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6 posts from January 2012

Fountain Pen ShawlJanuary 30, 2012

Shawl3Hello, my name is Rachael, and I'm addicted to knitting lace.

I always swore it would never happen. I am NOT that knitter. I can't see the order in the stitches (like I can with cables -- I can knit cables underwater in the dark. Though, really, I don't like to do it that way).

But it did. I blame Cassie and Romi the most. Enablers, both of them, of the highest order. Cassie taught me that stitch markers are your friend (tiny rubber bands! You can get them on the hair product aisle, 300 count, like four bucks. They're awesome) and Romi taught me that lace can be nothing short of entrancing (her designs are magical).

This is the Fountain Pen shawl. When I saw the name, I HAD to knit it, right? (I'm still one of those writers who loves her fountain pens, pretentious as they may seem. I just love the angle they make on the page.)

You can see why it's called that here: see the shape of the nib?

Photo on 1-29-12 at 4

And in the nib's breather hole is a nupp. (That's just a fun sentence to write.)


I, unlike many knitters, like nupps. But I'm a loose knitter, so that makes everything easier (if you know what I mean, BA-DUM-BUM).

Ravelry link here. Yarn: Holiday Yarns Skinny Ewe, one skein, on US5.

I am seriously looking forward to wearing this in Italy.


Let's Talk CleaningJanuary 28, 2012

No, really, let's. I've been meaning to get to the post for a long time. In fact, sometimes when I can't sleep, I lie in bed and think about cleaning products, and I think, I've got to tell the blog this! They'll love it! And then I realize that normal people sleep when they're in bed; they don't fantasize about scrubbing the tub.

Back when Harriet (RIP, best dog in the world) was, shall we say, on the somewhat graceless but cute nonetheless slide downhill, she became incontinent. Well, it wasn't as much incontinent as she made very clear decisions that yes, she had to pee, so that must mean she was outside! Let's pee outside in the living room! Doggie woot! It was fun for her, I think. Not so much for us, but it was one of those things you work around. You know. Love is love, and pee isn't a very big deal.

But it still needs to be cleaned up. (Pictured: Harriet in the living room.)

We don't have much carpet, only in the bedrooms, so during the better part of every day she was on either tile or hardwood (thank god). I was like most people, and had always loved my paper towels even though I knew they were dead trees. But when you suddenly transition to using SO many paper towels (seriously, a roll a day some days), and going through bottles and bottles of Nature's Miracle and 409, it starts to take a moral toll on your faintly green soul.

So I poked around on the internet and found an idea as old as the hills: Towels.

Towels? Hell yes, we had tons of them, and they were beaters already. Somehow, though, it grossed me out. I was used to cleaning messes and then throwing the whole mess in the trash.

Turned out it was awesome. And MILES easier. A large puddle takes lots of paper towels, but just one real towel.

I was on to something. Surely there had to be something cheaper and better than buying bottles of 409 all the time.

I'm pleased to tell you that I found and still use THE PERFECT RECIPE for household cleaner. It cleans everything, hardwood, tile, counters, bathrooms, and even mirrors. Even the greasy stove! The only thing you might find a little unpleasant about it at first is the smell of vinegar, but that dissipates to nothing as it dries (really!) and now, years later, I find that faint smell of vinegar to mean The House Is Clean.


My favorite cleaning things.

Rachael's Household Clean It Up Recipe

1. Get a great spray bottle. This is harder than it sounds! Know the best place to look? Your local nursery or the plant section of your hardware store. The plant spray bottles are built to last -- don't ask me why.

2. Fill the bottle 1/3 of the way with white vinegar. I get mine at our local CVS in the gallon size.

3. Add a good dollop (about a tablespoon, if I were to measure it, which I don't) of Dr. Bronner's liquid castille soap in your favorite flavor (I like lavender, but Trader Joe's only carried the big size in peppermint, which is a nice cheery clean scent). It will go cloudy when it hits the vinegar -- don't worry, it should.

4. (Optional) Add a few drops of tea tree oil. I like it for its disinfectant qualities, and I like the smell, but your taste may vary.

5. Fill the rest of the bottle up with water, and Bob's your clean uncle.


What I like about this stuff:

You can spray it on everything, everywhere, and not worry about a thing. Spray the table and hit the fruit bowl lightly on accident? Who cares?

And this: It flipping WORKS. It gets everything soooo clean and shiny. I use rags for cleaning now, big ones for floors and little ones for counters (and knitted dishrags for dishes! Nothing better!). I love taking a clean rag and making it dirty and then throwing it in the washer (it strikes me that this cleaning method wouldn't work that well if you had to throw the dirty things into a clothes basket if you don't have in-house laundry and I'm sorry about that). And then, when you do your regular laundry, just throw it on top and wash it all together (unless you've got seriously grungy greasy rags, which deserve a wash on their own).

Other Favorite Cleaning Tricks

Bathtub: Oh, my gosh, did I come up with a good recipe for this. This is cobbled together out of things I've found on the internet over the years, refined by something I read recently on Crunchy Betty's site (if you enjoy this kind of thing, hop over there and lose a few wonderful hours).

This is great for a grimy tub. I hate our bathtub (it's rusted on the bottom and is an awkward shape so I tend to ignore it until I can't live with the grime anymore).

1. Fill tub with the hottest water you can run. Add a pot of boiling water for extra oomph. Add a cup (or two!) of white vinegar.

2. Let it sit for a while, until the water is cool enough again for you to pull the plug (but still warm).

3. While tub drains, mix together: 1/2 cup of baking soda, one large squirt of Dr. Bronner's liquid soap, a little tea tree oil, and enough water to make a good thick paste.

4. Use a rag or your favorite plastic scrubby (I have one a friend knitted me out of plastic twine that I LOVE), and liberally apply the paste. Swirl, and BAM. That grime is lifted away. It's awesome. (Obviously, check somewhere to make sure this doesn't ruin your tub's coating. It makes mine shiny and clean again, but I don't worry about ruining mine very much.)

Floors: I recently got one of those steam machines (a Monster -- that thing cleans HOT) and I love it. But for a quick floor clean? Nothing beats walking around, spraying the heck out of your Clean It Up bottle, followed up by standing on a large towel and dancing around, using the weight of your body to clean. Fast! Easy! Remarkably satisfying! Towel gets dirty? Throw it in the washer and start with another one!

(There is something in me that thinks this is, somehow, cheating, and that I should be ashamed of it. I'm not sure why. A cleaning cheat that works can't be wrong, and I'm proud to share.)


Using fabric instead of paper is the BOMB. Making your own cleaning products is dead easy, and dead cheap. And cleaning is, truly, satisfying.

RainJanuary 23, 2012

I love rain so much. I'm one of those people who would be actually, truly happy in Seattle. I wouldn't mind only seeing the sun every once in a while. Bright sun and blue skies make my sensitive eyes hurt, anyway. And it's not like I'm super outdoorsy (surprise!). Give me a chair by the window and my computer or a notebook (and best of all worlds, a cup of coffee thick with cream), and I'm a happy girl.

I'm going into a three day weekend (my schedule is never like the rest of the world's) and I'm hoping the rain keeps up. I dislike driving in the rain, because Californians believe that either their cars will float away on any puddle bigger than three inches across and slow to six miles per hour on the freeway or they think that rain doesn't matter and go their normal ninety. But everything else? Sitting on the couch? Lying in bed? Lovely. Oh, and the best? Sitting in the cafe, writing, watching people come and go, shaking off their hoods and umbrellas, greeting friends and laughing.

So today, I wish for the sound of rain to accompany my writing (and hopefully, my nap). There will be cats for laps, and blankets for shoulders, and oh, it makes me happy just thinking about it.     

What I've Been ReadingJanuary 15, 2012

Oooh, I've been reading a lot lately. Isn't it odd how urges take us over for certain periods of time? For weeks, I'll crave new music, and I'll buy and download everything I can get my hands on. I'll binge on music blogs, throwing songs into my iTunes as fast as it can gobble them. Or I'll spend weeks dreaming about lace, fantasizing about watching the patterns grow (who knew THAT would ever happen? Sheesh). Or I'll spin and knit and spin and knit until I can clothe the whole household, right down to tiny Miss Idaho.

I'm always reading, but lately I've been tearing through books like the Great Book Famine is coming. (It's not, by the way. There is SO much good stuff out there that even that whole pesky Mayan apocalypse thing won't get in the way.) I like to tell you about the books I LOVE (not the ones I merely like -- who has the time for that?), so here you go.

1. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle. Of course, I read this approximately one billionty times when I was a kid (I read all of them, over and over again. I wrote a fan letter to ML'E, and SHE WROTE BACK.) But I reread this because I wanted to read the second book on this list and everyone said to brush up on Wrinkle before I did. And I'm so glad I did. It was wonderful, falling back into the book, and I was Meg, all over again.

2. When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead. This is the story of a girl finding out what friendship means while figuring out the very nature of time (I thought figuring out the time between bells at high school was bad enough). The novel repeatedly references A Wrinkle In Time -- the main character loves the book as much as I did when I was her age, and there was something so endearing about that, the way her book was tattered as much as mine was. I'm not surprised this won the Newberry in 2010. (How lovely that must be, to follow in L'Engle's footsteps like that. Can you imagine? Loving a book that much, and being able to honor it that way? Oh, it gives me goosebumps.)  Also, it was fun reading a book set when I was growing up -- it was so firmly grounded in that time period I could almost smell the plastic on the unicorn decals.

3. Learning to Swim, Sara J. Henry. I'm not quite finished with this, but I'm adoring it. Premise (without spoilers -- this all happens within the first few pages): The main character witnesses a little boy tossed off the end of a ferry. Learntoswim
She swims to save him, and then tries to figure out who would throw away a child. Henry writes so well, and I'm almost done and I haven't yet figured out how it will end. Delicious.

(Thanks to all of you who suggested books HERE, and feel free to leave me more suggestions for your most recent favorite.)

* Amazon links for convenience -- feel free to email your local indie bookstore, though! They'll even mail them to you, just like Amazon does!

Congrats and TravelsJanuary 11, 2012

Congratulations to the winner of Sweet Shawlettes, LindaW! I've emailed you, letting you know. Thanks, all, for playing along! (By the way, if you leave a comment I don't automatically sign you up for my mailing list. That would be cheeky. If you DO want to be on my ever so sporadic mailing list (from which I do draw random winners or random things from time to time) the link is there to the right.)

And now I'm off to have more wicked fun. The amazing Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania brought me, Juliet Blackwell, and Sophie Littlefield out to talk to their graduate students in their MFA program (they have a wonderful one, Writing Popular Fiction). We spoke to them about revision (oh, I could wax eloquent for DAYS about revision) and gender bias in publishing (which made for a fascinating conversation even if I stuttered a bit. I've never been on a panel and seen so many raised, waving, eager hands).

Here we are on the dais, about to try to sound smart.


I look tall! I'm not, but I enjoy the illusion. (Also, new haircut! You like?)

Today we're still in Greensburg. We're actually all going to get some writing done, and go to an alumni lunch and take our lovely hostess Nicole Peeler out to dinner. I feel lucky and grateful and sometimes completely gobsmacked that I get to hang out with friends like these and talk about what I love to do.

(I have to tell you one thing--there was a darling woman there, Symantha, and I recognized her. It turned out that I'd met her at Stitches West two years ago, before my first book came out. She'd been so excited to see the book flier I'd been passing out then, and it turns out I was the first real author she'd ever met. It convinced her that authors didn't live in some fancy castle in another world, and that she could try to be one, and it's part of the reason SHE is now in the program at Seton Hill. That thrilled me to my handknit-clad toes.)

So we'll write today, and maybe I'll knit (I'm LOVING the Fountain Pen shawl -- how had I not seen this one before?) and be with friends, and I'm happy.

Sweet ShawlettesJanuary 5, 2012

I'm happy to be hosting Jean Moss today who is talking about her new beautiful book, Sweet Shawlettes. Since I'm all about spinning right now, and what better to use handspun for but shawls, I was honored to get a preview copy (it's gorgeous) and the chance to ask her a few questions.

Please leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of the book! I'll draw a random winner on Monday.

Sweet_shawlettes_cover1.    What made you interested in writing this particular book?

The book came to me out of the blue when Erica Sanders-Foege, then a senior editor at The Taunton Press, rang to ask if I would consider doing it. The working title was Sweet Shawlettes, but Erica  assured me I could change it if I didn't like it.  However, for me the title had a certain broad brush appeal – whimsical, feminine,  could even be ironic - or it might have been that I'm just addicted to alliteration, but knowing how difficult it is to come up with decent book titles, I quickly applied the if it's not broken, don't fix it principle.  

I agreed to submit a synopsis and by the time I'd finished it I was completely hooked on the idea.  Previously most of my books have concentrated mainly on sweaters, and this gave me the opportunity to explore a totally different form.  Shawls, capes, cowls, furbelows or anything that can be worn around the neck was the brief and I was thrilled to explore as many ways of interpreting it as I could. 

CEILIDH3I was given complete control over yarns, stitches, colours, styles, techniques - something I really value.  I was kept in the loop about each process of the book's production, consulted on the book's design and to my utmost surprise and great relief the editors at Taunton actually listened.  In a previous hardcover book that shall be nameless (I should add with a different publisher), in the same situation I was treated like a jobbing author and ended up with a book I hated, where the images reflected completely different sweaters to the ones I'd designed.  

I'm intrigued by the process of book-making from beginning to end – the shoot is the icing on the cake when you see your designs come alive.  With my two previous books, Wandering Spirits and In The Mood, I was given the freedom to deliver the completed print-ready book on disk, which I now admit could have been an absolute disaster!  However, a steep learning curve ensued and ultimately it was such an exhilarating and satisfying experience. Sweet Shawlettes was photographed in Connecticut, so for various reasons, not the least of which being that I live in the UK, it wasn't possible  for me to be there.  Consequently I was really nervous about the pictures and was mega-relieved when I saw Alexandra Grablewski's strong and beautiful images.  

I'm so glad I decided to write the book now.  It took me on an interesting journey exploring the construction, techniques, yarns and the history of neck wraps and I'll always be grateful to Taunton for offering me this opportunity.

PURPLE_PATCH32.    What's your favorite thing to knit when you're not working on knitting?

Not surprisingly I do enjoy making shawls.  Everyone in my family received one this Xmas – one size fits all, so no sweat about fitting. Recently there's been a baby boom in our family, so I've been doing a lot of tiny sweaters which have a built in feel good factor as you just know you're going to finish the project before something else grabs your attention – good for limiting the UFOs.  Oh and also I've knit my favourite shadow knit baby blanket about four times this year.

3.    What was your favorite part of pulling this book together?

Definitely the adrenalin rush that you get when there's a blank sheet in front of you and it's uncharted territory and you can either get totally paralysed or take the plunge.  It often takes me some time to get past the paralysis stage, but this is what I call the cooking time when the ideas are crystallising and I need displacement activities. I chop things down in the garden, make lots of food, play my guitar, or even clean the house, though that would only happen if I'd done everything else first! Sometimes I even dream about designs and have been known to get up in the middle of the night and rush upstairs to my office to dash off a quick sketch.  When I eventually do dive in, the first thing I do is to map out the book in detail, making lists of the types of designs, yarn, colours,  techniques, stitches, moods etc and then set about placing them in the relevant chapters, with the aim of getting an overall balance.  I then set about the swatching, which is always exciting as you can never tell how a yarn will behave with a particular stitch pattern until you knit it and you can usually count on some surprises.  

MANTILLA3One of Britain's leading knitwear designers, Jean Moss's innovative combinations of texture, colour and styling have been widely influential over the years. A self-taught knitter, she has been producing her own unique collections of handknits for more than twenty years, as well as designing for Rowan Yarns and many international fashion houses such as Ralph Lauren, Laura Ashley and Benetton. She teaches in the UK and Europe and is a regular visitor to the US.

Her new book Sweet Shawlettes is available at your local independent bookstore or from retailers like Amazon, Chapters, or directly from Taunton Press. The project gallery can be seen here.