Thursday, March 27, 2008

Be ALERT. The world needs more lerts!

Josh works hard to ensure that we've got oodles of bargains on BargainYARNS, so he was thrilled when we decided to tell everybody about it with a new monthly newsletter, BargainYARNS ALERT! He wasn't so thrilled when we said, " go write it."

What he learned was that writing it is the easy part. The tough part is what Pat had to do: make the darned thing look good in every web browser imaginable.

Now, far be it from me to disparage the multi-millionaire geniuses at Microsoft, but I've got their new Vista program and...well, it's a Hoover. Nothing I see looks like what everyone else is seeing. Maybe there was some secret code I was supposed to type in during installation, but whatever the reason, Vista turns every newsletter I get into a literary Picasso. You can see the parts, and you know they're supposed to go together somehow, but you just can't figure out how.

Pat and Josh worked on that newsletter for days to try to get it to look nice in Vista, but no matter what they did it still looked like a dog's breakfast by the time it reached my computer. Finally, we had to call in the Big Guns: Andy. Andy is Geek Extraordinaire and if he can't figure out how to make something work, it's because Bill Gates has Andy-proofed the code.

Andy figured out what the problem was, and it turned out that it wasn't Bill's fault at all. It was Larry Schmidt's fault because he and his Gang o' Googlers were stripping out code for some reason. Nobody knows why...and if there were any real, live humans who worked at Google, we might call to ask them. (Okay. There are some real, live Googlers. Rachael and Rebecca help us with our Google ads. But I'm absolutely convinced they're the only human Googlers in the organization. Organics, Gmail, and everything else is run entirely by robots. Or gerbils. We've asked Rachael and Rebecca if there are any other people besides them at Google Headquarters, but they've been sworn to secrecy. We're sure we can hear the squeaks of thousands of gerbils in the background whenever we have a teleconference with them.)

Once Andy had found the real culprit, Josh and Pat finished the newsletter and off it went to thousands of people around the world. And do you know what? They liked it! They really liked it! A lot of them signed up to receive future Alerts! so they'll know what's new at BargainYARNS. (In case you didn't know, that's the Yarnmarket sale site.)

If you'd like to get the monthly lowdown on our low-priced yarns, books and other stuff, be sure to subscribe to Josh and Pat's new newsletter. After all their hard work, they'd really appreciate it.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Devra's Vest Revisited

In December of 2006, I made my very first garment for my friend, Devra. I didn't make a vest because I wanted to, but because Devra complained that all I ever gave her were scarves and now that she's got a whole bunch of scarves she'd like something else. A sweater. Well, I wasn't about to start on a real sweater with my very limited skills, so I asked Jan to find something easy for me. Jan found what was supposed to be a nice, simple vest. It turned out to be the vest that would never die.

The pattern -- which really was simple enough for any beginner -- came from RYC's Classic Beach collection. I made a small adjustment to it: I wanted their outside to be my inside. I figured Devra would prefer the smooth knitting on the outside rather than the nubbly texture the pattern suggested. Because she looks pretty in pastels, I chose Natural Silk Aran. This is a lovely yarn of viscose, silk and linen, and the colors are muted and feminine.

Anyway, this vest was to be Devra's Christmas present, and I worked feverishly to get it done on time. I took the vest to doctor's appointments. I took it to visit my Mom in Canada. I took it on business trips. I spent hours on that darned vest. Knitting and ripping. Knitting and ripping. But as I knitted and ripped, I didn't realize I'd made one small error: instead of the scoop neckline, I'd made the men's crew neckline. And, not only that, being a beginner I didn't know to cast off loosely enough for the neck to stretch, so it was a tight fit over the head. But I figured Devra had a nice, little head so it wouldn't be too much of a problem.

Well, Christmas came and I proudly delivered to Devra her beautiful striped silk aran vest. She loved it. Well, she said she loved it...because she's very nice. But I watched in dismay as she struggled to pull the darned thing over her head. She pulled and pulled and pulled...and I thought her ears might come flying off. But eventually she got it on and we all ooohed and aaaahed and said how lovely it was even though we knew that the neck was a real problem.

Devra gave me some of her absolutely incredible home-made caramels for Christmas and everyone was happy.

FAST FORWARD TO 2007-- This year I decided to make Devra the same vest in a different yarn, and with a neckline she could get over her head. She was so happy when she received it. And I was so happy that finally I'd made her something she'd actually be able to wear. Because Vest #2 turned out so well, I thought I'd better fix Vest #1.

A couple of weeks ago Devra returned the first vest to me and I set out on the daunting task of ripping and repairing to give it the right neckline. The vest went with me to Canada to visit my Mom (she's getting to know this vest very well) and I sat and ripped and ripped and ripped as I got caught up on all the family news: sister-in-law Donna is winning her courageous fight against breast cancer; cousin Pauline wants another Linda Lundstrom coat because the designer is going out of business and Pauline loves her parkas; brother John is making his own dill pickles). Once the deconstruction was completed, it was no mean feat to ensure I had all the right number of stitches and that I was picking up at the right spot. I don't know how many times I counted...over and over again to ensure that I wasn't about to screw up again.

Anyway, after a few evenings of working on it, I had re-created Devra's vest and I think it looks pretty good considering what it's been through.

Today I'm having lunch with Devra and will proudly present to her the new, improved old vest. Unless her head has grown to gargantuan proportions, she'll have no trouble getting the vest over it. I hope.

I think I've decided that my favorite thing about knitting is that you can do the same thing all over again and still feel a sense of accomplishment.

Next year, Devra's getting a sock.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Vicuna -- the rarest, finest, most expensive fiber -- is here!

It's here! It's here! And it's sitting on my desk! Brought to us by the wonderful folks at Jacques Cartier in Canada, we have the luxuriously soft and almost insanely expensive Vicuna. This is the yarn you dream about! It's the yarn you'd use to create a family heirloom, and then go right out and start a family just so you'll have someone to inherit your beautiful heirloom.

For only $299.85 per ball you can knit a shawl...or a scarf...or anything light and airy and so wonderfully warm you won't believe your thermometer.

The critters that give us this luxury live at the highest altitudes of the Andes Mountains. There are not very many of them left because they were nearly hunted to extinction. But thanks to conservation efforts, the numbers are improving, and they can now safely be used for yarn. Each animal produces only about 4 ounces of harvestable fiber, so it takes a lot of vicunas to make a sweater. One ball weighs 28.5 grams...which is about 1/4 of an entire vicuna.

Only one color is available and that's the natural cinnamon shade of the animal. The folks at Jacques Cartier don't dye it because the fiber is delicate and sensitive to chemicals, so it's best just left alone. (Hey! It just occured to me that Jacques Cartier is probably plain old "Jack Carter" in America. Boy, those French can make anything sound luxurious.)

If you really, really, really, really love somebody, you might want to make them something out of this gorgeous, unbelievably soft and wonderful Vicuna. It would have to be someone you love more than anyone else in the world. Someone like David Bowie. (Hey, Iman! Wouldn't your husband look nice in beautiful Vicuna sweater?)

I'd be happy to make my husband a scarf out of this Vicuna, but he assures me (in the interest of keeping his savings account) that he's really not worth it!