Sunday, October 11, 2015

As We Go Along, feat. Jill Draper

" I can tell by your face that you're looking to find a place

to settle your mind and reveal who you are

and you shouldn't be shy, for I'm not gonna try

to hurt you, or heal you, or steal your star.

Open your eyes, get up off your chair

there's so much to do in the sunlight.

Give up your secrets, and let down your hair

and sit with me here by the firelight.

Why think about who's gonna win out?

We'll make up our story as we go along.

There's so little time for us to try and rhyme

and so many highways to travel upon."

Carole King wrote that for the Monkees, which they used in the soundtrack for their very weird 1968 movie "Head". I have thoughts about that movie--you might have to be a superfan like me to appreciate it in any way, what with its having been written in a weeklong marijuana haze by the Monkees and Jack Nicholson--but the soundtrack album is truly beautiful. In case you've heard two or three Monkees songs and you think you know what they're about, please go listen to "As We Go Along". I can't even read the words on the page without hearing the lovely music that goes with it, and Micky's beautiful singing; wait, you should hear it, too--I really love it, so much.

This is one of those things that just kind of means a lot to me, you know? That song, those lyrics, the Monkees, my knitting. You're not here to listen to my Monkees origin story, so I won't bore you, but let's just say I've loved them pretty much my whole entire life. Then there was this, which was honestly the most thrilling thing that has ever happened to anybody. The Monkees. Adore. Anyway. This project came to me by way of the jazzy and fantastic yarn artist Jill Draper, who when she saw me fondling her Each Stitch sweater (it was on a hanger, okay?) at the Finger Lakes Fiber Arts Festival last month, in a fevered glaze of inspiration, very kindly talked me through her process and invited me to have a stab at it myself. Jill's original project was made as part of an art installation, and I fell madly for it. To sum up, here's how I remember our conversation:

Me: (back to fondle the Each Stitch for the fourth time in an hour) Waaaah! This! Is! Fabulous!

Jill: Thanks very much. It was made as part of an installation for the O+ Festival in Kingston, NY [info here].

Me: Brilliant idea. Now you can get your flu shot!

Jill: Er, yes!

Me: I want to make one. Like, immediately. Please, please, tell me you have a pattern for sale...

Jill: Nope, I made it up.

Me: Waaaah! But I love it!

Jill: You can do it too, just get out your graph paper, tape and scissors, spend thirty-jillion hours making a chart until it looks right, then knit it into an EPS Sweater. That's it. Use high contrast yarns if you want people to be able to read it.

She definitely was more articulate than that, and very generously spent several minutes spelling it out and encouraging me. She's right about the contrast, but you can see I didn't totally take her advice about that--I wanted the song lyrics to blend a bit, to be sort of a little secret, something just for me. You can read them, but only if you're looking, which is perfect. The EPS Sweater, in case you're the last to know, is an Elizabeth Percentage System Sweater, devised by the great Elizabeth Zimmermann to allow you and me and everybody else to make up their own sweater using any dang yarn, stitch pattern and size/gauge/needles etc. they might want. If you are venturing nervously forth into the wilds of garment knitting, you would do very well to begin with her. EZ, I love you. Yarns used are Malabrigo single-spun worsted in sort of a denim-y color, recycled from an ill-advised long sweater coat I made a really long time ago--only Malabrigo is worth unraveling something that big and that fully-pilled with wear--Malabrigo single-spun worsted in Frost, also recycled, and Dream in Color Smooshy in Amber Glass. I'd estimate I used about 800 yards of the main color, and 250 each of the contrast colors.

She even spent a moment admiring my sweater, the Highland Heather coat. Jill, you're lovely.



Friday, October 2, 2015


A cold wind scrapes the branches against my windowpanes, which means there is much knitting happening right now. I am up to my ears in wool. I have to tear myself away from working on this pullover, inspired by my conversation at the Fiber Festival with the brilliant indie yarn dyer and knitwear artist Jill Draper, and her installation art piece, the Each Stitch sweater. I feel kind of hopped up on this project. I think about it all the time. Knitting as art. Oh, deep happy sigh. Here's the very messy working chart I made from Jill's instructions. Ten points and a gold star if you can tell where the words I chose are from:

The stripes-in-every-color pullover is flying off the needles, too, because it is plain stockinette and because the color changes keep me interested well past my bedtime. I'm knitting both sleeves at the same time so I don't have to keep track of where I may or may not have decreased, gah, I am no good at that. This might end up being one of those things I made for the sake of making it, or maybe it will go with every single thing in my closet and I'll wear it every day. Somehow, it doesn't even matter right now.

In natural dyeing, I had a little bit of fun with some black beans--you wouldn't believe the huge array of beautiful colors that can be achieved (probably temporarily, it turns out) with them: bright indigo, navy, red, green, lilac, pink, black--crazy. Have a quick search, you will be amazed. I soaked beans for 24 hours and then strained the dark and cloudy liquid into five big jars. The beans went into a soup pot for dinner, and mordanted yarn went into the dye--I left the sediment in because I was hoping for gray, and other grayed colors--somebody out there said they got a color they called "zombie" and I aimed for that, with success. I also got greenish yellow (far right) by adding washing soda to the dye, and pink (second from right) by adding vinegar. Sadly, it looks like color from black beans is probably fugitive, so I don't have my hopes up that these very pretty silvery gray/pink/yellow skeins won't fade, but right now they look like Miss Havisham's wedding dress, which is perfect. My results are very pale probably because of my lack of experience with pre-mordanting. There is so much to be learned. It was a fun science experiment, and the beans were delicious, too. It seems to be all about the process around here right now.

Thank you all for your lovely anniversary well-wishes and sweet comments. It's so good to be here with all of you. Doc wore his gorgeous kilt and kilt hose to the Fair and looked like the Prince of the Realm, drawing much admiration from the knitters. He carried the bags and waited patiently while I felt up every skein of yarn in the place, and bought me this amazingly beautiful hank of handspun shetland wool, absolutely the smooshiest piece of magically spun fiber I've ever felt, because he totally gets me. On the label is a picture of the sheep who grew it. Swoon! I think I will never knit this into anything, because I want it to be just like this, smooshy and perfect, for all time. That's just fine.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

On the needles, and the Big 2-5


This is on the needles--a stripes in every color pullover, inspired by Kate Davies' Milano, from the pattern and yarn by Carol Sunday. I am using mostly KnitPicks Palette, and all questionable color choices are my own. In fact, I have already ripped this out, back to the beginning, and started over, taking out anything that seems like a primary color and throwing it far away from me. It turns out I really hate the primaries and can't abide them, even when they belong there. It's better this way--I think--maybe best not to look at it too much. I don't know if I can envision wearing it, but it really is so awfully much fun to work on. And so it goes, in plain stockinette, with a semi-interesting striping pattern, which is kind of perfect for knitting without looking while binge-watching Gilmore Girls and/or reading Mutiny on the Bounty--the only book in the library with a broken-enough spine that it would stay open on the table without my having to hold it.


Also, there's this [see the accidentally matching coffee mug?] an I-don't-know-what-to-call-it-yet pullover, inspired by the kindly and amazing yarn artist Jill Draper, who I met at the Finger Lakes Fiber Fair last weekend and who made my brain start whirling with colorful ideas. More on this later. And more, too, on the yarn I scored, mercy me. Superlatives fail. I'll say this--handspun Shetland. Okay, now you can enjoy the delicious anticipation.

We had a Big Event here at chez CozyThings--the doc and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary, and among other things had an eye-opening time looking back at the old photos. Just when you think you haven't changed that much...



Of course, I think he looks handsomer than ever, and he's wise and patient and good and kind and funny and unfailingly cheerful. He's sarcastic, a softie for a 25-cent lemonade stand, an excellent teammate and my constant companion. I am, without a doubt, a complete handful, and honestly, a lesser man would have fled. Lucky, lucky, lucky.

I really love that guy.


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Improv: a cardigan DIY



All it takes is for me to feel chilly for one second, or for a cloud to appear in the sky, or for me to be reminded again about walking in leaves or in one of those early, decorative snowfalls where there's no wind and the flakes are sparse and friendly, and your cheeks get a little rosy, you know what I mean, and bam, a cardigan goes on the needles. Usually gray.

It's not like I don't have a bunch of gray cardigans already. But this is what we do, isn't it?

There's no pattern for this cardigan, and I didn't even write down what I did, but I made it my new favorite way, which is to just cast on some stitches at the neck, increase for awhile at the raglan seams, then knit the body until I'm happy with how long/big it is. Sleeves follow in much the same way, where I just decrease occasionally until they are the right length. Button bands are added last, and I don't even want to worry about button holes, so I just crochet a couple loops on at the very end and then scrounge up some buttons from the stash. Honestly, this is such a great way to do things. Try it, really. Working improvisationally, whatever your chosen medium, is the best way I know to grow creatively, or as an artist, and also, it is really unbeatable for getting what you want out of your efforts. I wanted this cardigan, and nobody had designed it yet--always there is a shawl collar or a hood, or the cables are honking, or it hugs the derriere a little more than I can handle, and yes, you can always modify these designs, but then I wonder, why don't I just dispense with the modifying altogether and do what I want?

For years and years, I cut my own hair (I know, my hair is all over the place. Don't hold it against Morgan, who does her best now, but she has her work cut out for her) because otherwise there was all kinds of explaining what I wanted and trying to find somebody who understood me and who I was/wanted to be, and then they would give me a haircut and it would be kind of too good, if you know what I mean. Too neat, and I am not neat, and I didn't feel like myself, so I always hacked at it a little with the nail scissors after I got home, and then I thought, why the heck am I paying for this at all? I already know what I want and I'll just do it myself. So I did, and it was just fine. Actually, I'd still be doing that now if I didn't hate cleaning up the bathroom afterwards, and besides, I love having somebody else wash my hair. It's worth it just for that. Anyway, the Fall 2015 Cardigan is done, worked in Paton's Classic (probably close to 1800 yards) Grey Mix on US 6 needles. It--of course--fits me perfectly, and is just exactly what I imagined when I drew this:


The cardigan is done, but the hair is a work in progress. I feel armed against the cold now, in a way I somehow didn't before. Ridiculous, but there you have it.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Socks in palette

The socks I just finished somehow match the porch rug, which I didn't notice until I went out there and stood on it while wearing them. Is this something that happens to you all, too? This happens to me all the time, that whatever I'm working on completely matches everything around me. I look down at the crochet in my lap and it looks exactly like the dress I'm wearing.


The blanket that looked like the zinnias on the table. The granny squares that look like the curtain and also my coffee mug. I have a palette. I am predictable.


There it is again. It's completely unintentional, I swear.


I've been knitting socks a lot lately, trying to replace a lot of pairs that finally gave up the ghost and had to be thrown out. (I have a rule: I will only darn a sock twice. After that, out it goes.) I had a sock mojo phase a few years ago and cranked them out at a rate that now seems ridiculous--about one pair a week, yikes!--and since I made them all at about the same time, they are all wearing out at the same time, too. So it's socks around here. These are in some kind of mutating vareigated handpaint, and of course I forget by whom. The colorway is "Netherfield" which naturally I remember, because it's totally the reason I bought it. And of course, more socks means more sock yarn leftovers, so...

I'm determined. This blanket is happening.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Lazy, with buttons

It was a holiday, and we went to the beach. I accomplished nothing. Holding up a magazine seemed like a big imposition on my laziness. I was horizontal, with the long straw of a venti iced Americano dangling from the corner of my lip and one eye cocked for the seagulls overhead. I have learned the hard way to put one hand over a drink when seagulls fly over, because they are gunning for you, make no mistake. I love their calls, though. Close your eyes and you are in Mallorca or Nantucket or Fiji. Our local beach (how lucky am I? We have a local beach!) was crammed with other like-minded lazy people who were all heroicially flipping over to pinken the other side of their hides, and music was playing and Kan-Jam was happening (right behind our heads) amongst the under-twenties, who still had some energy and have yet to resort to the kind of determined super-relaxation I specialize in when the sun shines and it is 90 degrees F. I don't get bored. There is so much tattoo-watching to do, and always a dog chasing a frisbee, and a little girl in a sun bonnet digging a tiny hole in the sand with a plastic shovel, and there's whooping in the water, followed by a lot of sleeping. Hours pass, and I always have no idea where the time went. Suddenly it is four o'clock and we're whipped and sunburned and exhausted from all the lounging around. Time to go home and rinse off the seaweed. Summer. I love you so much. Please come back.

I did manage to squeeze in fifteen minutes of crafting this weekend and made these shell button pendants, using 18 gauge dead-soft silver wire and a big handful of vintage shell buttons from my stash. Ethel brought me that big white one from somewhere in her travels, and I was so happy to find a lovely, perfect way to use it. This took hardly a minute--check out this tutorial if you want to make one--and good luck making just one; you'll be looking at all your buttons in a whole new way.


Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Boreal, a success


Boreal! You evocative, lovely thing. This pattern is so gorgeous. I have visions of snow-covered pine boughs, something out of Narnia. I can't believe it worked, and right out of the gate, too, with no do-overs or unraveling required. I never should have doubted. As you know, I really didn't know how this would go, and that's because the pattern calls for aran weight yarn, at a gauge of either 4 stitches/inch or 4.5 stitches/inch, and I wanted to use worsted weight yarn, at a gauge of 5 stitches/inch, and there really wasn't a size option to accommodate that. So there's math to be done right there, and it was all further complicated by the fact that every time I measured my progress, I was getting anywhere from 4.5 to 5.5 stitches/inch. Also, other knitters have reported that their sleeves were too narrow, and my sleeves were just right, so did that mean my yoke was going to be gigantic? I wasn't even close on row gauge, and I knew it. Then there's the fact that prior to blocking, stranded colorwork always looks like a crumpled-up newspaper left out in the rain and then stepped on. You just have to cross your fingers and keep going. So I did.


It is really just about exactly perfect. Well, gauge. Here's the thing--as with my last Kate sweater, I went in knowing I was not getting anything near the recommended gauge, but I could still use the gauge information given to get a good-fitting garment. I knew the distance around myself, I knew how many stitches I was getting per inch (well, I almost knew that--it kept drifting around, as I said) and doing a little math told me I should make the largest size. Even that, though, was going to potentially be a little too small for me, and there wasn't any wiggle room, because the large motifs in the colorwork design meant I couldn't just add or subtract a few stitches here and there to make any size adjustments. I thought it might maybe work, but really, I didn't know, and I just had to dive in and trust.

I dove. I wrung my hands. I knit like the wind, trying to outrun any misgivings. I measured a lot, and was both reassured and convinced of imminent disaster.

Despite all my whining and worrying, I have to admit that I have learned a few things about knitting over the years, which has led me through this gauge-related minefield, and which helped me get a great outcome. This sweater fits me because I measured, measured, and measured again, and used the data to tell me how to proceed. I'm still learning to trust what I know, but people? This is how to get stuff to fit you. Swatch, measure honestly, and do the simple multiplication.


The long floats at the back are a mess. I don't even want to show you. I'm not showing you. Just imagine a twisted nest of yarn that looks like your hair looks after you ride around in a convertible for awhile. Having to tack down the strand not in use across the large areas of color every six/seven/eight stitches across the back made me run the risk that the contrast color will peek through, especially where there is negative ease (i.e. the sleeves), and it does peek through a little. I have decided not to let it bug me.


Success! This feels like money in the bank. There's no way to wear this double-thick, snuggly pullover and not be cozy, cozy, cozy. And now, it is going to be 85 degrees for the next week. Of course. In two months, Boreal will be in heavy wardrobe rotation as winter begins to bear down on us, but at this moment, it is hot. You can probably hear me sweating. I'm taking it off now, and going to the beach.