Monday, January 28, 2019

Perfect for wild weather

January has decided to bear down on us.  You're probably getting it, too?  Are you?  The temperatures have plunged, and the big snows have arrived.  Basically it means all my current knitting is arctic-ready.  Thick, sturdy, maximum coverage, and as much wool as I can cram in there.  I finished this one the other day and I can't even tell you how many times I've worn it already.  It's really just totally perfect.   That fit is everything.   All the coverage zones are sufficiently swathed in wool, and there's just no chance that any chilly winds will be able to sneak in.  That long body, those long sleeves, and that ultra mega collar are a suit of armor.  You're not surprised, are you, to hear that I am in love with this sweater.  The best part, really, is the collar.  Look at that thing:

This fantastic design is "Midwinter" by Trin-Annelie.  It's cold here a lot, and it seems like it's always midwinter, so that pattern has been hanging around in my thoughts for a good long time, but the floppy, cowl collar in the designer's photos kept looking like it would bug me--I like a tall, close turtleneck, right up to my ears, and I don't like it to droop or slouch, so I had to think on it for awhile.  I also had to choose some yarn, and eventually a bunch of Simply Wool from Knit Picks in the "Wilbur" colorway finally wiggled its way to the front of the stash.  [By the way, that looks like really good yarn from here.  Plump and sturdy, and next-to-skin soft, at least for me, and obviously I am totally in love with the natural colors.  If you try it, I'd love to know what you think]. For the contrasts I used some farm yarn from Romney Ridge (in "chartreuse" and natural, which is leftover from my Humulus) and the dark brown is a glossy and gorgeous 2-ply Wensleydale (held double) which was a very generous gift from my friend Erin, who traveled all the way to Edinburgh to buy it and then decided to give it to me.  I'm so pleased to have found such a beautiful way to use it here.   Brown and gray together is so good, and those little bursts of neon just glow against it, don't they?

This kangaroo pocket is so extra.  I'm usually not a big fan of pockets because I don't like the bulk they add and it's not like I'm going around collecting acorns and bottle caps anymore, but this kind of sweatshirt-y pocket is so nice for warming up my chilly hands.  It's also easy to add afterwards, too, if the inspiration should strike after the sweater is finished--just pick up a row and knit on a flap, with some increases at the sides.  I hadn't thought of doing that before, but I will now.

This collar is the best part:  First off, I rearranged the pattern directions quite a bit in order to be able to knit it top-down, which is my much-preferred construction method.  So I started at the neck (below the collar) and worked downwards, leaving the collar for last, and I finagled it to be closer fitting by casting on fewer stitches at the get-go.  [here's how I figured that out:  I wrapped a measuring tape around my neck, approximating the way I'd like the collar to fit, multiplied that number (18") by the number of stitches per inch in my gauge swatch (4.5) and cast on that number:  81.  Then I worked one round plain before increasing up to the number of stitches indicated in the pattern and then stuck to the pattern through the yoke.  If you've been here awhile, you'll know how devoted I am to the simplicity of this kind of pattern alteration--you just need to know your stitches per inch TIMES the number of inches of the thing you're making.  That's it, that's all there is to it!  Okay, back to the sweater...]

Even though the collar was going to be very tall and very close, I was still afraid it might slump down, cowl-like, and leave my poor neck out in the weather getting cold, so I marshaled my wits  and rambled about it to Doc and together we realized that a little dose of 1x1 ribbing would do the trick nicely.  I think it was his idea and he thinks it was mine, but we're a team anyway, so it doesn't matter that much.  Anyway, I lined the collar with 1x1 ribbing and guys, it was just the ticket.  That collar stands at attention so perfectly, so adroitly.  My neck will never be cold again.

I can't imagine not knitting another one of these.  It's too good.  It's everything I want in January when the sky is wild.  Stay warm out there, friends.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Happy January

Hello there, friends!  How are you?  Happy January.  I didn't meant to be away so long.  The last few weeks have been so January-ish.  Basically I'm just slumped in a chair watching ten episodes in a row of Mr. Robot and knitting.  Lying in a cozy little heap in front of the fireplace, trying to keep the catdog from licking my face.  Stirring the soup pot.  Banishing dust bunnies from the distant corners. Moving from one chair to another, lazily following the occasional rare beams of actual sunshine around the house.

I have so much to show you all, I can't even think where to start.  Those mittens up there (Milet, by Ysolda, knit in Rauma Finull (navy and gold) and KnitPicks Palette (cream) finally got finished.  I started those when feeling all christmassy, but I lost steam after the first one and it took a bit of giddyup to crank out the second mitten.  They're gorgeous and I love them, but they are knit in fingering weight yarn and it's honestly just too cold around here for that kind of thing.  I think I'll try to make a lining for them, but that's at the bottom of the list right now.  Also, this sweater is done, and hoo!  It almost did me in.  This is Lucky (me) by Solenn Couix-Loarer, and I knit it in Maine Organic from Green Mountain Spinnery.  This colorway is called, um, "gray."  This yarn was one of my Rhinebeck purchases this year, and I can only say that I love/hate it.  It has made a beautiful garment--I think this is one of the best things I've made in a long time--but I did not enjoy knitting with that yarn.  I can't even really put my finger on the reason--it was very sheepy and woolly and minimally processed and it is the best natural color ever, but it was just no fun.  This pattern was easy on the brain (I did modify some of the cables because they were just too big for me to work without a cable needle, and ya'll, I'm not using a cable needle) but the yarn made me not want to work on it.  Of course, after an extra-sudsy warm bath in the sink, it fluffed up and became lovely (I thought it probably would) and can you believe I had enough buttons already in the cupboard?  This sweater has the sweet smell of victory on it.

Speaking of sweet, holy moly!  Take a look at these socks, would ya?  Oh man, I know.  I know!  These are Selbu Socks by Skeindeer Knits, knit in Regia 4-ply (red) and Cascade Heritage fingering (gray).  They are full of my mistakes, but honestly, they are so beautiful I don't even care.  I learned three new skills in order to make these, most significantly the Magic Loop method (here's what that's all about, in case you're interested) and I loved every frustrating minute of it.  This is the year I'm going to learn things.  Word of the year = LEARN.

There's still room for self-care.  Between those two those knuckle-busters, I needed something soothing, and this came along to save me.  This is the European Road Trip Shawl, a beautifully simple freebie by Espace Tricot, that involved (almost) nothing but plain, unshaped stockinette knit according to my whimsy in smooth, soft, beautiful sock yarns from my stash.  In here is three skeins of Fiberrarium Conservatory Sock (colorways "slate" "sycamore" and "dusty") one skein of Holland Handmade Co MCN sock in "Ciel" and Dream in Color Baby, colorway "In Vino Veritas".  I tossed in two speckled Kestrel Minis in colorway names I can't remember right now.  Every time I couldn't take another minute of cabling or it got too dark to see the tiny sock stitches, I picked this up, and it was done in a flash.  I'd make another, but I haven't figured out how to wear this one yet.  You know how that is.

I hope you're all having slow, sweet, sunny winter days.  January can feel like a time when we have to  somehow improve ourselves, and you may be feeling for one reason or another like you're navigating some rough water, but I want you to know that you are already beautiful.  Yes, you are.  Don't be afraid to learn, and know that it's okay if you get it wrong at first.  Getting things wrong is just the beginning of getting things right.  Find a piece of sunlight and sit in it.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Knitting and Winter

Hi there, friends.  I am having the best December so far,  I really must tell you.  Honestly, I don't know what's come over me, but there is no trace at all of my usual winter gloom, and the heavy leaden wintertime sky--which in every other year has been dismal, a damp cloak of sadness for me--looks rather beautiful these days.  Doc and I walk in the cold and I wear my huge puffy coat that is the color of baby poo and my clompy boots.  We walk along the road, past the house with the little dog that barks and scampers and chases us for half a mile and I feel so much affection for that little rascal.  He has no manners at all and he's scared to death of everything and he has no idea how to make friends, bless him, but I am always happy to see him.  I can feel Doc kind of bracing himself as we near the house, and then the dog appears out of the dark and dances around hollering at us for a long time, and as he turns back for home, I call to him, "I love you too!  See you tomorrow!"  It just feels good, I don't know.  I like it that he comes over to say hello.  Dogs, walking together in the dark, my nose cold and my feet warm, the spicy apple-scented air, the spooky clouds gliding across the moon.  I feel as though I've recovered from a long illness or something.  Anyway, it is very wonderful, and I hope you are all having good days, too.

You won't be surprised to hear I've been knitting a lot.   After a few false starts and a lot of ripping back, I started a new sock project yesterday.  This pattern has already taught me three new things and is therefore worth it already, besides which, doesn't it look fantastic?  That yarn is really scarlet and not blazing pink, but the camera is no match for it.  It's Regia 4-ply in red and Cascade Heritage Silk in pale gray.  I am having such a moment with colorwork right now, and these just look so wintery.  I'm amazed at how quickly they are coming along, given that I am a total beginner at most of the skills involved in making them.  Also, I finished my Schoolboy Cardigan (pattern my own) a few days ago and have worn it more or less constantly since.  It is the most basic cardigan in the world, with a raglan yoke, crew neck, no waist shaping, and long long sleeves, because that's the way I like it.  I wanted it to be close-fitting with almost a utilitarian quality.  This yarn--Jill Draper's Empire in the color way "Lunar"--was a perfect fit for this idea.  It is sturdy and smooth and this gorgeous pale bluish/grayish color just looks so beautifully faded, oh how I love it.

I'm also knitting a couple cabled cardigans--here's one of them--this is Lucky (me)  I'm using Maine Organic from Green Mountain Spinnery, a 2-ply worsted in the very surprising color way called, um, "gray."  I think this is going to be one of those yarns that blooms up into something totally different when it hits the water.  Looking forward to that, and to wearing it, too. Cold weather just makes me want to knit cabled cardigans, what can I say?

A few pretty things all jumped out of the stash cupboard together, too, the other day.  Amidst all the cables and colorwork, I just needed something plain to work on, so I just went to the stash and then cast on the European Road Trip Shawl from Espace Tricot.  It's just about the simplest, most stockinetty pattern out there, and it has been tremendously fun to work on it.  These smooth, superwash yarns are so different from the woolly wools I've mostly been using lately, and I'd forgotten what a pleasure they are on the needles.  This will be a big colorblock wrap to keep the chill off my neck--more to come on these beautiful yarns later.

I've been at my spinning wheel lately, too.  You may recall that a few months ago, Debbie came over with a raw fleece from one of her beloved adopted orphans and I've been sampling it to see what it might like to be.  Debbie thinks this guy might have had some Romney in him--he's certainly a long wool of some kind.  I'm not 100% happy with this skein, but I'm not sure I can do any better yet.  There is still so much to learn, and I'm having so much fun learning it all.

I walked out to the pond today and got my shoes all muddy, but it was worth it.  Just hearing myself say, out loud, "Isn't that just so, so beautiful!" made me feel good.  Isn't that gray sky/dirty water/weedy bank/skeletal birch tree so beautiful?  I think they are.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Relaxing for the Holidays

It's been busy times around here, with much finishing of things, starting new things, undoing other things.  Lots of starts and stops, for all kinds of reasons.  It all feels a little bit hectic, which I guess is kind of standard for this time of year; at least it is for me.  I always make an effort to get things done early so I can have Christmastime feel easy and relaxed, but instead I'm always barreling into the season with wild hair, a growing sense of panic, and a fistful of to-do lists.   I wanted to put up the tree on Saturday, as we always do, and so we ran all our errands and came home whistling; Doc made eggnog, and I put some festive music on the old hi-fi...the boxes came down from the attic, and when we opened the one containing our [cheap, old, plastic, white] vintage-y tree, we saw that it had at some point during its deadly-hot summer slumber under the eaves, boiled itself into a sort of salted caramel color that could not be hidden or denied.  So we put the eggnog in the fridge, shut off the soothing holiday tunes, and went out to buy a tree.  Of course it was raining.

I finished that sweater up there, and I've been wanting to tell you about it.  Listen, I could not love that sweater more if it had furry ears and tasted like chocolate.  It fits me totally perfectly.  It is so soft and so warm, and so dang fancy!  I'm proud to say I made it up myself, much inspired by Heidi Kirrmaier's North Sea Nostalgia pullover and Tin Can Knits' Cartography pullover, and also by a most beautiful DIY design by Orlane Sucche.  Most of all, though, the inspiration for this sweater came from the yarn itself:  Jill Draper's Mohonk in "Ocher" and my own handspun, made from one of Debbie's orphan flock fleeces and dyed by me with madder root, which I used as the contrast color.  It is a very soft, warm pink, and it looked so perfect beside Jill's yarn that I knew they were meant for each other.  I made it in my usual way, adding four alternating stitch patterns--I think those are mostly from this book.  I really, really love this way of doing things,  and I was reminded again, and hard, just how much when I had to unravel almost an entire sweater knit from someone else's pattern because I missed an important instruction at the neckline, causing fatal damage to the project.  Well, memo for next time:  read the pattern.  It sounds obvious, but apparently I need reminding.

I also finished this sweater; you'll all I'm sure recognize it as Humulus by Isabell Kramer:

This one flew by so fast, it felt like it hardly touched the needles at all.  I used a wonderfully wooly farm yarn from Romney Ridge that I bought last year at Rhinebeck, and it made such a good fabric--sturdy and properly knit.  It will last a long time, I think, and will keep the weather out, which is the true work of a good handknit sweater.  You'll notice the contrast color is also Mohonk "Ocher"...well, sometimes whatever is in the front of the cupboard is what gets used.  These two yarns are pretty different, but they worked beautifully well together.  Those hand-dyed yarns from Jill Draper are really great for colorwork.  Anyway, I've been wearing this one a lot, too.  

In Learning New Stuff, my friend Deb has been listening to me idly blather on about wanting to learn to do paper piecing long enough.  She has tried to explain it, and has tried to demonstrate it visually by using what was on hand at the time, and I am just so thick on this subject that I couldn't figure it out.  She showed me her quilt project in progress, all done in paper piecing, and it was so gorgeous my eyeballs bugged out of my head.  I whined some more about wanting to learn to do it, so she brought me this little kit and sent me away with firm instructions to find a youtube tutorial and make this little Christmas tree square.  

I don't even want to tell you how long it took me to make this.  It was hours.  I picked it apart countless times.  This thing is two inches square.  I watched ten different tutorials and tried so hard to follow the directions, but I just couldn't get my head around it.  The pieces were numbered and everything...okay.  Here's what I don't understand, and maybe somebody out there can help me with this.  The tree up there:  the green tree and the two triangles beside it are pieces 1, 2 and 3.  Got it, no problem.  Now.  The three pieces at the bottom are 4, 5, and 6.  If I were piecing this the usual way, I would obviously sew those three together as a set and then add the whole thing to the bottom of the first set, done, easy.  But how is that done in paper piecing?  I could not figure it out.  Help.  I finally just did it the usual, non paper-piece-y way and threw up my hands in despair, but I still really want to know how.  If you know, please tell me?  There's a Lone Star quilt just waiting to be born, and I'd like to do it that way.  

Time for some egg nog.  See you later!  

Monday, November 19, 2018

Mending the shredded ones

These pants are a paradox:  normally, I am all about comfort and the fit on these jeans is pretty much the worst.  They're too baggy in the waist, there's not enough room in the seat, and the strings across the artful knee rips that were there when I got them kept leaving painful indentations in my kneecaps.  But they're the perfect wash and they don't have any spandex, and they always make me feel great, even though they very quickly became a mess.  Here's why:

These shredded up knee holes are fake.  What possible incident could have caused that asymmetrical fraying?  What kind of normal activity would wear in that pattern?  None, that's what.  I have so many opinions about this and most of them are not positive, but when these jeans were made, they were shredded up on purpose in what somebody thought were places where real wear would happen and then somebody, some aggravated parent of a sullen teenager, perhaps, who just wanted to get the hell out of the mall, bought them.  Not on the cheap, either; I've had teenagers, I know how much these cost.  And then somebody probably tried to sit down while wearing them, or dared to try to bend her legs, and then she swiftly sent them to the thrift store.  Along came me into the thrift store, and I tried them on.  Bam!  So much style!  So much Rock and Roll!  I preened, flexed my biceps, pouted into the mirror.  Bought them (on the cheap, because thrift store) came home and washed them, and then, wearing them, tried to sit down.  First of all, these shreds are not located on my knees.  I know I'm getting to be an old bag and a lot of things are further south than they used to be, but I'm pretty sure my knees haven't fallen that far.  Also, even if my old knees managed, through much adjusting, to land in the vicinity of the shreds, when I bent my leg, they carved into my flesh like a serrated knife through a soft tomato.  And then the strings gave up and broke, hanging down like dirty mop strings and it just made me feel like a slob.

But there they were in my closet, and even with the fake shredded up knee holes and saggy waist and unfortunate air-conditioning effect, I still really kind of liked them, and as soon as I saw this, I knew what to do.

With help and inspiration from this book, I decided to start small and tackled the intentionally shredded front pockets first, before moving on to the more onerous holes in the knees.  I cut patches from scrap denim and pinned them at the inside, then used a crewel needle and three strands of contrasting embroidery floss to make long [messy] stitches all around the hole.  Then I cut away the fraying fabric and stitched the edges down, giving about 65% of a hoot about tidiness.  I mean, I kind of wanted it to be mostly neat, but I didn't get out my ruler and draw stitching lines or anything.

It took most of the day, but it was very satisfying.  As you know, hand stitching is one of my most favorite things.

It's far from perfect, but it honestly looks great to me.  These pants were far from perfect even on the day they were brand-new, and I'd rather earn my ripped knees honestly, by wearing something well-fitting until it wears out, and then mending it again, but since I'm too impatient to wait for my pants to rip on their own, this sped-up version of the process makes me happy, and it saved these jeans from the dumpster.

Still Rock and Roll.  Also, I can bend my legs now.  Success!

Monday, November 5, 2018

Romney Rhaine Pullover, made by me

This project feels like a precious accomplishment.  This is my first garment knit from my own pattern, using my own yarn, made from the very first fleece I washed, carded, and spun myself.  The only thing more I could have done on to make this sweater my own is to have raised the sheep, and when I'm standing there in the festival barns looking at the little smiling lambs with their curly hair and their floppy tails, I am so sorely tempted.  Sheep are so cute.  They seem very amenable.  I start to thinking, heck, a lamb is really just a puppy, isn't it?  How different can it be, really?  I kid; I'm sure it couldn't be more different, and I don't know the first thing about raising sheep.  Also, as you may recall, Doc very expertly put the kibosh on my erstwhile shepherd dreams by suggesting that we simply go to the fiber festival each year and buy two fleeces.  Well, I mean, that's genius actually, because what I really want is one very good dog who likes to nap with me and also a whole lot of yarn.  Washing, carding, spinning and knitting up a fleece is a lengthy project, but my goodness, as I've discovered, the rewards are huge.

Here's the fleece, fresh from the bath.  It's a Romney/BFL cross, from an ewe named "Rhaine"--her name was on the tag, isn't that just so lovely?  Rhaine's fleece was curly and soft and I had heard such frankly discouraging things about Romney fleeces--that they are suitable for outerwear and carpets, that they are scratchy, that they are annoying to spin--but goodness, she was just beautiful.  Soft and fluffy and just about clean already.  She was loved, I could tell.  And her fleece was almost the same color and curly-ness as my own hair, so I felt we were two peas and meant to be together.

There were 4.5 lbs of Rhaine's fleece, unwashed.  I forgot to weigh it after washing, but honestly, it was a small fraction of that.  It seemed to weigh nothing at all.  I lightly sorted it according to color--what you see here is the lightest of three grays--and then carded it (very inexpertly) on my new drum carder, letting a lot of blobs go through and learning a lot as I went, and then I spun the carded batts woolen-style, because that's the kind of spinning I like to do and the kind of yarn I like to have.  The yarn still had a lot of blobs, but it also had a lot of character, and it was so, so soft.  

I searched for a pattern and tried a few, but another thing I've learned is that when I try to fit my handspun yarn, especially one that's fairly uneven and somewhat unconventional--into a pattern written for commercial yarn, it's an exercise in frustration and futility and that when I'm using handspun yarn, it's best to make one up.  So that's what I've done here.

I followed my usual formula of drawing my idea, measuring myself, making a swatch, and doing some elementary school level arithmetic, and then just knit the thing, mostly in the car on the way to and from Rhinebeck.  This one has (as usual) a raglan yoke and extra-long sleeves, very slight a-line shaping on the body, and a tremendous voluminous close-fitting turtleneck, because those are all the things I love best in a sweater.

I really don't think I could have made anything more perfectly suited to this fiber, this knitter, and this girl who wants a warm, comfortable sweater.  I am wearing it next to my skin, next to my neck, and it is infallibly soft.  It has shine, and halo.  It is beautiful.  It is warm and cozy and comforting and more than a little bit satisfying.  It took a long time to get here, and my beginner fleece-prep efforts are far from perfect, but of course there's no reason to expect perfection from handspun yarn.  Perfection can be bought; this is made by me.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

O Rhinebeck.  Another good one, in the bag.  Okay, I know there might be more than a few of you out there who just could not care less about hearing any more about Rhinebeck and I totally get it.  For years, I thought, big deal, there’s yarn for sale right in the store.  That’s true, there is.  And if you’re not a knitter or a crocheter, then I’m sure you wish we would all just shut up about it already.  I hear you, and I understand.  Also, not for nothing, there are a LOT of yarn and fiber festivals out there in this world and your own local fair is chock full of wooly goodness, too, and I hope to get to all of them someday.  And honestly, if Rhinebeck weren’t within an arm’s reach for me, I doubt I would brave the crowds and the weather, but it is, so I did.  And it was wondrous good.  Let me tell you about it.

In the event that I persuade you to make the trip next year, the first piece of advice I have about this festival—and I almost hesitate to spread this around—is this:  unless you love frustration and standing around in a solid mass of desperate and hungry humanity, don’t go on Saturday.  Don’t even.  Sit tight.  Sunday is better, and you can move around and see stuff and there is still plenty of yarn and fiber to go around.  Leave home Saturday morning, get to within an hour of the fairgrounds, tuck into your adorable Airbnb somewhere in the woodsy gorgeous Catskills and walk into town for a bowl of noodles.  Visit Jill Draper’s Open Studio and buy a whole huge bagful of goodies, oops.  Meet some knitterati, schmooze with your tribe.  Drink wine, talk wool.  Meander back into the woods over the dark windy roads, admiring the top-notch Halloween decorations along the way, and knit peacefully in your room until you get drowsy.  On Sunday morning, get up at a leisurely hour, wander next door for a coffee.  Savor your breakfast, then put on your Rhinebeck Sweater and drive to the fairgrounds, where the early morning stampede is already over and you can just calmly park and walk in.

The second piece of advice I have is this:  accept that the line for the apple cider donuts will be long.  Accept that you will have to stand there a long time.  It’s going to be a wait.  The people in the donut shack are not in any kind of hurry whatsoever, and frankly, waiting in the donut line is where you will meet people, talk about what you’re wearing, what you’re knitting, famous people that have been spotted (I’m still keeping my eyes peeled for Johnny Depp—one of these years, I know it...).  The camaraderie in the donut line is really the whole point of Rhinebeck.  You’ll be standing there with them for an hour; these are your new friends.  It’s worth it, too, the donuts are hot and coated with sugar and are meltingly good.

I saw some friends again this year (Hi Valerie!) and met some new friends (Hi Irene!  Hi Carol!) and saw some celebs.  I spotted Clara Parkes, but there were no paparazzi, so I doubted my own eyes.  I met Eric from Sticks + Twine, and finally met Ann Weaver, who I’ve admired for years and years.  Dianna Walla is wonderfully nice.  Kirsten Kapur is utterly lovely.  Jill Draper hugged me like an old friend.  In the distance, I saw Annie Lupton and Amanda Soule and Sonia Phillip and Lisa and Melissa from Espace Tricot.  The weather was cold, so there were a lot of really good hats and a lot of puffy parkas, but there was also a lot of yarn.  I may have bought some.  I’m sure you can see how different all these are:

Oops, wait, I missed one:

There.  That’s my haul.  A lot of sheep-colored, wooly-wool sweaters are coming up next, and it is taking all my nerve not to cast on five new things today.  Dark weather is coming, and when that happens, you’ll find me beside the fireplace, Catdog at my feet, hyggeing hard with all this gorgeous wool.  I can hardly wait.