Friday, July 17, 2015

A long time ago in an art class far, far away

So my current ISP has decided in their infinite wisdom to discontinue the hosting of personal web pages. For the most part I don't care, but I did have my art portfolio uploaded there with a fancy-schmancy lightbox interface.

What did this mean for me? I'm not going to fight their decision, so it meant several hours yesterday evening messing around with the computer, trying to get the lightbox coding to work with Blogger. And at last it does!

What does it mean for you? A brand new page on With Strings Attached - my art portfolio. There's nothing knitting-related there, but here it is anyway, in its new home, home on the web. It's been years in the making, since long before I learned to knit, I was drawing, sketching, and painting. Enjoy!

Technical note: If any of you are trying to get an album lightbox to work with Blogger,this is what worked for me. I put the Light Box Code from Bloggerplugins.ORG into the site template following their instructions, but please note: the script sources that appear at the end of the original code are outdated and must be replaced. This only affects the script source pages at the end of the code. The original code read as follows: 

<script src='' type='text/javascript'/>
<script src='' type='text/javascript'/>
<script src='' type='text/javascript'/>

I replaced it with this, and it works fine: 

<link href='' media='screen' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'/>
<script src='' type='text/javascript'/>
<script src='' type='text/javascript'/>

Happy knitting and coding!

~ Caroline

Friday, March 20, 2015

Happy First Day of Spring

So today is the first day of spring. This is what it looked like in my backyard.

A hardy robin hanging out in the peach tree

A female cardinal and junco in the rose of sharon

Hope your day was warmer!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Shout-Out to the 70's and 80's

Pantone released their Fall 2015 Fashion Color Report today. This is always an event of interest to designers - what colors will people be wearing, and what will appeal to them - and us - in the near future? According to Executive Director Leatrice Eiseman, this autumn's selection features "a truly unisex color palette." I'm loving the rich teal Biscay Bay and the vivid Amethyst Orchid. The other colors they've selected include both neutrals and brights which hearken back to shades fashionable from the 1920s through the 1970s.

All this brings me to the question: Have you ever been stuck at home because of illness or the weather and watched your way through a marathon of old TV shows? A couple channels in our cable lineup have recently begun running shows from the 70s and 80s - Mary Tyler Moore, Hart to Hart, and Magnum P.I., among others. I vaguely remember them from their first run, but since that was during the years of my childhood, I was far too young to appreciate them then. This time around, I've particularly enjoyed watching them from an adult's perspective. What surprises me is how well they hold up in the days of modern scripts and special effects.

The plots are mostly straightforward, and even the humorous characters are earnest. Modern audiences might see them as naive, but I found it refreshing. Take Jonathan and Jennifer Hart - a married couple who love each other, rather than fighting at every opportunity to give the audience a cheap laugh? Sweet! The writers didn't have the technology to rely on special effects and the censors wouldn't let them aim for shock value, so most episodes are story- and character-driven. Even the "tough" characters rarely swear, and the little they do is on the mild side by today's standards. Sarcasm is rare enough to be notable. And if all that adds up to being a little less than realistic, well, that's because it's fiction. It still has entertainment value. (One exception to the special effects comment: there seem to be a disproportionate number of scenes involving helicopters. Does Hollywood make helicopter shows anymore?)

The other thing that holds up surprisingly well are some of the clothes. Many of the outfits from the late 70s and early 80s are strikingly classic. The sleek turtlenecks and elegant gowns are the best - and it would take a lot to make a man look bad in a tuxedo, don't you think? So many of them would be wearable today - right in line with Pantone's color choices! I will admit that the hair can be hilarious at times, such as an episode in which our hero and heroine are trapped in a wind tunnel cranked to top power and atomic-strength hairspray keeps their styles nearly perfect all the way to the end of the episode.

Sadly, as much as the 70s styles turned out to be way better than I remembered, the mid 80s didn't hold up nearly as well. Pastel floral prints! Puffy sleeves! Matronly hair! Awesome! (Not.) It left me wondering whether the costume designers secretly hated the actors and wanted to make them look like they'd escaped from a cotton candy factory. At least the 80s eventually left and we moved on to other styles.

Bottom line: fashions change. And sometimes that's a good thing.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Adventures in Blocking

Knitting big items has some really good points. In its favor:

1. A sense of accomplishment. You get to demonstrate your sticktoitiveness and feel good about yourself, both for starting the project and for completing it.

2. Pride in your work. Others will be impressed that you made the item. When they ask, you can say "Yes, I made that!"

3. Warmth. More yarn = more warm. That's especially important when the winters are this cold.

That's all I can think of, really. Still, those are some pretty good reasons to Knit Big.

On the other hand, knitting large projects has its cons.

1. Time. More stitches take longer. Lots longer.

2. More yarn. It cost more, it's harder to store, and it makes the project less portable.

3. Blocking. Oh my, the blocking.

Some time ago, I decided to make a blanket. A warm blanket. A blanket made of worsted weight yarn, double knit. When it was finished, I was so excited. It was big! It was warm! It matched the couch!

Once the ends had been woven in, it came time to block. Well! It was too big to fit in the bathroom sink, where I usually block my handknits. Enter: the bathtub. First, I wanted the blanket to come out clean, so the tub needed scrubbing. Since I used Soft Scrub with Bleach, and wool and bleach don't play well together, I had to make sure to rinse away all traces of the cleaning product. A few minutes later, that was done. Next step: fill the tub with water and wool-wash. (I like Eucalan. It's gentle, it smells good, and it doesn't require rinsing.) Finally, put the blanket in to soak.

So far, so good. Here's what I didn't consider: the blanket contains about 3,300 yards of pure wool. Do you know how heavy that gets when it is wet? The answer: VERY. Wringing the excess water out was quite the adventure. It involved some experimenting with towels, squeezing by hand, and squishing the blanket with bare feet and a death grip on the bathtub hold-bars like I was stomping grapes to make wine. Finally, I wrapped it in beach towels, put the whole sodden mess in a laundry basket, and made a trip downstairs to the opposite end of the house to put the blanket in the washer on spin cycle. Fortunately, enough water came out to air-dry the blanket over the shower curtain rod with no mess. Yay! Now if I could only figure out why I feel the need to start projects like this at 11:00 at night.

Since this was my own pattern, I decided that the pattern needed to include washing instructions for any brave knitters who want to take it on. There's no need for trial and error for you, the knitter. Here, for your enjoyment and edification, are my instructions on how to hand-wash and block a large project. If you have any suggestions for a better way, please leave them in the comments!

A Word About Blocking
an excerpt from Mayan Hot Cocoa Blanket by Caroline Steinford

This is a heavy blanket to begin with, and when it gets saturated, it becomes MUCH heavier. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't wet-block it. It's a utilitarian as well as a decorative object, so at some point it will need washing.

If you plan to machine wash, follow the instructions on your yarn label regarding water temperature and delicate cycles. After all the work you put into this project, you don't want to risk felting or shrinking it unintentionally.

If you are washing by hand, use a large container, such as a bathtub or (clean) utility sink. Soak the blanket according to the instructions on your chosen detergent. When soaking time has elapsed, drain the tub or sink. Now comes the tricky part: getting the water out. With your hands, wring out what you can. It probably won't be much. If you are using a bathtub, you may be able to VERY CAREFULLY use your bare feet to squeeze out some of the remaining water. Warning: wet surfaces are slippery! If you do this, be sure to take precautions so you don't fall.*

After as much water as possible has been removed, carry the blanket to the washing machine. (If you have a distance to go, try wrapping it in a large towel or two to prevent drips across your floor.) Use the spin cycle to remove the rest of the water. The blanket should now be manageable enough to air dry. You can use a large flat space like a bed or floor as for smaller blocked items as long as you make sure to flip the blanket periodically so both sides can dry thoroughly. Alternately, you can hang the blanket over a shower curtain rod. Pro: air can circulate freely, drying both sides of the blanket more quickly. Con: your bathroom will smell like wet wool until it does. To minimize this, use a fan to circulate more air and shorten drying time.

* According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the U.S. alone over a quarter of a million people are injured in the bathroom each year, and more than 80% of those are fall injuries. -

Monday, January 5, 2015

This is what a designer does

This is what a designer does:

How does a person design a knitting pattern? There are steps.

The idea

First, you need an idea. For this project, I started with some friends.

These are good, dear people visiting a cold climate (my neck of the woods), and I want to keep them warm. With only a short time, the inevitable conclusion was: make them wristwarmers!

The process

My usual process:
  • Start with a general idea;
  • Sketch;
  • Swatch;
  • Measure gauge;
  • Do all calculations;
  • Write out a preliminary pattern without images and print it;
  • Knit from the pattern, making changes when necessary.
This time, was slightly different. I thought about each individual's personality, found stitch patterns that I thought would suit them, and made a sketch with measurements and pencilled charts, making all notes and row-counting tick marks are on that original page.

Once all the wristwarmers were washed and blocked, it was photo time. Enter the handy models:

The alpacas wanted in on the action, too:

Add the photos to the pattern, make it a PDF, and enjoy the end result: Circle of Friends, a nice, neat ebook containing all 6 patterns.

So now that you know what goes into making a design, are you ready to give it a try?

Circle of Friends ebook- $9.95
buy now | add to cart | show cart

Friday, November 14, 2014

I Heart Chocolate

It seems like there's been a lot in the news lately about chocolate.

First of all, did you read the article in the New York Times about flavanols? They're an antioxidant which improves memory, blood circulation, and heart health, and they can be extracted from cocoa beans. (Yay! I always knew chocolate was a health food.) The article does say, disappointingly, that the flavanols need to be processed and taken as a dietary supplement, since it would take about 7 chocolate bars a day to get the high levels of flavanols necessary to reap the benefits. You know what I say to that? "Challenge accepted." (Just kidding. Sort of.)

Then this morning, I saw a TV commercial for Chocolate: The Exhibition at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Chocolate? It's science, people!

And I just ran across a link to the Huffington Post's 2012 list of Hot Chocolate Recipes To Warm You Up On Chilly Days. I'd love to try a la mode's Lavender Hot Chocolate and Minimalist Baker's Mexican Hot Chocolate.

So now, it's time for me to contribute to this pre-winter chocolate-y celebration. Feast your eyes on the Mayan Hot Cocoa Blanket. Remember the Mayan Hot Cocoa Tea Cozy? This is a coordinating blanket knit in worsted weight yarn. It's large enough for a sofa and being double-knit makes it thick enough to be mega-warm.
Mayan Hot Cocoa Blanket
I can't promise flavanols, but at least you know it's calorie-free. :)

Mayan Hot Cocoa Blanket- $6.95
buy now | add to cart | show cart
View details at Ravelry | Patternfish

Mayan Hot Chocolate Tea Cozy - $5.95
buy now | add to cart | show cart
View details at Ravelry | Patternfish

Or get both together for a special price in an ebook ...
Mayan Hot Cocoa ebook- $9.95
buy now | add to cart | show cart
View details at Ravelry

Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Object Lesson in Gauge

Have you ever wondered why knitting patterns include both recommended needle size and gauge requirements? As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words ...

These socks should be identical, were it not for gauge. They were knit with the same pattern*, same yarn and same needles, but by two different knitters. I'm a continental knitter (picker), while Mom, who taught me to knit, is an English-style knitter (thrower). Her stitches are tighter than average, whereas mine are looser than average. The result? Her sock, with a gauge of 5.5 stitches per inch, would fit a small baby. Mine, with a gauge of 4 stitches per inch, would probably fit a large toddler.

That's the reason patterns also include gauge. If the pattern had said to aim for a gauge of, say, 5 stitches per inch, we'd know that Mom should use a larger needle to make her stitches bigger, while I should go down a size or two to make my stitches smaller. In that case, we'd have matching socks at the same gauge. That's the reason gauge swatches are important, at least if you want your finished object to fit.

If you've ever wondered why a needle on one of my designs is a different size - probably a smaller one - than you'd use, that's the reason. I tell you the size that was actually used to knit the item in the photos, then the gauge you should strive for. Use a bigger needle if you have to to get the recommended gauge. Every knitter is an individual, and that's okay ... that's why there is such a thing as different needle sizes!

* Pattern: 2-needle baby socks from Marianna's Lazy Daisy Days