Last month my husband and I were in Europe for two weeks. While in Prague, we took a tram to Prague Castle.
The most impressive building at Prague Castle is the St. Vitus Cathedral. Its bristly Gothic steeples rise above the palace grounds, identifying it from afar. This is the first building you see, but the last sight on the tour.
The first sight is the Old Royal Palace. Ornately carved doors. Wonderful grand halls. Spiral staircases. An intimate chapel. More doors. Doors with intricate handles. Doors with gorgeous hinges. Dining areas with long tables. Shields with emblems.
And best of all, authentic heating (or not). We visited in mid-December and kept our coats and hats on the entire time.
Next comes the St. George Basilica. Although it was built in the first century, its Baroque facade was added in the 17th century. Inside were rich carpets, iron scrollwork, and painted ceilings. When I was little I played a violin sonata by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, so I was interested to see a chapel dedicated to St. John of Nepomuk on my way out of the building.
The basilica was hosting a concert featuring Jiri Tomasek that weekend---I wished I could have gone, but we were going to be in Paris already by then. He was guest faculty when I was at Michigan State, and taught me for a term.
Then we took a walk down Golden Lane. The street itself is very short, with many tiny old buildings that originally housed castle servants. These buildings were occupied until 1952---Kafka lived in one of them for a few years. Now they are a mix of shops and replicas of medieval rooms.
Entering in the middle of the street, it was not clear which way to turn, so we turned right. We bought a beautiful book of Czech fairy tales, and saw many reconstructions. It was beautiful and quaint, but it felt like a side trip, so when we saw the exit door at the end of the road it was tempting to go through without turning back and doing the other end of the street. My leg had been bothering me and my husband didn't want to overtax it.
But we turned back, and were glad we did! At the other end of Golden Lane was a tower with a dungeon and torture chambers, the alchemists' laboratory, and a museum of armor and weapons which we would have been sorry to miss.
The exit from Golden Lane was up some stairs, where we stopped for a trdelnik (only here they were called trdlo, which my mature husband insisted on pronouncing "turd-lo") and cocoa. Then we admired the magnificent panorama view.
Our last stop was St. Vitus Cathedral which showcased beautiful stained glass windows, stone-, metal-, and wood-work. There are doors here, too. I could do an entire knitting collection based on the portals of Prague Castle.
After this inspiring, wonder-filled excursion, we took the tram back down to Old Town and had a late lunch at Country Life cafeteria where we tried (among other dishes) potato dumplings stuffed with plums in poppy seed sauce.
You've heard of Spanish moss? It's everywhere down here in Louisiana, draping the trees in life-sucking decadence.
Well, yesterday was a snow day for our schools. Or more sort of a potentially icy roads day. We don't have salt trucks, so icy roads are a real hazard.
Today the downspout dripped all over our rosemary and refroze into a frozen variation of Spanish moss. It's beautiful---all the icicles refract the light into rainbow sparkles.
Speaking of rosemary, I found this little guy growing between our steps a few months ago. I didn't have the heart to uproot him. Look how he's thriving!
Universal Yarn just came out with this lovely collection of idiosyncratic wraps, Contrarian Shawls.
Amy Gunderson's cover shawl, Southwest Suns, is crocheted in a yarn I have yet to sample: Good Earth. Besides sharing a name with the Minnesota restaurant where I first had dinner with my now-husband, this yarn attracts me for another reason. I have liked everything else in the Fibra Natura line, and I admire their tendency toward natural, organic fibers (although I notice the organic yarns have been discontinued).
This shawl is contrarian because of its construction: the motifs are worked first, then the border around them, then the shawl body upward, decreasing to form a semicircle. Also the pale stripes are not equally spaced throughout the semicircle, but perfectly balance the motifs at the lower edge.
Holly Priestly's contribution to the booklet is the rollicking Sailor Stripe, with which she claims to have engaged in a few arm-wrestling matches (as if the skipper was proving its contrarianism).
The red triangle is worked first, with a rippling lace detail. Stitches are then picked up along one side of it and worked on the bias with red stripes for flair.
I love this piece. It has an interesting construction and a fun, effortless look.
The last shawl I'd like to showcase is the Forest Floor Stole. I don't normally feature my own designs in my reviews, but this one is special. It works up quickly in dreamy Llamalini and it's extremely enjoyable to watch the leaves pile up. The swinging shape of the heap of leaves is the perfect foil to the plain stockinette end, which you can make as short or as long as you like. I love the way it knits, the way it looks, and the way it wears.
There are eight other designs in this collection, each with its own little quirks. Much as I would like to spotlight them, I need the space to talk about the patterns themselves. Lovingly tech edited by Amy Gunderson, they are in an easily readable three-column format with both charts and written instructions provided for lace patterns.
Shane Baskin of Blackbox Studios contributes her usual proficient photography, with both wrapped and extended images of each shawl modeled by Emma Claris in attractive, natural poses.
This is a unique collection and I'm pleased to be a part of it. Buy the individual patterns or the entire eBook from the Universal Yarn website, Craftsy, or Ravelry.
Our first day in Prague was spent wandering through Old Town and (accidentally) New Town. The next day, after partaking of the renowned Maximilian Hotel breakfast, we set off toward Prague Castle.
The tram stop was in New Town, which we had discovered was actually walking distance from our hotel, though farther than Old Town. It was good that we had our Exploring Day before our Castle Day, because we learned that the street signs were not always clear, some street names were deceptively similar, and in short, it was easy to get lost.
So my husband identified two possible tram stops and we used the second one, the first having snuck around the corner while we weren't looking. (Well, it was actually Narodni street which turned the corner, as we found out later. Luckily, the Narodni Theater stop was straight ahead on the path we had chosen.)
Once we were on the tram, we had a bit of excitement concerning where to disembark. The name of the stop was given in lighted letters behind the driver. But there was also an announcement of each stop. Eventually, not only the name of the stop on the board was announced, but another name---the name of our stop! We looked at each other in alarm, rose to leave, and the doors closed.
I thought it was mightily unjust that the name of the stop for Prague Castle, of all places, was not the name on the lite-brite board, and that it would be announced when it was already too late to get off. Having unaccountably missed the first place to catch the tram, I was unsure of our ability to navigate our way back to the correct stop. I supposed we could catch a tram back to the place where we could walk up to the castle, but I wasn't thrilled with that option, either.
If I had had time to brush up on my nonexistent Czech language skills before we left, I might have understood the words "next stop" in the announcement. But it all became clear a few minutes later, when our stop appeared on the board and was announced for real, that there was no need for either more wandering or waiting.
Doomsday Knits: Projects for the Apocalypse and After edited by Alex Tinsley, photographs by Vivian Aubrey, pub. Cooperative Press, 2014.
The year is 3015… The polar ice caps have melted and the deserts expanded, leaving the Earth a seared, crusty Hell. Meanwhile, nuclear fallout has blocked out the sun, plunging the world into a new ice age (yes, at the same time.) The question on your mind?
“What should I knit?!”
Don't be alarmed! With chapters such as Global Warming, Nuclear Winter, Kill All Humans (You just HAD to have the newest iPhone.), Miscellaneous Mayhem, and Rising from the Ashes, this book provides knitting patterns for every scenario plus recovery.
Doomsday Knits begins with an "Identify Your Apocalypse" flow chart drawn by Lee DeVito. Starting with a question about the weather and ending (no pun intended) with such catastrophes as Famine, Bio-engineering Disaster, and Twilight Apocalypse (Grab all the quality literature you can carry and run.), it provides a foolproof method for labeling the particular calamity you have experienced (including the possibility that you're just out of Girl Scout cookies).
The designs, from Amy Manning's baby blanket to Alex Tinsley's dread falls, all contain clever little details to separate you from the zombies.
Sharon Fuller's Fennec (below) is a burnoose with a long tail that goes over the shoulder to help keep the garment on. Bulletproof (left), by Alexandra Virgiel, features zippers with unusual placement and a "don't-tread-on-me" vibe.
Grom-mitts are Brenda K. B. Anderson's apocalyptic answer to fancy jewelry. And Lunar Progression is the way Theressa Silver plans to keep track of time.
Garments are written in a generous number of sizes (most fit 28 - 62" busts) with measurements given in both inches and centimeters. Suggested ease is provided for most wearables.
Four of the mitt/mitten designs and all three hat designs (grr!) come in a single size, but most claim to be stretchy. And SpillyJane's Circuit Mittens would be pretty darn difficult to size, given their allover stranded color work of chakra symbols within and Egyptian-style cartouche surrounded by a circuit board.
Two of the mitt patterns and one sock pattern are written in two sizes, and there are four sizes each for Sarah Burghardt's Rattlebone Mitts and Katherine Vaughan's Long Road Ahead socks.
The patterns themselves are very readable, in three columns with adequate white space, and only headers in the character font (still legible).
And if that's not enough, the book is aerated with lists of recommended reading, viewing, listening, and gaming---and tips for fighting creatures known to populate the end times. The designer bios are worth a closer look, too.
I prescribe this book for anyone who thinks the world may have ended (the introductory flow chart alone will be worth the price of the book), for knitters or designers who may or may not need rejuvenation (some of the techniques in this book are pretty inspiring), and for people who just like pretty pictures of disaster-ridden lands, blank spaces, and brick shelters.
Disclosure: Cooperative Press sent Kangath a copy of Doomsday Knits free for review. Kangath was not compensated for the preceding review. All opinions expressed in the review are the blog author's and are not necessarily the opinions of Cooperative Press or the designers.
This is my Forest Floor Stole, part of the Contrarion Shawls collection from Universal Yarns. Knit in luscious Fibranatura Llamalini, it begins with a length of stockinette fabric, then adds leaves one by one until there is a pile of leaves at the end of the scarf.
The cast-on end can roll as much or as little as you like. I personally like a lot of roll, but I blocked it with very little to show it can be done. Unwrapped short rows complete each leaf on the bind-off row.
This straightforward pattern has a great rhythm to it and works up so quickly you'll want to make another right away!
Our first stop in Europe was Warsaw, to see some friends of ours and meet their lovely daughter (who is five years old, looks like a Disney princess, and loves Dr. Seuss).
Our stay was shorter than we had planned, because our flight was cancelled and we had to leave the following day. But we enjoyed the time we had there very much.
After feeding us, our host walked us over to a spa where we had a wonderful massage. I also tried some homemade nalewka (apparently a passion with the owner) and sampled some ginger cookies.
When asked what he wanted to do in Poland, my husband said "eat pierogie," so that was our next stop. We got a sampler plate of many kinds of pierogie and went back the next evening to have full plates of our favorites. (I ordered the "Christmas flavors" of sauerkraut and mushroom, while Jeff got the "mountain cheese" our host had ordered the night before.)
At the pierogerie we also sampled a couple of hot winter beverages: fruity compote broth and something that reminded us of Red Zinger tea. Both were delicious, but I preferred the kompot.
Our one full day in Warsaw began with a trip to the Wedel shop and cafe downtown. We had a lovely breakfast there, including some very decadent drinking chocolate. Our host took us to the top of the Palace of Culture and Science for a view of the city, then on to the Chopin Museum.
In the evening we saw the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra featuring Russian soloists. Alena Baeva totally blew me away with her rendition of Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (scroll down for a video of her performance of this famous work by Saint-Saens).
The next morning began in a relaxed manner as we had breakfast and took a subway to the train station to catch a train to Prague. But the subway was held up between several stops and we were in danger of missing our train. We had gotten special non-refundable, non-reschedulable tickets, so this was a problem! Our quick-thinking host called a cab to meet us a couple stops before the train station, and this taxi driver was the right man for the job. He scooted us through the morning rush-hour traffic, our friend helped us find the right platform, and we boarded the train just seconds before it started down the track.
To be continued . . .
The Knitter's Book of Finishing Techniques by Nancy Wiseman, pub. Martingale, 2002.
This is one of the most comprehensive books on finishing techniques that I have encountered, and I'll tell you why. It starts with casting on. For a beautifully finished work of knitting, it is important to pay attention to the methods of casting on and binding off, ways to increase and decrease, and whether or not to leave a selvedge.
All this is delineated in Wiseman's calm, clear style. Planning worksheets are provided at the end of the book, and a list of tips is given at the beginning, but for me the best feature is the lists of benefits and drawbacks for each technique. These show in a flash why I may or may not want to use a particular method along with features such as stretchiness and relative amount of time needed.
Then she dives into the material promised by the title: seams; picking up stitches; borders, bands, and finishes; buttonholes; weaving in ends; blocking; and even storage.
Again, several methods are given for each technique, along with advantages, disadvantages, and other information such as appropriate fibers a given method works well with.
On page 61 there a general order is given for garment assembly. Item 5 is "Sew sleeves to armholes," and item 8 is "Sew sleeve from cast-on edge to armhole." I'm not sure whether there's meant to be a difference or if it's just a misprint.
Also on page 133 Wiseman reinforces some outdated perceptions about circular knitting, such as that working a sleeve requires double-pointed needles as the sleeve gets smaller (two circulars or the magic loop method also work) and that true intarsia cannot be worked in the round (my Meandros Sweater is proof to the contrary).
But aside from these very minor issues, this book is a wonderful reference tool, with a choice of flat-laying paperback or concealed spiral binding to better see the step-by-step instructions and (usually) clear instructional photography or diagrams.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone who likes to have a variety of techniques at their fingertips in order choose the best one toward a beautifully finished piece.
Disclosure: Martingale Press sent Kangath a free copy of The Knitter's Book of Finishing Techniques for review. Kangath was not compensated for the preceding review. All opinions expressed in the review are the blog author's and are not necessarily the opinions of Martingale Press or Nancie Wiseman.
Last month my husband and I finally went on our honeymoon. After nearly 17 years of marriage and two children, we decided it was time. We visited friends in Warsaw, then went on to Prague, Paris, and London, spending just a couple days in each city---a "tasting menu" of European highlights.
Our friends in Warsaw told us we would find these "hand warmers" in Prague. Called trdelnik (pronounced just like it's spelled, if you will), these street pastries are made of dough which is wrapped around a metal pole and roasted over a fire, then rolled in cinnamon sugar. The result is a delicious hot snack you can stick your hand in, like an edible mitt. Wonderful!
Big Foot Knits by Andi Smith, photography by Kristen Caldwell Photography and Cooperative Press, pub. Cooperative Press, 2013.
I'm relieved to finally be able to review this book after a long spate of secret knitting and writing projects. In fact, I downloaded the book this morning and couldn't help but read it straight through. Which is partly due to a sudden flexibility in my schedule, but mostly a credit to the wonderful Andi Smith, who has written a real page-turner.
No, Big Foot Knits is not a whodunit novel, but it goes beyond the normal book of sock patterns in several ways:
In fact, the book has 56 pages of material about sock fitting (and not just big feet, either---these tips work for anything you might care to bestocking) before launching into the patterns.
In addition to providing space to analyze overall foot shape, toe shape, heel shape and leg shape (for each side, mind you---one side just won't do) Andi gives a worksheet with 31 measurements (plus two averages) to give a complete picture of your feet and legs.
Andi's preferred method of making hosiery leaves both heel and toe until the end---lucky for those of us with unusual shaped toes and heels! We can just plug in our preferred pattern for the respective foot ends, and we'll be able to knit socks with remarkably good fit. If our intended recipient has toes or heels with different shapes on each side, we can choose accordingly different patterns.
The sizing in this book is true to its name. Though each design is given in three sizes, none of the sizes is under a 9" circumference. That's okay. Sock patterns have been weighted toward smaller feet for so long, it's wonderful to see these designs (some of them dainty indeed!) in large sizes.
Now, normally I choose my four or five favorite patterns to highlight in the photos. But I had an unusual problem with this book---I was unable to choose.
All the designs were lovely and ingenious, with appropriate space for customization, and wonderful appellations evoking goddesses (and, in one case, a mortal turned into a bird by the gods).
In the end, I chose socks that I felt photographed well. Kristen Caldwell, whose work on Unique Feet was less than stunning, did a marvelous job on this very similar book. The lighting, the poses, and the colors all come together felicitously in each example.
Of course, the background papers by Terry Cutlip/Sassy Designs go a long way toward setting the mood of the book. And the unshoed photos (presumably by Cooperative Press) are very clear, with every stitch visible and the various toe and heel shapes in evidence.
This is a great book for designers and others interested in sock fit, as well as anyone who knits socks for people with feet that don't fit the norm. Worth the price even if you don't knit any of the patterns!
Disclosure: Cooperative Press sent Kangath this review copy of Big Foot Knits. Kangath was not compensated for the preceding review. All opinions expressed in the review are the blog author's and are not necessarily the opinions of Cooperative Press or Andi Smith.
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