Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Spring Things


It must be spring.  The sun came out on Monday, and Catdog and I ran for the back yard like we were escaping from prison.  We frittered away the afternoon just lying there soaking up the warmth like two lizards on a hot rock.  Just a week ago there was snow and sleet and ice, and then, just like that, the sky turned blue and came to life, and the daffodils turned their faces to the sun and unfurled their beautiful selves.  I put on a hat and just sat there and read an entire book while Catdog snuffled around in the grass and then sprawled out to sleep.  In the evening, the frogs took up their musical peeping, and we left the windows wide, wide open to the fresh air.  There is nothing at all like sleeping beside an open window in the springtime, when the tender breeze is cold on my face and the quilts are tucked up soft and tight underneath my chin.  I smile in my sleep and dream about a meadow filled with daisies.



 I dug through my yarn stash a few days ago, and found I have at least two sweaters’ worth of cream/Aran/Winter White worsted weight yarn, and since I already have this, that felt like a lot for right now, so I skeined up some of it and dunked it in my dyepot.  This might always be an adventure,  this yarn dyeing thing, because no two resources will ever give me the same information about how to do it and honestly, I’m usually pretty happy no matter what I end up with anyway, so I’m not sure it even matters to try and remember how I did it.  Okay, so, using a whole bunch of madder root extract (I just dumped whatever was left in the cupboard, which seems like it was a lot) into a pot of, er, “some” water, along with, um, I don’t know, a little bit of chalk?  And simmered six 100g skeins of white-ish yarn in it for awhile.  Until it was really, really red.  I rinsed it, added I don’t know how much iron sulfate to the dyepot and dumped the yarn back in, and what I got looks pretty much exactly like what you’d get if you just used grape Kool-Aid.  It is just straight up purple.  It surprises me that it doesn’t smell like grape, because that’s how grape it looks.  I wish it were redder, but I don’t know what I might have done any differently to make it that way, and anyway it seems like with dyeing, whatever you get is what you get.  I don’t know what else I could dunk it in at this point anyway, so now there’s some grape yarn in my stash.


In other knitting news, I started this wool colorwork yoke—the pattern is here—a week or so ago, when it was still snowing. I have no illusions that I won’t need it again before long, but somehow, it seems a lot less pressing.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Birkin, with fit


One of the things I’m most interested in when it comes to knitting garments is getting a good fit.  I have made many dozens of handknit sweaters in the course of my already long knitting life, and for a good share of that time, my finished sweaters were crap.  A lot of that I can attribute to the fact that it was the 1990’s, and I was for some reason wearing sweaters (and shirts, too) that were frankly enormous.  Like, six sizes too big.  Of course it was really comfortable and I was happy with it at the time, but looking back, I can’t imagine it, which I suppose is how it goes with fashion—everything looks weird from short amounts of time distance.  We—my fellow children of the 70’s and I—all swore we’d never wear flared pants ever again, until we did, and then we said it about high-waisted pants and just look what’s happening.  High waisted pants are everywhere.  Not in my closet yet, but I never say never.  Anyway.  

There are a lot of different skills to learn when you take up a craft, and it takes a long time before you get really comfortable, and when you get comfortable with the basics of how to do it, you can start honing a little and really mastering it.  And that’s when it gets interesting.  

The Birkin Sweater.  If you haven’t seen this design yet, I’ll be surprised, because I think I am the very last knitter in the world to arrive at the Birkin Sweater party, but my first thoughts, when it was released last year, were not very favorable.  That thing, you guys, is frankly flawed.  I’m not the first to make this observation, and I don’t mean to be controversial, but you can see by looking at the sample photo that the yoke section is verrrry deep, and a large portion of it is without any increases.  It is really just a long, gorgeous funnel.   The armholes are really pretty low, which can be a design feature all day long—if the yoke fits.  Now, those bands of colorwork are honestly luscious.  I mean, what a delicate filigree of design work that is!  Oh my goodness, it’s beautiful.  Many, many knitters dove in, and a good many of them were probably mastering fit and figured out how to adjust for the fact that the pattern was funnelly and their bodies were not, but a lot of people struggled with their end result.  It was tight across the shoulders, and it rode up if they lifted their arms.  This sweater is a lot of work—fingering weight!  Multiple strands!  Charts!—and to spend all that time and energy to end up with something that isn’t what you hoped is disappointing.  Well, life is too short for that, and my closet is too small for things that are only going to be worn occasionally because the fit annoys me. 

I knew, both from looking at the pattern photos and from other people’s tales of woe, that the yoke was going to be too tight and it would be uncomfortable to wear.   I also knew, from experience, that my own personal yoke depth is shorter than usual, and the Birkin Sweater has a longer than usual yoke depth.  Also, the pattern as it is written calls for three colors at a time to be used across most of the rows, and guys, I really, really, don’t want to do that.  I only have two hands.   Common sense told me many times that this was not the design for me, but when I saw Clare Shaw’s monochrome version, all my resolve went out the window. Doing it in monochrome solved one of the three big problems I had with the design, and so I cast on.  

  This pattern is worked from the neck down, so to give myself enough room in the shoulders, I cast on for one size larger than recommended by the pattern for my measurements.  I also divided early for the armholes, moving part of the yoke’s colorwork onto the body and sleeves, and I did not work the last set of increases at the bottom of the yoke, in order to grade down to the smaller, correct size to fit my arms and body.  I also virtually ignored all the body and sleeve shaping instructions and just did what I knew would fit me, and what I would enjoy wearing.  


Which includes very long sleeves.  This is a very wooly sweater with a double-thick top half—what’s the point of mini sleeves?  Also, I think it has snowed here every single day this month—it is snowing right now, as I write this;  April!  Where are you?—and honestly, I will probably go on needing long wool sleeves for a good long time.  

I used KnitPicks Palette in “Asphalt Heather” and “Cream”—that is a gorgeously soft yarn.  Has it always been this soft?  Or am I just getting less sensitive?  Well, it worked great.  I really couldn’t be more pleased with this result.  It is really worth doing a little bit of math if that’s what it takes to get what you want.  And that’s something I never thought I’d say.



Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Still a beginner




I can’t stop trying to sew clothes.  The piles of failures, you guys.  It is pretty disheartening to consider.  My most recent, most successful sewn dress actually fell to pieces in the wash, and finding good apparel fabrics is such a hopeless quest out here in the hinterlands, so when that charcoal gray linen dress that I wore and loved and looked and felt like a million bucks in came out of the dryer in shreds, I was, um, sad, and sort of decided maybe this wasn’t for me.  I got so tired of that defeated feeling, having spent the whole day bent over a project, feeling like I was getting somewhere, and then that slumping at the end, when it didn’t work.  Maybe I should just stick to sewing quilts, this is too hard, all the wasted fabric, ugh.  But...I just can’t stop thinking about it.  I bought three yards of this plum linen blend with the highest hopes, pledged to make a muslin and then did; I measured, I ripped, I tried things on, I made tiny changes to the muslin, tried things on again.  I believed I had learned something, so I gritted my teeth and cut into the plum linen, sewed so carefully, felling the seams, slowly and neatly topstitching.  And it failed.  I threw it on the floor, screamed a little, and sat down to knit, which, as you know, leaves me a lot of space for thinking.  What I thought about a lot was this quote, which is perfect.  It is about being a beginner.  Things like that, and thinking about Georgia O’Keeffe’s incredible handmade wardrobe, built by her hands in the tiniest stitches; clothes made exquisitely, with exceptional care and intention, clothes made to fit her and only her—thinking about that kind of thing just makes me keep on trying.  I want high-necked silk blouses with tightly buttoned cuffs and tiny pintucks.  I want a fine wool black dress with long sleeves and a long, slim skirt that reaches just to my calves.  I want to draw what I want, and know how to make it, and the only way to get there is to keep on trying, so here’s what I did:  I put away the pattern (note to self:  I have tried to make that dress four times, and it does not work for me, learn this...) and went to the closet, where I found a dress—from Target—that I like.  I put it on the table on a big piece of paper, and traced around the pieces.  That’s all, I just traced it.  I tried to be accurate, and to take stuff like seams into account.  I could have “trued” the drawn lines with a ruler and/or a french curve (is that what that thing is called?  I really don’t know) but I didn’t, I just traced the pieces and then cut them out:  presto, pattern.  I laid my homemade pattern on the last of the plum linen and cut it.  I sewed it.  I sang loudly to Stevie Wonder as I went, because it was giving me power and I wanted to feel powerful and it was working.  And then the dress was done.  I gave it a press and I put it on.  

And it fits.  



Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Yellow Cardigan


The yellow cardigan is done.  It is “Golden Harvest” by Veera Valimaki.  Golden, indeed!  Look at that glowing yellow yarn.  It looks like a crocus in the snow.  A bowl of honey.  Actual gold, even.  It is Malabrigo Rios, in “Frank Ochre” and I am completely bowled over by its beauty.  When I wear this, I feel like I am glowing, too.  

Trying to take my own advice, I started something a little more complicated:  


This is the beautiful Birkin sweater, knit in a monochrome palette.  I got this far in an advanced state of monogamous devotion, and then ran out of the cream contrast yarn, so until the supply train leaves the distant warehouse, I guess I’ll have to find something else to do. 


Socks!  There is no excuse not to make socks.  It snowed today.  

I want to thank you all for your lovely, warm comments last week, on my new favorite topic:  Making vs. Stuff.  I loved the conversation, and it gave me a lot to think about.  Let there ever be knitting and making in my life, all of my days.  

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

From scratch

Knitting leaves a lot of headspace for rumination.  I like to chew on a problem, which is sometimes a bad thing—worrying, as your granny surely told you, doesn’t help anything—but is also sometimes a good thing, because it can help me get to the bottom of things.  My life is a very quiet one these days, with my littles no longer little and the house mostly empty and still.  I walk through the orchard to the pond, and the only thing I hear is my own footsteps, crunching on the frozen ground.  I spend a lot of time beside the fire, alongside the ever-snoring catdog, and there are very few distractions.  She stretches and yawns, shifts.  I shift, too, maybe turn the page, maybe turn to work a wrong-side row.  The wind hurtles across the open fields and between the bare fruit trees, and whistles through the windows of our old house, lonely and spooky, and cozy, too.  
I’m still chewing on the question of Making vs. Stuff.  This has been one of my inner monologues for a few years, and I don’t know whether I’m getting closer to solving it or not, but it is a tough piece of gristle and I’m still gnawing.  I am driven—yes, DRIVEN—to make things, but at the same time, I am also compelled to keep a lid on the amount of things I carry around with me in this life.  I have made so many quilts and blankets and bags and pillow covers and lampshades and various bits of household ornamentation that I simply do not need to do that anymore.  Making things results in having things, and really, I truly do not need—nor do I actually want—to have more things.  I am not at all sure that anybody else really wants the things I’ve made, either.  If you could see how I have overloaded my family with handknits, good grief.  I actually feel some guilt about it.   Do you guys want any of these?  I say, when they visit.  How can they say no?  How are they even supposed to choose just one and leave the rest, as maybe some kind of sad signal that my work and effort has little value?  I hope they don’t feel like they have to keep it all until I’m dead—guys, if you’re reading this, you don’t have to keep all those hats and blankets!  Donate, recycle, make a cat bed out of them!  Leave them on the train.  I mean it.  None of it is precious.  Sigh.  How did crocheting a blanket become such a fraught endeavor?  Many is the project that has ground to a halt lately as the question arises:  what am I going to do with that when it’s done?  
I knit sweaters now, because I can still find a home for those that no longer have a place in my wardrobe, and because yarn is reusable, and because I live in a cold climate where for most of the year the weather is not that great.  There is still a need for sweaters in my life.  When the shelf gets too full, I pass some of them along, and because they are just clothes, they don’t need to feel impossibly precious to my descendants.  They keep the wind off me, they help me figure out how I want the world to see me.  They fill my creative space.  There is an abundance of them in my life; possibly I own a ridiculous amount of handknit sweaters.  An honest tally of my works-in-progress reveals five half-knit sweaters on the needles right now, and so many more still waiting to be started.  I add to my yarn stash on the regular.  I make things, and right now, this is what I am making.  
My dad would have prefaced all that by saying, “More than you wanted to know...”  but I really do want to know.  So as a maker of handknit garments at the moment, I have made another something to add to the pile:  this is a little jacket/cardigan knit with no pattern, using my remnants of fingering weight yarns, held double in hopes of a blended effect, much inspired by this project knit by Clare Shaw, and also with some elements inspired by the Golden Wheat cardigan by Veera Valimaki (which I am also knitting at the moment, and which is almost finished now, too.)  The buttons came from the stash, too, and were probably thrifted.  As I was sewing in the [many jillions of] ends, Doc said, “Sometimes it amazes me how you can take nothing and turn it into something.”   I made this with castoffs and leftovers.  That feels pretty good.          

Monday, March 19, 2018

Branches and Buds: The minimum

Winter is really hanging around.  For some of you, too, I’ll bet.  Doc and I walk at night, trying to blow out some cobwebs, but we keep finding ourselves trudging into the teeth of yet another snowstorm, with a flickering, dying flashlight and our glasses completely coated with ice.  Once, we had to navigate home by nothing but our farmer neighbor’s pole light, because we could not see the road we were walking on, and our outbound footsteps had already filled in.  Another time, we both pointed at the ground and together said, “Watch out for that ice” at the same time as we both hit the ice and then flailed wildly for traction, grabbing each other and cartoonishly trying to stay upright.  Funny, but tiresome, too.  For me, snow fatigue sets in sometime in late December, but I still have to go outside.  I just want to walk in a straight line on a dry path without fear for my aging bones.  Wear grippy boots and all the handknits at once, and laugh; that’s all I can do.  
I’ve been knitting like it’s my j-o-b.  This latest finished sweater is a modified version of Carrie Bostick Hoge’s Branches and Buds pullover from the first issue of Making magazine.  I’ve wanted to make this ever since it came along, and I had some—but not quite enough—of the required yarn, and nothing for the contrast yoke, so it kept getting shelved.  Then my beautiful daughter’s beautiful girlfriend gave me some perfect yarn for Christmas—Acadia from The Fiber Co. in the teal/gray colorway “Butterfly Bush”—just right for the colorwork in the yoke of this design, so I decided to see if I could squeak it out.  The pattern calls for Quince and Co. Chickadee, a sport weight yarn, and I had some (in “Frost”) in the stash, but was two skeins short, so I made every effort I could think of to conserve yardage, including saving all the long ends, and also making no swatch.  (That’s right, you heard me.  Flying without a net!)  This sweater is worked top-down, so I made the yoke in the smallest size, and then made the body even smaller than that, and shortened the length in the body and in the sleeves.  I measured obsessively, and watched the diminishing ball with mounting confidence that I would certainly run out.  To my amazement, I did not run out, but only because this is the most abbreviated Branches and Buds ever.  This is the barest minimum Branches and Buds I could possibly have made.  It doesn’t even have the buds—maybe I’ll add them eventually.  I kind of like it without them.  It is a shortie top, good for spring, or for wearing underneath another layer.  I’m thinking of it as a shirt.  
 
I didn’t have much yarn left in the end, which feels like a measure of success.  This is such a nice pattern, and these are both such wonderful yarns, and I’m so glad it finally figured out what it wanted to be.  I’ll wear this a lot, eventually.  I realize I am doing a lot of optimistic knitting.  Spring will come, eventually.  
Last week, I took a long look at the state of my hair and just snapped.  Despite my giving those curls all the care and attention you would lavish on a human baby, and despite the protective measures against sun and wind and drying, and despite all the fancy products money could buy, they just looked and felt like straw and I couldn’t take it anymore.  I loved them too, but guys, they were not serving me.  So off they came, and I just feel So. Much. Better.  
It’s dry in ten minutes.  I can let the wind blow it!  I can think about other things besides frizz!  What a relief.  Let the outside match the inside.  

Monday, March 12, 2018

Process, the beginning

 
  I saw a photo awhile back that made my wheels start turning, and this week I got out the sock yarn scraps and dumped them onto the table to see if I could do something like it.  I love this part, the beginning of a project.  The creative part.  
When starting from scratch, I first make a little sketch to figure out what kind of silhouette I want to achieve, then I decide about edgings, and if I’m planning a multi-yarn project I sort the yarns by color and (eep!) value—you know I struggle with that—and I make liberal use of the mono filter in my photo editing app, just to help me get it as right as possible.  The table is strewn with tools and pencils and markers and swatches.  There’s the usual measuring, and simple math, and then I can cast on.  It’s just so absorbing, all of this.  And then watching the fabric and shape develop—did I get it right?  Does it drape like I want it to?  Did that first buttonhole, which is all involved with the neckline shaping and the collar and the built-in buttonbands, end up in the right spot?  There are hasty notes that I later can’t decipher, and I make changes and then forget to write them down, so the notes are effectively useless anyway, but I press on because it doesn’t matter to anyone but me, and I don’t actually care.  After the first few inches of yoke are knit, I put the piece on a length of waste yarn and pin it to the mannequin to check for these things.  If it’s good at that point, I pat myself on the back a little and then I’m ready to put on my jammies and park in front of the fireplace beside the snoring catdog and start knitting.  What a good feeling all this is!  Especially when the yarn I’m using is the beautiful leftovers from my cupboard, which really makes it feel like I’m getting something for free.  You guys, I just love it.  
 
 
 I get so wrapped up in this that I am pretty willing to temporarily abandon other (also rewarding) projects, but weekends involve a fair bit of time spent in the car, so I made good headway on this, too:
This is my lightly modified Branches and Buds Pullover—modified because I don’t have very much of that gray yarn (it’s Quince and Co.  Chickadee in—I think—“Frost”; this poor yarn has tried to be so many different things, and has been unraveled so many times.  It is kinked up like an old Slinky.  I hope this sweater will be its forever home). It’s no good counting all my projects in progress, because there are so many it would just be stressful, but I’ll just say this:  there are a lot of them, way more than I would like, but there is always, and always will be, a fresh idea, just waiting to be explored.  This is my medium, and for the sake of the creative process, I am willing to let a few things languish for awhile.  There are at least four sweaters that I can think of, all at the same place—the plain part, headed down the body or awaiting stockinette sleeves.  The fun part of all these is done, and now I just need a good Netflix binge to make some headway.  Any ideas?  What are you watching?