Thursday, December 11, 2008

Online Shopping for Older Gals

OK, some folks may object to the term “gals”. I beg your durn pardon. In my family, we use the term kindly, in the manner of “dames” – slang for women who liked to do fun things, hang out, and occasionally tell an earthy joke.

Nevertheless, we’re hard to shop for sometimes – we won’t tell you our clothing or shoe sizes, we generally have most of what we truly NEED to get through the day, and we have our own quirky tastes, about which we may have developed enough diplomacy to not hold forth with opinions full of clues. Generally, this leaves the well-intended gift giver with two options – a fruit/food basket or bath stuff.

Speaking as a middle-aged gal, I can buy my own fruit and food (although, in my heart of hearts, a modest fruit basket IS nice this time of year), and I have enough bath stuff to last well beyond my life expectancy. So, herein are some starting points and my personal favorites. All websites have been visited recently, ordered from within the last year, if not the last quarter, and shipments or emails have been prompt and polite.

Todd & Holland Tea Merchants : My knitting friend introduced me to their teas, teapots, and general wonderfulness. This is real store that has a delightful shop to visit, if you are ever in the area, and you’ll find that everyone is absolutely, positively nice as they can be. The website can be a tad hinky (if it looks like you’re getting a blank page, scroll allllll the way down), but you can make special requests or ask a question in the “comments”: box when you order, and they’ll call you back right away. They also ship like lightning -- I’ve ordered on a Tuesday and opened my box o’ tea on the very next Wednesday afternoon.

My highest recommendation goes to this tea tumbler which is a thermos for loose tea so you can take your tea with you. It’s great, and only $15.

As far as teas themselves (Teas are priced at their large sized packages. Request the sampler 0.05 lb or 0.12 lb sizes in the comments/special request box at checkout), I recommend: Jasmine Pearls (if you like the scent of Jasmine) , which is a delight for the senses, Northern Lights, a white tea with a wonderful spicy, warm aroma, perfect for chilly days, Goji Xing , a white tea with a mild melon flavor from the Goji berries, and Green Tea with Lemon and Hibiscus , which is very refreshing and light.

If you want to do something really fun and special, buy one of their glass teapots and a selection of Performance Teas . Performance teas are not to enhance your performance, they are small bundles of tea which you throw in a pot of hot water and watch them unfold into beautiful tea sculptures as they brew – which is why a glass pot is recommended. My daughter and I brew a pot of performance tea every Friday and do girl talk for a half an hour or so – it is a very nice experience and time for girl-type bonding, a good bargain at $2.50 per tea bundle.

Also, their Bee House teapots are a joy to use, not only because they are cute, but also because they are easy to clean. The lid pulls right off, the tea strainer basket lifts out, and it couldn’t be easier to tidy up when you’re done.

Faerie’s Finest : I don’t know about their other products, but their flavored sugar is great. I have tried the Citrus Burst and Raspberry Ripple and find them delightful. I sometimes like to use the Raspberry in my coffee, which makes it taste almost dessert-like, and you get good value for your money.

Bath and Bodyworks : Yes, I know what I said about bath stuff. They also have very nice socks and other textiles, and everyone I know uses their antibacterial hand sanitizers, and their antibacterial soaps are agreeable, too. I recommend the Kitchen Lemon for the soap – at $3 each, it’s a nice stocking stuffer, and it won’t make you smell like a pre-teen girl.

If your intended recipient likes wildlife, Whales and Friends has nice products. I have a penguin tote of very nice quality that I got as a gift from them.

For knitters, especially sock knitters, this year’s Patternworks has something new – sock yarn knitted into a scarf , then dyed in a funky pattern, and you knit FROM the scarf into a pair of socks. I’m hoping to get one of these this year.

Their “tools” section has all kinds of spiffy stuff, including Eucalan wool wash and a good chart holder. “Finishing touches” has nice shawl pins, clasps and purse handles.

And, finally, if you want something unique and beautiful that is not in any of the above categories, I recommend a good browse through the Art Institute of Chicago’s gift shop. I have found spectacular silk scarves, jewelry, bowls and other wonderful housewares there. Not cheap, but excellent quality and very memorable.

Happy shopping!

Oddball Word of the Day

boulevardier (BOOL-eh-var-DEER) n. a man-about-town who frequents fashionable places

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Feather and Fan Comfort Shawl

I generally do not encourage, nor practice, any knitting for Christmas after Thanksgiving, unless it’s something I’m already familiar with and which would otherwise be a one or two day project. My main reason for not doing “Christmas knitting” is that the season is already so full of things to do, anxiety and chaos, that sticking a large project in there which must be done in time seems like a recipe for ruining my enjoyment of the season with unnecessary stress. That doesn’t mean that I stop knitting – I pick things that are basically mindless knitting, which I can do in front of the TV, and it’s nice if they look much more spiffy than their ease would imply.

One of these kinds of projects is the Feather and Fan Comfort Shawl designed by Sarah Bradberry, who has a wonderful website with lots of fun free knitting patterns, including this one for the shawl. This pattern is very rewarding for new or insecure knitters because it is easy to make and looks nice, and we “old hands” like it, too.

I’ve made it twice and am working on a third one. The first was made of oddments, looked nice, and I gave it away. This is the second one, made of Wool-Ease oddballs.

The one I’m working on now is in acrylic blues with a sparkle thread (I had a brain spasm) that I bought as a package from Herrschner’s online – Snow and Ice is the name of the color combination. I can tell you from past experience, this is one of the fastest shawls to make that I’ve done. I use needles sizes one larger than recommended for the yarn, which adds extra drape and emphasizes the lacy aspect.

The pattern is screamingly easy to memorize – it’s basically three rows of knit (giving two garter rows on the right side), then a row of knit, a row of purl and a row of knit with the easy doodly pattern, then start over.

When you print out the pattern, it seems daunting because it’s seven pages long. Three of those are pictures for the person who likes very specific visual guides. The remaining pages are double-spaced for clarity. It’s well written with no mistakes or typos (RAH, RAH, SIS-BOOM-BAH!), and the ONLY addition I would make is to add in four markers – one before and one after the feather and fan pattern on row 57 on each side.

I have two reasons for the markers. One, I like a tactile reminder to watch out for the center stitch when I’m aimlessly knitting along (the two center markers do that). The other reason is that the pattern repeats over 18 stitches, and if I want to make mine longer than the step-by-step instructions, adding markers helps me make sure I’ve built up a enough stitches to add in another two repeats. The pattern is certainly well written enough to not need them, if you prefer not.

So, I recommend making a Feather and Fan Comfort Shawl this Christmas, all the way through the holidays, and giving it to yourself when you are done because you won’t mind if it’s late or early or has a mistake in it somewhere (which only you can see, but if you’re like me, it’s the ONLY thing you can see for quite a while).

Wear it in the mornings when you’re having your early beverage, wear it at night when you stay up late to look at the tree, take it with you when you go out to get the mail and sling it around your head and shoulders like a giant scarf. Loan it to the kids as a mini-blanket while watching TV. Wear the daylights out of it and then make another one!

Oddball Word of the Day

stenophagous (stin-OFF-eh-gehs): adj. able to live on a narrow range of foodstuffs (sounds like teenagers)

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, December 01, 2008

FREE Knitting Pattern - Welted Tea Cozy

Welted Tea Cozy
(No sew, knits up quickly, fits a wide variety of teapot shapes and sizes)

Probably 6 oz of scrap worsted - About 4 oz in light color, 2 oz in dark
One pair size 8 needles,
One set size 3 dpns

Finished measurement: unstretched 10 inches around, stretched 18-20, 6” high in welted area, top adds another 2” of height, 5” of I-cord (folds to 2.5”)

CAST ON 25 stitches with size 8 needles in lighter yarn.
Knit 6 rows in stockinette. Turn so back side (reverse stockinette) is facing you. This side of the lighter color knitting will become the outside (right side) of the cozy.
*Change to darker color without cutting lighter color and knit stockinette 4 rows.
Do not turn work yet.
Change back to lighter color, knit one row across, turn, knit 5 rows stockinette.*

(You should now have one sticky-out, bunched-up “welt” in the lighter color, one “welt” in the darker color sticking out in the opposite direction, and a third welt in the lighter color. The work is VERY stretchy. Use even numbers of rows of each color so that the color changes are all on one side.)

Repeat the rows between the asterisks above until you have 5 welts of each color, the last one being dark.

In lighter color work first row as above, turn, work 2 rows stockinette.
Next row, knit 8, bind off 12, knit 5.
Next row purl 5, cast on 12, purl 8
Next row, knit 25.

Continue 2nd side as first side above, with 5 welts in each color, this time the last one is light colored.

In darker color, knit 1 row stockinette.
Next row, purl 5, cast off 15, purl 5
Next row knit 5, cast on 15, knit 5
Next row, purl 25.

BIND OFF as follows:
Turn work inside out (dark welts protruding). Line up the original cast on side and the last row of the final dark welt. Slip the first stitch of dark, pick up the bottom of the corresponding cast on in light and slip that also. Knit both the next dark stitch and the bottom of the next corresponding light cast on stitch as if they were one, pass the two slipped stitches over. You now have one dark stitch on the working needle, the rest of the dark stitches on the holding needle, and the light edge is dangling.

Basically, what you are doing is a three-needle bind off without the third needle – the cast on stitches are being worked in as if they were on that third needle. If you are more comfortable with three needles, by all means, put the cast on stitches on one and continue binding off.

Bind off all stitches in this manner. You now have a cylinder with one shorter slit for the spout and one longer slit for the handle.

With dpns pick up 64 stitches around the top. (I make the side with the color changes the top so I can just knit right over the side floats.) This will pull the work in slightly. If you prefer to pick up more stitches, it’s absolutely your choice, # of stitches is not critical, however they should be divisible by either 4 or 6.

Work 1 to 3 rounds even, your choice. I did one.

Begin swirling decrease:
(SKP, K14) four times (60 sts)
(SKP, K13) four times (56 sts)
etc. – knitting one less between SKPs each row until you are down to 4 sts.

Knit the 4 sts in I-cord for 5 inches, bind off, leave a 5-inch tail, pull through.
Weave tail tightly into inside of top.

VARIATIONS: If you want the top to be flatter, decrease by 6 sections (as opposed the four above). For absolutely flat tops, 8 sections should do the trick. Put one row of even knitting in between decrease rows for a wider top.

Feel free to use all one color, different welting variations, whatever.

I used a loop on top because that makes the cozy easy to remove, and I can hang it on a kitchen hook where it’s cute and up out of mess. The loop is not important otherwise.

Oddball Word of the Day

proceleusmatic (PROS-eh-loose-MAT-ik): adj. arousing to action or animation; putting life into; encouraging

(from MMMW, edited by Laurence Urdang)