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.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Rhinebeck Bound






Sometimes I just get a bee in my bonnet about a design and nothing will stop the runaway train that is my yearning to knit that thing.  You are all makers, you know how this goes.  “I already have one of/enough of/no need for that sweater/quilt/blanket” and you go on making dinner or knitting a plain cardigan and hoping it will pass, but guys.  It does not.  You and I both know it.  I saw this pattern a few years ago, promised myself that I didn’t need it, and then pretty much immediately started accumulating the yarn to knit it.  Well, whatever.   So there’s some Rauma Finull, some KnitPicks Palette, some Elemental Affects, some Holst Supersoft, some Jamieson and Smith, and some Jamieson’s of Shetland all thrown in there together.  It worked just fine, and it turns out I have enough of this kind of yarn to make, ahem, a lot more sweaters like this.  The first two-thirds of this was terrific fun to make and I woke up early in the morning kind of itching to get back at it, rationing myself to one color band every day and sort of swooning at the emerging beauty of the colors.  Then my old (formerly trusty) bamboo dpns gave me a sliver that bugged me for days and by then I was slogging down the sleeves and looking longingly at the bind off.  I saw it was getting long [row gauge!  Why you gotta be like that?] but once I embraced the idea of it as a tunic, I felt good about it again.  Post-blocking, the finished sweater revealed to me that it was too wide as well, so I mattress-stitched up the body sides and undersides of the sleeves and got rid of a little width, which made me feel quite clever.  So, it is finished.   Is it not splendid?  Is it not a testament to a knitter’s love of wool, color, pattern?  Is it not a proper freak flag to fly and wear at the next available yarn festival?  Yes.  It is.

Doc and I will be at Rhinebeck again this year, on Sunday.  You will almost certainly spot him first:  look for a fierce-looking bearded warrior in a kilt, probably carrying coffee in one hand and a big bag of yarn in the other.  I will be nearby, oblivious to the outside world, with a skein of something gray and sheepy pressed to my face, sniffing deeply.  I will be wearing this beautiful confection of a sweater, too.  If you spot us, please, please come say hello.  I really want to meet you!  Yes, Rhinebeck is about the donuts and the sheep and the yarn shopping, but more than that, it is one of the places where we gather as a tribe.  Come on up and say, “I think I know you.”  And I will put down the yarn.  XOXO

Monday, October 1, 2018

Great Lake State





My yarn stash is frankly burgeoning with beautiful things.  Inspiration is all over the place, and I make lists in my phone and on little loose pieces of paper that get lost of all the things I want to make and do.  I feel like I’m planning the next ten knit sweaters and trying to make room in my life for another quilt or two because I just love them, and I love to make them.  And you and I both know I have enough yarn and fabric for all these things and more.  Well, ‘tis the season, isn’t it?  That first gloomy day, when rain splatters the clean windows and leaves are just starting to burnish, I get to wanting another big, cozy cardigan.  I have a few of these already, but it doesn’t take much to get those wheels turning again, every single September.  This year, I had before me five skeins of Barrett Wool Co’s beautiful Wisconsin Woolen Spun worsted weight yarn in the colorway “Pebble” and it was sort of begging to be my Annual Big Cozy Cardigan.  I did my usual Ravelry dive, and of course found a whole bunch of patterns I want to knit right now, but nothing that seemed just right for the Wisconsin Woolen Spun, which is very plump and round (I think that’s fairly unusual in a woolen-spun) and thick and lofty.  I can’t think of another yarn offhand that is like it—maybe Brooklyn Tweed Quarry?  That one might be similar.  Well, it is light, but thick, and almost cottony soft.  

I did what I always do when I can’t find the right pattern—I made up my own.  I’ve talked about this before, many times, and I know it sounds like I’m downplaying it when I say it’s easy, but honestly.  It really is easy.  If you can knit a sweater from another designer’s pattern, then you can make your own pattern.  If you know how to use a measuring tape and a calculator, you can make your own pattern.  There is no magic trick, I promise.



I start with a sketch of what I’m imagining.  There are no revolutionary ideas at work here, just a shawl collar and a couple panels of cables; I’m not trying to invent anything, I just want a sweater.  Then I knit a square, and I block it.  When it’s dry, I ask myself:  Do I like the fabric?  If the whole sweater from my sketch was like this, would I be happy?  When I’m satisfied with the fabric I got, I get out a ruler and measure:  how many stitches per inch am I getting with these needles and this yarn?  Once I have that number, I decide how wide I want my neckline to be at the back and then I measure myself at the back neck.  Like, as in, hold the measuring tape across the back of my neck, where I’d like the back neck of my sweater to be.  Sometimes I point to either side of the back of my neck and Doc measures between my fingers.  I do some (very simple!) arithmetic and then just start.  In this case, I also made a swatch of the cable panel I planned to use, and then charted out the whole front yoke sections on graph paper, so I could keep track of the cables and the neck increases at the same time.  None of this is difficult, and I firmly believe you can all do it too.  What can go wrong?  You might have to rip back now and then, and re-knit stuff, or start something over—I have to do that all the time.  But this is fun, right?  Knitting is what we do for fun.

I have been calling this sweater Great Lake State—yarn from Wisconsin, knit in New York by a girl from Michigan, in the exact color of these moody inland seas, turbulent and alive in the fall.  Blue-gray-blue.  Gray.  Blue.  The collar is tall and snuggly, and the sleeves are extra-long, because that’s the way I like them.  A few cables for added Grandpa-ness.  While it was blocking, I noticed I had misplaced one of the buttonholes, but when I checked myself for perfectionist tendencies and found none there, I knew it was fine with me to leave it alone.  This is my sweater, for layering when the gale winds start to blow and the blizzards come early and stay late.  This is my armor.

Friday, September 28, 2018

That time I got glue on the dog




This is why I love the internet.  Awhile ago my sis wanted to know what to do about covering the window in her front door, because every time somebody came up onto her porch, the dogs jumped up and ripped off the curtain she had hanging there.  Not quite ready to just paint the damn glass black and be done with it, she asked what I thought she should do.  I suggested cutting a piece of cheapo lace curtain from the thrift store to the exact size of the glass and gluing it there.  It seemed like it wouldn’t be permanent or irreversible, and that it would let in light while preserving privacy, and that it would also look pretty.  “Actually,” I told her, “Ima do that myself, because it happens to be a great idea.”  My own front door window has been naked and bugging me ever since we painted the entire house last winter, and in general I really hate to cover up windows, but I also hate to be visible in my nightie, so I put “Cheapo lace curtain” on my thrift store shopping list and let it sit there for a long time while I got on with other things.  Last weekend, I found one at Goodwill for two bucks and decided it was time to make this project happen.  It occurred to me:  what kind of glue?  I remembered how I once used spray adhesive for some paper project on the unprotected surface of my kitchen table and how the gluey overspray marks from that little brainstorm are still in evidence to this day, and I also thought about how the same kinds of marks, left from using Mod Podge for a different project, on a completely different table, are also still there, ten years later.  It seemed like the lace curtain might have been the easy part.  Finally, I remembered how every single thing you’ve ever thought of doing has already been done before and how someone will have surely documented the process—so I googled “glueing lace to a window” and found it.  (I also remembered seeing that article before, which is undoubtedly where I got the idea in the first place.)  I enlisted Doc to help me try to cut a piece of lace, which is wobbly at best, into a neat square to the exact measurements  of the window glass, and then I mixed up a gloppy bowlful of cornstarch and water and glued it up there.  It could not have been easier, you guys.  It looked sort of opaque while it was wet, and I made a big mess on the floor and on the dog while I was painting it on, but now that it’s dry all the way, it does just what I thought it would do—it lets in the light, but keeps me from feeling like I’m on television.  Naturally, I kept going and glued more lace to a bunch more windows.  It looks so good, so light and neat, and just what I wanted.  Now my neighbor can take out his trash without fear of seeing more of me than he wants to.  A win for everyone!