Monday, January 30, 2017

Sunshine and Clouds

I am usually an annoyingly cheerful sort, at least in public.  Hey, make a joke!  Lighten up, people, don't be a downer.  Diffusing.  Diplomatic.  (Doc would probably have a different sort of story to tell you about me, but he is with me just about every minute and so he sees me at my worst and most complicated, and has given me many nicknames over the years to reflect this truth.  Yesterday, I pitched a tantrum and threw a pair of dull scissors across the room, and I am not kidding.  That's not the norm, at least I don't think so, but don't get comfortable!)  These days, though.  Seriously, how have we come to this?  I can't even talk about it, really, because I just get SO WORKED UP, and then my eyes get all puffy again, and--note to self--I am doing what I can.  I really have to think about other things now.  There is so much to be happy about.  "It is a serious thing//just to be alive/on this fresh morning/in the broken world." That's the brilliant Mary Oliver, who is such a balm.  Read her, I mean it.  Go, now.  
Meanwhile, there is my daily practice of showing up for art.  "Art." Please rest assured, I know that these are not "good", nor "real",  nor "art", although (as I mentioned earlier) that is not the goal, so I don't know why I feel like explaining...and probably a roomful of college freshmen could debate the question What Is Art until the beer ran out, and in doing so raise a lot of interesting points, and maybe I'll do that someday.  Meanwhile, I find it sort of revealing to look at these little practice things, these little snippets of time I spend showing up in front of a (okay, it's small) piece of white paper and doing something to it.  I just sit down, open the paint box, and start.  No do-overs.  Just do something, anything.  It hasn't happened every day, because, you know, life.  And I would say that in the past thirty days, I have painted exactly nothing "good" in this exercise, but that's not what I'm trying to do, and there is a lot of stuff happening in them that pleases me.  Those luscious blooms that you get with wet-on-wet watercolor, and the lucky accidents, and the sudden revelations of negative space.  I'm learning a lot, which is the goal.  And discipline, which is something I hate, and something I need.  Also, it occurs to me, there is so much gray.  Is it just January, rearing it's stupid, colorless, sunless head?  Or what?  Even the knitting is gray, but at least the yarn is Woolfolk Far (thank you, Santa!) which has to count for something.   Knitting that scarf (my own pattern, I'll show you more later) has been such a comfort, though I am taking it intentionally slowly, because, ow, my wrists.  There's no hurry, I have other scarves.  And other gray scarves, let's face it.  I might as well savor the Woolfolk, too, because holy moly, that yarn.  They have yarn figured out, those Woolfolk people.  It is softer than baby hair.  
Hey, is that the sun???  We are alive.  We are!  Alive!  Chew on that with me.  Xoxo

Monday, January 23, 2017

Moody

Wow, January is just hard.  My mood rallies and plunges according to the whims of the universe, what they say on CNN, Vitamin D.  There is so much to worry about, I think, and I am very good at worrying.  I am wearing my latest FO, a mashup of Misa Erder's Lisbon pullover (bottom-up construction and stitch counts) and Ryrau (colorwork chart, which I modified).  This is my fourth and final attempt at using my stash of Brooklyn Tweed Shelter, in the wonderfully golden "Hayloft", and I promised myself that if this sweater didn't work out, I would throw it to the wolves and be done with it, so it is happy thing indeed that I am pleased with the results here.  Cramming the 34-stitch pattern repeat for the Ryrau chart into the stitch counts required for the yoke of the Lisbon pattern required me to finagle a little and simplify the original chart, and there was some self-congratulatory fist pumping when the math worked.  So what is that, four finished sweaters for 2017, and we are three weeks into January?  Yikes.  I am knitting too much, and my wrists are in trouble, so there will be a week or so of me sitting here in the evenings wondering what these strange empty things at the ends of my arms are for.   I'll sit down in front of the Netflix machine and, what, just watch?  
There has lately been a huge flock of robins hanging around our crabapple tree, feasting on the leftover raisins and chirping to each other.  If I open the window to see them better, they scatter to the walnut tree at the edge of the orchard, regrouping, deciding whether I am anything to worry about.  If I were a believer in signs and omens, I would assign some portent to this giant congregation of tough little neighbors clustering outside my window.  There are many long months to go until Spring, but the robins are here, and they will be ready when it comes.  Meanwhile, a new idea has emerged from my moody January brain, and I am spending some of these winter hours painting and drawing various perching birds (borrowed reference material from google images) and trying to figure them out.  I might spend the whole winter doing this, just painting birds.  The sun will come up, every day, whether I can see it or not. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Bretonish

Anything striped. Yes, please.  After I saw Karen working on one of these, I resisted as long as I could (so many other things on the project table) and then I cast on.  There is almost nothing better in my life than long stretches of stockinette stitch, with a color change every twenty rows to keep it interesting.  You guys, this is what to do when you're stuck in line, a waiting room, a long road trip.  I don't know how people who don't knit can stand a long road trip!  Before knitting happened to me, all I did in a car was sleep, and then arrive at the distant destination with nap breath and bed hair, but so well rested, just as everyone else was collapsing into bed.  I still fall asleep a little bit, but mostly there is knitting, and then I feel like I have something to show for all that sitting in one place all day long.  
I worked this top-down, making it up as I went, which is my very favorite trick.  I've said this before, but seriously, all I do is this:  start with a vague idea of what I want.  (I mean it.  Vague. You can figure out sleeve and body length and shaping on the fly.)  Use a measuring tape and maybe a mirror to figure out how big I want the neck opening to be, and how long the raglan seam needs to be.  Make a gauge swatch.  Do a little math--stitches per inch x distance around parts of me, etc. to figure out how many stitches to cast on at the neck.  Knit the sweater.  Friends, it is that simple.  
A word about the yarn:  I used Holstgarn Supersoft, in Vintage Heather, which is a heathery navy--three 50g balls, and Oatmeal--2 50g balls.  It seems like a fingering weight yarn, but it's used at a much larger gauge--I worked this Bretonish pullover on a US 4.  It also feels and looks very rough as it comes off the cake, and I can tell you that if Isabell Kraemer didn't use it so often in her lovely designs, I doubt I would ever have given this yarn a second look.  It looks and feels like twine, and the knitted fabric initially looks pretty awful, and you can't help thinking the Holst people must not know what the word "soft" means, but hoo!  All votes of confidence are right on, because after a bath and a block--dry in four hours!--it is utterly transformed.  It blooms and relaxes and fluffs up into a beautifully wooly and light and (mostly) soft fabric, and I wore it all day yesterday, next to my skin, and it was nice.  It isn't Woolfolk (sob, is anything?) but it was perfectly lovely.  Also, in that photo up there, see that loop?  That is a stitch I dropped on the FIRST ROW, and which I did not notice until I was picking up to knit the neckband, the very last thing I do before blocking.  It did not drop down even one row, not in the whole time I was flinging this in and out of a bag, dragging it around the house, hauling it across the country and back, pulling it out from underneath the sleeping Catdog, picking up and knitting one sleeve and then the other, trying it on the dummy to check for fit, and sewing up the sleeve seams.  It just sat there, patiently waiting for me to find it.  

Friday, January 13, 2017

This just in

I was talking about art the other day, with another artist friend who works in charcoal and pencil, and we agreed that there are two ways to do things:  you can either sit decoratively in a coffee shop like a proper bohemian, sipping your cappuccino and waiting for the muse, or you can get your thumb out of your ear and show up every day, whether you want to or not, and get to work.  The beat poet in me loves the idea of the first option--just sitting there having another and being all artsy, letting things percolate.  It can be useful, and sometimes it works out great, because sometimes things are really rich and ideas are flowing like wine, and you're in your hammock reading a book you bought because it was big enough to last the whole vacation and before you know what's happening you're writing Hamilton and getting enormously famous.  But really, mostly, it's all about sitting down and getting on with it, because sometimes the creative mind kind of takes a powder and you look around and it's been years and you're just not doing it at all.  He doesn't want to hear about how busy you are and how much you mean eventually to get around to something.  Every time I see him he asks me what I'm working on, and if I say, "Well, you know how it is, life and everything..." he raises a gray eyebrow at me and smirks a little and reminds me that he practices his golf swing every single day of his life, even if he has to clear a spot in the snow so he can find the ball.  He reminds me to get to work.  Whatever it is I do, I need to do it every day.  
 
It doesn't have to be good every time.  It might hardly ever be any good.  It might make me think twice about showing it to you, and force me to make a disgruntled face.  [Is this a giant anthill?  Why is the sun brown?  These are not questions I ask myself.]  I just do it, and put it on the pile, and tomorrow I will do another, and the next day, another.  There may be, in the end, 365 tiny paintings of anthills and dirty suns and unintentionally apocalyptic landscapes and scary birds, but I am not concerned with that right now. 
He reminds me to show up and do it, every day, even if it snows, and even if I wish I could just skip it and do it twice tomorrow.  How will any of it--good, bad, ugly, perfect--happen at all if I only imagine it?  

Thursday, January 5, 2017

In the morning

Good morning, my friends.  All night long the wind battered the side of the house and I thought we were going to end up in the neighbors' yard, but the sun is shining today and things are intact.  I can't decide whether I like wind or not--sometimes a stormy, weathery night is nice, and I feel very snug, tucked up here beside my fireplace with my cocoa and eight billion episodes of something lame on Netflix, and sometimes I hate all the howling outside, because I just know the whole roof is going to come off.  This seems to be a very windy part of the world, based anyway on my limited experience.  Farmers' fields all around make it possible for wind to get up a big head of steam before it gets to me, I think.  
As much as I really do want to sew and handstich things--and I have quite a lot underway, stitching-wise--the blustering of January just calls me to the knitting.  This here is the next pullover I'm working on, completely inspired by Karen Templer's KAL project, and knit by me in the very weird and interesting Holstgarn Supersoft.  I don't know if you've ever used Supersoft before, but if not, let me just tell you right now that in the skein, it is anything but soft, and it feels like knitting a length of garden twine into a pile of burlap, but the thing about this yarn is that it blooms into a completely different fabric after washing, and unless my swatch is pulling a huge con, this pullover is going to be relatively soft, beautifully fuzzy, and will weigh approximately nothing at all, which is my idea of heaven.  But the contrast with the yarn I just finished using for this next thing? 
Pretty significant.  You guys, this yarn.  This yarn!  This is Woolfolk Tov, a holiday gift from my lovely mama, who clearly knows exactly what a girl needs, in the colorway "denim".  I can't even.  I made this Arctic Cardigan, from Issue 2 of Making magazine in about a week, and that's including having a houseful of company that all needed feeding and clean towels.  I could not stop knitting this, and now I want to wear it every single day.  I'll get a proper photo of it soon, so you can see the whole thing.  I know it looks like there's been a lot of sweaters lately.  I guess there has been.  Must be I'm cold.  There's also been this:
 On the left is a ripped and faded and felted and orphaned mitten I made a long time ago for my boy, an artifact with the patina of a teenage boy who skied a lot and has the history of concussions to prove it, and he came to me over the weekend wearing this one lonely mitten and saying "I really like these.  I lost the other one, I am sad.  Can I have a new pair?"  And I said, "WellnowletmethinkYES."  And was a cloud of dust, hairpins flying, as I ran to the cupboard for yarn.   I really am going to get back to the sewing.  I want to, a lot.  But right now it is so wintery.  Brr.  
Catdog naps.  She opens one eye halfway, wags her tail.  Inspects me briefly for snacks, and then sighs herself back to sleep.  She has taken over the couch, the blanket, and all the pillows, and the other day I fell asleep on the floor in front of the fire with my head on my knitting while she sprawled all over the furniture, snoring, because she looked so cute I didn't want to disturb her.  Sweet Catdog.  Anything for you, my dear.