Thursday, September 5, 2013

And Even More Billions of Beads

Well, I see my faithful audience has finished all their scarves. I love that one...points to a neon-orange number decorated with lime-green pom poms.

So, as soon as you finish admiring this shawl, you can all go home and get a hot meal. Sorry about the pretzels. I bought them from Skinflint Airways and they assured me that the packages could be opened with the appropriate sharp cutting tool. I guess they lied, huh? But look on the bright side! I'll bet you never had pretzels fresh from a laser cutting torch before.

I was going to show you a sweater (Old Town), but I still haven't gotten around to photographing it yet. In the meantime, I finished my second rendition of Melissa Simmons's ethereal Nouveau Beaded Capelet.

 I cannot praise this pattern enough. Aside from the impeccable charts and written instructions, the pattern is truly original. You start by individually knitting the seven scallops, then joining them for the shawl body. Most delightfully, the shawl narrows to the neckline, so as you get tired of it, the rows become shorter and shorter.

On the down side, you need 6000 beads. The first time I knit the capelet, it took me two months. Thanks to my wonderful Fleegle Beader, I completed the second one in three weeks.The shawl was knit with my very own AK47 silk in a pretty dark blue and purple color. One of the advantages of owning a little lace knitting store is the abundance of goodies in the cellar, heh heh.

Because 6000 #8 beads weighs about four ounces, the shawl drapes beautifully and stays in place on your shoulders. It also produces charming clicky noises when you move around.

The beads themselves are from The Land of Odds 8c-455 cut--an iridescent purple/blue/green/gold color that shimmers in even the faintest light.

So, Okay. You guys can go home now. Unlocks auditorium doors....Don't forget your scarves, and feel free to take as many bags of roasted pretzels as you wish! Come back soon!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Owl Hats

Ah, another two months, another blog post.

Fleegle surveys the totally empty virtual auditorium.

Hello? Anyone there?

Pauses to listen to the thunderous silence.

I have pounds and pounds of free cashmere yarn to give away to loyal readers....

Smiles as hundreds of fan suddenly materialize, all of them staring wistfully at the bulging sack to the right of the podium.

Heh. Just kidding!

Opens bag to display a welter of garish, no-dyelot acrylic worsted and gleefully tosses skeins to random readers.

But now that you're here....

...You can admire these silly hats that I made for a friend (green) and her two-year-old daughter (pink, of course).


The pattern is Chouette, by Ekaterina Blanchard. The hats are a quick and delightful knit. I used Malabrigo Chunky). The wiggly eyes were purchased at a local big-box craft store. Each hat took about two hours, start to finish.

I was not thrilled by the original tassels, so I ordered some adorable owl stitch markers from an Etsy store. They are heavy, but give the points a delightful droop. The markers can be removed for washing.

Having just finished a lovely sweater, it will only be a few days until the next post. I have to wait for a sunny day to do the photos. And, as it rains torrentially here every single day, who knows when that might be.

So, as long as you have gathered together in my comfy auditorium, waves a tentacle at the door, which shuts with a shuddering squelch, you might as well knit yourself something while waiting for me to take pictures of Old Town.

Passes out plastic #10 needles and a pattern for a garter-stitch scarf.

And I have pom-pom makers for those who want embellishment!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Paradox-Absorbing Crumple Zones

Yes, I know this is a knitting blog. But every so often I read something that causes my already overtaxed neurons to burst into flame. We all need to study the quote below. Please put down your drinkable before reading.

At a press conference to discuss the accusations, an N.S.A. spokesman surprised observers by announcing the spying charges against Mr. Snowden with a totally straight face.

“These charges send a clear message,” the spokesman said. “In the United States, you can’t spy on people.”

Clearly, something happens to brains when they remain too long in the Washington area. They no longer recognize cognitive dissonance, rather, they accept this state of cogitation as the norm.

Next post, I promise to show you two adorable hats. Really!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Constitutional Confetti (non-knitting)

For the past umpity-ump years, I've started my day by fixing a cup of coffee, then flipping on my computer to peruse Google News. I then zipped over to my iGoogle page, which contained an embedded Google Reader widget. Last year, Google announced that they would be ceasing iGoogle in November of this year. I found this profoundly upsetting--part of my morning routine would need some rearrangement. I finally switched over to Netvibes, a service that is fairly similar to iGoogle. In some ways, it's even better than iGoogle, but lacks the compact Reader widget that I have come to rely on to quickly peruse the news from the 200+ blogs to which I currently subscribe.

Thus, when Google announced a few months ago that they would cease Google Reader...well, I can tell you that those precious early-morning coffee-sipping moments had suddenly become a vacuum begging to be filled by something...anything...that worked as well as Reader. Since those early days of iGoogleness though, I've started flipping open my iPad more often than my laptop. I've found that Flipboard (no pun intended) is a pleasant companion for my coffee, and Newsify is a reasonably good substitute for Reader.

All of this searching for substitutes got me thinking about Google in general. Like many services, it's become more social, proffering sites such as Google+ as a way to force interaction. Not being especially comfortable with this idea, I took a hard look at the Google apps on both my iPad and my laptop, and frankly, didn't like what I saw.

I had installed Chrome, the Google browser last year, but never use it, because the cookie controls are terrible. In Firefox, I can disallow cookies, allow them for a session, temporarily allow them for a site, and easily manage cookies globally or on a site-to-site basis. I am uncomfortable with sites that require cookies to do something as simple as browse their pages, and the inability to control these little bits of tracking crumbs turned me off of Chrome.

I became so uncomfortable with this tracking stuff that I installed a Firefox add-on called DoNotTrackMe. The icon sits quietly in the toolbar, and when you click on it, it tells you how many tracking attempts it has blocked. To my utter horror, after a few months of use, the information popup told me that the add-in had blocked 20,000 trackers. After a year of use, I've earned my second Platinum Medal--each one worth 50,000 trackers. If the idea of 100,000 stalkers doesn't bother you, well, you might as well stop reading this blog post now.

A few months ago Roy was wandering around the Web, looking for something, which he ended up not purchasing. The phone rings. There's a sales lady on the other end who said she saw him browsing their website but didn't buy anything. Can we ask why? Can we make an offer that you might be interested in? Roy replied that they didn't have the cheapest price...and some haggling then ensued. However, Roy was so creeped out that, even though the sales lady said she would price-match, he ended up not buying anything.

That episode was the final straw that led to my subscribing to a VPN--a virtual private network. In the simplest terms, a VPN is a network that tunnels through the Internet by using encryption and other security measures to hide you from peepers and stalkers.

When you hop onto the Internet, either by opening a browser or, these days, by turning on most any computer, your Internet provider assigns you an IP address, for example, As you waltz from site to site, you can be uniquely identified by this address. When you use a VPN, your real IP address is cloaked by the address of the VPN server.

The VPN service I signed up for has servers in many countries, so I can log on to a server in Atlanta, or Chicago, or Tokyo, and to the salesperson watching me, I appear to be located in those places, but the IP address leads nowhere. Which means trackers on me lead nowhere. And good riddance.

After fooling around with the VPN for a while, I did what a lot of people do every day, I went to Google and searched for something. To my surprise, I received an error code: We're sorry, but your computer or network may be sending automated queries. A quick search on a computer not hooked up to the VPN revealed that you can't use Google Search if they can't track you. Needless to say, this little factoid caused me to switch over to the very good Duck Duck Go and Startpage search engines, which do not track you at all.

All this was starting to remind me of Winston Smith, the protagonist in George Orwell's classic 1984. Winston found one corner of his living room where Big Brother couldn't track him via the ubiquitous two-way telescreens that monitored the private and public lives of the populace.

There's nothing inherently wrong with advertising, which is where all this cookie tracking stuff originated. After all, if nobody advertised their stuff, you would not know about the choices available to you. But it's a long, long way from presenting an advertisement to having marketing firms, law enforcement, and government agencies keeping track of the minutiae of your daily life. If you think by eschewing the Internet you're safe from all this, you probably skipped over all the articles on drones that grace the pages of your local newspaper.

The result of all this research has led me to excise all Googleware from the machines that I use daily. In the next few weeks, all the devices in this house will be behind the VPN. Fortunately, Google Blogger doesn't care if they can't track me here, but I am seriously eyeballing WordPress as an alternative. I am looking at a private mail service, as well. Gentlemen don't read other people's mail, and clearly, our government no longer contains anything resembling gentlemen.

While it's impossible to be anonymous on-line these days, it is possible, with a little exertion, to keep a low profile. And if you think that these measures are necessary for safety and security (of our children!), I urge you to read, or reread, 1984. I've been around for almost seven decades, and I will escape what looks like this inevitable future. However, you, or your children, may see a world similar to the one depicted in that book. 

As a final thought, you should think about the fact that I was hesitant to publish this post at all, for fear of being placed on a government list.

fleegle pats her tinfoil hat and signs off.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Sharksucker

This is a non-knitting post that will be most likely be totally uninteresting to anyone without an iPad. I felt obliged to blog about this cool little keyboard case because it's entirely obscure and deserves a little press. If you google Sharksucker, you'll be directed to (a) a Wikipedia article about remoras, (b) a bunch of websites that have no actual information about this keyboard case, or (c) a Chinese site written by the Sharksucker creators and translated into foggy English. What you will not find are any genuine reviews, comments, or even press releases about it anywhere else on the Internet besides the developers' own website.

Let me backtrack a bit here and say that when I bought my iPad last fall, I also purchased a Zagg keyboard case to go with it. In general, I like the case. It's solid and the keyboard itself is excellent. However, I was not in love with it for several reasons. First, once the iPad is inserted into the case, you can't get it out without a real struggle. That means that if you want to use portrait mode, charge the keyboard, or just grab the iPad to do a little bedtime reading, you're out of luck.

Second, the Zagg is limited to a single angle, and it's not a good angle for me--it's tilted too far back. This was a real problem for reading in bed, because I had to hold the iPad forward in an upright position with one hand. Third (and fourth), there's no wrist rest and the indicators are between the rear of the iPad and the case itself, so I had to poke my nose into the little space to see what the lights were showing. Finally, the Zagg case is heavy. I don't have the specs on me, but I would guess that it adds a half a pound of weight to an already zaftig device.

So I went on a hunt for another keyboard case that would address all these complaints. I watched more than a dozen videos and perused an equal number of "Best Keyboard Cases" reviews. Every case had a drawback, and I wasn't going to plop down another wad of cash for something that solved some, but not all, of my quibbles.

Thus, when I ran across the YouTube video for the Sharksucker, I was entranced. The video itself is, um, well, you just have to watch it yourself. It somehow amalgamates a commercial for feminine hygiene products with a cheap cruise advertisement. That is to say, there's a flower-filled field, drinks with paper umbrellas, beautiful ladies, and a great deal of hyperbolic voice-over.


However, they keyboard case itself seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Considering that the price started at $169, was marked down to $99, and then when I actually placed the order, the cost appeared as $ could I resist?

It took about a week to arrive, and I have to say that I am impressed with it after using it for two days. I first had to extricate my iPad from the Zagg, which took about five minutes of prying, tugging, and cursing, and I broke a fingernail, too. I then plugged the Sharksucker into my laptop to charge it, which took about an hour. As you can see from the photo, the Sharksucker (where the heck did that name come from anyway?) can prop the iPad in either the landscape and portrait position by just picking up the tablet and plopping it into the brackets in either orientation.

It has a wrist rest. Because the iPad snaps into the brackets magnetically, the entire unit is solidly mated, but it's somehow still easy to pluck the tablet out in the evenings for bedtime reading. The angle is much better for me, and it's somewhat adjustable, although it doesn't tilt back very far.

The case is handsome, lightweight milled aluminum and feels sturdy and well-made. The keyboard is easy to type on, the keys themselves feel crisp and not mushy, and there are Page Up/Down/Home/End keys, which are missing from the Zagg. I do a lot of word processing with my iPad, and I really missed those keys. The Zagg does have Cut/Copy/Paste keys, but I use keyboard shortcuts instead, so those were a waste of key functions for me.

The only complaint with the Sharksucker keyboard is that the right shift key is too small and too far to the right, but I will adjust to it. My pinkie needs the exercise, anyway. Here are the two keyboards, so you can see the differences. The Sharksucker is above, the Zagg below.

Finally, according to the documentation, one charge of the keyboard battery will last for six months at a rate of two hours of use a day. The battery itself can be used to charge either the iPad itself or another device by plugging them into one of the two USB ports on the side of the keyboard. And there are little rubber bumpers to prevent the iPad from resting on the keyboard keys when the assembly is closed. True, this case, unlike the Zagg, doesn't protect the back of the iPad, which means that the unit has to be inserted into a sleeve to protect it from scratches when transporting it. A bubble-wrap baggie works fine.

I have to say that the JSXL Tech website makes for plenty of giggle-reading. For example, here are a few highlights of the Sharksucker:
  • The unique magnetic suction technical design can firmly suck Apple iPad.
  • Sharksucker adopts flip design,and then enables folding-closing.
  • Adopts high quality chocolate keyboard makes itself tidy and clean on vision.
The formatting on the website is pretty lame and the English is even lamer, but it contains a wealth of inexpensive Android tablets that actually are a good buy if you need a cheapo unit for the kids. There are also unlocked global smart phones and tons of keyboards, with or without a case, at very reasonable prices. And they actually respond to emails!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Flat Rat Pack

I know, the posts are few and far between. But, as I stated a long time ago, I only post when I have something to say that I think my readers would want to hear. Listens to the annoyed mumbles. Well it's true. You don't want me to start posting recipes for beets, do you? I could do that, you know. And add some pictures of the grandkids at Disney World. Looks offstage. Well, they don't have to know we don't have grandkids. I won't tell them if you don't.

 ==> Beet lovers, please, no emails, phone calls, or howlers.

I haven't been blogging lately mostly because I haven't been knitting very much. I did finish a Bohus sweater, though. Considering it was knit with a heavy laceweight yarn, it took me a couple of months to finish. That's my excuse, and I'm standing by it.

Well, back to the rats. Those of you who spin know Neal Brand, a maker of exquisite supported spindles and, incidentally, a math professor. For this past term's project, Neal had his calculus students design the perfect supported spindle. He then turned a sample of each project on a lathe. The results are diverse, imaginative, and of course, incredibly beautiful. They can be viewed by cruising Neal's thread in Spindle Candy, starting around here. Neal kindly allowed me to choose one of the designs and made me my very own Flying Saucer of Awesomeness.

In return, I offered to spin some yarn with the FSoA spindle and make each of the students involved in the design process their very own Flat Rat Bookmark, an item which no one, especially calculus students, should be without.

Note that if you have converted your entire library to eBooks, you can just drape your Rat over the top of your reader to keep it warm. (I notice that the pronoun "it" in the last sentence is ambiguous. The answer is yes, you can keep either the rat or the reader warm.)

The original design, The Squashed Rat Bookmark, is cute, but I wanted something, um, rattier. You know, with a pointier nose, fatter body, and beadier eyeballs. And thus, I spent some time with needles and crochet hook developing a pattern so all of you can make your very own Flat Rat. Mine were made with fingering-weight handspun Tasmanian Corriedale, which, oddly enough, is the stuff Malcolm Fielding's spindles come wrapped in. I dyed the finished yarn Rat Gray, of course.

Here's a close-up of the completed Flat Rat. 

 And here's photo of the Flat Rats in action:

When not in use, these rats stack well.


Make a provisional crochet chain and pick up 18 stitches. Circularize on two or more needles. I found the crochet provisional method the easiest way to make the head. I made decreases on both sides of the head, which produced a pointier nose than decreasing around a single stitch, like you do for a sleeve.

knit 4 rows
knit 3, ssk, k8, k2tog, k3
k1 row
k3, ssk, k6, k2tog, k3
k1 row
k3 ssk k4, k2tog, k3
k1 row
k2 ssk, k4, k2tog, k2
k1 row
k2, ssk, k2, k2tog, k2
k1 row
k1, ssk, k2, k2tog, k1
k1 row
3 st left on each needle.

Join black yarn for the nose.
k1, ssk, k2tog, k1
knit 1 row

Run black tail through stitches, run black through stitches again until nose is roundish--about three times. Pull all ends inside of the head.

Stuff head.

Turn the head around and pick up 18 stitches in such a way that the decreases fall on the sides of the head and aren't obtrusive. Put nine stitches on each of two needles.

Do a 3-needle bind-off by knitting together one stitch from each of the two needles. That is, insert the third needle through a stitch on the front needle and a stitch on the back needle and knit both of them off. You now have 9 stitches. Or you should. If you have ten, well, just go with the flow.


knit 2 rows
k1 kfb (knit in the front and back of the stitch to increase), knit to the last two stitches, kfb, k1.
k1 row
Repeat increases 2 more times, to 15 st. That is, increase row, plain row, increase row.

For the first leg, cast on 6 gray and 2 pink stitches by knitting on. Bind off two stitches in pink and the rest in gray.

Knit to end of row, turn and repeat leg on other side.

Resume increases 4 times until you have 23 st. After each increase row, knit a plain row.

Knit 9 rows.

Decrease back to 11 stitches via these two rows:
k1, ssk...k2tog, k1.
k1 row

Do another set of legs.

Repeat the two decrease rows three more times--you will have 5 stitches on the needle.
Bind off.


Crochet a chain for the tail. Double yarn between bound-off stitches, chain 17. Knot the ends and trim. Or knit an I-cord. The chain is flatter, but you will probably have to wet and pin it to make it lie flat. Mine curled up into pigtails, which would have been terrific if I were making flat piglets.

Knot pink paw ends together and weave in ends.

Ears are crocheted directly to the head.
SC in two stitches, ch1, turn, single SC, bind off, run ends through head. Or make any other teeny blob-shape using a needle, hook, loom, or potato peeler.

I dampened my rats and pinned them out to make them flatter...I hope PETA doesn't see this picture....

You could just squish the rat in an unabridged dictionary or a Uline catalog for a while if this concept makes you squeamish.

And finally, if you have no inclination to knit a flat rat, you could make one using this handy method:


I want to remind everyone that I can't respond to comments without an email address, Ravelry name, or other means of contact. Too often these days there's just no way for me to thank you for your comment or answer your question. Along these lines, I notice fewer and fewer active Blogger profiles. That makes me sad, but as technology and social networking advance, sites such as Facebook and Ravelry have replaced blogging as a primary means of communication. And no, I don't have a Facebook or Twitter ID. I think Facebook and Twitter are creepy. However, you can always ping me on Ravelry if you don't want to leave a public comment.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Customer Disservice

One of the drawbacks of having a retail store is complaints. Our little shop gets about five a year. Some of them have been vituperative, complete with four-letter words and personal threats. Others have been just plain silly--a person who, after eight months, decided the ebook was defective and wanted to return it. Regardless of the mental state of the customer, in all cases, we replace the item or issue a refund. We want everyone to be satisfied, and if for some reason, it's not within our ability to please, we refund the money and thank the customer for patronizing our store.

A few months ago, I bought a $42 circular knitting needle...smiles at the group gasp. The day of the purchase, I had the unpleasant experience of having three sets of circulars needle tips separate from their respective cables as I was working on a top-down sweater. And I was sick and tired of picking up stitches. Thus, I decided to go for the Lamborghini, the Bentley, the ne plus ultra of knitting needles--a Signature.

When it arrived, I reverently unwrapped discover a slight burr on the tip. Oh well. It took five gentle swipes with 800-grit sandpaper to smooth the burr. I was in the middle of the sleeves at that point, so I put the needle aside until I was back at the underarms.

I knit four inches of sweater...and of the needle tips disengaged from the cable. I was flabbergasted.

Here's the letter I wrote to customer service:

Dear Signature-

I purchased this needle on November 29, 2012, invoice #xxxx, Paypal Unique Transaction ID #xxxx.

It arrived with a burr on the tip. You can see where I sanded it off. I knit four inches of a sweater with this needle. This morning, one of the tips separated from the cable and rolled underneath the refrigerator. I am not moving the refrigerator to find it. I am an old woman with a bad back.
Notice that if you run your finger up the remaining join from the cable to the needle, there is a sharp edge on the metal. I was wondering why I was seeing frayed yarn bits as I was knitting. As I paid $42 for this needle, it never occurred to me that the join was responsible. Instead, I was blaming the yarn vendor for the fact that I kept having to unknit areas and join in new yarn. Silly me.

I expect you to replace this needle with one that actually works as advertised. That is, the joins remained joined and doesn't shred the yarn.

And here's their reply:

Dear Susan,

Thank you for your note. You stated you received your order in  November 2012 and at that time you noticed a burr on the needle however you did not contact us regarding the burr. Our warranty/guarantee policy states you have 21-days from the day you receive your order to contact us regarding any manufacturing flaw or defect.  You also stated that you sanded the tip of your needle. As stated in our warranty/guarantee policy: "The warranty is void if any changes, modifications, or additions are made to the needles after purchase." I have included a link from our website detailing our warranty/guarantee policy. Unfortunately by sanding the tip of your needle you voided that warranty/guarantee. 

I am sorry but at this time we cannot replace your needle.  


 Now, I don't know about you, but I infinitely prefer the treatment I've received from KnitPicks when their needle tips go walkabout. They replace them. No fuss, no muss, at least for the four that I have called them about. And I give you three guesses as to which needles I will be purchasing in the future. And which company I will never again patronize nor recommend.

ETA: Less than an hour after this blog post appeared, this email dropped into my mailbox. Yay Internet!

Dear Susan,
I have consulted with our quality control department. They would like to inspect your needle for any manufacturing flaws or defects regarding the rough join/separation issue you encountered with your needle. I have attached a return merchandise authorization form for you to complete and include with your needle. Please use RMA#  XXXXXXXXX.  Which needle from your Nov. 2012 order did the cable separate from; the size 01-5"-32" or size 03-4"-20"?  Please tell me which size needle separated and I will send you a replacement needle.  
Please let me know if you have any other questions.

Thank you,

And finally... 

Good Afternoon Susan,

I wanted to thank you for contacting us this weekend and let you know I have come across your blog post this afternoon and reviewed the customer service practices on how your email was handled.  We strive for 100% customer satisfaction and I am never happy to see that a customer does not receive the highest quality attention to their concerns. 

I see that the information and policy was sent based on the burr being sanded, but as you have addressed in your blog this should not have mattered.  The breaking of the cable from the needle is 100% a manufacturing defect and per our normal policy, you should have been asked for a photo of the needle and a replacement should have been sent out immediately this afternoon no questions asked.    Again I do apologize that your inquiry was handled in this manner and that you did not receive the level of customer service that we strive for.  We aim to produce the highest quality products as well as always provide our customers with service to match.

Please let me know if you have additional questions or concerns and again I apologize for the reply you received.

Thank you,

Daniella Rosenthal
Vice President