Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Wool hat, summer edition

I finished knitting this hat almost the instant it became summer here in Western New York.  When the clouds part for a change and the hollering wind takes a breather, you can just about sit outdoors with your knitting in your lap.  It makes a girl feel like maybe she has some control over these things.  What if I'd knit faster?  Would the peonies be open by now?  Summer thoughts start to crowd my mind:  as I was sitting down to take this selfie, a teenager with a twangy, away accent knocked on the door to ask if I'd like to have him to paint my barn roof, for a good enough price, and now I feel like I should have hired him.  The barn roof is looking a little ragged, which you can obviously tell as you drive by, and as I'm thinking about it, I don't really want Doc to climb up there and do it.  Missed opportunity.  And now that he's brought it to my attention, it's all I can see, unless I look at the mess that is the raspberry patch, or the weeds in the patio.  My farmer neighbor has commenced to tilling his field again, though to what end I still can't tell.  As far as I can see, he is tilling it recreationally, because this has been going on for years.  He drives back and forth, with that disc cultivator or whatever it's called on the back, and makes his furrows.  He goes across it again, in the other direction.  His topsoil blows with abandon into my kitchen.  Last fall, he worked diagonally, too.  A few stakes appear here and there.  That's it.  Can I just say that I'm hoping for wheat?  I don't know why, other than how beautiful would that be in the golden, dusty evenings?  How utterly prosaic, and how elegiac, a field of rippling wheat?  These are the things that compel me.  Wheat is a pretty crop.  I am choosing to think today about barns and raspberries and golden growing things. While my heart breaks for our world, I turn my face toward the sun.  The hat pattern is here.  

Sunday, May 21, 2017


This is my wedding dress.  Circa 1989. It was the first one I tried on.  Someone had told me that the first dress you try is usually the one you choose, because when the hundreds of teeny buttons are done up in the back and and the long train is ruffled out and arranged, you turn, seeing yourself in the mirror as a bride for the first time, you fall in love with it, and no other dress ever looks as good, and that's what happened.  I managed to regret for awhile having chosen the first dress I put on, thinking I had somehow been too hasty, had missed the biggest shopping opportunity of my life or something, and my petulant whining about that made my mom sad, but on the day, when I was as beautiful as I ever would be, and my best friend had buttoned up all those million buttons at the back and ruffled out the long train, I had not a single regret in the world.  I remember that my beloved brother, looking like Mr. Darcy in his ascot and morning coat, was the one to go to the florist in his Camaro to pick up my bouquet, which he delivered to me with the tenderest care.  I remember that my best friend, looking as always exactly like Martha Plimpton, in her cream lace dress and Florida tan, was tragically hungover and trembling but made us laugh and laugh, and I remember that my mom, looking like a princess herself, put an ice bag on Martha Plimpton's neck to keep her from fainting.  I remember that the waitress at the rehearsal dinner told a filthy joke to the minister and the church organist and I snorted iced tea into my sinuses.  I remember that my dad curled my hand into his big arm as we headed up the aisle together, and squeezed it hard for a second, telegraphing all the sentimental things he wanted to say; his sense that he really was letting me go, and how it was hard for him, but how okay it was, too.  That he loved me.  "Don't trip," he said.  "Walk slow."  I remember that Doc, dressed in his brother's rented pants, was waiting for me at the other end, and that he gasped when he saw me.  I remember that I was so thrilled about wearing this dress that I forgot to pack anything else to wear and had to come home again the next morning to pick up some clothes.  My parents were drinking mimosas.  "It's too late to give her back," they said.  This dress cost a lot of money, a lot more than I should have asked my schoolteacher parents to spend on anything.  It was, and still is, an utterly gorgeous (and utterly 80's) confection, a proper Cinderella dress, and wearing it, I felt lovely and loved. 
Here's something that could not be more true:  the dress does not hold those memories; they are in me.  The dress is not the wedding, nor the marriage, nor the spectacular man I married and our subsequent decades of happy partnership, nor is it the repository or representative of any of those things, either.  I don't need to continue trying to keep it safe and protected from, well, time.  So I brought it down from the attic, and on a cloudy day, I hung it from the crabapple tree, and the wind tossed some pretend life into it, and ruffled out the train, and I photographed it.  And then I folded it carefully back into the bag, zipped it closed, and gave it away.  

Monday, May 15, 2017

Island Magic

Martha's Vineyard in the middle of May was gray and blustery, and the sea was roiled up in a proper gale-force way.  My friend Ethel and I did the only appropriate thing and sat in the bar having a huge Dark and Stormy, listening to the wind howl and watching for Ahab to come stumping psychotically in.  Walks on the beach were adventurous and hearty.  She tied a shirt around her head a la Little Edie Beale and we held on to each other to keep from blowing over.  There were blossoms everywhere, and sandy dogs, and people wearing wool hats.  The view out to the wild sea makes my heart pound with happiness.  That bit of relative calm up there is Lambert's Cove.  The wind there was slightly less punishing.  
I love these windswept dunes, full of hidden tide pools and bird tracks and shell treasures.  Those blossoms were the most delicate pink, just the vaguest pink.  A suggestion of pink, against the white sand.  
In a moment of serendipity, I bumped into a couple of readers in the yarn shop (where else?) in Vineyard Haven, and then, crazily, we met them again later in the line at Back Door Donuts.  Hi Sarah and Steph!  I swear I am not stalking you!  Back Door Donuts.  Listen, I have to tell you this story.  Two years ago Ethel and I were on the Vineyard, hanging out in Oak Bluffs after dark.  We'd walked around at twilight looking at the camp cottages [awesome] and it was cold and dark.  A cozy snack started to sound good.  It was not yet Memorial Day, so not much was open, and we were about to give up, but lo, we came upon a light--a single light on someone's desk--shining from behind the window of a real estate office.  A woman sat there in the circle of the single bulb.  She was dressed all in white, and had long, white hair.  I am not making any of this up.  Ethel is bold and talkative, and she said, "I'm going to go in there and ask her if she knows of a place."  I was protesting--it's late, they're definitely not open, the door is going to be locked--but the door was unlocked.  She placidly looked up, like she'd been expecting us.  Ethel said something like "Hi, we're new to the Island, do you know of anyplace where we could get some dessert?"  The Woman in White said, "Do you know about Back Door Donuts?  No?  Follow me."  She led us around the corner and down an alley and past some trash cans where finally a long line was forming beside some dumpsters outside a screen door at the back of a bakery where they were selling donuts.  At night.  A donut shop speakeasy.  It was like finding Brigadoon.  And you guys, these are the greatest donuts you have ever had.  They pull one out of the fryer, put the bacon on (yes, the BACON) and hand it right to you.  They know you don't even need a bag.  We turned to thank the Woman in White, but she was gone, and when we tried to go back to the real estate office to say thank you, we couldn't find it.  I have thought about that little piece of magic dozens of times in the past two years.  So of course, back again on the Vineyard this year, we headed directly for the donuts, and there, as before, was the screen door, and the line, and the dumpsters, and the gorgeous sugary air all around.  And naturally, seeing Steph and Sarah again at Back Door Donuts was exactly what was going to happen.  Island Magic. 
I knit socks on long road trips to keep from going bonkers sitting still in the car.  These three socks happened over the weekend.  How can people who don't knit even stand to go anywhere?  

Monday, May 8, 2017

Early Bird

Something that isn't knitting!  Okay, so you may as well know that I love taxidermy.  It combines art, craft, precision, understanding and love of the natural world, biology, a strong stomach for gross-out, scientific inquiry, and also, sometimes, the deeply creeeeepy, and I say that with the greatest respect and admiration.  The moment my young son realized that the life-size elephant "sculptures" in the American Museum of Natural History were, in actual fact, REAL elephants--he made a wide-eyed "mind=blown" gesture that gripped my heart--stays with me. He was bored, and then he realized, and then he was not bored.  So that's what an elephant looks like.  It was wondrous, the way he marveled. [I, like you, would like all the elephants in the world to live their quiet, peaceful lives beside the river, unmolested and raising their babies and endlessly chewing the grass in placid harmony, but here we have a taxidermied elephant, however possibly misbegotten, however potentially misguidedly acquired, and I believe we can learn from it.  It is okay to be amazed.] I like oddities, unusual things.  I like learning.  I like a rare discovery.  I sort of like things that are vaguely morbid.  I have a bittersweet appreciation for the old-time impulse for scientific discovery (and also the peculiarly Victorian impulse to collect all the things) that led 18th and 19th century expeditions to collect insect, bird, and animal specimens from around the world [though I certainly would not want someone to do such a thing now] and I was completely captivated many years ago by a museum exhibit of 18th century rare bird specimens from the Galapagos Islands.  Such a mixture of feelings, looking at something like that--wonder, sadness and pity, admiration of skill and devotion, eager scrutiny of tiny, long-dead creatures that would otherwise remain to me forever a mystery.  The cabinet of curiosities is such an enchantment, in its original form a way to gain and share information.  Happily, we now have ways of gathering information that are in general much healthier for the elephants and the birds, though I think science still sometimes runs afoul of our moral instincts, and also I think it might have to, for the sake of progress and discovery.  Hey, that's a deep conversation brewing...anyway, I love taxidermy.  So I've been working on some bird sculptures, because real bird taxidermy is for many reasons out of my reach [and in some cases, is also illegal] and also because I am a maker of things, so that's what I do.  
So a project was born.  Bird Work.  I started drawing birds and trying to figure out how they were shaped, and started trying to figure out how to make pattern pieces that might translate into those shapes.  I wanted birds that look ratty and crafty, with visible stitches, made from tweeds and calicoes, but real-ish. Real-shaped.  You guys, this is hard.  I made so many wrong-looking birds.  Many, many attempts at drafting a pattern later, and a whole box full of sorta birds, I am relatively satisfied with this guy, though he is unfinished, and there is much more tinkering to be done.  At this size--he's about three inches long, not including the tail--1/16" makes a pretty big difference. When I first had the idea some months ago, to replicate the bird taxidermy I cannot otherwise have, the search for supplies (and also the quest for beak ideas) led me to the incredible artwork of Ann Wood, who has since been an enormous source of inspiration, and to this book by Abby Glassenberg, from which followed, as usual, a whole fascinating rabbit hole of soft animal sculpture, and which made me scramble to my sketchbook, full of ideas.  You remember the mouse?  I still want to make more mice.
He's a study, still.  But it's getting there.  Bird work continues.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Knit Sew Spin

The Scarfy Thing has been finished.  I think "Scarfy Thing" is really the only thing you can call this--I don't know what else it could possibly be.  I guess it's a scarf/shawl/wrap, and it's so, so long.  It is enormous; mine is almost eight feet long, I think, and it feels like quite an accomplishment.  Wearing it feels kind of wonderful.  Scarfy Thing will be noticed.  Those tassels just dial it up to eleven for me.  Hoo, I really love it.  In the end, I decided against the intarsia (well, of course.  Intarsia is a nightmare) and after a little/lot of practicing, my join-as-you-going improved somewhat, and I stopped hating it.  That's the way with most things, isn't it?  The free recipe (it is not a line-by-line pattern, but more a collection of tips) can be found here, and if, like me, you have a lot of sock yarns and sock yarn leftovers that you are longing to use, you should give this one a try.  I might make another one someday.  
I also spent a few hours on my Creative Year Project piece--this month's prompt was "My Favorite Book", and for me, that is Anne of Green Gables [I will be avoiding the upcoming grim and depressing Netflix adaptation of the Anne story--it ain't broke, so let's not fix it, hey?-- but if you want to watch an Anne of Green Gables series made by those who brought us "Breaking Bad", please feel free]. This piece stumped me for awhile.  I'm trying so hard not to have them all just be fabric collages...
This week's spinning--alpaca.  First of all, I'm not sure why I even have any alpaca around here, because I find alpaca is a little bit prickly for me to wear, so I don't know what I'll make with this.  Well, I had two small piles of two different colors--one was a Fat Batt art rolag from Spirit Wind Farm and Fiber Studio in the colorway "Sedona Sunrise", and the other, a gift to me, was from an unknown farm, but the alpaca's name was Scotty.  Gifts are like that.  When somebody offers me a bag of beige fluff, I don't delve too hard.  Anyway, there wasn't much of either one, so in order to have enough yardage to make something out of it, I spun them on separate bobbins and then plied them together, which toned down the rainbow sherbet effect of one, and blinged up the boringness of the beige.  They meet in the middle now, to make something kind of tonal and vaguely pinkish.  I might have enough yarn for a pair of mittens, and I could line those with something that won't be prickly.  Plans.
It is gray and cold here today, and pouring.  That sunny gold yarn is the antidote--it is Esopus in 'Gold Star' by Jill Draper Makes Stuff.  Catdog is snuggled up in a nest of pillows, snoring away, and there is a cozy spot on the couch, right beside her.