Monday, August 24, 2015

Boreal, the beginning

Gauge, you fickle mistress. This is the beginnings of Boreal by the always-inspiring Kate Davies, which I am knitting in a hell-for-leather attempt to anticipate colder weather with joy in my heart. It may or may not be working--there is, as yet, no way at all to know whether this pullover is going to be huge, tiny, well-fitted but too long/short, puckery, otherwise dodgy, or perfect in every way. This isn't my first rodeo, but every time I measure some part of what I've knit so far, it tells me something contrary to what it told me before. It looks like the only thing to do is to continue thrashing my way through the charts, trusting in the genius of Kate and in the almighty power of blocking. Fingers crossed.

I am reminded of the (true!) story my dad loved to tell about the night his two cop friends let the blind man down the street drive the police car. You want to hear this story! Okay: down the block from my childhood home lived a blind man named Butch. He was known to all as a sort of savant--you could rattle a handful of change and he could give a pretty good guess, and he seemed to recognize people before they spoke to him. He was so good at that one that if he'd had any irises, I might've suspected he could see a little, but his eyes were completely white. So Butch is walking home in the dark late one night, tapping his cane along the sidewalk, his face tilted toward the sky, as always, and possibly whistling to himself, when the local constabulary, a kindly pair of old-fashioned town cops, come upon him. They look out for him, though he seems hardly to need it. One leans out the police car window.

"Hey Butch, you okay?" they ask him.

"Oh, yeah, just heading home," says Butch, tapping along.

"Want a ride?" they say. It's a small town, and they are not busy.

"Yeah, sure," he says. A few beats go by. "Hey, slow night tonight?" He knows it is, he can hear all the nothing out there in the country.

"Yep. Roads are pretty empty."

Butch seizes the opportunity. "Say. Can I drive?"

"Are you crazy?"

"You just said there's nobody on the road. Come on, I always wanted to drive a car. I won't hit anything."

They probably thought about it for a second. Looked at each other. I won't tell if you won't. "Okay." He gets in the front seat, they teach him about the pedals. A few hair-raising blocks later, punctuated by terrified laughter, they arrive at his door. He thanks them, gets out, taps up the front steps. A lifelong dream, fulfilled.

That's a little how knitting this sweater feels.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Wrist Warmers and the County Fair

Falling for Fall, Thing the First: wrist warmers. In my neighborhood here in the North, there is no need for these things past, say, mid-October, because temperatures will plummet and fingertips must be covered, but until then, they make me really happy. Picture me snuggled up in a long woolly scarf, maybe also with a cute denim jacket and tall boots, rosy-cheeked and red-nosed, sitting on a log next to a bonfire and wearing these, hands wrapped around a big mug of hot cider. There's singing, and spooky stories. Guitars and sparklers. Yes, I see it! Autumn, you are not horrible! I don't have a denim jacket, must go thrifting...
These are pretty easy to make, just start knitting a mitten but quit before it's done. Embroider a big yarny flower on it, with a clump of french knots in the center. Use fall colors. Nice.

My girl came home for a visit, and we went to the County Fair, which might have been Thing the Second if the weather hadn't been very hot and not at all Fall-like. How is the Fair where you live? Our Fair is a very rural affair, mostly animals, which all give you a suspicious side-eye as you approach, and the cows are all aimed business-end out, so I feel an extra need for vigilance in the beef and dairy barn. They are all raised by wholesome-looking teenagers who listen to country music and do crossword puzzles or sleep in the hay in the next stall while their animals are on exhibit. Outside are fried pickles and Oreos, NASCAR trading card booths, 4-H macaroni projects. Bucket-sized cups of fresh lemonade. We got all rhapsodic over the vegetable exhibits; the idea of someone curating their six most perfect cherry tomatoes, carefully delivering them to the Fairgrounds on exhibition day, hoping for a blue ribbon and the accompanying cash prize of 75 cents, it just seems so beautiful. Imagine the farmer's wife in her calico apron, picking that one most exemplary leaf of kale, maybe wrapping it in a damp paper towel and holding it on her lap in the truck until it could be laid carefully on a paper plate for judging. She is famous for her kale. She wins every year. Nobody can touch her for kale perfection. My friend Al bought most of a cake for eight dollars--one piece was missing, the piece tasted by the Home Arts judges. Can you imagine a better cake than one bought at the County Fair; a perfect, buttery, careful cake, someone's very best effort, missing one telltale piece?


Thursday, August 13, 2015

A plan for Autumn, and a love letter from Catdog

This week. Well, the car is fixed (the doctor and the boy did it! My heroes!) and the bobbin winder on my beautiful vintage Singer Slant-o-Matic (I really love how that sounds) is up next. Maybe then I can finish the quilt(s) and also either make a bunch of school clothes (ridiculous; I don't go to school) or at least stop thinking about it anyway. It was 60 degrees F this morning, which just makes me want to put on tights and a corduroy skirt and read Nancy Drew mysteries while I wait for the bus. Maybe jump rope or something. Autumn is coming. I am making a plan this year to learn to love autumn, the way I did when I was little and it meant school and new clothes and seeing all my friends every day again, and I can't remember what all else, but I know it was good. I don't know when I started dreading it, and really it's only because it means summer (sob!) is over and winter is coming. And I know you know this, but winter is hard. The dread just builds in my heart, the minute the air changes, and it has. There's a change sometime in early August every year, the same change that makes me start knitting utilitarian cardigans, and I cry inside, but I think I can work on this. I don't have any illusions that I can learn to love winter, but autumn is on the table. The doctor, who knows me better than I know myself, said stuff like "Fall has so much color--get out your watercolors again. Photograph the light." He said, "Fall is when your handknits can really shine. In winter, you're wearing ten layers and a coat like a sleeping bag over it all, but in fall, your beautiful handknits are on display." I got teary-eyed at that. He's so good, and he's right. That's what I'm gonna do. Autumn, I'm coming for you. We're going to fall in love.

Influenced, as always, by the lovely Alicia, I made some macrame hemp necklaces and if I had more beads, I'd keep going. Bracelets next, I think. This kind of thing is so beautifully seventies. I hear Seals and Crofts songs in my head as I work. They're a little itchy next to my neck, but maybe they soften with wear--I can't remember.

Catdog wants you all to know how much she loves you right back. She got all serious for a minute, and very sincere. She is very earnest, like she's saying, "I'm not even kidding. I really, really LOVE you. I would not joke about this." The eyebrows crinkle a little bit as she raises them, making sure I can see her sincerity. I do, I see it. She is a little curled up ball of gentle and wiggly, wagging happiness, at least until the doctor puts on his favorite song and then she just goes electric, dancing and leaping, twirling around. She is a big fan of 70's guitar anthems. I mean, what is not to love about any of this??? Wait until she hears Frampton. There is so much great music out there for her to discover. I love you all, too, for loving her. This beautiful little dog, this sweet girl is a friend to everyone she meets.

I tell her she's a good girl, and her tail is a wagging blur.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Cut it out

Ugh, machinery. I am so over it. The machine winder is only working sporadically, and right now not at all, argh, and all I can think about is all the stuff I want to sew. I remember now why I found this so rewarding.

All cut out and nowhere to go. The doctor will have a look at it one of these days. Right now, he is shoulder-deep in the guts of the car, which, while hurtling along at 65 mph last week suddenly issued forth a hideous crunching sound from inside its belly followed by some sputtering, followed by its engine ceasing to be an engine anymore. At the wheel, the boy had a hair-raising quarter mile of coasting off the highway, down the exit ramp, and into a parking lot. It's such a sinking feeling, isn't it, to see your car on the flatbed of a tow truck? And now its innards are strewn all over the garage and fingers are crossed. Hey, let's knit!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Cables and Marshmallows and Dogs

Mornings have turned a little chilly, which means work on my annual gray cabled cardigan has begun. I don't know when I got to be so predictable, but August and September is gray or brown cardigan season in my workshop. I have also learned that I get much better results when I make up the pattern myself as I go along than if I follow a published pattern, so that's what I'm doing. There are so many great designs out there, but the finished product just won't fit me as well as it will if I do it my own way. Thus the brown cardigan I worked on earlier in the summer and the pink striped pullover I set aside a few weeks ago in frustration will probably both be unraveled, because life is short and yarn is too pretty to be caught up in a halfway-wearable garment that will probably just live out its days on the shelf in the back of my closet.

I spent some time in the kitchen, too, making marshmallows from scratch, which is time-consuming but not that hard. If you don't mind having a cloud of powdered sugar settling over every surface in your kitchen, you should try it. From-scratch marshmallows go in these sticky and delectable peanut butter marshmallow bars (recipe from this book, similar to this) and I guess you can use marshmallows from a bag, but for this project, a gift for some of my favorite people, that's not how I roll. Soft, fluffy marshmallows covered with peanutbutterscotch? Yes, please. I gave most of these away, but this recipe hasn't seen the last of me.

I try really hard not to annoy you with a trillion very-similar photos of the sleeping catdog, but dang. I just find her so irresistibly cute. She was the superstar of her manners training class, which finished last week and I miss it already. Training with this catdog has been the most fun thing I've done this summer. She focuses on me like a laser beam, does everything I ask for; sit, down, stay, wait, touch. She will not be distracted, and she works like she's doing a degree in Manners at Yale. We take her to the park, and she sniffs around in the wildflowers--milkweed, goldenrod, Queen Anne's Lace--and we amble along, walk ahead, ten, twenty, thirty yards, turn and stop. She stops sniffing, lifts her head, notices that we have gone on without her. I signal her to come back, and she tears toward my open arms, lips and ears flapping, zero to sixty in about 0.25 seconds, and skids to a cartoon stop right next to my leg. Plops into a perfect sit. Grins like a sap. Friends, there aren't enough dog biscuits in all the world for me to give this little girl. She fills my life with fun.

Later at home, this what she does. She curls up like a kitty and tucks her tail and feet up underneath her chin and goes inert. She has a very deep and rich inner life, I think. She composes poetry in her dreams.



Monday, August 3, 2015


The Renaissance Festival! I wish I could show you more of this, but phone photography is hit-and-miss. There is so much to see, and all of it is so fantastic. You might have one of these in your neighborhood too, and it's kind of a particular wonderful and weird sort of thing--stiltwalkers, jugglers, jesters, jousting. If you are two adults alone at the Ren Faire, a few things are probably true: you like costumes, fantasy, history, honey mead, magic, and/or comedy swordfighting and bullwhip acts. You probably know at least a little something about the Druids. You can appreciate how pirates and wizards kind of go together. I love guys in kilts tending to babies in strollers, and t-shirts that say "I walked in to Mordor and all I got was this lousy t-shirt". Crafting! It's everywhere. See the guy knitting in the shady glen? That's not just a scarf he's making, either, that's something lacy with a fancy edging. There's all that, and wine slushies, too--wine slushies, what a brilliant invention! It's a good time. We went to the caber toss and kind of became fans of the sport in the first two minutes, getting all knowledgeable about how they score it and everything, thanks to one rough-looking but sweet clansman in a kilt and work boots with an excellent off-color commentary. Summer continues, and it's as hot as it should be, and I am so very happy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Magic Carpet Tapestry Cowl

It is so hot here right now that even talking about this double-thick, multi-colored, stranded-knitting cowl I made seems ridiculous.



The thing is, though, that if I want things like this to be ready and waiting when it does get cold (and it will get cold, hoo boy, and soon too, ack) I have to make them now, while it's nice and sweltering outside. You all know I don't even mean that ironically. It really is nice and sweltering. I do well in the heat, wow, I am so out of place here in the North, but even when it's so hot my eyelids are sweating, the hot and the humid is good for me. I am happy when it's sultry, and I know that in this, I am all alone. There are only about two really warm weather months here in my neighborhood in New York, and soon enough there will be a nip in the air and everyone but me will be rejoicing.

This was the weirdest knitwear photo shoot ever, and that's saying something, because I once appeared here in my pajamas.



I know, this is goofy. What, was I going to wait until it snows to show you this? I am nowhere near as patient as that. You can almost see what it might be like one day, right? When the blizzards are upon us and the land is forbidding and frozen, and the sky is leaden and ominous and the winds batter against the door? I'll be so glad to pull this up around my ears before heading out into the storm. (Ugh, it hardly bears thinking about...bring me a Corona, stat...)


Particulars: for the colorwork exterior, I used (part of) one skein each KnitPicks Palette in Mineral Heather, Cream, Sea Grass, Wallaby, Green Tea, Garnet Heather and Oregon Coast Heather, and Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift in Mist and Navy. All those yarns are beautiful and everything, but they're also pretty itchy for wearing at the neck, so for the lining I used one skein Malabrigo Lace in Pearl.

There's no pattern for this, because I made it up myself. Here's my process; feel free to use this yourself if you like.

How to Make a Knit Cowl in Stranded Colorwork

1. Pull your palette together. Choose yarns--wool, please--that are all the same weight, in anywhere from two colors to whatever crazy number of colors you think you can handle. Take care to ensure that you have contrasting values in your palette--darks and lights. I used nine different colors. Let your whims guide you. My feeling is that if you like all the colors you chose and you think they look good together, and you've taken care to make sure there are contrasting values, you can't fail at this.

2. Select a stitch pattern. There are a great many wonderful resources out there (I used Alice Starmore's Charts for Color Knitting) or you can get out your graph paper and figure out your own pattern. I'm sure there's an easy, computer-y way to design knitting charts, too, and if you know of a good one, I'd love to hear about it.

3. Count the stitches in each repeat of your chosen stitch pattern. The one I used had a pattern repeat of 49 stitches. Now, using your chosen yarn and an appropriately-sized needle (I used a US 2 16" circular) make a swatch. I'm so sorry, I know swatching is a huge drag, but it's the only way you're going to have any idea what size your finished project will be. Measure the number of stitches per inch in your swatch.

4. Now figure out how big around you want your cowl to be. Ask yourself whether you want it to hug your neck a lot or a little; how much ease do you want it to have? Use a measuring tape to measure around your neck to give you this number. I decided I wanted my cowl to be 22" around.

5. Do some math. 22 (desired finished size in inches) x 9 (stitches per inch in swatch) = 198 (number of stitches to--theoretically--cast on). Wait a minute! Hang on. My chosen stitch pattern chart has 49 stitches in one repeat, and 49 (stitches in pattern repeat) x 4 (repeats of chart) = 196. That's pretty darn close, and good enough.

6. Now figure out how you want to arrange your colors in the pattern. The temptation here is to overthink this until you finally stuff all the yarn into a bag and give up, but this is a lot simpler than it looks. I divided my palette into four sets of one dark and one light yarn that looked good together, and I called the pairs A, B, C, and D. For example, pair B was Mineral Heather (the dark) and Mist (the light). Then I almost arbitrarily divided the 48 rows of the repeat in my chart into symmetrical sections, working more or less from dark to light toward the center of the motif, using the cream yarn as the light value for the very center row in the motif, and then light back to dark. How you do this is entirely a matter of personal choice. You can have a light foreground and a dark background (which is how I did it) and if it's confusing, think of it this way: make stripes in a symmetrical pattern with the darks, and meanwhile work the chart design on top of it using the light value colors. Of course you can do the reverse, as well, using a striping pattern of light values as your background, knitting the charted stitches in dark value colors.

See how the background is striped, with the lighter colors kind of "on top"? Breaking down the design process like that makes it easy to come up with a color strategy.

7. Cast on and start knitting, and because the color work part is so utterly compelling, you'll want to dive right in with row 1 of the chart and your first color pair, but I suggest you do what I forgot to do, and use a provisional cast on to work a bunch of rows of the lining first; this will pay off later when you're all done. Knit your way through the chart, changing colors as needed. Carry the yarn along at the back whenever you can. Work as many pattern row repeats as you need for your cowl to be tall enough--my chart had 48 rows per repeat, and I worked two full repeats. Change yarns and knit the lining in something soft and gorgeous. If you started by working part of the lining first, you can finish the lining and graft the two ends with Kitchener stitch for a flawless finish. If you started with the color work, like I did, knit the whole lining (work the same number of rows--or inches--as you worked for the exterior) and then bind off and seam the lining to the cast on edge using mattress stitch.

8. Block the finished cowl, wait for cold weather--or not--and wear with pride, comfort, and joy.