Saturday, August 30, 2008

Blankets and throws

Many people have been worrying out loud about the cost of heating their homes this winter. We know there will be an increase in blanket, throw and afghan knitting this fall, in fact we've already seen signs of that. Most folks are wanting to knit something simple and warm, and in many cases, portable.

There are quite a few knitting patterns for afghans that are made in pieces. A brand new afghan booklet for fall - Manos del Uruguay Geometry - is a prime example. When Barb and I went to the TNNA show this past June, we saw all of these afghans knit up, and it was one of the things I was MOST excited about. We waited ALL summer to get the books, though I did manage to get a pre-copy of one of the patterns, so I could get started on a shop sample. This is the Adventure Throw, straight from the pattern booklet, done in shades of blues, teals and greens.I chose to use 12 less similar colors of the Manos del Uruguay Wool Clasica, and it's going to be NICE!!!

I started knitting my Adventure Throw in the middle of the summer. Since it's really for the shop, I am actually only knitting half of the throw - it's enough to give folks an idea of what it will look like when it's twice as big. I'm on square 5 of 6 (the whole throw has 12). Here there are this morning, unblocked.
Then I blocked them - huge difference, isn't there? The pattern says to sew the pieces together and then to block the whole throw. Remember, in any pattern, you need to count on your own knowledge and expertise. The pieces of this throw alternate... half of them are in stockinette and garter, and the other half are in garter and some yarn-overs. Even though I am doing them all on size 9 Addi Turbo Knitting Needles, the pieces with the yarn-overs end up a bit bigger than the ones in garter/stockinette. So I chose to block them all to the same size BEFORE seaming them. Again, my choice, and I believe, a good one.

Here they are drying. They already look so much better!
In truth, I like the pieces in garter/stockinette better. If I were to do this afghan again, I would probably eliminate the ones with yarn-overs, and just do these in different colors. That's the great thing about the Manos del Uruguay Geometry pattern booklet. You can mix and match all of the different octagons and squares and come up with one all your own!

Suzie is doing just that. She's started working on the Moonstone (my favorite in this book!)and she's using Berroco Ultra Alpaca and Mountain Colors River Twist. She may decide to throw in some other yarns too. I can't wait to see it!

Friday, August 29, 2008

Favorite sweater #1 for fall

What plans do all of you have for the upcoming Labor Day Weekend? I'm not working at the yarn shop this Saturday, so I look forward to enjoying 3 days with my husband and kids. I may even be taking a little day trip to Lake Placid on Labor Day... so that means knitting time in the car and on the ferry! (That excites me more than the actual trip!)

So this week we are almost back to our fall schedule. Michele works a lot less in the summer, and then we all have vacation time, so sometimes we don't see one another for weeks! This Wednesday we all sat down and had a nice breakfast meeting so we could get on the same page about what's going on around here.

We have so many great new knitting kits in the shop. This year I have a number of favorites... and I'll feature them over several posts. Last spring we received the Manos del Uruguay Silk Blend yarn. We loved it. The colors are gorgeous, and it is incredible to knit with. The Manos Primera Pattern Booklet was the first booklet to support this yarn. And on the back cover is the most gorgeous sweater (IMO)! I loved the assymetrical look of it, the horizontal cabled yoke and vertical cables on the body and the slighly flared, ribbed sleeves. The color it is knit in - #3019 Dove - is also my favorite.

BUT, my rule when making a sample, is to always use a different color than what it's photographed in in the pattern booklet. Why? Well, many (ok, MOST) of our customers come in, see a sample or a pattern and want to make it in the EXACT same color that they see it in. So if a pattern shows one color, and we make a sample in another, it at least gives those folks who have a hard time imagining the finished product two options to choose from.

So I picked color #3064 Pewter for our sample. And I am thrilled with the result! This color is so versatile, it seems to go with everything. And I love how it fits - I definitely will be wearing this when the temperatures drop this fall and winter.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Here, kitty kitty!

I just finished a baby sweater for a friend's baby. It’s their first baby so I really wanted to knit something for them. They decided not to find out the gender of the baby, so I had to choose colors that would work well for either a boy or girl.

I have always loved the Roo Designs Cat Pullover pattern that we sell. It's so cute! It calls for a worsted weight yarn so I picked out several great colors of Jil Eaton Minnow Merino. What a super color selection - it was difficult to pick.

I also thought it would be fun to make a matching hat and socks. I used my Ann Norling Kid's Fruit Cap pattern for the hat, and just followed the stitch count and shaping - but striped the hat. Then for the socks I used my Yankee Knitter Classic Socks for the Family pattern.

And here is the result - I love it!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Chilly mornings call for hats!

When the weather turned cold last fall, my son William called home from college and asked me to knit him a hat. It was his first year away and apparently the Castleton campus is pretty windy.

He just went back for his second year, and I thought I'd be one step ahead of his request this year. So I made him two hats last weekend. It was also a great excuse to knit with two of our brand new Berroco fall yarns, Cuzco and Peruvia Quick. I must say I really enjoyed the yarns! They both knit up so quickly and were so soft. I'm definitely going to make a hat for myself with one of these yarns.

The Peruvia Quick hat was a simple cable and rib, and the Cuzco hat was an easy rib pattern.Both were quick and are unisex. Great gift ideas!

We've already had quite a few chilly mornings here in VT – so hat season is not far off. In fact our local schools started yesterday and many of the children at the bus stops were in sweatshirts, sweaters or jackets. It was chilly. I am sorry to see the summer go, but ready for a change of season and more knitting!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Back to school

Today was the first day of school and I have to say, I'm so glad! It means that my life has a bit more of a routine now. I like knowing what days I leave early to meet the girls off the bus, and what days I can stay at work late, since they have after school care. The summer was fun, but different camps each week... that's probably not how I'll do it next year.

But wow! First day of FOURTH grade! Time has gone by so quickly. The girls were only 2 1/2 years old when I opened the shop. Now they're 9.

This past weekend was gorgeous here in Vermont. And it's about time! I think it was the most summery weekend we've had all summer. But we did have some colder temperatures last week, and that cold weather brought in a lot of folks looking for knitting projects. The most popular items last week were the Plymouth Happy Choices yarn, and the Be Sweet Magic Balls. The Happy Choices sock flats are a lot of fun! You unravel the pre-knitted "flat" and don't really know what your sock will look like until you get going. But look how cool!
And the Magic Balls, well they are truly my favorite. I took one home on Friday night to make a cute little hat for a shop sample. I started it Friday night, but didn't make much progress - because I had a 10k race on Saturday morning and I went to bed early. Unfortunately, I woke up at 5am to some very persistent and LOUD cats. Turns out my cats, who have never been outdoor cats, "catch" what they think are mice in my basement at night. But they're not really mice. The cats just think they are. They're some kind of rubbery Polly Pocket dolls and outfits that - of course - my children leave all over the place. The cats pick them up, carry them around like prey, and then deposit them on the top step, and meow for us to come and see their "kill." This is what I found Saturday morning.
It's okay. Given my fear of real mice, I'll take Polly Pockets any day.

Okay, so up at 5am I knit my Be Sweet hat while I had my coffee, and it totally took my mind off the race. Love how knitting does that! When I got to the race I saw several of our customers, and I did better than I expected, so it was all good. The woman behind me in the blue shirt is Amy - a customer of ours from Bakersfield. We had a great time chatting before and after the race. It was so fun to get to know her better!
After the race, I couldn't wait to work on the Be Sweet Hat. I finished it - and am all set to knit another one, but this time, FOR ME.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Turn, turn, turn (A guest blogger!)

Many of you remember India, who worked in our shop for years... She has gone back to her editing gig, which means she can work at home, but she still teaches classes for us here at the shop. She thought she'd share a little about her upcoming fall classes, so here goes!

"…To everything there is a season, and although it’s still summer (you’d never know it today, though; it’s about 62 degrees outside and I am wrapped in a wool shawl) I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the coming cold weather. Partly that’s because of our unseasonably cool and wet summer, and partly it’s because I’m still reeling from paying for our winter heat pre-buy—OUCH!! So coming up with alternative ways of keeping warm in the coming months has been very much on my mind.

Of course, knitting has always been about keeping warm. Sweaters, hats, socks, scarves, mittens, shawls, afghans… all wonderful winter warmers. But I’m guessing that I won’t be the only one turning the thermostat a few degrees cooler this year, and so I’ve been concentrating on ways to keep warm inside. I think I’ve come up with a few great ideas, and I hope to share them with some of you in the knitting classes I’ll be teaching at Kaleidoscope Yarns this fall. I spend a great deal of my time sitting at my computer, and my home office is chilly. So when I get dressed in the morning, one of the first things I put on is soft wool handknitted socks. I’ve been teaching the basic fingering weight socks class at Kaleidoscope Yarns for years now, but this time around, we’ll do it in sport weight, using the same great Yankee Knitter Classic Socks pattern and KnitCol yarn from Adriafil. This yarn is almost too much fun—the colors are fantastic and knit up into wonderful, whimisical stripes. And sport weight yarn works on bigger needles (size 3 or 4 rather than 1 or 2) and knits up quickly, so if you want to learn to knit socks but you’ve been afraid of tiny needles and skinny yarn, this class is for you!

If you’ve got basic socks down, the Lupine Lace Socks workshop may be just the thing to kick your sock knitting up a notch. Who says you can’t be warm and elegant at the same time? Because that’s what these socks are. Fingering weight yarn and a delicate lace stitch complement the basic sock construction. There’s a sample of these socks in the shop worked in a pretty solid lavender, but I took a bit of a risk and knit these using Cascade Heritage Paint sock yarn in a subtle multicolor of blues, purples, greens, and browns. Sometimes a multicolor yarn and a lace pattern just don’t mix—it can end up looking too busy while obscuring the stitch pattern. But I was thrilled—thrilled!—with these socks. I’m really looking forward to wearing these with my clogs this fall and winter.

Of course, it’s not just my feet that get cold. My hands get pretty chilly, too, but I can’t type with gloves on. I came up with this design for slip stitch mosaic fingerless mitts because I wanted something colorful but not too bulky. Slip stitch colorwork is the cheater’s Fair Isle: unlike traditional stranded knitting, you only work one color at a time. However, some stiches are slipped, rather than worked, which pulls the color up from one row into the next row, giving the illusion of two colors worked simultaneously. Sneaky, eh? Some fingerless mitts lack a thumb, but for these mitts I constructed a real thumb, so they are more comfortable to wear. These mitts knit up pretty quickly, and in addition to learning the slip stitch technique, you’ll learn how to make a hemmed picot edge. Right now, I’ve got a couple of testknitters working on this pattern, so it’s not available in the shop yet, but it should be soon.

I do enjoy all the wonderful fibers and funky yarns available these days, but in many ways I’m a traditionalist. Give me some cables and a lovely tweedy yarn and I’m a happy girl. And that’s just the combination I’ve put together for the 3-Button Wrap from Plymouth Yarns. Although the pattern is written for the more refined Royal Llama Silk, I chose Plymouth Tweed instead, in a deep chocolate brown with flecks of rust and gold. The pattern combines an easy seed stitch rib with one interesting double-cable panel perfect for those of you interested in learning how to wield a cable needle; three buttonholes and some great chunky buttons complete the look. I’ll be keeping this wrap by my desk, or by the couch or my knitting chair… hmmmm, might have to make a second one!

Finally, I chose a couple more Plymouth patterns—the Cherry Blossom Lace Scarf and Stole and the Cabled Shawl (which involves no cabling!). Both of these patterns feature lovely, lacy stitch patterns that can work for a scarf, a wrap, or an afghan—your choice. Winter warmth comes in all sizes, and can wrap around your neck, your shoulders, or your whole body, depending on the size you choose. These stitch patterns can be a starting point for your own creativity. Again, I found myself looking at the tweedy yarns, deciding finally on Rowan Felted Tweed for both projects. This yarn is softer, finer, and less rustic than the Plymouth Tweed, and really delicious. A couple of weeks ago I helped a friend get started on the Cherry Blossom Lace; she chose Berroco Ultra Alpaca-talk about soft!

Here’s the low-down on my classes: all require basic knowledge of cast on, knit, purl, and bind off. For the Lupine Lace Socks, you must already know how to knit socks; none of the other classes require advanced skills. You’ll learn how to read stitch charts and how to execute the required stitches, and we’ll talk about finishing, design details, and options.

All of these projects would make great gifts, if you can stand to give them away! Or keep them all for yourself, drape yourself head to toes in wool, and keep high heating prices and Old Man Winter at bay. I hope I’ve come up with some projects that will inspire you to learn some new skills. If you’d like to sign up for any of these classes, or to see the entire list of classes available at Kaleidoscope Yarns this fall, click on “KNITTING CLASSES” at the top of the home page. See you in the fall!"

Monday, August 18, 2008

Someone needs mittens this year...

It's a well known fact that my hands are always freezing in the winter. I just didn't realize how cold they were in the summer!

For Helen & Sophie's birthday, we took them and 6 of their friends for a fun day at the Montshire Museum of Science yesterday. This exhibit showed how warm or cold the different parts of your body were.
Compare my fingers to Marc's. Looks like I should be wearing mittens in August. I may have to search Ravelry for a nose warmer pattern, since my nose isn't looking much warmer.

The day was great. Eight great kids, a lot of fun, and a very full (and long!) day. We slept well last night, for sure.

The ONLY downside was that I didn't have knitting time in the car. I didn't think to rent a 10-12 passenger van until the night before the party and by then they were all sold out. Drat! So instead of letting Marc drive (and me knit!) I had to drive my car, as well. Oh well, next time.
Let's see, I think there could be a road trip to Target in the near future... that will give me some good knitting time!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Look what I found in the garden!

So my garden this year has been a bit challenged. I planted late, and most of what I planted either came up poorly, or not at all. I'm glad I split a CSA with my neighbor this summer - because my garden would not have supplied me much in the way of vegetables.

I did manage a crop of sugar snap peas, several nice pickings of yellow, green and purple bush beans, early lettuces and some parsley. My basil is coming in... again, I planted it late. My cherry tomatoes are less than stellar this year. And of course, I had rhubarb - but that's easy.

My zucchini plant has been somewhat of a disappointment. I started it late and sowed it directly into the garden. I planted 6 seeds in the hill and was going to thin to 2, but only 1 ended up sprouting, so nature did it's own thinning. The plant itself has lots of leaves, and lots of flowers, but not much in the way of zucchini. And I noticed a few weeks ago that there was a huge hole under the back part of the hill. I didn't know what it was, but figured it was some drainage sink hole that occured from all the heavy rains we've had.

Today I saw that my 5th zucchini was perfectly ready for the picking. I reached my hand WAY into the plant, under the leaves to pull it when all of a sudden... something moved. I realized that just beyond the zucchini was something furry. At first I thought it was a squirrel. I hate backyard rats squirrels. So I froze. But when I looked more carefully I realized that I was staring at two teeny tiny baby bunnies!One scurried to the corner of the garden...

and then the second one scurried...

and then a THIRD one scurried...

and the poor FOURTH one was scared stiff and didn't move a bit...

So I terrified four little bunnies just because I wanted that zucchini. Well, they're adorable and we watched them scurry around just a bit. I did manage to steal that zucchini (hey - it's only my 5th! I couldn't sacrifice it) And now I know what that hole was for. So maybe I didn't do too well in the produce department this year, but I grew some bunnies!

And in knitting news (what's that? just kidding!) I started a hat out of King George last night. Now I see why Suzie and Barb rave about this yarn. I am in love!!!! It's so soft. I'd love a sweater out of it for this winter.

So there are definitely a few things shop related things to post about, but it's been a busy week at the shop. Barb's on vacation and we've been busy! I had no childcare this week, so Michele's been working extra to help us all out - thanks Michele! I have lots to show over the next couple of weeks (like an AMAZING new sweater sample - thanks to Karen, our newest - and very talented - sample knitter!) but I have a birthday party to deal with first. The girls turned 9 on Sunday and the party is this weekend. We're taking a few friends to the Montshire Museum this weekend.

We took a great photo of Helen at age 9 and Sophie at age 8. It doesn't last for long (only 18 minutes) but since Helen is always pulling rank and saying she's the oldest, we thought we'd throw her a bone. I thought they were 15 minutes apart, but I found the birth announcement, and lucky Helen, she's just gained an extra 3 minutes.

A few thoughts on customer service... and knots

Is it just me? Or has customer service become a thing of the past? When I opened the shop over 6 years ago, I put friendly, knowledgable customer service at the top of my goals list. Whether we are helping a customer in the shop, or shipping an order to an internet customer, our number one goal is to excel in all areas of customer service.

In the shop, we aren't hoverers. We also aren't ignorers. Our policy is that we are there for anything and everything you need - project ideas, color consultation, yarn recommendations, knitting help, advice, etc but we don't jump on you - that's not our style. We also don't try to sell you what you don't need. Sure, removable stitch markers are lovely, but don't you have safety pins lying around? Stitch markers - cool! But scrap yarn works as well.

When processing our online orders, we are speedy and accurate. We take care in packaging our orders, and we contact our customers if we think they've misordered in any way. We mark down shipping costs on pattern only orders. We do everything that we would want done for us. If and when we make a mistake (We're human! It happens!) we do what it takes to make it right.

Are we the only ones? I am amazed each day at the LACK of customer service that I see in my travels. Just this morning at the grocery store (and this happens each visit) the bagger OVER-stuffed my re-usable bags to the point where I could barely lift them. Is this because they just don't care about the job they're doing? Did they fail "grocery bagging 101"? Or are they trying to save the store the measly 3 cents per bag credit, by using fewer of my bags? I don't get it. And if this is how they routinely bag groceries, then my next career is grocery bagger. I do it way better!

And as I was trying to bag a few bags myself, the cashier yelled at me to pick my payment type on the credit card machine. I guess the machine had beeped, so I would choose credit or debit, and I didn't hear it because I was trying to bag my groceries. Yes, a 16 year old girl YELLED at me, with her teeny bopper impatient attitude. There wasn't even anyone in line behind me. That's such great customer service. Don't think I'll be back to that store anytime soon. But do they really care?

Earlier this week I got a call from a customer of ours. She had visited our store in the spring, and purchased some yarn. When I said "Hello?" she said "I'm calling from Virginia and I am NOT happy." GULP! This is - of course - not what you like to hear. So I took a deep breath and asked her what I could do for her. Turns out, she was NOT happy with one of our suppliers. (phew!)

She bought some yarn from us in the spring. She just started to work with one skein, and when she went to wind it, she found 15-16 knots in the skein. She knew (of course!) that this was excessive and that it was not OUR fault, but the manufacturer's.

SIDE NOTE: Most of our manufacturers will replace (or give us credit for) a ball of yarn that has 4 or more knots in it. They say that most balls have ZERO knots, but that occasionally the balling/skeining machine has hiccups. They say 3 knots are acceptable. So any more than 3, you bring us the yarn and we give you a new ball - or credit. Then we send the bad ball back to the manufacturer and they credit us.

Anyway, knowing that this was clearly the manufacturer's problem, this lovely and very frustrated customer called the manufacturer directly, and as it is a relatively small company - got through to the owner immediately. She explained the problem, told her she had purchased the yarn from us, and asked what could be done about it. The owner of the company (who our customer described as "evil") said it was not her problem at all. She had sold the yarn to us and so it was OUR problem. She said she couldn't and wouldn't help in any way, and basically told the customer that she'd have to take it up with us.


Now really, what's important here? The only thing that matters in this situation is that the customer gets some sort of compensation for her clearly damaged and defective skein of yarn. I couldn't believe how poorly she was treated, and so I got her name and address and told her not to worry, I'd send her a replacement skein of yarn in the mail. She asked if I wanted the damaged skein back - to send back to this company for credit. No thanks! It's not worth my time.

In the end, I'm glad the customer wasn't unhappy with us - like I thought when I answered the phone! She was furious at this company, and really just couldn't believe that anyone would have that kind of awful business etiquette and rotten customer service.

It's sad that this company couldn't jut do the right thing, and replace one lousy ball of yarn. They certainly weren't concerned about their reputation. What goes around comes around. I guess we'll just have to wait and see...

Friday, August 08, 2008

Baby gift completed, heading for home

It's done! And very cute, if I do say so myself. I just love it. It was an easy pattern, and the yarn performed so well, as usual.The only downside to having multiple colors on the ruffles is that there were more ends to weave in. But not so many that I wouldn't do it again. It needs blocking, but since I'm on lake water here, it will have to wait until I get home. Which will be tomorrow afternoon. We're supposed to stay until Sunday, but with all the rain we've gotten, and the wall climbing we've been doing, all I have to say is... "We're OUTTA here."

Yesterday I spent a very quiet day here, alone at the camp. It was dark and damp and cold, and all I did was clean, do some laundry, watch some trash TV (LOVE the Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency - it's so bad, it's GOOD!) and knit by the woodstove. Marc took the kids to Cabella's as an outing. It was 2 hours there, and 2 hours back. They had fun, seeing all of the taxidermied (is that a word?) animals and I was so glad to have the peace and quiet. Helen took pictures of every single "stuffed" animal at Cabella's and after spending 20 minutes looking at the pictures, I decided I had made the right decision to stay home alone!

Today I started another afghan square with Manos. I can't wait for the pattern booklet to be out because there is another octagonal afghan in it that is just incredible. Just wait!

One cute sight from the other day - a momma cat nursing her babies...If you look carefully, another kitty is hiding under the porch. Very cute to see, but also sad, considering the cats are wild, and we all know how fast they can multiply... and these do multiply, and multiply.I guess I will see what MY rascals have been up to tomorrow afternoon. I hope, that with only a petsitter coming to see them twice a day, they have behaved. I'm not betting any money on it, though!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

No Sun, Lots of Rain, but a Cheerful Little Sweater

So this is day five of our vacation and this is the weather.
But I am so thankful that a great friend from college, who lives in Miami, is here visiting with her daughter for a few days. We've had a great time, despite the weather. We've done some blueberry picking, visited with some local farm animals, eaten some wonderful meals and had fun.
I've made some good progress on the sweater for my cousin's baby girl. I am making this cute little ruffled pullover sweater from the Nashua Handknits Bloom book. It's supposed to be one color, but I couldn't imagine wasting those adorable ruffles on just one color of yarn. So I'm using three colors for the ruffles, and one for the body of the sweater. It's really adorable. This sweater reminds me of sorbet... it certainly brightens things up around here!
As I've said before, the yarn is one of my favorites. Cascade Cotton Rich DK is definitely a great choice for kids. It's so soft, and washable - and the colors are all great. The only problem is that it's hard to pick a color - or in this case, colors. Thankfully Kalen helped - and I'm loving the result!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Time to relax

So tomorrow morning I'm off to our camp in Maine for a week of R&R. Actually, I hope it's R&R with some K on the side, because I do have some knitting projects that are coming with me.

My Manos afghan (nice that it's worked in pieces!), a cute hat out of King George, and a little baby sweater. My cousin recently had a baby girl and I had a really hard time picking something out... I finally did it today, so I'll post pictures as I progress. I'm using a Nashua Handknits pattern and Cascade Cotton Rich Dk - I just LOVE that yarn, and I really love the great colors.

Hint: I'm using 4 colors, but only supposed to use 1. It's girly, but not too girly, and it's NOT pink. I'm hoping it looks cute and works out, yardage-wise. We'll see... what fun!