Sticking to my knitting

So much happening, and so little show-and-tell. I think maybe I’m abashed at how many different directions my mind has been going off in lately. So, for today, I’ll fall in with the old cliché, and ‘stick to my knitting’. Because, sometimes, simple is best.

Look at this, will you?

I picked up a couple of braids of this Bluefaced Leicester/silk blend from All Spun Up in a swap on Ravelry, months ago; fell in love; bought some natural oatmeal BFL/silk to go with it, and eek it out, and began spinning.

I got this:

At this point, it occurred to me that I needed MORE. A lot more. Enough to make a sweater with. But it was a club braid, and therefore not obviously available. So I scoured destashes until I found someone with some to sell/trade, and proceeded to trade for dyeing services (since I also like dyeing, that is practically the definition of win-win).

Every now and then, over a couple of months, I would spin a bit more of the beautiful, intriguing, but resolutely brown yarn, and dream of the garment I would make. And then, I did other things for a few months. Many other things, of which I will speak again. And then, it came finally time to knit the beautiful (but resolutely brown) yarn into um… something.

It was supposed to be a large hooded cardigan/coat-like thing, but that was just going to be too large, and too brown, and besides, I decided that the gauge was going to be off for the pattern I had in mind. So I did a little swatch, and it told me it wanted to be an awesomely simple sweater. Not, as I’d imagined, a cardigan (with a steek), not a big, hooded thing, but a plain sweater. With, um… some kind of simple edging, but probably not ribbing, and er… sleeves of some kind, and presumably, at some point, a neckline.

As you can tell, I’m winging it.

I started with a provisional cast-on, for superior procrastination, and just knit for a bit. The fabric is, frankly, amazing. Not because I’m any great shakes as a handspinner, because I’m surely not, but the combination of fibers is a delight to touch, and – for once – I’m knitting at a tight enough gauge for it to retain some body. There is something about the texture of handspun (imperfect stuff like mine, anyway – I know it’s not an intrinsic quality of handspun) that is appealing. It’s somehow very deeply, movingly alive. It occurs to me that I should have made a three-ply rather than a two-ply yarn, but I didn’t, and I don’t care. if it wears badly/pills horribly, then I shall care, but for now, I’m just too much in love. (And as you can see, I eventually decided on the edging – it’s seed stitch. Or do I mean moss stitch? Whatever. How much? Enough to not curl… I think.)

I’m using one of my favorite stitch-markers too, as it harmonises with the yarn, and is the right size. This was once a pendant, picked out for me by a very wise and spiritual Navajo friend as an appropriate totem-animal for me, and while I love it, I don’t wear it as a pendant any more. A few months ago, I converted it (along with most of the costume-jewelery I inherited from my mother and also don’t wear, but can’t bear to discard). Now I have a diverse range of eccentric stitch-markers I love and use, and that carry history, or meaning, or both.





Summer (what summer?) round-up

So, what happened to the summer?

I’d quite like to know too, actually.

Firstly, there was rain, cold, damp, more rain, more chill, and a little drizzle on the side. Sunshine, there was…, well, very little. We had the coldest (though not quite the wettest) summer for 18 years in fact. It got tedious, very fast. And continued to be tedious, for a long time. I finally gave up, and put away my summer clothes, the majority of them unworn. As in, not even once, all season. To give an indication, it was rarely even warm enough to wear my wool t-shirt with just-above-the-elbow-length sleeves. Yeah, really. And I wore my sandals at most once every two or three weeks, so my wool socks didn’t get a seasonal break, either. Is that good news, or bad? Wales: land of happy handknits.

Secondly, there was KnitNation, and the fiendish Finnish mitten class. Fun, and not so fiendish after all – remind me to tell you about it. There was attendant showing-off of a fabulously brag-worthy colorwork cardi (steeks! Vikkel braids!), and a subsequent non-colorfastness tragedy I haven’t fully recovered from.

There was a week in Portugal, to provide us with enough vitamin D to survive another year of grey and grim (and surely, shouldn’t we be getting this on the National Health at this point?); various business-y forays to exotic parts by the Beloved (who still hasn’t learned that all would be so much better if he returned with WOOL) and juggling of damp, cooped-up kids by the base-camp party…

And yet, at the end of the ‘summer’ there was one great surprise. Despite the poor weather, and signal absence of sunshine: a benediction of plums in the neighbor’s garden (I was cat- and plum-tree sitting, and have jam and plum brandy to prove it), and, from the organic farmer at the farmers’ market, a glut of the best cherry, and heirloom tomatoes I’ve ever tasted.  We’ve had a 3kg tray every week for a month, and aren’t anywhere near sick of them yet. In fact, every week, we chow through them faster than the week before. I actually had to come over all sneaky and rationing to save a few last ones to roast this evening, because – ye gods – very slowly roasted tomatoes turn out to be wonderful beyond measure and I can’t believe I never knew that before.

They, at least, have been perfect, and look – it even says so on the box.

Caution: brain at work!

I absolutely love catching a glimpse of the brain in action, sneaking up on it actually doing one of those things we take for granted most of the time. Thinking, joking, jumping to conclusions, making connections…

A couple of weeks ago I caught it taking a short-cut. I was reading about the German E-coli outbreak in the online edition of the Guardian, and my eye glanced at the right-hand column which shows the most-read stories of the 24-hour period. I could have sworn I saw an article entitled “deadly tomatoes hit Massachusetts”.

Hurrying over to read the story, I found mere ordinary tornadoes. Which would probably have occurred to me first, had I not been softened up by fatal fruit and veg on the other side of the screen. Oddly, I just checked, and I’m still reading ‘tomatoes’ for ‘tornadoes’ when I do a Google search on that story.

So to today. This morning I read on the BBC site about a self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh that has now been identified as probably in fact a painting of his brother Theo. Here they both are:

My brain went on processing the images, clearly, long after I’d moved on to other tasks. Later in the day, I decided to catch up with what was happening at Wimbledon, and I have to say, I was pretty surprised to see Vincent sitting in the crowd.

Or maybe it was Theo. The jury’s out. The outfit definitely looks like Vincent’s, but the coloring is more Theo, and I’m not sure about the ear…

One I made much earlier

Strange as it seems, even to myself, a few years ago, I did no crafting at all. None. I couldn’t knit; I didn’t bash metal; I didn’t know one end of a spinning wheel from the other, and I wouldn’t have known my lino from my litho if it bit me.This, after a childhood and adolescence spent almost entirely amidst craft materials. As a child, I stole the soap from the bathroom to carve into some kind of printing block in the middle of the night with my penknife. I spent my pocket-money in the hardware store on fuse wire, to bend and sculpt. I plagued my mother for months to save onion skins to use as a dyestuff (giving up when I realized that a) an entire toy-chest full wasn’t enough to dye so much as a t-shirt, and b) I had no idea how to access any kind of mordant in those pre-internet days). I calligraphed and illuminated my way through my teenage years, occasionally dabbled as a student in watercolor and acrylic (increasingly embarrassed, this was pretty much as covert as the soap-carving phase), and then… I gave up. I went into ‘making’-latency for about fifteen years. How ever could I have imagined I was me?

I guess, mostly, I was busy elsewhere. I was very much a word person during that phase of my life, and struggling to maintain equilibrium in a foreign-language environment (yes, I spoke the language in question – I even earned my living translating from it), but it drained my creativity to live, essentially, alienated from myself.

Also, I was making several other things. Like this.

Don’t you just love the cute father/daughter nose?

Anyway, that one is six today. Quite the competent young miss, off to school in the mornings, full of the joys of being six. Full of hope. Full of potential. With all the doors of life still open.

Look: I was making great stuff back then, now I think about it.

And here’s one I made today: this is drypoint, printed on the pasta machine press.

Happy birthday, my sweet.

I’ve had so many things going on over the last few months that I’ve mostly failed to blog about any of them. I’d like to say it’s because I’ve been too busy doing to be writing, but mostly, it’s been more a matter of failing to organize my thoughts well enough to write them down. And then, time goes by, and with it another project (or ten) and the moment passes.

Anyway, here’s another ‘one I made earlier’. It started with a shawl. No, further back, it started with a KAL on Ravelry in the group devoted to probably my absolute favorite dyer, Twisted Fiber Arts. (Seriously: I can’t in all honesty recommend clicking that link. It’s not safe. Your money, possibly your life-savings and the deeds to your house, will be in the hand of the ultra-talented Meg before you can say “CVV number”). A Ravelry friend had destashed a double-length ‘Evolution’ skein to me a few months ago, and here was a chance to use it. These are skeins dyed in a gently evolving gradient of colors, some of which can be quite alarming on their own, but which always seem to work miraculously as a continuum. I really don’t know how Meg does it, but she does, time after time.

While I was as unsure as my friend had been about the colors (it was the salmon pink on one end of the gradient that bothered me), I was sure of two things: one, the yarn itself was an exceptionally high-quality blend of merino and silk that would be a pleasure to knit with (even in salmon pink); two, the final combination would probably prove as entrancing as every other TFA yarn I’ve used (and if not, would make a great gift). Also, I seem unable to resist a KAL, although I’m not sure why, and daren’t stop to analyse it. So, given that I had no other clear plans for 660 yards of luxury yarn in a random color I didn’t think I liked very much, I joined in and set to making a ‘crazy lace’ Citron shawl.

Now, Citron is a shawl of mind-bogglingly boring construction and curiously satisfying effect. It is semi-circular and comprises alternating sections of plain stockinette with sections of ruched stockinette (i.e. twice as much endless stockinette per inch of fabric). And of course, being a shawl, that means it’s knit flat, which in turn means that half of all that endless stockinette needs to be purled. Yay. Go me for the project from Hell.  Well, crazy lace improves it considerably. It means that you replace the normal stockinette portions with whatever lace chart you can fit into the stitch count and eight or ten rows. That’s pretty good fun, and suits me very well, as I’ve noticed I tend to get a tad bored with a lace pattern that repeats itself more than about four times. Also, I decided to use the ruched portions (which would, while eating yarn, and taking hours, also at least hide a multitude of sins) to learn to knit in the continental style, with the yarn in my left hand. (This in preparation for a humungous colorwork project – another KAL – about which, certainly, more soon.)

So, anyway – cutting to the chase, eventually I had a semi-circular shawl that used 657 of my 660 yards, and where the final section rows were 650 stitches long. That’s a LOT of stitches to purl. But hey, the yarn was nice, and the long rows made short work of the salmon pink, and lo! the whole thing was soft, an interesting color, and a pleasure to wear.

At least, it would have been if the dratted thing hadn’t kept slipping off my shoulder every few minutes. It’s a problem as old as humans wearing garments, I suspect, and the solution is a pin.

Now, shawl pins I do have. I’ve made several since I started metalworking and collecting handknit shawls. But none of them was right for this shawl. And I did have plans to try out another design, which looked as though it would do the trick.

So I went back to approximately the third century, and whipped up a Romano-Celtic classic: a pennanular cloak-pin in sterling silver. You pin the shawl, and then twist the ring closed to secure it. It does the job perfectly. Simple, but effective.

I am utterly thrilled with the notion that a design so simple, and so ancient still works and still has a job to do for someone living in the twenty-first century, and I’m tickled that, despite the many centuries of technological advances made by other people, it’s still pretty close to cutting-edge for my own humble metalworking skills. And as a side-note, I’m additionally more than a little amused at quite how perplexed the other students in my class are by my predilection for  such peculiar artefacts.

Having enjoyed the annual wonder of the bluebell woods again, with this year’s display being particularly impressive (is ‘spectacular’ too histrionic a term for such an understated miracle?), and despite having taken approximately a million photographs (or, at least, enough to fill my camera’s memory card, which I believe is a first, in a fairly futile attempt to capture the ‘far-as-the-eye-can-see’ quality of the scene), I had originally decided not to share (mostly out of deference to Sylvia, who is quite possibly still experiencing icy blasts, sub-zero temperatures, and horizontal snow, and partly because I did share a couple of years ago).

Then I read, on someone else’s blog, that 90% of the world’s bluebells are to be found in British woods, and relented. I have no idea if that information is accurate, and no real notion of how I would research its authenticity, so it is presented to you – with a health warning – in rather the way my old therapist used to preface anything dubious she wished to say (but from which she also wished to distance herself), with the formula, “as my old therapist, who was a Very Old Frenchwoman, used to say to me…”. My own therapist was a charming American in Paris:  imagine the New Yorker made flesh. I went to her in grief, after my mother died, and stayed to be nursed through the final illness of my marriage. I stopped going when our session had morphed into a series of unsustainbly expensive chats over tea. Several years later I met the Beloved, and he introduced me to the New Yorker, which I recognised immediately as V-. made ink.

But back to the bluebells. I don’t know if 90% of them are in our native woods, but certainly, they are worth celebrating, and photographing, and sharing as widely as possible, and all the more so if most of the world is missing out.

Anyway, we grasped the moment, seized the day like champions, and indulged in some general-purpose cavorting and frolicking. Some tree-clambering was attempted by some members of the party (with attendant rescuing occasionally required by other, taller members of the party), and remarkably few bluebells were harmed in the process.


Also, we had the woods entirely to ourselves and while I’m sorry more people weren’t out enjoying them, I was also moved, and grateful for our luck. We had been blessed, in our modern, busy world, with a brief, quiet miracle of timeless – and entirely unpurchasable – perfection.


This spring thing is fast-moving.

When I was poking around in my garden a couple of days ago, the cherry and the apple sported the merest buds. This morning a friend of mine who has several cherry trees told me that the first of hers was going to flower in the next day or so,  and I figured I should check mine. You see, in the past, it has been rather reticent to move from flower to fruit (we’ll not even mention the apple tree, which flowered two months late a couple of years ago), and this year I’d really, really like that to change. We’re hoping to get them together, in a manner of speaking (her blossoms, brought down in a bag, to pollinate mine). As it’s warmer down here in the city than it is at the top of her mountain, I shouldn’t have been surprised by what I saw, but I still was. That’s the thing about spring – it’s like a magic trick. It rushes in, and does some really fast, sleight-of-hand stuff, and then Bam! everything’s green, and you wonder how you failed to see any of it actually happening.