Friday, January 29, 2010

Knit Along: Traveling Vines Scarf from Magpie Yarns - Day 5

If you’re happy and you knit it...

Tomorrow, I’m going to drive two hours to sit in a six-hour meeting.

I couldn’t be happier.

It’s not the drive, pleasant as it promises to be. Nor is it the content of the meeting, important as it is. If you’ve been reading DestiKNITions for any time at all, you probably have already figured out that I’m delighted to have so much knitting time stretching out in front of me. I’m ready to go the final stretch on this lovely Traveling Vines scarf, and this is my chance.

Take a moment to think about what an extraordinary thing that is, how odd those comments would sound to the non-knitting world. Delay our flights for another hour, and most knitters just see it as the chance to get a dozen more rows done. Sit through a three hours class at a writing conference? I could knock out half a sock and still pay close attention to the curriculum.

Knitting changes your concept of time. Of down time, lost time, and the nastiest of villains, wasted time. I’m the happiest person I know in the airport during a rainstorm. I’m the happiest person in the doctor’s waiting room, the DMV, the long line for anything.

...Unless you take away my knitting. Then, sister, back off and duck behind a wall.

But with my needles, I’m a source of joy. I don’t think us knitters give ourselves enough credit for the positive influence we have on situations like that. There are enough people sending out mean, impatient, frustrated vibes in those situations; the world needs the peace and calm of knitters. We’re mood oxygen, people. The emotional rainforest, sucking up all the nasty stuff to give back happy, creative productivity.

The transportation and medical industries alone would be virtually transformed by the presence of more knitters. Health and auto insurance companies should give knitter’s discounts, if you ask me.

You know, they should sell yarn at the health food store.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Knit Along: Traveling Vines Scarf from Magpie Yarns - Day 4

Problem solving with yarn

I knew an executive once who kept a pack of cards in his desk. Whenever he needed to untangle a thorny problem, he would get them out and either deal them, play solitare, or build a house of cards. Naturally, we all thought he was goofing off, but he actually was tapping into one of the true values of knitting--or of any craft, for that matter. A value that many of us creative types would be wise to note: knitting occupies your brain.

More importantly, knitting (unless it’s something excruciatingly complicated) occupies just enough of your conscious brain to let your subconscious come out and play. This project is the perfect balance for such a use--more interesting than endless garter stitch or dreary ribbing, but not mind-numbing in its complexity. Creative occupation. It’s the same principle that gives you all your great ideas in the shower or while driving. It stops your inner editor, your inner sense of logic and protocol, and opens wide the brainstorm floodgate. Yes, folks, I’m a writer, I can wield a wicked metaphor when I chose to unleash my talents.

I also believe it’s why I seem to yearn for my knitting when I am stressed or stuck. Not only is it soothing, it’s useful. It is not ever a waste of time. Ever. Twitter, Facebook, those can waste time (and I’m guilty as charged on all those fronts!), although I do occasionally find solution and encouragement in those things. But not anything near the level of what I achieve while knitting.

Which only leads me around, once again, to my viewpoint that the world would be an infinitely better place if we all knit. Next time someone looks at you sideways because you’re knitting in a meeting or knitting when you “should be working,” you send ‘em to me. I’ll set ‘em straight.

I have several long pointed objects to back me up, besides.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Knit Along: Traveling Vines Scarf from Magpie Yarns - Day 3

Why knitting is NOT like parenting...

You’ve heard me talk a lot about knitting is like parenting. And it is, in many ways. But this week, as things spiraled of control in ways that only two-teen family can do, I learned new things about knitting. And uncovered new reasons why I love yarn and needles.

Not much in this world works the way we’d like it to. One of the most frustrating things about not only parenting, but the publishing world, is that talent and effort don’t always bring results. Every one of us knows a fabulously parented kid who’s gone spectacularly wrong. Likewise, most of us can name someone who became an amazing adult despite every parental strike against them. Publishing is the same way. I know writers who have ten times my talent but only have a stack of rejection letters to show for it. I’ve read bestsellers with writing that...well, rots. And I’ve seen splendid books die a grisly death from poor sales.

Which is why I like knitting.

For the most part, you get from knitting what you put into it. When I use quality materials and pay attention, I get wonderful results. When things tangle, I can usually draw a straight line from that catastrophe to my lack of attention, or skimming directions, or fudging details (‘yes, Allie, there’s a reason this pattern calls for a size 19 needle, so don’t use a 17”). I’ve been paying attention to this project, and there’s a payoff. That’s so refreshing. Especially with the we’re-not-going-to-talk-about-this family drama going on this week.

I think that’s why knitting is so stress-relieving. It’s justice between the needles.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Knit Along: Traveling Vines Scarf from Magpie Yarns - Day 2

Progress and props...

The good thing about a 12-row repeat is that it doesn’t tax your brain cells. The bad thing is that after the first foot or so, it doesn’t offer much adventure. While in my crazy world that makes for peaceful knitting (“oh, look hon, I’ve done a whole foot and I haven’t made any colossal errors!”), it doesn’t make for exciting writing. I’m sure you all find it much more entertaining when I goof it up. And, while it is a small consolation, I do often say to myself, “oh, well, at least it’s blog material.” But after ripping out twelve rows of itty bitty stitches, it’s small consolation indeed. So, my perfection is your loss. Try to cope and I’ll try to find some way to spice things up.

Which I have indeed done, because today we’re going to talk about gadgets. I’ve been pleased to put several of my new toys into play on this project. Some of them, like the Signature needles and the spiffy handy KnitKit, you’ve already heard me rave over. Today’s addition holds the whole enchilada: Namaste’s stunning project bags. Yes, they are simply silver mesh rectangles with snaps on top--but they’re so much more. Like everything Namaste does, they’re thoughtfully designed. The mesh is fine enough not to welcome even the sharpest of point to wander through and snag in your handbag. You can clearly see what’s inside. And things lay out so nicely in the flat-enough-but-not-too-flat construction. In short, these do a simple job exceedingly well.

Going to the other extreme, I’m going to tout one of the joys of parental knitting. Namely teen or tween parental knitting: orthodontic rubber bands. Those bitsy bands you pay some professional thousands of dollars to stretch over your offspring’s teeth also make exceptional small-sized stitch markers. Put to tremendous use on my last tiny-needled sock project. They’re flexible, boast just the right bit of grip-to-slip ratio, and chances are you can easily filch a dozen from your teen’s medicine cabinet without him or her even noticing. An orthodontic knitting benefit! Who’d have thunk it?

What do you press into service for your knitting that didn’t start life as a knitting gadget? Come on, DestiKNITers, I’d like to hear your “knitting uses for everyday objects.”

Friday, January 15, 2010

Knit Along: Traveling Vines Scarf from Magpie Yarns


Oh my goodness this feels like a vacation from the tiny stitches of my socks. It helps that I get to use my luscious Signature needles, which always feel posh. The yarn has these tiny sequins strung together on a parallel thread, which adds just the right amount of sparkle, but makes for a bit of tricky handling. Still, how can you not love a yarn called Disco Lights? Get out your spandex and boogie down...

Like all of my favorite projects, this scarf designed by Magpie owner Jane Homeyer adds something to my toolbox. Sure, I had to google “purl two together through the back loop” and watch the video a dozen times. Yes, I had to make myself a little post-it note cheat sheet until I got the four-step process under my belt, but I feel smarter for having added it to my repertoire. And anything that makes me feel smarter, looks lush, and brings sparkle to my life is good, indeed!

And the progress! After slugging through 1-hour-gets-you-one-quarter-inch sock stitches, it’s refreshing to gain two inches after twelve rows and about 40 minutes. In a week where my “didn’t get done” list is twice as long as my “accomplished” list, that’s golden!

Now, given the purple color and charming sparkle of this scarf, I’m tempted to plan it for my Valentine’s Day accessory. You all know my history with deadlines--especially holiday deadlines (remember Easter?)--so I’m resisting the urge. It’s better for everyone if I do.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Lexington, KY

My old Kentucky roam...

When you write a series of five books set in Kentucky, you tend to spend some time there. Until recently, I’ve not had the luxury of time to go hunt down the local yarn stores, but my November 2009 trip to the Kentucky Book Fair afforded me the chance to take in one of Lexington KY’s most charming neighborhoods known as the Woodland Triangle. This installment represents a perfectly spent afternoon working my way around a triangular block with interesting stores, restaurants, businesses, and the particular charm of a Kentucky fall.

Of course, it’s January, but the theory still holds. It just might not be a pleasant wandering of colorful leaf-swifled streets. Then again, there’s four inches of snow in Chicago as I write this, so even a Kentucky January’s looking good.

First stop, as always, is the yarn store:

Magpie Yarn

513 East High Street

Lexington KY 40502


I’m always on the lookout for stores that are as much about community as fiber. You know a yarn shop is good when there are always people sitting around knitting, calling each other by name, laughing, etc. This is definitely one of those places. A sunny, clean-lined store with tables and comfy chairs begging for casting on and chatting. Owner Jane Homeyer has thoughtfully crafted a selection of “natural fiber yarns for handknitters” that lay themselves out before you by colors like a fresh inviting box of crayons. “Simple classic stuff you can play with,” offers Jane, and boy, do I want to come play. Okay, some of that might be due to the drool-worthy collection of Namaste and dellaQ bags she carries. But Jane’s passion for teaching and mentoring comes through in the store. She gets the thing most of us know internally about knitting--even if we’ve not articulated it: it’s an affordable luxury treat. “Like lipstick” she says, and instantly you know what she means. You may not be able to pull off a 30-day Caribbean cruise, but a skein of stunning cream cashmere--that you can manage!

For our Knit-Along, Jane’s chosen her own Traveling Vine Scarf, done up in Tilli Thomas’ Disco Lights. I’m happier just looking at the wine-colored fiber (technically, the color is "black cherry") with its dashing sparkles. This scarf is its own party, but not so much that you can’t wear it running to the market. Snazzy but not overdone. I like that in an accessory. The twelve-row repeat is just enough to be challenging without tangling your synapses. I’m looking forward to this project to add a little life to my cold Chicago January.

Other projects that caught my eye include:

Chevron Pullover/Cardigan

You can never have enough clever stash-buster patterns, and this piece from Jane Ellison’s Knitting Noro done in either two Noro colorways or whatever cool stuff you’ve got laying around is a prime example. Our Jane is particularly gifted at helping you play with colors, so you’re guaranteed a flattering adventure. Without such guidance, I’d probably end up with something salmon-colored that made me look ill.

Shibui Knits Transitions Gloves

I adore the artistic drama of these. They caught my eye the moment I walked in the store. Throw these on over the drabbest of shirts and you have all the style you’ll ever need. Done up with a ball or two of sumptuous sock yarn or superwash merino, they’re the perfect project to treat yourself to something wonderful.

Having scored my fiber goodies, I set off on my way around the Triangle. I didn’t have to go far to find something funky and fab:

Black Market

516 East High Street

Lexington, KY 40502-6443


Right across the street from Magpie Yarn is the oh-so-cool clothing and accessory store that also offers really nifty vintage finds. The kind of place that made me wish I didn’t have to wear sensible shoes. My teenage daughter could spend an hour (and a fortune) in here effortlessly. And they’ve got stuff for sale on e-bay, so you can cyber shop if KY isn’t in your current itinerary! If you’re like me, you want to bring home something unique when you travel. This spot is one place to find it.

Even if you’re not in the market for a new computer, walk down the street and stop into

Woodland Computers

507 East High Street

Lexington, KY 40502


“Natural, organic technology.” Nope, it’s not an oxymoron, it’s their slogan. Owner Jason Collins and his hip staff custom-create eco-friendly computers that use less energy, utilize no heavy metals, and run on a Linux base with open software. And they come in the happiest colors you’ve ever seen. They won’t charge you to whip up an estimate, so if your current computer makes you want to see red, they can build you one in royal blue that just might restore your faith in technology.

It wouldn’t be a DestiKNITions without the sugar fix, right? Absolutely...

Ramseys Diner

496 E. High Street

Lexington, KY 40508

(859) 259-2708

Smack-dab on the corner of High and Woodland is one of those down-home places I associate with Kentucky. Order the “hot brown,” the area’s traditional open-faced sandwich. This is pure meat-and-starch eating at it’s finest, but they assure me a veggie version is also available. Their menu is simple: choose a meat, choose a veggie, done. Or, get all spiffy and go for sandwiches or salads, too. It doesn’t matter so long as you end your meal at/with:

Missy’s Pie

219 Woodland Avenue

Lexington, KY 40502


You can order with your meal at Ramsey’s (the businesses are linked), or you can walk in and indulge right off the street. Either way, my-oh-my this is pie heaven. Just inhaling in here is bliss. I love anyplace that has a “cheesecake of the day.” Fans of my Kentucky Corners novel “Bluegrass Courtship” should know that the Mayday Pie comes the closest thing to the fictional “milk and cookies pie” I’ve experienced in real life. In short, what’s good? Everything!

Once you’ve come down off the sugar high, wander down the triangle’s other corner to:

Black Swan Books

505 East Maxwell Street

Lexington, KY 40502-6433


You’ve heard me go on and on about the value of the nation’s really good independent book stores. Black Swan is one of those highly interesting places where you just know you’ll find something you couldn’t find anywhere else. I just love how one of the tabs on their website says “Search Our Very Incomplete Database.” These folks know who they are and don’t pretend otherwise. Kentucky is filled with literary talent, and you’re likely not only to read some here, you’re just as likely to hear one at their many readings. This is a book collector’s book store, and the world just doesn’t have enough of these.

Down along the bottom point of the triangle, looking out into Woodland Park, you’ll find the posh/charming/stuffed-to-the-gills shop called:


195 Kentucky Avenue

Lexington, KY 40502


If they don’t have the Christmas tree ornament you’re looking for, it doesn’t exist. My house will never come close to the decorative excellence of this place...but I want it to. Antiques, soaps, lotions, and a charming house cat to round out the experience.

Heading back up the original side, make sure you stop at:

Lucia’s World Friendly Boutique

523 East High Street

Lexington, KY 40502

859 -389-9337

This is one of those exotic stores where you want to buy six bags (oh, the recycled silk!) and twelve sets of earrings--not only because they’re so cute, but because they support worthy causes and important cultures. I came away with nifty glass earrings and a couple of gifts for my host during my visit here. The knitter in me craved the booties, while the hand-carved candlesticks called to me, too. The butterfly pants are unique but look best on a shorter woman than me (I wanted them anyway).

There it is, your lap around the triangle. But wait, you’re not done. Don’t be like me...don’t miss our last stop farther up High street off the Triangle:

Common Grounds Coffee House

343 East High Street
Lexington, KY, 40507
(859) 233 - 9761

Don’t make the same mistake I did--take the time to stop by this wonderful community java joint. It has all the good stuff--open mike nights, comfy seating, wi-fi, and a poetry group. They even honor a volunteer of the week! Really, it’s your civic duty to down a cup in this place (I’m highly annoyed I ran out of time to do so!).

Lexington is a really wonderful small city--the kind too often missed on travel itineraries. I’ve been here four times for book research and the Kentucky Book Fair in nearby Frankfort. If you’re anywhere in the area, it’s worth an afternoon to explore.

Join me next as we dive into the Traveling Vine Scarf.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


ONE YEAR AGO TODAY I ventured into the blogosphere with yarn and needles and a handful of American cities. It's been more fun than I could have ever imagined! So, as my birthday present to you, I give you the Baker's Dozen DestiKNITions Greatest Hits. Click on each one for a tour through my favorite installments from last year: