Saturday, December 3, 2016

Caterpillar to Butterfly Scarf from Sheep's Clothing--Day 2

It's making me wait...

The hard part about this project is the delayed gratification.  I’ve got to slog through a whole lot of garter stitch—essentially all the yarn—to get to the point where this scarf does its transformational tricks.  It’s like a very long, slow climb to the top of the roller coaster before you get to the thrills.  Anticipa-a-tion

And not just anticipation, but solace, as well.  Every knitter knows the soothing balm of easy knit stitches with lovely fiber.  The texture and the muscle memory take over, and knitting becomes a pleasant enhancement to just about everything.  As the chaotic holiday season ratchets up around here and my task list grows by leaps and bounds, there’s something grounding in the reliable satisfaction of getting to the end of each long row.  

It struck me today, person of faith that I am, that this is the perfect Advent scarf.  Long, quiet hours of preparation for the coming miracle that takes the ordinary to extraordinary.  Knittable Advent calendars, roller coasters—forgive us writer types, we love to take our metaphors and run wild with them.  


But I do love how knitting so often can take on the character of my days or attitudes.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Caterpillar to Butterfly Scarf from Sheep's Clothing

Animal antics...

“That can’t be long enough.”

I stare at this scarf, now cast on my needles exactly as instructed, and I can’t see how this short swath of stitches is going to transform itself into a full length scarf.  

I understand the concept, and I recognize the truth that dropped stitches take up more space than knitted ones, but I can’t envision how this is going to stretch out as much as it seems to need to.

Then again, I understand the concept of metamorphosis that turns a caterpillar into a butterfly, I’ve seen it work, but I still can’t quite get my brain around how it happens.  So the name suits, don't you think?

I made an interesting choice in provisional cast on yarn here.  I was staring it it for a while, thinking the whole thing looked vaguely familiar, and then it hit me:  sock monkey.  

The colors of the yarn (in it’s current length—it changes several times throughout the ball) are just like the red-brown-and-white sock monkeys we all know and love.  I know that reaction will go away once the other hues come into play, but it is rather amusing to feel like I’m knitting a sock monkey.


A too-short sock monkey that turns into a caterpillar that turns into a long-enough butterfly.  Is knitting an amazing thing or what??

Friday, November 25, 2016

NORTHWEST INDIANA—Day 2: Griffith


Whistle stop...

One of my favorite parts of writing DestiKNITions is when I end up in interesting small towns that would never show up in tourist guides.  Lots of towns like Griffith have fascinating stories.
Evidently Griffith held the record for the most train crossings per capita.  When the multiple rail lines needed to increase the traffic that ran through the mega-crossing in town, they struck a financial partnership that gave Griffith lots of funding to upgrade all kinds of things.  Everybody wins—including you, when you visit.

Like all good DestiKNITions, start with a great cup of coffee at:

Grindhouse Cafe
146 N Broad St
Griffith, IN 46319
219-595-5678

This is one of those great coffee places where reading the massive chalkboard menu is an entertainment in itself.  Strong, superb brews in a variety of flavors and combinations, often with cheeky names that can’t help but make you smile.  You can grab a satisfying breakfast here for $5.50.  Should you be here for lunch, my sources say the chicken salad sandwich is not to be missed, nor is one with blue cheese with called a “Beef Bomb.”

Properly caffeinated, head 50 feet away to today’s yarn find:

Spinnin’ Yarns
145 Griffith Blvd
Griffith, IN  46319
219-924-7333

When the local yarn shop closed, lots of Jamie Gunnink’s friends said, “You should start one!” So in 2010,she did.  She outgrew her home in six months, opening in a freestanding shop a year later.  Spinnin’ Yarns draws from all over the county as well as southern Chicagoland, with customers ranging from kids to knitters in their 90’s.  

“We’re a store that is very patient when you come in saying ‘Oops, I did something interesting,’” says Jamie.  “We try never to call is a mistake, you just did something interesting.”  Help is always free, and the loyal customers who remember what it was like to not have a local shop surely appreciates Spinnin’ Yarns’ friendly, inclusive atmosphere.

Jamie stocks the store with “a mix of things I like plus what I know my customers will wear.”  The store offers a wide rage of “entry level yarns” to artisan fibers. “As knitters increase their skills, they want a better quality yarn,” says Jamie.  Open knitting nights—which often resemble a potluck meal with yarn according to Jamie—happen Monday and Tuesday, with additional sessions on Wednesday morning and Saturdays. Project and technique classes, as well as private knitting lessons and what Jamie calls “urgent care help,” round out the store’s services.

Packed with project samples, you’re sure to find something itching to make its way onto your needles.  Here’s a few to whet your appetite: 


Inspira Cowl
Knit down your stash by combining four unrelated yarns to make this eye-catching accessory.  Or whip up one in school colors for a student home for the holidays.  Or show your team pride.  This cowl has more possible combinations than a Rubix cube, so have fun.

Knit Along:
Great Prismatic Cowl
Taking its name from the famously hued Yellowstone spring, you surely want to knit this up in Cascade Melilla’s colorway that exactly matches the color progression of its famous namesake.  Since most of those colors look dreadful on me, I chose a blue color-scheme, but it will still be lovely.  I’ve always wanted the learn the true mobius cast-on, and knitting linen stitch in the round means no pesky counting!

Berroco Brooklin Vest
A well-draped vest can jazz up almost any outfit.  Berroco’s simple design takes 5-7 skeins of Vintage Chunky and combines great texture for this vest.  The yarn becomes the star—unless you add a stunning shawl pin.  And Spinnin’ Yarns has plenty of those!

Surprise Crochet Baby Sweater
Elizabeth Zimmerman’s famous Baby Surprise Jacket takes a long time to knit.  Indulge your impatient self by making the much quicker (a total of 6 hours if you’re fast, according to Jamie) crochet version using James C. Brett Marble Chunky.  The pattern comes from the book Surprise Crochet Sweaters for Baby. One giant ball will produce a jacket, or any worsted weight yarn will give the garment more of a sweater feel.

Azel Pullover
It’s hard to get more adorable than a chunky sweater on a little one.  This simple pullover by Velvet Acorn Design also has a crochet version named Aura.  Of course, if you want one, they come in adult sizes, too.

A unique gadget recommendation:
Most of us have a collection of circular needles tangling in a drawer, but Jamie has a unique solution to this problem from a source you’d never expect:  Bass Pro Shops.  Their soft sided tackle binder makes the perfect tote for all those circs & dpn’s that refuse to stay sorted.   Worth an inclusion on your holiday gift list for the guy who’d never darken the door of a yarn shop!

Yarn purchases in hand, let's explore some of the rest of the town.  Start with:

Charcuterie
128 N. Broad Street
Griffith IN  46319
219-902-2037
Nothing makes me happier than learning new words.  On this trip I learned “charcuterie.”  It’s a neither butcher shop nor deli; it’s a French (of course) term for a shop specializing in salted, smoked and cured meats, artisan cheeses, wine, and other specialty food items.  Translation: high quality yum. Oh, and the bread.  It’s enough to make this newly gluten-free girl go rogue.  They’ll prepare a meat and cheese board that’s pure edible bliss for your next gathering.

American Natural Resources
120 N. Broad Street
Griffith IN  46319
219-922-6444

Even if you’re absolutely sure you’ll never need a vignette of stuffed raccoons in canoes (which seem to be a house specialty here), this establishment is worth a trip inside.  While I’ve always found taxidermy an…unusual art form, it’s clear these guys are the top of their game (pun intended).  You’ll encounter giraffes, bears, big and small game, humongous moose, things you didn’t know could be made from antlers, and some impressive rustic furniture.  Your hunting friends will be impressed, your PETA buddies not so much. Still, for sheer “I’ve never seen that before” value, this store is hard to beat.

Lady’s Gourmet Popcorn
118 N. Broad Street
Griffith IN  46319
219-743-7858

Chicagoland seems to have a love affair with gourmet popcorn. Only we never stop at the cheddar/caramel combo (known in this shop as Central Park and really good)—we take it to extremes.  Cinnamon Roll flavored popcorn?  Sign me up.  Spend some time tasting whatever flavors are available that day (they take special orders as well), and pick three or four to munch on the drive home.

Ready for lunch?  Head to Jamie’s recommendation:

Asada Mexican Restaurant
216 South Broad Street
Griffith, IN 46319
219-934-0400

A recommendation for a good Mexican restaurant is a treasure.  You often can’t tell the quality from the outside and it’s not always wise to “wing it.”  The really good places?  They’re always really good, and this is one of those.  Reasonable prices and friendly service, too.  The owner is likely to come by and check to see if you’re satisfied, and that doesn’t happen often anymore. The Carne Asada seems to be a favorite of many I spoke with, but Jamie says “everything is good.” They offer the traditional fried ice cream dessert, but save room for your next stop:


Butterfingers
Brumm’s Plaza
2552 45th Street
Highland, IN  46322

You’ve heard me say it before: where there’s yarn, there’s cupcakes.  While this is just a small drive away in the next town of Highland, these goodies were worth hunting down.  Moist, several with decadent fillings, and not piled high with frosting as so many are lately. The bars and brownies were excellent as well.  And the cakes! Frosted or bundt, tall layers or luscious cheesecake—one glance at the display case will have you drooling.  You’ve earned a slice of whatever you want, so give in to that glycemic finale to your trip.

There you have it—two delectable, surprising towns tucked away in Northwest Indiana that are worth your time to visit.  The perfect one-day adventure for any yarn fan.

Next up, we cast on the transformative Caterpillar to Butterfly Scarf and watch the magic happen.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

NORTHWEST INDIANA - Day One: Valparaiso


Surprising Valparaiso...

Each “Reader Who Knits" (or in this case, Crochets) has the opportunity to give a shout out to their favorite local yarn store.  Last November when Anaida Morales cited Sheep’s Clothing in a city not too far from me, I filed it away for future use.  Now, I get the delight of introducing you to this nifty store in a town I confess I’ve driven past countless times and never stopped to visit.  My loss, I tell you, because “Valpo” has a surprising lot to offer!

Fluid Coffeebar
159 W Lincolnway
Valparaiso, IN 46383
219-510-1000

DestiKNITTers know coffee is always Job One on a yarn adventure.  Forget the franchise java and make your first stop this engaging and funky family-run coffee bar.  Truly good brew here, folks, delivered with tons of character.  They serve Intellegentsia coffee—top notch beans, and the folks who served as my resource when I wrote The Perfect Blend—so you know quality is a priority.  Ask the good baristas behind the counter to tell you the story of this place, right down to the handmade furniture.  Don’t forget to include a visit to the chalkboard-walled washrooms, filled with “entertaining” messages from patrons.

On to the main event: the fiber:

Sheep’s Clothing Knitting Supply
60 West Lincolnway
Valparaiso, IN  46383
219-462-1700

Owner Paula Strietelmeier started with a small section of yarn in a friend’s quilt shop and never looked back.  Earning its own retail space in 2001 and growing to its present wonderful location in 2008, the store boasts three classroom spaces, perfect lighting, airy high ceilings, and warm textures like wood and brick.  The whole place just feels creative.

“I love good yarn and helping people come up with a project,” says Paula.  Her stock shifts slightly with the seasons and product innovations, and is displayed with a loosely organized style meant to encourage browsing.  

A friendly staff of many long-time employees stands ready to help you.  Paula makes great use of that loyal talent.  “Each of our employees has a specialty,” she says, “Including especially strong beginners classes like "First Time Sweaters.”  As Anaida will attest, crocheters will find a home here, too.  Just want to hang out?  Open knitting is on Wednesday mornings, Thursday evenings, and the first and third Saturdays.  Check out a chock-full monthly newsletter to see all that’s being offered.

The store is packed with enticing samples, and here are a few of my favorites:

Enter Sweater
Norah Gaughn’s versatile design takes on the characteristics of whatever lighter worsted weight yarn you use.  This is one pattern you’ll want to make multiple times!  Perfect for the layering Chicagoland’s tricky weather can demand.  Depending on size, you’ll need approximately 7 skeins.

Big and Cuddly Cable Cowl
And when those Lake Michigan winds blow, you’ll want to knit up this to keep you warm.  Any purchase of chainette yarn such as Classic  Elite’s Chalet, Chateau, or Palace earns you a copy of the exclusive shop pattern.  Vary the length to your taste, and stay warm and stylish this winter.

Yoked Cardigan Baby Sweater
What sweet little one wouldn’t look cuddly in this stylish sweater?  For that matter, what human?  Good thing Hanna Fettig of Knitbot lists this pattern in a variety of sizes so you can indulge everyone.  Go cheery and bright or neutral and elegant—any worsted weight yarn will do.  Make sure to grab a pair of artful buttons for the perfect finishing touch.

Knit A Long: Caterpillar to Butterfly Scarf
Our hands-on project from this store is all about the transformation!  Using two balls of Tahki Filatura Di Crosa Fancy Tempo or Minitempo, this store exclusive pattern works a post-stitching magic I can’t wait to watch.  Lots of “dropped stitch” scarves like this are worked widthwise, but this clever design is worked lengthwise.  I’m excited to see this inventive technique in action.

Yarn in hand, it’s time to indulge in the surprisingly great shopping this little town has to offer.

Ivy Boutique
64 Lincolnway
Valparaiso, IN 46383
219-299-2442
Just yards away from Sheep’s Clothing! Little boutiques like this are my favorite place to shop—personalized service, and you never come away looking like everyone else.  If you like Free People clothes, this place is for you.  Accessories, home and bath finds, and gift items round out the inventive stock.

Bangles Clothing Gifts and Accessories
15 Lincolnway
Valparaiso, IN 46383
219-462-8462
Duck around the corner from Sheep’s Clothing to this small store packed with charm.  I found a great pair of earrings, but Owner Paulette Domke also stocks unique handbags, apparel, and accessories.

Silcott’s City Gear Shoes
18 Washington St
Valparaiso, IN 46383
219-462-7178
 Business websitesilcotts.com
Yelp photo
There’s always something nice about a quality independent shoe store that puts the mall and big box outlets to shame.  The variety of the stock is impressive!  Everyone talked about owner Brent’s fabulous customer service.  Any place with this many enthusiastic regulars deserves a look.


Seasons on the Square
1 Lincolnway
Valparaiso, IN 46383
219-465-0165

Beautiful high quality clothes and Brighton bags make this a great shopping experience. If you’re looking for a statement jacket to let you stand out at work or elsewhere, chances are you’ll find it here.

Ready for lunch?  Head to:

Blackbird Cafe
114 Lincolnway
Valparaiso, IN 46383
219-548-2811

Admittedly, this is as good a choice for breakfast as it is for lunch.  The quiche is outstanding, as is the soup and salad selections.  Casual enough for moms and tots but trendy enough to make you feel like you’re someplace special (the cupcakes, and pecan pie help with that, too). 

I’m especially fond of places where eating alone doesn’t feel weird—and I saw many lone diners (I brought a friend to help me “taste” all the goodies that weren’t on my very restrictive diet program).  Valparaiso University is nearby, and this spot has that artsy, casually elegant college-town feel.  Succumb to the “homemade oreos" if you must, but we have other dessert plans so save room!

Designer Desserts Cupcakes
56 Lincoln Way
Valparaiso, IN 46383
219-465-0008

I have a thing for cupcake places.  They always have an inventive and whimsical vibe, a place where you don’t have to take life so seriously.  I love to see if someone has come up with a flavor I’ve never heard of before.  This place had large, moist cupcakes with delicious frosting.  Seasonal flavors that sounded intriguing included Watermelon Fizz and Eggnog, but our super-helpful server recommended the Big Texan (seriously chocolate) the Creme Brulee, and the Pink Champagne.  I counted 101 flavors on the menu! I’m coming back when I can have more than a forkful!

Lifestyles Unique Gifts
122 Lincolnway
Valparaiso, IN 46383
219-464-9167
This is one of those “little bit of everything” gift stores that I especially love to frequent.  I found a clever Joseph Joseph counting water bottle to help me stay hydrated on my program, as well as some very lovely soaps (I’m a total soap snob, if you haven’t yet figured that out).  There was home decor, jewelry, garden and kitchen goodies, accessories, and even toys—truly a bit of everything.  The sales staff was exceptionally friendly, offering to gift wrap my purchases even though they were just for me.   Don’t miss the upstairs gallery, too.

Old World Market
76 S Washington St
Valparaiso, IN 46383
219-476-0700

I didn’t know quite what to think when Paula suggested we stop here.  Wine and cheese foodie shops aren’t usually my thing, but I adored this place even if my diet kept me off cheese while I was here.  Don’t you dare call this a deli—your grocery store can’t hope to compete with the intriguing collection of meats and cheeses in this oh-so-friendly market.  You can easily walk in here clueless about wine and come away with a purchase sure to make you look clever at next week’s dinner party.  A serious display of local brews rounds out the fare.  My friend and I packed ourselves a lovely little set of snacks for the drive home—you should, too!

I feel bad that I hadn’t given Valparaiso much thought beyond an 1-65 exit before my visit. I couldn’t have been more wrong.  My friend and I left thinking, “My hometown should feel like this—can we move here?”  Valpo has all the spiff of a elegant suburb with all the warmth of a small town.  Perfect!  Next time you drive by, don’t just drive by—stop and enjoy all this town has to offer.


Next up, we travel a little further west to Griffith to sample more Northwest Indiana hidden treasures.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

November Reader Who Knits: Katherine John

It's time to meet this month's Reader Who Knits! DestiKNITters, say hello to Katherine John.

Katherine, What’s on your needles right now?
This hat for a friend.



What feels like the worst knitting mistake/foible/wrong choice you’ve ever made?
My first sweater. I knit the hemline too short and did some sort of wonky shaping in the sleeves that I hoped would straighten out in the blocking process. It didn’t. However, I still wear it. Occasionally. When all my other sweaters and jackets are in the wash. ;)

Straight needles or circular?
Circular, because they are less easy to lose and more comfortable.

Metal or wood needles?
Metal! I love the way the stitches slide off the needles.

White chocolate, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate?
If it’s Hershey’s: Milk Chocolate. If it’s “fancy”: Dark Chocolate!




Coffee or tea?
Plain, hot green tea every day!

What’s your favorite Allie novel?
My So-Called Love Life” Hilarious!

What are you reading now?
Colossians. As a college student, the Bible is the only non-textbook I have time for. Thanksgiving break is coming up soon, though, so I plan on catching up on my reading then!
Do you have a favorite knitting character from a book, movie, or television show?
Galen from “Princess of the Midnight Ball” by Jessica Day George.




Give a shout out to your favorite local yarn store:

I haven’t found any near me, yet. But I have hope that one will open sometime soon!

As her prize for being featured, Katherine receives ten hanks of Cascade 220 in Silver Gray. She chose a copy of A Heart to Heal for herself and Mission of Hope for a friend.

If you'd like to be featured on Readers Who Knit, email me at allie@alliepleiter.com for details.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Meet me at The Ryman Wrap from Haus of Yarn - Done!

Worth all the work...

Like all things worked hard for, this result is particularly satisfying.  I wish that you could really see the beauty of the design, but the dark yarn makes it hard to capture in a photo.  The texture—the thing that drew me to the piece in the first place—is a marvelous combination of warm loft and light drape.  Perfect for the Nashville climate, or any other southern town.

And no, it doesn’t curl.  It blocks out flat and behaves exactly like I’d want a shawl to behave.  I’m grateful I went through the trouble of that extra length—it wouldn’t quite wrap the way I like without those additional inches.

It’s got the warmth of wool, but it isn’t bulky.  Just a touch of cover, which is what I look for in a shawl.  This is a versatile piece: the garter stitch middle has a casual air to pair with a pair of jeans, while the lacework edges add enough elegance to top a dress or slacks.  I think it just begs to pair with a creamy fall turtleneck and boots.

You presented a challenge, Haus of Yarn, and I’m glad I was up to it!  Thanks for the experience.


Next up, we meet November’s Reader Who Knits, then it’s on to Northwest Indiana.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Meet me at The Ryman Wrap from Haus of Yarn - Day 6

Are we having fun yet?

So, it seems knitting has yet more lessons to teach me on this project.

When I plot out the episodes for DestiKNITions projects, I set benchmarks within the pattern so that I’ll have something significant to share with you.  I’m not convinced just my prattling on about 50 rows of stockinette will be entertaining for any of you.  And I care about entertaining and informing you.

Sometimes, that goal is motivating.  Other times, it’s downright oppressive.  I can’t tell you how many times this week I’ve stared at the enormity of this project, fingers aching after hours of knitting (while other tasks went undone), and thought to myself, “It’s just knitting.  This is supposed to be fun.”

I’m not saying it isn’t enjoyable—it is—but enjoyable on a deadline looses some of its charm.  Saturday was my birthday, and as a gift to myself I set aside the whole day for making satisfying progress on this oh-so-late episode and binge-watching Gilmore Girls to get my mind in the small-town atmosphere I’ll need for my next book series.  Me, the couch, the yarn, and the remote.

So why did I end the day near tears?

I kept feeling the pressure of needing to get to the end so I can block this and show you all the finished product before an upcoming trip.  And then when I messed up and needed to rip out nearly an hour’s worth of knitting, it all just caved in on me.  It was another one of those days where my husband just looked at me like “this is supposed to be fun for you, right?”  Because it wasn’t looking like any fun.

So I have a decision to make.  All those blogging experts tell me I need to be posting around twice a week (I try to post every four days) to be “engaging.”  That makes sense, but on the other hand who wants to read a post that doesn’t have anything significant to say?   Or that takes something I love and turns it into yet another pressing demand? 


Force this issue, or let it play out at its own natural speed? Really, how many other parts of our life fall under the same quandary?