  The taxes are done, the trip is done, the laundry is almost done - what's to stop me?  Yeah, I don't know either, but it's been a week now and something seems to come up every day, so I am guessing I'm not quite ready yet.  Meanwhile: I've cast on some very pretty legwarmers, so at least I'll be entertained why I mull the whole thing.

Tomorrow I have to show you something about Italy, not least because I won't have any new knitting to show you instead.  But also: Italy!  So have a great rest-of-the-day, and I'll see you then.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Stuff I bought in Italy, while of unsound mind

I can't stand it any more: I have to tell you my tales of self-indulgence in Italy.  Ready?

When the plane I was on landed in Rome, we had to walk a very long way through a maze of shop-lined corridors to the terminal designated for our connecting flight to Florence.  Upon arrival at the correct gate (there was a last-minute change after we had cooled our heels for a while at what proved to be the incorrect one) I saw the most incredible bag in the boutique on one side of it and fell in love.

I'm not kidding: I actually sat down in the waiting area and wrote in my journal that I was in love with the orange rubber purse in the window of the Furla store.

Of course I did nothing about it because I am ever so practical and there is absolutely nothing logical about a see-through rubber handbag with a too-small zip opening that prevents you from putting much in it (never mind getting much out.)  After a few days in Florence though, I spotted another Furla store about a block from the place where we were about to end a tour and start an unheard-of four-hour block of free time, so I left a mental trail of breadcrumbs and raced back when we were done.

When I asked about the orange bag, I noticed it came in rather a lot of other colours.  This is where you have to start telling yourself it's always best to go with the thing that caught your eye first, but it's hard to believe that when the other colours never had a chance to do that (limited stock in the airport boutique, dontcha know.)  To make matters worse, I got distracted by the sight of a slightly different, way more flashy bag with a fabric bottom and handles in a contrasting shade of rubber.

Exhibit A: it was a special edition version of the bag I loved.

Exhibit B: it cost even more than Mr. Orange.

Exhibit C: Pete liked it better (and he was buying, so I didn't have to worry about Exhibit B.)

Hello, retro turquoise Candy bag (click here for fun Candy video) that matches nothing I own but is adorable anyway.  I expect I will store knitting in you, when you finish off-gassing.

(actually, looking at these pictures here, it is hands down the turquoise bag for me, but the love for the orange is still imprinted in my brain. gah.)

I swear this didn't happen on purpose

Because it was raining heavily on the Furla bag's bag and also on the bag of silk gift scarves we picked up next, we decided to limp back to the hotel and have lunch there, then crash before the tour resumed with a bus ride to a distant winery for supper.  And then: disaster.  About 20 minutes before the bus was to depart, I discovered there had been something terribly wrong with the tomato-sauce pasta I had ordered earlier.  (I know that sounds implausible but really it is true.)

So Pete went on his own, and I waited it out until, as is the way with such incidents, an hour or two had passed and I felt perfectly well again.

With a totally free evening that was no longer filled with rain.

And a shopping guide to Florence in my Kindle.

And a really good map.

Let's give the girl a hand

With a short stop at a church along the way to pray for safe, incident-free passage - after which I must say the last queasiness and leg-wobbles passed away entirely - I made my way out for a walk.  My destination: the Madova glove store.

This was one of my favourite experiences in Italy - the shop was like a miniature version of the wand shop in the Harry Potter movies, with lots of cubbies on the walls each filled with 16 or so colours of a given size of a particular style of glove.  Having established accurately at a glance what size hands I have, the lady who helped me had me set my elbow on a pillow, then neatly tucked an unlined plain leather glove over my fingers and palm. 

It was perfect.

But so was the suede, silk-lined glove I asked to try next, and the black, cashmere-lined one with the rainbow of colours up the sides of each finger... and then somebody came in with a few more gloves to be put into stock and dropped them on the counter.  The gentlemen next to me gasped along with me at the sight of the ones on top - they were my size, even - and told me I had to try them on if only so they could see how they looked.  I did and we all decided I had to buy them...

... and then they left, and I didn't have anybody to talk me out of the suede ones or help me decide which colour I should get, so I got two.

And yes, I do think it was being thwarted from the orange bag that made me buy the second gloves, but on the upside, how cute are they?

In all the excitement I forgot to buy a pair of the original unlined gloves.  Luckily they're in the online shop, and I know my size, heh.

(oh, come on: knitters totally have to pamper their hands, don't you think?)

In my defence

I priced both the bags on Furla's US site and you know what?  They're cheaper in Italy.  And the gloves are totally practical - I've been wearing the green ones a ton since I got back, it's still so chilly here at home in the mornings.  The only other things I bought myself were a coin purse (so cute) and some candy (delicious) and a lightweight fun scarf (necessary), so I don't feel too too guilty about shopping without brain.

Still: wouldn't it be nice if you could put a frivolous bag like that with a pair of New Balance walking shoes or rugged velco sandals and have it look stylish?

le sigh.  Okay, enough about shopping: tomorrow, it'll be knitting again.  Or maybe some pretty fountains which I think I meant to post about last week, or maybe the morning I spent with the Pope and what felt like several thousand other people?

Today is a list day for me, as in, I must catch up on a zillion little things that have been piling up, in some cases quite literally, as on my desk, which is getting quite scary-looking.  But all I want to do is have some naps and some knitting.  Let's hope common sense prevails, and for you too!