Wednesday, November 19, 2014

November Authors Who Knit: Mindy Klasky

I had the great pleasure of meeting Mindy in person at a writers conference recently.  I'm delighted to introduce this talented and charming knitting author to you!

Mindy, what’s on your needles right now?
I am currently working on a throw, a lap blanket of simple garter stitch squares, intended to keep me warm through the long winter nights. It's easy and quick, good for a mind distracted by all the work associated with bringing out the last books in my Diamond Brides Series!

What feels like your favorite/greatest knitting accomplishment?
Answer one:  Teaching myself to knit!  (My mother wouldn't teach me, because she knits continental and never knew anyone else who did. My friend tried to teach me, but she's left-handed.  YouTube to the rescue!)  I learned to knit because I married a man who loves baseball – and I had do to something to fill the time spent watching all those games.  (Ultimately, I wrote a romance series about baseball, too!)

Answer two:  My first lace shawl, where I taught myself how to increase and decrease – and then (over a year later, because I was terrified) how to block a finished piece.

What feels like the worst knitting mistake/foible/wrong choice you’ve ever made?
Cringing at the price of the hand-dyed mercerized cotton yarn recommended for a shawl pattern I loved and choosing to go with a less expensive wool instead.  The shawl is lovely – don't get me wrong – but it doesn't have any of the magic or sheen of the recommended yarn.  (Which just means I need to make it again.  Or make something else.  Or both ☺)

Straight or circular needles?
Depends on the project, but usually straight.

Metal or wood needles?
I vastly prefer wood, but I own an inexpensive set of metal interchangeables that I use most of the time.  I'm thinking of splurging at my next big birthday, or career milestone, or something, and buying interchangeable wood needles to keep me happy forever.

White chocolate, milk chocolate, or dark chocolate?
Dark.  But not above 72%.  I'm picky ☺

Coffee or tea?
Tea.  Lots and lots of tea.  (Right now I'm in love with Bigelow French Vanilla, but Lemon Lift was my first love ☺)

Have you written a knitting character?
Not yet.  But I'm planning one for my next series, Lawyers in Love.

What’s the last thing anyone would suspect about your most recent book?
As a romance author, I'm always fighting the battle, trying to get people to understand that my characters are imaginary, and that the things they do are not necessarily the things that I have done.

That said, the heroine in ALWAYS RIGHT is very similar to me in some ways – not in the being-bankrupted-by-her-gambling-addict-father ways.  And not in the accidentally-blackmailing-someone ways.  But Amanda Carter is a litigator who knows how to argue for what she wants.  I suspect that people who meet me now never suspect my deep, dark litigator past. ☺

Give a shout out to your favorite local yarn store: 
I only get to my favorite yarn store on vacation, but it's:

Knitting Addiction
3708 N. Croatan Hwy #2
Kitty Hawk, NC 27949

If you'd like to know more about Mindy and her books, click on over to her website.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Lady Fern Scarf from Hill Country Weavers - Day 1

Linen Lace...

I haven’t knit with linen before, and there’s a reason.  I’m not a big fan of the way it feels between my fingers.  Linen feels scratchy before you wash and block it.  Afterwards, it feels light and airy with a really nice texture and sheen—but we’re not there yet.  My tendency toward immediate gratification is working against me here.  Still Shibui has a great rebutation as a quality fiber, so I think I can rest assured I'll be happy with the results.

The trellis pattern—the stitches that make up the majority of this scarf—is an easy four-row repeat that I memorized by the second round.  That will make for excellent book fair knitting as I sit and meet readers at the Kentucky Book Fair this weekend.  Having the scarf casted on to nice, short needles will help as well.  It might not be as marvelously portable once the thing is many feet long, but right now this is mighty handy knitting.

The fact that this is a kit keeps the color choices pre-loaded for success, and I must admit I like knowing my hues are professionally selected.  I’d find a way to mess this up left to my own devices.

The next set of directions are splendidly easy:  repeat until you run out of color A.  That, I can handle!

Monday, November 10, 2014

AUSTIN TX - Day 3: Return to SoCo

On a wing and a doughnut...

Spend the morning seeing any of the typical downtown tourist attractions (go here for suggestions).  Come lunchtime, head back down south across the Congress Avenue Bridge (a structure with its own special charms, as we’ll discover later) to the South Congress neighborhood—otherwise known as SoCo—to finish our adventures.

Lunch Today is at:

1610 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704

“Charming” is an overused word for neighborhood restaurants like this, but the term genuinely applies to this elegant but casual bistro-cafe.  My sources recommended it as a great spot for cocktails—and very good upscale pizza—particularly the classic (not the collegiate) Margherita with fresh mozzarella, sliced tomatoes, and basil.  Our meal was very good, but the star for me were the amazing french fries.  Really—they were that good.  Get whatever you want, but make sure it comes with fries!

Big Top Candy
1706 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704

Time to bring your inner kid out to play.  Candies you’d forgotten you loved will bring up all kinds of sugar-coated memories in this place.   Candies that seem more toy than confection, a huge assortment of truffles, gummies of every description, and a generous portion of super-happy children make this store worth the trip even if you only walk out with a stick of gum.  But trust me, that ain’t gonna happen here. I won’t tell your dentist if you don’t tell mine.

1708 S. Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704

I’ve been trying to switch my clothing purchases from mall chains to indie boutiques, but that can often be a pricey goal.  Stores like Co-Star, that offer goods at a variety of price points and even host a consignment rack, help soften the blow.  The staff was friendly, not at all snooty as can happen in trendy shops, and had a nice balance of men's and women's clothes, accessories, seriously cool hats (an Austin necessity, it seems), funky t-shirts, and unique gifts.
Monkey See Monkey Do
1712 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704

Toy shop?  Not really—it’s much more than that.  Gift shop?  No, that’s not quite it either.  They cite it as “toys, gifts, kitch”, but my favorite descriptions were “absurd trinkets” and “wacky gifts.”  Invariably, as I wander places like this, I find myself buying something weird that someone I know will absolutely love.  The world needs more bacon wallets, right?

Having eaten well and gotten your silly on, make the short drive farther south to our fiber fix for today:

The Knitting Nest
8708 South Congress
Austin TX  

All knitting people are generally friendly, but some just shine in the hospitality department.  Ten minutes into a conversation with owner Stacy Klaus and her husband (who runs his insurance firm right next door), and I knew I made a new friend even before we talked about UT football.  

Okay, her adorable pair of Westie dogs Hank and Gracie (more about them later) charmed me as well, but it’s not hard to see how Stacy lures an impressive host of knitterati to visit her shop.  The Franklin Habit mural on her wall shows how much celebs love her store.

“This is a happy customer store.  I want to help knitters make the jump from box store stuff to quality yarns,” says Stacy.  She’s known around the community for giving back—Hank and Gracie’s very own book showcases a variety of charity knitting , and she was collecting a mountain of such items while I was there.

Wide-open and chock-full of inspiring samples, the store echoes Stacy’s “how can I help you?” attitude.   Here are a few of the great projects from this shop:

Bohoknits Sockhead Hat
Need some great travel knitting?   Grab a skein of any sock yarn and whip up this slouchy hat with a snugly ribbed wide band to help it stay put.  This will make great use of any of the marvelous self-striping fibers out there.

All-in-One Cardigan
Crocheters, this is your version of the classic Elizabeth Zimmerman Baby Surprise Jacket.  Any worsted weight and sturdy yarn will do, and the pattern is available on Ravelry.   Don’t you dare do this in a solid or heather—this project demands a rainbow of colors!

Felted Birdsnest
This project is as much the star of Hank and Gracie’s book as the dogs themselves.  Felt up your stash to make an endless array of birdhouses!  Or give one—along with the adorable book—as a gift for a child in your life.

Knit Along: Brush Creek Cowlette
An inventive cross between a shawlette and a cowl, this cozy-yet-lacy accessory combines a 300 yards of local fiber Bronotta hand-died super wash merino in a trio of colors (the kit is exclusive).  I love the scalloped edges—a great detail.

Once you’ve scored your knitting finds for the day, head for a one-of-a kind meal at:

Gordough’s Public House
2700 S Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78704
512) 912-9070

Only in Austin could you find a restaurant where everything—and I mean everything—comes on a doughnut.  Hide your cardiologists, people, nutrition does not live here.  Decadent deliciousness, however, does.  You’d think it wouldn’t work, but it does.  Hubby had a “Big Baller” burger (pimento cheese!), I had The Count Gordough Cristo (a montecristo), but with names like “Bacon Me Crazy” and “The Ron Burgundy,” it didn’t look like you could go wrong with any choice.  And yes, desserts round out the menu.  They’re famous for the “Flying Pig,” but we went for the Blackout, a chocolate brownie extravaganza.  I wouldn’t—couldn’t—eat here every week, but you’ve got to come here at least once.

To end your day, there’s really only one nowhere-else-like-it event:

Congress Avenue Bridge Bats
Austin Chronicle photo
Yep, you heard me, bats.  When the engineers built the Congress Avenue Bridge, they didn’t mean to create an ideal bat habitat, but they did.  As such, the Congress Avenue Bridge is home to the largest urban bat colony in North America.  You can either stand on the bridge, book a river tour, camp out at a nearby hotel bar, or just sit along the riverbank, but from wherever you watch, the extraordinary exit of bats into the sunset is a crazy spectacular.  March through early fall, something close to 1.5 million bats call this place home and head out each night to gobble up insects.  I’ve seen it, and it’s wild—in every sense of the word.

There you have it, DestiKNITters—in three days we’ve launched an exploration into all that is Austin.  With a Longhorn now in the family, I’m sure it won’t be my last visit!

Up next, I cast on the Lady Fern Scarf from Hill Country Knitters. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

AUSTIN TX - Day 2: North Loop

Getting loopy...

Today we head up north out of the downtown to a the “North Loop,” a cluster of neighborhoods with some of that classic vintage-retro Austin feel.  Today’s adventures are definitely a bit off the beaten path, but isn’t that what Austin is all about?

Naturally, we need to start the day with awesome coffee.  Head to: 

Epoch Coffee
221 W North Loop Blvd
Austin, TX 78751

On the wall behind the cash register was an expletive jab at a familiar coffee chain—that was my first clue this was an aggressively independent coffee joint.  Alternative?  Hipster? Artsy?  Pick your adjective—they all apply.  Dozens of cozy tables and chairs—and a gazillion much-appreciated power outlets for busy laptops—showcased the customer comfort focus of the place.  And it’s working; it was hard to find an empty seat even on the weekday afternoon.  The coffee was powerful and top-notch, and it’s open 24/7!

Room Service Vintage
107 E N Loop Blvd
Austin, TX 78751

Just up the street is the craziest, most fun vintage store you may ever find.  One Yelp reviewer described it “like entering PeeWee’s Playhouse,” and that’s an accurate description.  Alcove after alcove of wild finds meet your eye; everything from 70’s clothes to retro lunch boxes to furniture to records.  Don’t leave the place without asking for the keys to visit the bathroom!  I won’t spoil the fun for you, but it involves bunnies and it is hysterically unique.

Next, make the short drive to today’s fiber find:

5406 Parkcrest Drive
Austin, Texas 78731

This yarn shop echoes the youthful vibe of it’s partner owners Melissa Sternberg and Karli Capps.  Definitely not your mama’s knit shop, this establishment specializes in plant fibers like linen, cotton, hemp and bamboo.  In Austin’s steamy climate, that meets customer’s needs--and that’s what Gauge places at top priority.  They foster local artists, host trunk shows, and rotate their stock to the seasons. 

Clean-lined, well-lit, and with a charming front porch just begging for knitting (on a day cooler than the 103-degree temps of my visit!), the store is built for the come-sit-and-knit kind of community DestiKNITers are seeking.

While some classes are technique or project based, Gauge also offers classes in a “drop-in” style, where you just bring the project you’re working on and get on-the-spot coaching and encouragement. You’ll advance your skills alongside knitters of many different levels, and that’s a good thing!

Lots of projects caught my eye:

Gauge Knit Aster scarf
This wavy-textured infinity scarf keeps it light with Brown Sheep cotton fleece in any solid you like.  The rippled design gets stunning results from an easy-to-learn yarn-over technique.  A great gift for the teenager in your life, or anyone who likes handmade style.  The pattern offers crochet instructions, too.

Blackbird Shawl
The work of clever designer Kieran Foley, this knit-from-the-bottom-up lightweight triangular shawl combines easy stockinette with panels of textured lacework.  Shawls are especially handy the in constant switch from hot outside to air-conditioned inside that is the Austin summer months.

Feather and Fan Por la Vida
A unique pairing of Cascade Ultra Pima Fine Cotton and Noro’s Silk Garden Sock, the color drama of this shawl provides endless possibilities.  Feather and Fan is another low-tech but high-drama stitch every knitter should have in her skill set.  Stunning!

Oh Helen
Get two skeins of Trendsetter Autumn Wind hand died cotton and cashmere blend, download the free Ravelry pattern, and you’re set to whip up a clever, crisp scarf that can suit any season.  Oh, joy!

Knit-Along:  Alexandra Scarf
Designer Kelly Ramsey takes Austin local fiber Little Green Finch Luxe Perch hand died merino-cashmere blend and zig-zags it into a basic-but-snazzy scarf.  The stitch pattern is simple enough to handle a variegated yarn, but could show off a solid color nicely as well.

Make sure you check out Ana Carranza’s pretty little Entrelac stitch markers, too!  After all, stitch markers are a knitter’s bling, right?  These give you a hint of artistry while still keeping a practical simplicity.

By now it’s time for lunch.  Head over to a great place very nearby:

Chez Zee American Bistro
5406 Balcones Drive
Austin, TX 78731

I could have come just for the croissants and strawberry butter they bring out when you sit down—wonderful.  I had the Creme Brûlée French Toast—so tasty it’s also on the dessert menu!  I still don’t understand the lure of chicken and waffles, but evidently they are very good here.  It’s the kind of place that is as good for Sunday brunch as it is for Saturday night drinks.  A riot of color and lights, dozens of stars hanging from the ceiling to create a friendly, whimsical atmosphere.  Share the three-cake dessert with a friend to give a perfect end to your meal.

Mount Bonnell
Mount  Bonnell Road
Austin TX

Time to get in some serious knitting progress.  According to the folks at Gauge, the best place for that (provided it’s not blasting hot, so I can’t vouch for personal experience here) is the lovely view at Mount Bonnell.  Climb the (many!) stairs up to the viewing platform and gaze out over Lake Austin and the connecting Colorado River. Spread a blanket, open a bottle of wine, and knit until the light goes—watching the sun set here seems to be on every Austinite’s “to-do” list.

When it’s time for dinner, head to another feast for the eyes:

Fonda San Miguel
2330 W. North Loop
Austin, TX

One of the prettiest places to sip a margarita you’ll ever find.  The whole establishment is a parade of colors and textures—right down to the plates and the bird in the foyer.  We had dinner, but the brunch is also outstanding.  I’m not completely sure what “upscale interior Mexican” means, but for me it meant delicious.  This strikes me as a lovely place for a special occasion meal.  Folks rave about the cocktails and the quality of the waitstaff, and the place was packed enough to make me believe it.  Feast on the tres leches cake for dessert or hold off for one final stop—that is, if you’re not completely stuffed already.

Royers Pie Haven
2900-B Guadalupe
Austin, TX 78705

Take everything you love about your favorite artsy coffeehouse and then add pie.  Really good pie.  That’s Royers.  Tucked in a shabby chic storefront off an angled kink of “The Drag” (that’s what locals call Guadalupe St.), this small shop delivers on the yum-factor.  My son had the Bob’s Chocolate and my husband had the Berry Junk, but I went for Texas Trash…all were good.  Add some Amy’s Ice Cream (a local delicacy), and you’ve got a fabulous end to your day.

Rest up, DestiKNITters, tomorrow we travel back down South Congress for even more fiber adventures!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

AUSTIN, TX: Day 1 - South Congress

Weird and Wonderful...

“Keep Austin Weird.”  “The Blue Dot in the Red State.”  No one seems neutral about the unique and memorable personality of Texas’ state capitol.  It’s an artsy town, no doubt about it.  Creativity is practically pooling in the streets.  And the food?   Well, if you like your cuisine adventurous, this is the town to go exploring.

Lucky for me, I’ve got a truckload of reasons to visit—my next series of books is set here and my son just became a Longhorn (Hook ‘Em!), so I’ve got both personal and professional reasons to get chummy with the locale.  Join me on a three-day adventure through some (but not all…gotta save some for later trips) of Austin’s yarny offerings.  Today we're venturing south of downtown on Congress Avenue, one of Austin's many neighborhoods.

First stop for any DestiKNITter is a good coffee bar.  My sources sent me straight to

Jo’s Coffee
1300 South Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78704
One of four Austin locations that not only serve as your morning java and wifi fix but your evening beer and sandwich stop-off, this open air walk-up coffee bar feels like what I expect Austin to feel like.  Funky with a bit of twang, authentic, and serious about its fare.  If you’re poaching in the summer heat (I visited in August!), the mister fans are your best friend.  As for coffee, the “Turbo” is the way to go here—Jo’s own supercharged concoction and truly delicious.  I’m almost never one for iced coffee, but on a sweltering day, my Turbo was pure bliss.

Toms Store
1401 South Congress Ave.
Austin, TX 78704 

A store devoted exclusively to Toms uber-comfortable shoes?  One with a coffee bar?  That has a craft night?  Sign me up!  I dare you to walk out of here without a new pair to add to your collection (I sure didn’t).  They’ve managed to perfectly capture the essence of the company in a retail setting.  It’s one of only two locations in the country for heaven’s sake—you gotta go!  Your wallet can feel as good as your conscience, as every shoe purchase provides a pair for needy children.  If you need an excuse to feel like shoe shopping is your civic duty, look no further.

For lunch, try:

Guero’s Taco Bar
1412 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704

When you’re in Austin, you’ve got to eat Tex-Mex at least once, if not daily.  More than one person directed us to Guero’s; not only for the food, but for the Austin vibe.  We had dinner, but the brunch (and breakfast!) is highly recommended as well.  Give yourself enough time to wait—particularly on a weekend evening—but the outdoor live music patio just next door can make this a pleasant experience.  If you’re a salsa fan, their salsa bar rates top notch.  Like most popular restaurants, lunch can be the best (time- and money-wise) way to take it in.
Hey Cupcake!
1511 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704

Longtime DestiKNITters know my theory:  where yarn is, cupcakes are never far behind.  That exclamation point is there in the name for a reason, people!  The happy, shiny airstream trailer and bubblegum-pink umbrellas shout out the sugar-soaked happiness.  I love how they cite their menu as “100% non-fat-free goodness.” Arguments can break out over the best flavor, so I’ll let you decide for yourself if the Pumkinator or Michael Jackson take top billing over the Red Velvet.  Me?  I went chocolate all the way. Yum.

Allen’s Boots
1522 South Congress Avenue
Austin, TX 78704

I’ll admit, western wear is like a foreign country to me, but even my Chicagoan eyes could see the legendary nature of Allen’s Boots.  Aisles upon aisles of boots in every size, color, and design.  Even if you’d never don a pair, the place is worth your time just for the vast eye candy of it all.  I have no reason to ever own cowboy boots, but I began to catch myself thinking “Well, maybe…” as I wandered down aisle after aisle.  Sure, there are nifty clothes, a gazillion pairs of jeans and other western gear, but its all really about the boots.  

Uncommon Objects
1512 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704

To call this place “antique shopping” would be like calling Allen’s Boots a shoestore—accurate, but nowhere near the full scope of the place.  Give yourself at least an hour—maybe two—to wander the myriad of cubbies and alcoves housing everything from typeface to bureaus to taxidermy to that thing that makes you go “what on earth is that?”  The merchandise is eye-popping, but I found it just as much fun to listen to the customers and designers debate where in their homes/restaurants to put that red striped alligator head or those giant neon alphabet letters.

We saved the fiber feast for last.  Head on over to the bright green house on the corner for

Hill Country Weavers
1701 S Congress Ave
Austin, TX 78704

Cozy, crowded, cranny-filled, and stuffed to the gills, this place is amazing.  I saw more Noro than I’ve seen in any one place, not to mention a great selection of bags and needles.  Hill Country Weavers has been in business for 34 years, so they know their stuff.  As the name implies, the business started with a weaving focus, but customer response soon expanded that scope to include knitters, spinners, and other fiber arts.  

“We started out as a gallery and supply, but the supply pretty much took over,” says owner Suzanne Middlebrooks.  They’ve launched a series of patterns and are known for establishing the “Austin Style” in their knitwear—a “hill country look” that combines modern, vintage, and urban elements.  You can dip your toes into the “Weaving Made Easy” class or go for the immersion experience of the annual retreat.  

Some projects to inspire you as you wander the many rooms:

Stephen West Pebble Parallelogram 
Known for his striking designs, West combines garter stitch in five colors of Shibui Knits Pebble silk-wool-cashmere blend to make his trademark geometric magic. You could work this shawl/scarf up in graduating hues or in dramatic contrasts depending on your personal taste, but you can always count on Stephen West for a show-stopping accessory.

Paintbrush Lace Cowl
Hill Country Weavers is earning a reputation for great kits, and this lacy/cozy cowl is a fine example.  It’s a store exclusive utilizing five colors of Alchemy Silken Straw yarn in a stunning combination—which is what makes buying the kit such a good idea.  Lots of cowls are chunky, cold-weather things, but this one has a marvelous, season-less texture that’s perfect for southern climes.

Goldenrod Sweater
Another store exclusive pattern, this one takes Sweet Georgia Yarns superwash DK to create a short-sleeved sweater with style and swing.  Again, the color combination you choose could go either subtle or wow, depending on your taste.

Knit Along: Lady Fern Scarf
Our knit along from Hill Country Weavers will be this store kit crafting a long and lacy scarf from a trio of Shibui Linen colors.  As you can imagine, linen is a favorite fiber in Texas’ hot climate.  Don’t be put off by the slightly scratchy feel while you’re knitting; a wash and a few wearings will render it soft and delightful.  It’s a nice touch that the kit includes a packet of Eucalan eucalyptus delicate wash and a pair of pretty beaded stitch markers.

Whatever you pick, don’t forget to stop in the outlet building next door to scope out a bargain—because none of us ever has enough yarn, right?

See more that intrigues you down Congress Avenue?  No worries—we’re not done with this vibrant neighborhood.  We’ll be back again on Day Three.

A now for a bit of shameless self-promotion:  My most recent inspirational romance novel release is just out. Saved by the Fireman has a marvelous knitting heroine and lots of fiber world details. You might enjoy it.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Edie's Shoulder Wrap from The Knit Shop - Done...sort of

Feather and Fan and Frustration...

I’m guessing you knew how that was going to end up.

Restored--no, I won't let you't see the botched version
Yep, turned out I had to rip all the feather and fan out and start over. 

Good thing I wasn’t alone. My friend (and April 2012 Author Who Knits featureCamy Tang was there at the writers conference where I was.  Not only is Camy a talented writer, but she is also ninja-level knitter and a master of the feather and fan.  If anyone could save this shawl, it’s Camy.  Conversely, if anyone knew it was beyond saving, it was Camy.  

The verdict was pronounced, and Camy and I began to rip.  And rip.  And rip.

We were sitting in the hotel lobby, and you could divide those who walked by into two distinct groups:  non knitters who wondered what the heck we were doing with all that tangled yarn, and knitters who stood in sad solidarity as we pulled irredeemable tangled mohair from its place.

To add to the pain, I didn’t have anywhere near the right number of stitches I should have had to start the feather and fan portion.  Again, Camy to the rescue!  That dear friend sat there and recalculated/rewrote the pattern for me so I could move ahead with the stitches I had.  Because that’s what a knitter does for a knitter in need.  When a fellow knitter comes to you heartbroken, moaning “fix this!,” you dig in your heels (and your needles) and lend a hand.

It’s not done.  It’s close, but I can’t bear to make you watch further.  Just trust that I made it out of the pit alive and am clawing my way toward the finish line.  

For everyone’s mental health, we’ve moving along to Austin for our next episode.  Don’t worry Edie, I promise I’ll stick it out until the end and post a photo one of these days!