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?  

Monday, March 5, 2018

Confetti and more

I can’t lie, this week has been a trial.  For healing and self-care, on Saturday Doc and I decided to go out for burritos and a car wash.  It just seemed like the best thing to do at the time.  When in difficulty, when you can’t think what to do, just get up and put on your shoes, and go do the first thing you can think of:  for us, it was to eat mashed beans with raw onions and bizarrely orange sauce.  I don’t know why it helped, but it did, and anyway, getting the car washed is sort of a reset button.  You go in filthy and covered with salt, and then there’s noise and soap and hot water, and you emerge on the other side all scrubbed and fresh.  Sometimes it’s big things, and sometimes it’s little things, and we do what we can with what we have.  Anyway, I’ve been working on the fleece lately, and turning that enormous pile of hair into yarn is one of the most satisfying things I’m doing these days.  It isn’t the most perfect yarn in the world, not by a long shot, but it is beautiful to me, and it is the loveliest, lightest, warm gray color.   I am trying to spin it woolen style, hopefully with some loft in it.  There is such an endless amount to learn about this process, and the best way I know to learn it is to keep doing it, and maybe that way I’ll figure it out.  I have three big skeins of sportweight yarn now, almost enough to make something, and I tell you I have barely made a dent in the fleece.  Maybe I’ve spun less than a quarter of it?  It feels like it will literally last forever.  I’m going back and forth between wanting to spin it all up first, and then decide what to make with it, or to just do one more skein and dive into the knitting.  I’m a little worried that if I start using the yarn, I might not get around to finishing the fleece.  I keep reminding myself that there is no rush, no rush at all.  
It is such a soothing, comforting process, spinning.  I can buy yarn, but it’s hard to buy comfort.  I keep sentimentally thinking about the sheep who grew this fleece, eating oats and chewing grass, sleeping in the clover.  Loved by two small farmers and their children.  When I was growing up, I sometimes was lucky enough to wake up in a four-poster bed, in a room with roses on the wallpaper and a flock of sheep, grazing in a meadow outside the open window, musing to each other from beneath the pear tree.  I feel such a tenderness for sheep.  I think all knitters probably do.  
With any luck, in a few weeks, there may be warm enough days that I can wear this.  It is Confetti, by Veera Valimaki (the pattern is here) knit from my stash in Madelinetosh Tosh Sock “Gossamer” and Zen Yarn Garden Superfine Fingering “Kind Hearted”.  The “Kind Hearted” says it’s a One of a Kind, but I see at least seven other projects on Ravelry using it, so I don’t know.  Anyway, it is one of those sublimely beautiful multicolored skeins I always fall for but then don’t know how to use.  This little sweater has solved that problem for me.
Watching those colors unfold and stack up next to each other was such a pleasure.  This is the best use of multicolored sock yarn I can imagine.  I am scouring the stash for more options now.  
The snow continues to fall.  The land and the sky are white.  Better days are ahead.   I spin, I knit, I cuddle my blushy little dog.  I eat burritos and get the car washed, and wait.