Saturday, September 20, 2014

Super Secret Agent Vest


Oh, hello there.  You’ve caught me in a rare, relaxed moment.  As a matter of fact, just a few minutes ago, I was dangling by a high-tension wire into a bank vault protected by an incredibly complex maze made of laser beams.  But I do have a little time to talk. 


Don’t be fooled by the frizzy gray hair and double chin.  I am undercover, actually.  Super-secret covert activities.  Top-level classified stuff.   Hang on, I just spotted an enemy operative, over behind the hydrangeas…


Oops, false alarm.  Turns out it was a squirrel!  Well, you can’t be too careful.  Always on my guard, that’s how it is in this business. 

Do you like my vest?


This is the magically-named “Long Vest” designed by John Brinegar, from the (oh no, it doesn’t say) well, some back issue of Vogue Knitting from anytime starting now and reaching back to approximately 2004.  I tore out the pages with the pattern and recycled the rest of the magazine.  Oh wait, here it is.  I changed all the edging from seed stitch to garter stitch, because seed stitch is just tedious and I couldn’t face it.  I used something like ten balls of KnitPicks Wool of the Andes in “Coal” and a US 7 needle, and it took proportionally forever to knit this, because the hem is a mysterious shape and I found it hard to wrap my little head around it.  Also, the collar is luxuriously large, which means that also took a hundred years.  It is long, long, long (I see now why the experts at Vogue gave it that name) and it covers the derriere, so I will be wearing it a lot. 



Wearing it, I feel like I have auditioned for, but not gotten, a part in The Matrix. 


Nobody ever laughs when Neo does this. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

In the mood


A gray day today, getting blustery and damp, and dark.  I have lit the fire.  I want to bake cookies and make soup.  Even though I’ve been grown up a long time, and now my children are grown up too, a day like this makes me feel like sewing some school clothes.  An orange corduroy jacket, lined with polka dots, and with wooden toggle buttons, and deep pockets for collecting things.  A gray flannel dress with tiny flowers and a white peter pan collar.  A big red patchwork satchel with a buckle, for carrying my books.  I always find this season a little bittersweet, and more so as I get older.  We went for a slow walk yesterday, along a country road, with our old dog sniffing and ambling beside us.  The fields are like paintings now, full of wild aster and goldenrod.  The air is spiced with apples.  As we rounded the bend, a hawk swooped up out of a tree, gave two flaps of his big wings and was gone, and a long, white feather dropped away from him, and drifted down.  It took a long time to reach the ground. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014



My girl said, “Now, remember; when you have a new hammer, everything looks like a nail.”





Michelle came over with a 5-gallon bucket and an indigo dye kit, and we spent a whole day dunking and shibori-ing everything we could think of.  Every single thing in my house that was some shade related to white or off-white seemed like fair game.  I considered doing the slipcover on the sofa, but I didn’t think it would fit in the dye bucket.  She brought a whole mess of stuff too, and it all went in the pot, and not one thing didn’t turn out gorgeous. 



I lost count of it all.  We dipped tablecloths and napkins and shirts and scarves and big lengths of linen fabric and still the bucket was full of dye, and I confess I haven’t dumped it out yet, because I keep imagining I’ll think of something else that would look better blue. 

Her glove leaked in the first five minutes, which made us shriek, then laugh, then giggle every two seconds all day, every time either of us noticed it again.   The freaky blue fingernails were the best part.  She thought about doing the other hand too, just to make them even, but then she chickened out. 




It all looks so much like a coastal summer; like sunlight reflecting on the lake, or ripples in a swimming pool.  It makes me think of steamed lobster and beach glass and an ice cold Corona with a wedge of lime stuck in the neck.  Don’t all those beautiful blues make you just want to put together a picnic basket of potato salad and salami and a big hunk of sourdough and a bottle of chilled prosecco?   I just love all the varying, surprising ways the different fabrics absorbed the dye.  



Every time either of us pulled something new out of the bucket, or took off the resists to see what the design looked like, we went “Oooooh, that’s great!” and “Awwwww, I LOVE that!”  and then we kept being amazed, again, as things oxidized from greenish to whatever of the various shades of indigo they eventually became.  It was endlessly interesting.  It was tie-dye for grownups.  I dyed some yarn, and it is exactly the color of the sky.  When you have a big pot of blue dye, everything starts to look like it should be blue.


I want to say, too:  thank you all so much for your kind words and thoughts about Grandma.  She would have been thrilled to pieces.  She was a whiz with a sewing needle, a paintbrush, a garden trowel.  She made beautiful things, every day she could do it.  She was one of us. 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

In Memoriam


Grandma (She of the Perfect Triangle Points) flew away in her sleep last night, at age 97.  This quilt was on her bed when I was young; hand-pieced calico hexagons made of 1930’s flour sacks, combined with a vividly eye-melting, yellow poly-blend sashing.  Which is just straight-up Grandma.  Seeing it there in her spotless room, alongside her fluttering white ruffled curtains and her hurricane lamp with hand-painted roses on the glass made me, a child, say to myself, “I want to make one of those.  I can do that.”  Her quilting stitches were microscopic.  I thought she would live forever.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Chunk


The situation inside my yarn cupboard has, again, become ridiculous.  I have too much.  So I decided to start going about my needle crafting in reverse—instead of choosing a pattern and then looking for the yarn to match, I will start with yarn I already have and then find something good to make with it.  Thus was born this sweater, which I am calling The Chunk.  [I think in the above photo, I have been captured mid-yap—peevishly art directing the whole thing as usual.  I’m probably telling him not to let me look too fat and the doctor, behind the camera, is probably telling me to stand still and stop moving my mouth.]


There was an ancient bag of repurposed yarn in the cupboard, from a sweater I thrifted and then unraveled a long time ago.  There was a metric ton of it, and it was chunky and cottony and very soft, but with enough springiness and residual sheepiness that I think it must have been a wool/cotton blend.  I’m sure there was a tag in the original garment with that exact information on it, but (doh) I didn’t save it. 


I remembered seeing this a few years ago, and loving how comfy it looked, and how soft and easy.  She wore it with big ribbed cuffs, turned up, and it looked like the loveliest most wonderful sweatshirt in the world.  Inspiration. 

I made something like it, with extra-long sleeves and enough body length to cover the gap and keep out drafts.  As you know, cold weather here in my neighborhood is no joke, so when I imagine a sweater like this one, I aim for maximum skin coverage.  The Chunk is chunky, and it certainly isn’t the kind of garment that sets out to flatter a girl’s figure, but it isn’t meant to do that.  It is meant for comfort.  It’s just what I hoped it would be;  roomy, cottony, soft.    Looking again at Amanda’s sweater kind of makes me want to take out a few inches on my sleeves, but I don’t know.  I always want long, long sleeves;  I like it when they mostly cover my hands. 


The Chunk is a do-it-yourself, top-down knit, starting with a 22” neckline and working 9” raglan seams.  Pamela Costello has made a handy design worksheet with the extremely simple instructions for doing this, and I have referred to it a hundred times in my knitting life.  My printed copy of it is totally floppy and dog-eared. 

[I’m so pleased that you can’t see in the photos how the weird thrifted yarn used here ended up being two very similar but definitely slightly different colors.  You can’t see it, right?  If you can see it, don’t tell me.] 


The Chunk is kinda making me look forward to fall.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Easy Squares Blanket, with tassels


Apparently, knitting the things already on the needles and not starting a bunch of other stuff in the meantime is good for progress.  I finished something. 


This is a throw-sized blanket, good for nights when it’s kinda starting to get chilly, and I just want one more little layer for coziness, but not the great weight of an entire honking blanket.  Do you know what I mean?  I find the yarn blankets around here can be a little bit heavy, and I’m not ready for that yet.  It’s not winter, I’m not cold, I’m just a little bit chilly.  When you have a whole bunch of blankets, you can have choices, am I right? 


The big tassels at the corners are my favorite part. 


Inspired by a magazine photo from years ago, I made this one up.  Want to make one, too?  Sure, there’s nothing to it.  Here you go: 

Easy Squares Blanket

You need:

Approx. 2000 yards worsted weight yarn (I used nine skeins of Patons Classic Wool, in “Winter White”)

US size 10 needles

Cast on 168.  First section:  k12, p12, across.  Repeat for 17 more rows.  Next row (second section):  p12, k12, across.  Repeat for 17 more rows.  Next row:  repeat first section again, and continue in this manner, alternating sections of 18 rows, until you’re 3/4 of the way done with the last skein of yarn.  [For clarity, you will work *K12, P12 for 18 rows, then P12, K12 for 18 rows, repeating from * until your yarn is almost gone.] Finish whatever section of squares you’re working on (complete the 18 rows) and bind off in pattern. 

Now, listen to me:  you have to block this blanket.  I mean it.  If you don’t, it will look like an egg carton, left out in the rain and then stepped on.  Blocking is painless, and it is worth it.  Do this: dump it in a sink full of tepid water and let it sit there while you vacuum all the animal fur off the carpet.  Drain the sink, squeeze out as much water as you can, and then roll the wet blanket in a big towel (or two) to take out more water.  Fling it out onto the carpet and spread it flat.  Pull it a little bit for drape, but you don’t need to stretch it, and there’s no need for any pins.  Just prod it into shape, making the edges straight, and then let it dry.  There are no measurements to block it to—just pull it out a little bit and straighten it up.  While you’re waiting for it to dry, with the remaining yarn, make the tassels. 

Tassels are easy; you probably made dolls like this when you were little, but just in case, here’s what I did:  find a smallish hardcover book and wrap the yarn a bunch of times around it, the short way.  For a nice, fat tassel, wrap it at least thirty times.


Cut a 12” length of yarn, and tie it around the loop, through the middle.  Don’t cut off the tails.


Wrap another, longer piece of yarn around the top of the tassel, near the tied loop.  Wrap several times, then tighten it and tie a knot. 


Use a darning needle to hide these ends.


Now trim it to length. 


When the blanket is dry, use the tails to sew it to one corner.  Put one on on each corner, and you’re done.


It covers my feet, and reaches my chin, and the tassels make it a little bit special, but not too much.  It’s a plain little thing, lovely in it’s simplicity.  And it’s cozy.