Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Asheville Scarf from Friends & Fiberworks - Day 3

How do you know?

I’ve been clipping along at such a great pace that now I’ve got to answer an essential question: when to stop? 

Since the rows keep getting longer, I need a way to measure how many rows’ worth of yarn I’ve got left so I don’t start a final row only to run out in the middle.

How?  I employ the tried and true tactic of weight. 

Usually, weighing what you’ve done and what yarn remains helps ensure you have fiber enough for a second sock or mitten. Here, I conduct a few experiments to measure how many grams of yarn a row requires so I can evaluate how many rows are “in” my remaining ball.

I walk you through it step by step:

1) Weigh the remaining ball of yarn. This is most easily done on a food scale using grams (ounces are too big). While I don’t own one, I’m told a postal scale works well, too.

2) Knit one row.
3) Measure the ball again, noting how much lighter it is after the row. In my case, 2 grams.
4) Repeat steps 2 and 3 to confirm your findings—again, in my case 2 grams. I also unwind two grams off the scale and place a knot to test it by length as well as weight.

5) Since my ball after these steps weighs 22 grams, I now know I’ve got roughly 10 rows of yarn left. So I’ll plan on 8, ensuring I have sufficient yarn for the single-chain crochet bind-off the pattern calls for.

See? Math can be your friend, in life as well as in knitting. If a writer—a words person rather than a numbers gal—can befriend math, you can too!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Asheville Scarf from Friends & Fiberworks - Day 2

The least crazy thing...

I’ve had the craziest of weeks. Plot twists (and not in my books!), surprise issues, things that didn't work the way they were supposed to…you know, life.

If I were knitting a complicated lace project right now, I don’t know that I could pick it up. I'm not sure I'd want to pick it up. Seriously, I don't seem to have enough brain cells left at the end of these days. 

But this scarf? It fits the bill perfectly. I was in another meeting last night (my 3rd!) and I could simply sit and listen and knit. I can’t express how wonderful that was. 

Even if nothing else went right in my day, that row would still be done, I’d be that much closer to the finish line on this project. I can’t say that about much in my life right now. Things seem to unravel as fast as I put them together.

Soothing. That’s the word for this project. The lush greens and easy stitches are soooo soothing. I smile as it grows into itself, stitch by stitch. My breath slows and my pulse rate goes down.

Ah, knitting. What would I do without you?

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Asheville Scarf from Friends & Fiberworks - Day 1

Say hello...

It’s rather satisfying to have met the people who make the yarn you’re using.  In the same way I adored meeting the alpaca who “donated” their fleece to my mittens, I feel a special pleasure in having met Lisa and knowing that her husband dyes the yarn on my needles. It's the knitting version of having the chef come say hello at the restaurant.  As an author, I deeply relate to the “here, I made this for you,” vibe that comes when artists connect with their customers or fans. After all, we who create do so to share. Yarn is created to be knit in the same way my books are written to be read. It’s a connective process.

I’m delighted to start a top down shawl without that pesky garter tab business. I never get it right. The simple increase employed by this pattern means I am off and running in the first handful of rows.  No pattern consultation needed after the first half-hour!  I can go nearly the entire row without looking down, and that’s especially useful in seminars and meetings.

You can tell this is wool. It has the spring, and at the moment, it has the scratch. This is a sturdy fiber.  Not much "ahh” factor between the fingers, but the lush colors and the promise of a softer post-wash texture make it worth the process.  

I’m looking forward to the finished product.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017


Adoring an Asheville adventure...

I’m setting a series of books in western North Carolina, so this August I made the first of what will be several trips to the area.  I only had time to visit one yarn shop in the midst of all my book research, but it was a welcome addition to the DestiKNITions family.  Come along on my first exploration of Asheville!

A few purely travel-related notes to begin: 

—No matter how you got here, try to make sure your visit includes a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Even if you only manage it for a small portion, this ranks as one of America’s great drives. The scenery, even on a cloudy day, can take your breath away.

—If you’ve got time to spare, has got your back! My eyes popped when I noticed our hotel brochure rack had a yarn-crawl type guide of area fiber finds! The area’s dozen+ yarn shops host an annual Yarn Crawl every May, and in late October Asheville hosts the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair.  This is yarn-friendly country, DestiKNITters!

Every DestiKNITions adventure starts with coffee, and this one’s no different.  Head on in to:

Rejavanation Cafe
909 Smoky Park Hwy
Asheville, NC 28715

Go beyond the caffeine fix and grab a tasty breakfast from their specials board. Sweet potato grits? Yes, please! Indoor and outdoor seating, wifi, plus a warm and friendly staff make this an ideal place to wake up, meet up, or tackle your to-do (or even to-knit) list.

Properly caffeinated, you’ll only have to travel across the parking lot for today’s fiber find:

Friends & Fiberworks
19 Westridge Marketplace
Candler, NC 28715

That's Lisa on the left with yours truly
Why did owner Lisa Mackey open a yarn shop?  The answer will charm you: “My husband wanted the house back!” Who among us can’t relate to that??  

Lisa had been gathering knitters and yarn in her house for a while until she made the leap to open this huge 4,000 square foot yarn wonderland.  “It’s epic,” she (and the shop sign) boasts. “We place a high value in welcoming places to sit and knit.” The shop not only features loads of fibers for knitting and crochet, but for spinning, weaving, and felting as well.  This is also the first shop I’ve seen that a sells clothing, too—ones cleverly designed to enhance a knitter’s treasured wardrobe of accessories. Epic, indeed!

Friends & Fiberworks lives up to its name with lots of places to make fiber friends. Shop manager Sandy keeps the place hopping: knitting nights, knit-alongs, generous help from staff, open instruction sessions to bolster your skills on whatever project you’ve taken on, trips and cruises (sign me up!) connect you in lots of ways. 

A healthy calendar of yarn show event participation also means the store is full of enticing kits. Always a hit with the tourist crowd, the shop’s many kits mean you’ll always have exactly what you need to achieve success. The store’s remarkably deep stock means you’ll finally have the chance to get your hands on—literally—that yarn you’ve heard so much about. We know knitters need to touch what we’re craving to buy.  

Quick to support local fibers and designers, Mackey’s husband Robert even creates the store’s own line of hand-dyed yarns. I’ll be using it in my knit-along from Friends & Fiberworks:

Asheville Scarf
When you’ve got a great fiber like Friends & Fiberwork’s Hand dyed superwash merino/nylon blend, you don’t need much fancy stitch work to show it off. This store-exclusive pattern makes great use of garter stitch and simple yarn-over increases to create a generous top-down triangular shawl sure to please.  I love the touch of knotting the ends—why didn’t I ever think of that for those long and skinny pieces? If you crave some nice-and-easy knitting with fab results, this is the way to go.

Uneek Shawl
Take a skein of Malabrigo’s richly colored Mechita, match it with a skein of Uneek merino, and you get this eye-catching cross between shawl and scarf.  The store-exclusive pattern creates a super-elongated skinny triangle that boasts a load of wearing options. If you’re looking for a “uneek” piece that is all about how color and texture combine, I’d start right here.

Drum Circle Cowl
Did you know that from April through October downtown Asheville has a famous Friday night drum circle in Pritchard Park? Celebrate this fascinating local tradition with a cowl kit that comes in as many varieties as there are yarn. Diverse—like the crazy-wonderful variety of the city.  It's the perfect souvenir knitting to capture Asheville’s artistic flavor.

Liesl top
More than one DestiKNITion has featured this simple-yet-stylish tank top. Glitz it up with Glitter linen cotton blend by Universal.  You may need up to 6 balls depending on the size you choose. Another piece that can take on different characteristics depending on the fiber you choose, you can’t beat this top for sleek style!

All that shopping just might work up an appetite. Good thing we’ve got a nearby recommendation for lunch!

Papas & Beer
1000 Brevard Rd
Asheville, NC 28806

My sources cite the Chicken fajita as the delicious option, but I also give high marks for the guacamole made tableside (always my favorite). Really good (and warm) tortilla chips hit your table as soon as you are seated, along with a unique bean dip.  Ah, but if you’re into salsa, this place has an entire salsa bar. Lunch is a great option as the dinner crowd often has a wait. Still, there’s a reason the place is packed—the food is outstanding. But don’t order dessert…we’ve got plans for that:

Frostbite Ice Cream
1475 Patton Ave
Asheville, NC 28806

Delicious soft serve dolled out by super-happy people in tie-dye shirts—can you get any more cheerful? Get anything that ups your happiness quotient, but I was glad I took Lisa’s recommendation and sampled the salted caramel dipped in chocolate. It’s been so long since I’ve had a dipped cone—I went right back to my childhood.

For the next portion of your adventures, travel into downtown Asheville. There are loads of interesting little shops along Haywood Street, but make sure your adventures include:

Malaprop’s Book Store/Cafe
55 Haywood St
Asheville, NC 28801
As an author, this is the kind of bookstore we all dream about. The store has a delightful independent personality, right down to the checkerboard floors, endless nooks for exploring, a shelf of “staff picks,” and a great children’s section. They even have a signed first edition book club. And I LOVE that they deliver! The other thing I loved was the sign that said: “Be here now. Kindly take calls outside.” Advice we should all heed, isn’t it?

Spend the rest of the afternoon discovering downtown Asheville.

If you’re like me, afternoons always require a second dose of caffeine.  You could have grabbed a cup in Malaprops, but consider venturing to one final stop to score really good cuppa at:

Biltmore Coffee Roasters
518 Hendersonville Rd
Asheville, NC 28803
The roaster is right out in back—and you can smell the beauty of the brew as you sit and sip. This funky indie spot features gorgeous rustic wooden stools and a garden out back where you can watch the roasting taking place.  Daily specials feature different brews. I had a very good latte and a near-perfect scone—who could ask for a better afternoon snack break?

If you have time—and especially if waterfalls are your thing (I had to visit some for book research), I’d recommend venturing out to Brevard. It’s a delightful community with great shops, delicious restaurants, outfitters for fishing and other river sports, and several stunning waterfalls in the immediate vicinity (western North Carolina boasts no less than 19!). Be on the lookout for the town’s legendary white squirrels, too.

I could have easily spent a few days instead of the day-and-a-half I had. Honestly, it’s practically a crime to be in Asheville and miss the Biltmore Estate! You can bet your stash I’ll be back for more…and soon.

Thursday, September 28, 2017


My kind of Old Town...

Earlier this year I had the chance to return to the Washington DC area. Sure, I was there for a family gathering, but I had to add on a little yarny tourism so I could share my adventures with you!

Misha’s Coffee Roaster and Coffeehouse 
102 S Patrick Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
DestiKNITters know every adventure needs to be launched with coffee, and this bustling independent roaster/coffeehouse is the perfect place to start. Sure it may be no frills and down-to-earth, but I rather like the atmosphere. Oh, and they have pie. You know how I feel about pie—even for breakfast (yes!) 

There’s a reason this area is called the “Old Town Boutique District,” so wander the length of King Street and the surrounding blocks, taking in whatever shops pique your interest, such as: 

Red Barn Mercantile
1117 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
There’s a little bit of everything here—housewares, gifts, cards, candles—but  nothing that feels like a department or mall store. The infusion of color just feels wonderful to soak in, even if you only end up browsing. Great for gift shopping or finding a little something to treat yourself. 

Stitch Sew Shop
102 N Fayette Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
Hey, we support all crafts, not just the yarny kind. Good, quality sewing stores (that aren’t just a few aisles in big box craft stores) are starting to crop up everywhere, and we’re glad for the trend. Rent an hour on one of their machines and workspaces—what a great idea!—or take a class to build up your skills or dip your toes in the world of fabrics.

Now's a good time to check out today’s fiber—or is that fibre—find: 

fibre space
1319 Prince Street
Alexandria, VA 22314

AlexandriaNews photo
FIRST OFF: fibre space used to be right around the corner from Stitch Sew, but just this month they've moved to a spiffy new home. The new digs boast more parking, one large open space rather than the several rooms of the former location, a second floor for events, and two private classrooms. Talk about making a good thing even better!

Now, about this lovely store: Owner Danielle Romanetti began her fiber career teaching knitting classes on the side. Once she added the retail component, things just took off from there. An integral player in the Old Town business district, this long and narrow space is packed full of fibers, samples, ideas, and happy customers who knit, crochet, and weave. You may also get the chance to say hello to Danielle’s two “shop mascots,” Italian Greyhounds Nemo and Kermit. Fibre space calls itself “a yarn universe”—and the description fits!

the were still in their former space for
my visit...the new one's even better!
Lots of free events like movie nights build community, allowing knitters and crocheters to interact with each other as well as the yarn. Danielle dreams up yarn tastings that partner with local businesses so the experience is always an adventure. Weekly open knitting nights and programs like “Survival Skills Wednesdays” make sure you can get the help you need when you need it. A great MSNBC piece on why Danielle wants you in the shop rather than on your computer can be found here.

again, the former space during my visit
And there’s plenty of reason to venture in.“I carefully curate the inventory,” Romanetti says. “I look for the best quality fiber for lots of price-points.  “You’ll find tried and true workhorse yarns here, but I’m especially interested in bringing unique things my customers can’t find everywhere.”  If you’re looking for souvenir yarn, check out anything by local Neighborhood Fibre Co., where all the fibers are named after DC-area neighborhoods. The shop features sought-after lines like Hedgehog Fibres from Ireland, Woolfolk, and Brooklyn Tweed. You’re bound to find something you “need” from the wide selection organized by gauge. If weaving is your thing, fibre space has started a program in tapestry and rigid heddle weaving as well.

DC can be a pressure-cooker of a place to live and work, so she views the shop’s role as an important counterbalance. “This is stress relief for a busy, high-stress customer base.” Couches, groupings of chairs, and a conversational atmosphere make this a friendly gathering spot for tourists like myself as well as DC natives.

If you need a place to start, here are a few projects to help you unwind:

Hei Snood Cowl
Color progression and texture share the stage in this striking cowl by Olga Buraya-Kefelian (Olgajazzy on Ravelry). Danielle suggests two cakes of Knitwhits’ Freia Handpaints Ombre Sport for this in-store pattern. Make sure you get a bit of staff help picking out your yarn, because you need to make sure you get two that are wound in different directions in order to achieve the lovely color effect that makes this shawl such an eye-catcher.

Knockout Round Shawl
If you’ve been yearning to experiment with color interplay, Ann Weaver’s generous triangular shawl is a great way to explore. The stitching is simple (so you can do other things like watch a knockout round), while the alternating rows of ombre and solid colors make the style for you.  You’ll need either two different skeins of fingering weight ombre like the Fria Handpaints Ombre Petit  or one ombre and a complimenting solid from Neighborhood Fiber Co Studio Sock. The pattern is available in store or through Ravelry.

Jimi Shawlette
Local designer Dee O’Keefe works some contrast magic with any pair of  worsted skeins from Virginia dyer The Fiberist in this smaller-scale top-down triangular piece.  A good first shawl for novices ready to stretch their skills, the pattern comes with extensive tutorials and super-helpful photo instructions. 

Knit-Along: Brick Sidewalk Beanie
An excellent souvenir choice, I’ll be knitting Ann Weaver’s clever hat nodding to Alexandria’s brick walkways. The pattern features instructions for multiple sizes (Mother-daughter hats! Father-son hats!) and works up wonderfully in Neighborhood Fiber Co’s Superwash Merino Studio DK. A locally focused pattern in locally crafted yarn—what could serve as a better tourist treasure than that?

Once you’ve satisfied your yarn cravings, continue your exploration of King Street. My recommendations today head you back in the direction of where you started, but can show you a host of other adventures. Still, you won’t have to go far to experience.

1223 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
I never knew all I didn’t know about oils and infused vinegars! Now such upscale condiments are my go-to hostess gift as well as the occasional in-home splurge. Yes, it really does make a difference. You can customize your own sampler box, or fill a basket with all the jams, crackers, teas, spices, honeys and sauces the store carries.

La Fromagerie
1222 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
If you like happy hours, this is a great place to experience the slow food movement that’s becoming so popular. Wines and cheeses complement fresh local fare “lovingly prepared.” Sit back and stitch while you sip, or pick up a few bottles from their vast selection to take home.

Alexandria Cupcake
1022 King Street
Alexandria VA 22314
703) 299-9099
I maintain my theory: where there’s yarn, there’s cupcakes. There aren’t a lot of places to sit in this cheery little bakery, but I was just as happy to nosh on a sunny park bench and watch the world go by.  

If cupakes aren’t your thing, Danielle also recommends the “Tango” gelato at La Casa Rosada.

1000 King Street
Alexandria, VA 22314
I’m becoming a fan of makeup boutiques like this one. I love the personalized service, spot-on advice, and interesting products I discover whenever I browse. I always let them try something new on my face or hands—I’ve discovered some wonderful products this way. Plus, no calories (useful after wolfing down two cupcakes ten minutes earlier).

When you’re ready for dinner, head to:

The Majestic
911 King St
Alexandria, VA 22314
Their famous coconut cake is reason enough to go, but my sources also recommend the Cheshire Pork Chop or the gnocchi. The atmosphere of this restaurant—around in some form since 1932—is as wonderful as the food.

Spend the rest of your day doing whatever DC adventures suit you, but make sure at some point you take in one of my new favorites:

Duck Donuts
3610 King St
Ste F
Alexandria, VA 22302
They’re all over the east coast and I cannot wait for them to make their way to Chicago! Warm, made-to-order donuts in a gazillion scrumptious flavors—what’s not to love? Choose your donut, your glaze, your topping, and your drizzle and watch it take shape right in front of you. I would eat these any time of day or night! Very good coffee too (that’s important).

There are lots of reasons to visit the nation’s capitol, but it’s always nice to include yarn among your travel incentives.  I hope I’ve given your tourism new fiber enhancements as well as made your tastebuds and shopping bags happy.

Next up, we venture to Asheville, North Carolina.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Brick Sidewalk Beanie from fibre space--Done!

Hats off!

My relationship with knitted hats has been a rocky one. In Chicago, we definitely need warm hats, but my hair and my head don’t seem to get along with knitted hats. Some people look adorable in beanies, tams, or all types of hats, but I am not one of them. I am happy to make them, but I usually end up giving them away.

The fact that I don’t hate how it looks on my head is a high testament to this pattern. I don’t love it, but I never expected it to. I tolerate it—style-wise—but I do have to tell you it feels wonderful. Cozy and plush, with the perfect snugness of headband. And the little bit of slouch makes it feel trendy. Seriously, for a knit hat, that’s a home-run in my world.

I know what will probably happen. I’ll keep it, maybe wear it once or twice when I truly need to feel warm. Then I’ll run across some adorable millennial—my daughter, someone else’s daughter, someone from church or writing group—and I’ll know in my knitter’s heart of hearts it belongs to them. And without a moment’s hesitation and a gleeful heart, I’ll say, “Here, I made this, and I want you to have it.” I’ll have enjoyed the pleasure of knitting it, and they’ll have the pleasure of wearing it—everybody wins!

Now that we’ve had our knitting experience, my next post will introduce you to the lovely store that provided this pattern: fibre space in Alexandria, VA.  Stay tuned to learn about their brand new location!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Brick Sidewalk Beanie from fibre space--Day 4

Close to the finish line...

The dpn’s are in use, which means—as my horsey friend often puts it—“we are heading for the barn!”

The brick sidewalk that gives this beanie its name fades off into the crown like a road veering off into the sunset. It’s a great aesthetic touch, just as clever as the whole pattern. Sure, the headband could be an ordinary ribbing, but I’m so pleased that it isn’t. I’ve knit hats that looked great but didn’t feel or function well. This one sure feels like it will be as pleasant to wear as it has been to knit. It has just the right amount of elasticity and slouch—comfy but not sloppy, snug but not strangling. Perfect.

I could use a dose of perfection. My week has been crazy-stuffed with tasks, but I’ve tried not to let my knitting time pay the price. Like exercise, I need a daily dose of the peace knitting gives me. The anchor creating something—even though I create with words all day long—gives to my spirit. I suspect you’re the same way. 

I’m just a nicer, calmer, better person when I knit.  Aren’t you?