Friday, February 28, 2014

By Hand

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I’ve always wanted to do this, to make a quilt the way my old great-great granny in her chair at the hearth made them; by hand, piece by piece, using the scraps from her other projects.  Those are the quilts I really love best anyway, the scrappy, jumbly ones that grew out of necessity and economy.  The less it all matches, the better.  A couple things originating in my basic lazy nature have until now stopped me:  won’t it take forEVer?  [It might.  What’s wrong with that?  I have come to love the idea of a Big Project.] I don’t want to iron all those little pieces before I can cut them out, ugh! [Then don’t.  It’s my quilt, and I can do whatever I want.]  I took charge last week and went shoulder-deep in the scraps bin, which was packed so full that with the first thing I pulled out, it all kind of sprang out onto the floor.  I stuck my arm in there, grabbed out a handful of scraps, and put them in a basket, and decided to make as many two-color nine patch blocks as I felt like making.  I made a 2” square template out of a piece of cardboard, picked up my shears, and started cutting.  There’s no angst in this--I pick out two fabrics that look reasonable together—or not, who cares?—and just cut out the squares, four of one, five of the other, holding the template against the fabric and cutting around it.  No tracing.  No ironing.  Quick and dirty.  Done.  (Of course, I doubt this would work with a bigger template, but 2” is small enough to manage, which is why I’m making 2” squares.)  I sew the pieces together, three strips of three squares, then sew the strips together, pinning at the two seams.  Snip.  Done.  Again.  When there’s a decent pile and I’m done for the day, I iron them, and they are square and true, and my lap is completely coated in little threads.  I’ve made sixty squares like that so far, and it is not taking forever at all, and it is a surprisingly wonderful process.  Cut, stitch, snip, repeat.  There is a lulling beauty in the rhythm of it, and in the cotton, and in the use of two pins only, and in my beat-up, winter-worn hands at work. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Adventures with turmeric

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How’s that for a mood-booster? 

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That’s the most gorgeous, vivid, spicy yellow; the yellow of summer.  Sunflowers.  The bright golden haze on the meadow.  Inspiration from the fantastic Rebekka Seale led me back to my dyepot the other night, in between episodes of Pawn Stars.  Those skeins are stash leftovers in cream-colored wool (I think the darker one might be Araucania?  I don’t even know) that I dyed on the stove using turmeric.  No chemicals are used, not even vinegar or salt, just turmeric and water and a little gentle heat, and wow!  I am so thrilled.  It was the easiest thing in the world:  Soak yarn in water.  Mix 1/4 c ground turmeric and 2 c. water.  Dunk yarn in dye.  Squeeze.  Wrap in cellophane.  Steam in colander over boiling water 30 mins.  Cool.  Rinse. Dry.  Knit.   As the skeins steamed, the house smelled like curry, which is also a plus.  Dean played the ukulele while we waited.  Very festive.  After they cooled, I rinsed them well in the sink, then unfurled them and hung them outside, where they whipped on the clothesline like prayer flags at base camp on Everest. 

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Both skeins were done in the same dyebath, so you can see how the order matters.  The dye gets more and more exhausted as you use it up, and the results get paler.  I think I like the light one even more—it’s the color of fresh corn on the cob.  Summer again.

This project took less than an hour, and the results are so wonderful, I feel kind of invincible now!   Onion peels, red cabbage, avocado pits!  Avocado pits are supposed to give a brownish-pink, like the underside of a mushroom, which is the color I spend my whole life searching for.  Oh my goodness, I want to try it all.  I’m going to the store now to get a whole bag of avocadoes, and for once, the guacamole will be just a side-benefit. 

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Cardigan for the return of the polar vortex

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The Rocky Road sweater is done already.  You can use this fact as data in assessing how much TV I watch during the Olympics—hint:  it’s a LOT.  Maybe the faster they ski, the faster I knit?  I don’t know.  [Cross-country skiing looks like so much work, doesn’t it?  Jeesh, I can’t imagine doing that for even two minutes.  Those guys are animals.]  Anyway.

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Blocking made those changing stitch patterns look so great, so neat and orderly.  I gave the whole thing a soak in the sink, then rolled it in a towel and smoothed it out flat on the rug—no pins necessary.   It dried in half a day because [resolves not to talk about the weather] um, it’s very dry right now, and also tres cozy on the rug in front of the fire.  I really do wonder why anybody would skip blocking.  It makes such a tremendous difference.  I sewed in the ends last night during Jimmy Fallon, then crawled up to bed, where I slept the sleep of the just in the tropical oasis that is now my bedroom.  My goodness, I love my new stove so much. 

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You know Yogi Berra?  Yogi Berra is my favorite source of sage advice.  That guy was honestly overflowing with wisdom.  One of his best is this: “You got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”  People often mistake Yogi-isms as goofy malaprops, but they’re not, they’re chock-full of good sense when you think about it.  See, with this one, what he really meant was this:  “Kristen, I know you think you don’t have to do a gauge swatch, but if you don’t, you’ll probably be sorry.”  Cue ominous music:

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Oh Yogi.  As ever, you were right.  I chose the wrong size, and I did not check my gauge.  I did not know where I was going.  Dang, when I think of what this sweater could’ve been.  I hope I don’t feel too compelled to unravel it and start again in a size (or two!) smaller.  (Nice to know I’m not as big as I think I am, anyway.  That’s something.)

Me, casting on, and feeling smugHeidi Kirrmaier totally has me in her back pocket.  I feel we are like this, Heidi and me.  We understand each other.  If she says use an 8, I’m using an 8.  Even though I am substituting a different yarn [Plymouth Galway, color 171—dove gray], I will not question.  Row gauge?  Who cares about row gauge?  I got this.  Gauge.  [shakes head, laughing]. 

Sweater, with evil smirk:  Foolish girl. 

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Note to self, because everyone else already knows this by now:  youse got to swatch, and then youse got to block your swatch.  How else are you gonna know how big it will get?  Duh.  It’s a foot longer than I thought it would be!  And with a sweater like this, who needs mittens?  Jeepers. 

Dean said, “You could wear it backwards, like a Snuggie.”  Yargh.  I guess I could do that.  Probably it will become one of those big ol’ sweaters I wear like a bathrobe, pretty much every day, with pajamas or yoga pants or whatever else I have on.  I’ll wear it when it’s damp outside and I’m chilled through, or when I don’t want the UPS man to know I haven’t gotten dressed yet, or when I want to wear a blanket with sleeves.  This will probably get more use than anything else I’ve ever made.  I’ll get my revenge on it by loving it more than anything.  Ha!  Take that. 

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There’s no denying it—this sweater is extremely comfy, and while way too big, huge, even, it is cozy.  Yep, that’s a win.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Cotton wash mitts, and warmth

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Mine is an old house, and despite the best efforts of central heating, it gets cold at night upstairs, as in I have a hard time believing there’s actually heat coming out the register at all.  Once the door is shut, the room turns into a refrigerator.  The old dog won’t even sleep in there anymore.  I have finally had it with huddling under a hundred pounds of blankets, trying to keep all the bare parts of me from peeking outside the covers.  I’ve been known to wear a wool hat and arm warmers to bed.  That’s not okay with me, y’all.  These are not pioneer times.  Heck, in pioneer times, they slept next to the stove, didn’t they?  They knew what they were doing.  I know I’m the only one; I know almost everybody loves to sleep in a cold room, and I know this because no matter who I’m talking to, that’s what they tell me, and I just don’t get it at all.  I don’t want to burrow under a heavy heap of blankets and wear wool socks and deal with a hot water bottle (those eventually get cold, you know), I want, you know, a reasonable amount of ambient warmth.  Now.  You can see I’m still obsessing about the temperature.  So we bought this little fake stove.  Dang, it’s so perfect and adorable!   I cranked it up to about nine and went to bed, and hoo!  Warm.  Me:  “Ahhh!  It’s so nice in here!  [waves bare leg around to demonstrate] Don’t you think it’s nice in here?” Him, stripping to his skivvies:  “We’ll see…”  He slept flat on his back with no blankets at all, so maybe we could dial it back to eight.  Anyway, finding a spot for the stove in the bedroom meant rearranging some furniture, which led to a whole bunch of puttering, with me mopping floors and moving shelves and then curating little vignettes on them with what we already had around here, and the puttering spilled over into the hallway, and then into the bathroom, because when you tidy one room, suddenly the room next to it looks like a yard sale, all of which finally led to me crocheting these cotton wash mitts.  The bathroom needed some stripes, and I needed to sit down and take a break.  I know you know how it is.

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I love how that faucet is so shiny you can see me in it.  Yes!  Clean.  I started with this pattern, and then sort of adjusted to suit my yarn amounts and whims.  The yarns are all aran or worsted weight cottons, scraps from the stash, and I used a 4.0mm hook.  They look so nice and stripe-y, and they’re useful, too.  Utility crafts.  Now it’s a warm bubble bath, a cozy flannel nightie, then straight to bed by the flickering (fake) firelight.  It’s like a dream come true.  Take that, winter. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Rocky Road, coming along

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In progress is Rocky Road by Heidi Kirrmaier, who is so, so good.  She just understands how a sweater should be shaped, how a pattern should be written.  Heidi gets me.  How did she know I only have sixteen rows’ worth of patience at a time for moss stitch?  I went on the hunt for a cardigan pattern because—what else?—I was sitting here feeling chilly, and it has absorbed me completely, so now I haven’t got anything to show for the last few days but this big pile of knitting, and that is okay with me.  I think it is going to be a blanket with sleeves.  I can’t believe how many times I’ve gotten distracted by snowboarding on television and had to rip back, but luckily, as my husband correctly points out, knitting is fun, right? 

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This winter has been just relentless, for everyone, everywhere.  I am getting stir-crazy, so we went to the movies yesterday, to see The Monuments Men.  Nobody in the theater was under forty, all of us taking a brief respite from doing our crossword puzzles and listening to NPR and watching Downton Abbey.  Our movie theater has been transformed into an enormous den full of lounge chairs, which makes any movie seem worthwhile, even though it is now also making people bring stadium blankets and take off their shoes.  First the fedora goes out of fashion, and now this.  Civility is out the window.  Thoughts:  Jean Dujardin, not just a pretty face.  Is he wonderful, or what?   Also, I am so ready to see some real art, in person.  I suddenly realize how provincial my little life is, and how many beautiful things are out there in this wide world, and how much I don’t want to miss.  I want to see Cezanne’s brush strokes.  This castle.  Must get out more. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Interlude, with crochet-edged pillow

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Shaun White, you magnificent thing.  I love you, no matter what.  I’ve got to get my hands on one of those patchworky Team USA snowboard coats.  Want, want, want.   Hey, people, how’s it going?  I have been knitting so much my knuckles are totally killing me, and all of it--all of it--is gray, which is getting tedious as far as telling you about it goes.  I feel like you must be sick of my gray phase; it isn’t much to look at, and there’s not much to report, either.  It’s plain, it’s gray.  Yup.  The high levels of grayness do add to my potential for success, though, because I am pretty likely to wear it all when it’s done.   Although, have you seen Lucy’s poncho?  Dang.  That is making me nuts, I love it so much. 

I managed to sew something.

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Sewing doesn’t happen much for me in the winter.  I am kind of a hedonist, and it is just so warm and nice in the other room, beside the fire.  If I close the doorway curtain, it gets so tropical and sultry, I can hardly pry myself out of there.  I did make this pillow cover—ten minutes of measuring, cutting, and sewing, and then two comfy hours of crocheting the edging, guess where?  That’s right.  I’m afraid I have worn a me-shaped groove in one end of the couch.  Well, unless you’re into snowmobiling, that’s how we do winter in my neighborhood.  I make no excuses.  I don’t like to be cold. 

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That’s a (thrifted!) piece of plaid flannel with a crocheted cotton edging.  I sewed the pillow cover first, then blanket-stitched around it, followed by a round of sc, and then a round of simple shells.  What is it about pillows, anyway?  I feel like a new pillow changes everything.  Throw one on a chair and I love the whole room all over again.

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Gah, it’s so cold.  Is the sun shining where you are?  Tell me all about it!  Really, I want to hear.  Tell me about your flowering trees, and crocuses, and short sleeves.  I’ll live vicariously through you. 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Nordic Shawl

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The dressmaker’s dummy always wears these triangular wrap things with such aplomb.  I myself am never quite sure what to do with the long ends.  Tying at the front makes me feel matronly, and wearing like a poncho makes me feel short.  It’s too big to be a scarf.  There’s this, where you just tie the ends at the back and get on with your day, but that always leaves most of the front of me uwrapped, and then my bellybutton gets cold.  I think the real secret to my pulling off something like this is to wear it like the French, to just fling it around my neck, like I don’t even care, letting the ends go where they will.  Insouciance. Everything about me is fabulous. I know I look good, I don’t have to keep fussing about it.  That’s the trick. 

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This is the beautiful Nordic Shawl.  I used fingering weight yarns because that’s what I had in the cupboard, and I wish I’d gone down a hook size or two, because the drapeyness level is a little high.  The scritchy Araucania Ranco needed a bath, so I wet-blocked it, which of course makes yarn relax—yep, this thing is relaxed, all right.  Drape city.  The pretty colorwork section is all draped out.  Naturally, I am in love with it.  It’s one of those thingamabobs that isn’t a scarf, nor a blanket, nor a poncho.  It’s a thingy.  A big, floppy, comfy thingy that I can just fling around my shoulders and look great.

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Over a column dress with boots, I think.  With some kind of serious-looking leather tote, and a big bangle bracelet.  A good manicure.  A little bit of attitude.  Nice. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ribbing and blooming

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More gray.  I am bucking the trend and working with nothing but gray in the wintertime, and I like it that way.  My knitting matches the world outside, and sometimes my internal temperature, too, if I’m being honest.  It does get hard.  I should get one of those UV lights.  I would like to whip up a big Pina Colada and put on a bikini and and then just sit under the SAD light.  Find something trashy to read.  (No such luck there; I’m working my way through Jane Gardam right now.  Have you read her?  Go to the library immediately, I mean it.)

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I have big plans to huddle up on the couch under a pile of quilts and knit this huge piece of striped ribbing while I watch Shaun White kill it at the Olympics—my mom-crush on Shaun White runs pure and deep, my friends. 

In other exciting news, look at this:

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My orchid is going to bloom.  Ohmygoodness, I can’t wait.  I pamper that ugly plant all year long, with its fleshy tongue leaves and brown squirrely roots growing out all unruly over the place, and the whole thing stretches up and tries to jump out of the pot, so I prop it up with sticks and wire and little girls’ hair clips, and mark its stupid feeding schedule on my calendar, and count to thirty as I trickle the water onto its bark once every ten days, and move it from window to table to shelf and back again, monitoring the temperature and light levels, and even with all that attention—just the right amount of attention, mind you, it doesn’t really want too much—and petting and murmuring and careful sterilized trimmings, it still might not bloom.  It might drop all its leaves and wither, or just keep one dumb leaf and then sit there like that for two years, just one ugly leaf in a pot.  They do that to me all the time.  But not this orchid, not today.  There will be a flower.  I am breathless.