Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Blustery

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It seems like this cold spring is the story everywhere.  I try to find the beauty in it, and I do love the sodden, gloomy skies and the way pink blossoms look against the storm clouds.  So muted, this year, is everything.  So grayed out.  And then will be one gorgeous blue afternoon—yesterday—of basking in sunshine, lounged lazily on a chair watching birds squabble in the branches above me, Dean spotting a woodpecker camouflaged against a tree and coming to get me, to show me [as I was typing that, just now, just this minute, the woodpecker came again to the fence post outside the window, flicking his bright red cap and his quite dangerous-looking beak—he’s kind of an exotic character here in my neighborhood] and I remember how much I love summer, and the next day, cold and rainy again, can be hard to swallow.  I really want to enjoy these days, though, so for now I’m leaving the tags on my new bikini and bundling up, and there’s lots of knitting.  I always knit year-round (as if there would be any stopping me—I am a vaguely anxious, okay, cantankerous harridan, if you take away my knitting) but in this long, blustery cold season, I’ve been knitting scarves.  Serious woolies.  One way or another, I will be warm.

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This pattern is always so rewarding.  When in doubt, when I can’t find anything else fun to make, and when there isn’t a blanket anywhere on the project horizon, I turn to it.  This one is my third in this pattern, and this time I used Noro Silk Garden, scored in the Great 70% Off Sale of 2012.  Of course, I lost the ball bands—there are two skeins each of two different colorways here, alternating against each other in an endlessly interesting striping pattern.  I can hardly knit this scarf fast enough.  I want to see What.  Happens. Next!  

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Swoon!  Infallible, this pattern.  It’s a winner, every time. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Spring Day

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This rose grows beside the back door, in an unruly and leggy shrub that threatens to swallow the sidewalk.  It is copious with thorns like needles.  You need a suit of armor to prune it, but I pruned it, hard, and it came back the next year meaner than ever, taller and leggier than before.  I’m a little afraid of it.  But oh my, those blooms smell divine.  They have the scent that other flowers wish they had.  This thing never lets me forget that it is a rose.  In two weeks, these blooms will be full of amorous and starving Japanese beetles and by then my attention will be on the peonies anyway, but right now, today, I can’t walk past this deadly thing, in spite of its clawing branches, without giving it a good hearty sniff. 

I’ve got a new quilt in the works now, too.  These brisk spring sunshine-y days are perfect for quilts.  A quilt is kind of a warm weather thing to me, I don’t know, I just want to spread one on the grass underneath the fireworks. 

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Twelve Block Granny Square Blanket

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This one was so easy, then it was so hard.  I made twelve twenty-round granny squares, using odds and ends from my scraps basket, and it was a breeze, I tell you.  It felt like I could’ve done that part of it all at once.  Which of course isn’t the point, and why be in a rush, but the grannies call to us, don’t they? 

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So satisfying, that part.  The grannies.  How beautifully, perfectly simple is the humble granny square.  How I love to fill a basket with three dozen different leftovers, and turn them into granny squares, and I love how they are all the same, and yet no two are alike.  But of course you understand perfectly.

I had twelve squares, and they were great, cheerful and thrifty. 

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I also had about six big skeins of navy blue yarn, and so I thought about it carefully for about a quarter of a second, and using the join-as-you-go method, added one round to each square and worked them together in navy. 

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Okay.  All right.  Not awful.

And it was a blanket, and it was large, and with all the squares joined together, it was almost finished, which is the most tremendous motivation I know for getting a thing all the way done. 

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It needed a border, so I delved back into the basket (which, as you can see there, is finally emptying out) and there was just nothing left.  But I am undeterred by such things!  No yarn left?  That can’t be true, not around here!  Not on my watch!  I’ll find some yarn in here, yes I will.  I dug around and found a whole bunch of uninspired colors that looked terrible together and proceeded.  I started working a border involving granny clusters, rounds of single crochet, some rounds of dc, ch1, sk ch1 sp, blah blah…it got elaborate, and it was taking a thousand years because every ten stitches, I’d pull back a little, and look at it.  Study it.  Stand up and look at it from a distance.  And it became clear. 

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I did not like it.  The navy yarn was sucking all the life out of it.  Still—and this is how lazy I am—I kept going.  That sounds like a contradiction, to keep crocheting because I’m lazy, but this was already a blanket, and it was on the fourth side of the last round, a last round of navy yarn done in an improvised and half-baked shell pattern that had four dcs in it, which even as a side issue was bugging me--why four?  There’s a topic for another day, the number four.  Anyway, it was 99.998% done, and I frankly could have just cut the yarn and woven in the end right where it sat and nobody could have denied it was a blanket, and I did not like it, but the thought of ripping it all out, all the way back to a pile of twelve squares, and then going back and figuring out what to do when I had already visited that problem and failed, just seemed like a hassle.  So it sat there for days, and I didn’t want to work on it.  I didn’t want to finish it, even though it was, literally, minutes from the finish line.

I was gathering my strength, I suppose, because eventually, I knew it had to come apart, and then it did.  It took hours.  I unraveled ten rounds of border, and then picked out all the ends and unraveled the last round of each square, the ones that had joined them together. 

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It always seems like it’s going to feel awful doing that, pulling something apart that didn’t work and trying again, but it never does.  It feels great.  It feels right.  Why toil for weeks just to end up with something that bugs you?  Anyway, I sewed the squares together and added a two round border, one in granny clusters, and one in single crochet.  That’s it. 

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So much better.  I don’t know why these things always have to be so epic.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Graduate

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On Saturday, my beautiful daughter, my pride and joy, became a college graduate.  It looks like I have successfully managed to lure her back home with promises of matching aprons and convivial days spent weeding the vegetable garden together and canning tomatoes, just the two of us.  I’m sure I’m looking forward to all that more than she is, but she’s totally game and pretends it sounds awesome. 

When she left home four years ago, I went unexpectedly a little dark, and I felt the lack of her happy presence so acutely, every day.  I cried a lot.  It ached.  This, I know, is what mothers do, and there is nothing for it but to cry.  I wore a pendant of hers, left behind, because that way it lay near my heart. 

Now she’s home again, with eight lawn and leaf bags of laundry and mountains of books, and a wealth of experience and new wisdom.  She’s home.  She has eight different kinds of shampoo.  I’m so glad, so so glad. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Anticipation

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Jenny Lind bed, painted Tomato Red.  That’s the actual paint company color name, great job, Benjamin Moore!  It is the color of tomatoes, exactly.  This room has been all spruced up in anticipation of this weekend, when my beautiful girl comes home.  My heart is bursting. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Weather Report—still cold.

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Don’t be fooled by the green grass and leafy tree in this photo.  It is cold here, mercilessly.  It is taking the stuffing out of me, I’ll tell you.  I may have seen a few snowflakes today, for real.  I won’t be putting the woolens away just yet.  Ugh, enough about the weather. 

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I made these arm warmers because I’m cold, and also because I love love loved the yarn.  It is Knitcol trends, in the very poetically named color 047.  Really, I think it is the name of the yarn that tempted me this time.  047.  Sigh!  Swoon!  It sounds like a song, doesn’t it? 

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I tried without success to make a hat with it, noticing eventually that the stitch count has to be just so or the self-striping doesn’t work.  So that left me with the option of socks, a scarf, or arm warmers.  I guess my arms were cold.  Plus, I just wanted to see this yarn in action.

I made up the pattern, so if your arms are cold and you’re sick of winter and it snowed where you are this morning and you just can’t take it anymore and you happen to have about 250 meters of a DK weight self-striping yarn lying around and you feel like making a pair of these today, here’s what I did: 

Using US 4 double pointed needles, I cast on 60 and worked about three rounds in stockinette stitch, then decreased six stitches evenly spaced in the next round—54 stitches.  Then I knit around and around for awhile and watched TV until it seemed like it was time for another decrease, about six inches later.  I decreased another six stitches evenly spaced in the next round—48 stitches.  Then I watched some more TV and knit around and around without paying attention until it was time to make a hole for my thumb, which I made by binding off 10 stitches, then knitting around again, and when I came to the bound off stitches, I cast on ten.  Then I kept knitting around and around until the first ball of yarn was almost gone, saving just enough to single crochet around both edges and the thumbhole.  Make another one with the second ball of yarn. 

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Getting proactive around here.  No griping about the sleet!  No moping!  No lamenting the potential loss of another season of peaches.  (I might lament that a little bit, you can understand, I’m sure.)  Just knitting.  Knit.  Knit.  Knit. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Miss Babcock’s Mystery Pattern, a failure

 

Remember this?  This pattern is from something called Pattern Department.  I know, right?  I mean, isn’t that just so evocative?  It is style 4652.  It was mail ordered at some point in the past—there is no date on the postmark—by a Miss Babcock from Wellsville.  She sent away for it through an ad in the newspaper, and then never made the dress.  I found it in the thrift store for 95 cents. 

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Isn’t it cute?  Oh, I was hopeful.  I had in mind a lovely little thing, fitted in the bodice with well-placed darts and a full-ish skirt, and I would trim it with vintage buttons, maybe some lace at the armholes.  Imagine white gloves, a pillbox hat.  Wicker purse.  American Church Picnic, c.1958.  What happened instead is that I spent the whole day on it, something like seven hours, and the house got completely trashed, you know, as it does when one sews, when little bits of thread and pieces of ravelly fabric get cut loose from their moorings and then cling to your socks and sweater, and pins are on the floor, and I hunched feverishly over the machine--my beloved Miss Kastner, who has never led me astray—and we toiled over this thing, sussing out the bizarre vintage instructions and making our own bias facing with no help at all, just the words, “make a bias facing.”  I even installed a zipper, for crying out loud.  And then, it was just a shapeless sack.   It was so awful, every part of it was ugly.  I couldn’t even laugh.  Wearing it, I looked like a bunch of raccoons trapped in a sleeping bag.  Not one dart was in the right place.  It hung listlessly.  It looked like it was wet.  The fabric was thrifted too, probably some kind of rayon, so who cares about that, but a whole day, gone.  I peeled off the horrible dress and flung it away, cursed the wasted precious hours, and mopped the kitchen floor, sweating and furious.  That always makes me feel better, and now I do feel better. 

There will be a finished blanket, soon.  Those don’t have to fit a person.  You know?  Moving on.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Man’s Quilt

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I’m not really one for making things for other people.  On one hand, I want to cover all the people I love in beautiful, cozy, handmade things, as if my handwork will be a talisman against not just cold weather but maybe even whatever sadness life may have in store.  On the other hand, I am rather aware that not everybody in my life has the same huge need for knitted, quilted, or otherwise stitched things as I have, and I am okay with that.  But, I feel deeply that a warm, soft quilt, made by your mama, can be a hug in a lonely place.  Even if you are a totally cool guy who isn’t even lonely, what are you kidding?  Lonely?  For his mom?  Please! 

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My son grew up.  It seems like it happened this morning. 

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In just a few weeks, he will graduate from high school, and then he will go away to become an Architect.  My boy is a man now.  I am so proud of him.  He asked me to make him a quilt.  Does it get any better than that?

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I chose a mix cool grays, warm browns, and ochre yellows.  I strictly avoided florals (we have agreed those are branches, right?  Branches?) and big patterns.  There is an obsequious fly-fishing print thrown in because it was brown.  And manly.  I did not ask for his input as I put the quilt together, because he would have said something like, “What?  I don’t know.  Whatever.  Just not flowery.” 

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I made 30 nine patch blocks, and arranged them in six columns by five rows, separated by solid gray sashing with smaller, light gray squares at the intersections.  I threw in one red square.  I could not help myself.  Some American quilt traditions hold that the red center of a quilt square represents the safety and warmth of the hearth at home.   I feel like I have poured my heart into that little red square.   You do what you can. 

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It is imperfectly hand-quilted, with great big stitches in #5 perle cotton, in a warm light gray.  It took a few days.  The quilting gave the solid back a nifty graphic effect, kind of minimalist and modern.

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It’s as infused with love and comfort as I can make it.  I hope he ruins it totally while he’s away.  I hope he wears it right out, right to shreds.  That would make me so happy. 

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Sunday, May 5, 2013

The living is easy

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Suddenly, it is summer.  It seems to happen that way here.  We have unsettlingly late blasts of unrelenting cold, the occasional mid-April snowstorm, baseball games called due to sleet, and then before you can turn around, maybe later in the same week, it is 85 F and beautiful.  When that happens, I can’t bring myself to sit indoors.  I wash the quilts and hang them out on the clothesline, and then I find all kinds of reasons to sit on the patio and be lazy.  This granny square project has been a perfect companion to summer living, and I’ve spent the last several days with my basket beside my chair, hooking away happily in the sunshine.  One more square to go and it’ll be big enough for a blanket.  That’s exactly how much sitting around I’ve been doing.   There’s a quilt almost finished, but I just can’t be in the house. 

I tore myself away from all this decadence on Friday and went back to Buffalo, City of Dreams, where I managed to meet Peter Tork of the Monkees.  The lone picture of the great moment is trapped in my phone, and a good thing too, because I look a total lunatic.  Well, he’s lovely.  That is all.  The sun is shining, people!  I gotta get outdoors.  If it rains, there might be a quilt soon.  If it doesn’t, I’ll be as brown as a boot and there will be granny squares coming out my ears. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Happy Knitting

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This isn’t much of anything, just a dishcloth or whatever, but wow, it feels nice.  The yarn is Debbie Bliss Cotton Angora in the most perfect grayish-pale blue, and is soft enough for a baby’s pajamas.  When I pick up this little project, I can feel my breathing slow down.  There’s no real pattern here; it’s just a square done in two-row seed stitch with garter stitch edges.  Just as plain as vanilla, but it makes me feel good.  You know?  I’m not sure what will happen to the angora when I wash this in hot water, which it will need after I use it to scrub scrambled eggs off a frying pan, but I have to say I’m not really worried about it.