Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Almost Ready

How did we arrive at Thanksgiving? Earlier this week, we had some beautiful sunny crisp autumn days. This morning the clouds are rolling in from the west carrying the possibility of rain/sleet late today and into Thanksgiving morning. I wish safe trips for all travelers. We are ready for a modest dinner at home. Weather permitting, I'd love to drive out to one of the city trails and go for a long walk. If not, my husband will watch football while I read or knit. Generally, I don't knit on a deadline but right now I am working on a project I'd like to finish. Our fourth grandchild, gender unknown, will arrive sometime the end of December into the first of January.

While waiting for each of the other grandsons, I knit two baby sweaters, one for a boy and one for a girl. I gave away two pink sweaters to the grandchildren of friends. I do have one special little newborn sized sweater knit in a blush color that I knit six years ago and a bright little green sweater that is gender neutral. I knit that sweater because I had the yarn and it is nice to have a baby gift on hand. Early in my daughter's pregnancy, I knit both a pink and a blue hat so I thought I was ready.

Then I brought home a new knitting book from the library, One Skein Wonders for Babies. I often check out knitting books from the public library so their data reflects an interest in knitting. I also enjoy looking at new books. Imagine that? The little Sail Away With Me sweater knit from a multicolored skein of Opal sock yarn caught my eye. A garter stitch row creates texture in the body of the sweater while reverse stockinette makes a sailboat on the front of the sweater. One shoulder has a button closure which is nice for those sweet baby heads. Somehow, I thought this little babe should have his/her own sweater, knit with love just for him/her. The colorway used in the pattern was discontinued but I found something similar and cast on. The colors will be cute on either a girl or a boy.

When the oldest brother of this new babe looked at the ultrasound photo, he predicted he will have a new brother. The baby didn't have a ponytail so it is a boy! Three little boys would be a very fun team. Regardless, we are waiting to welcome this little person of either gender with love and warmth. In the meantime, I have a sweater front and sleeves to knit. Snow is on the way, if not tomorrow then soon.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

Monday, November 2, 2015

In Praise of Friendship

I recently completed this Friendship Quilt of blocks made by the Crafters, a group of friends. I sewed the top together by machine and then quilted the piece by hand. Some Crafters will make their own quilt, others will seek help or hire someone to do machine quilting. Eventually we will all have a similar quilt.

Originally, the Crafters met through our work in public schools and special education. In 1979, four or five members got together, ostensibly to carve out a little time to work on handwork and to chat. I knew several of the women from my first three years of teaching and joined them in 1983, when we moved back to Lincoln from Cheyenne, Wyoming. Once a month, we gather in each other's homes with no agenda other than to enjoy being together. The only rule I can ever remember is, if one gets new carpet they are excused from cleaning house. Now days we don't worry too much about cleaning house or new carpet. Dessert is still important. For a good number of years, we were twelve. Now we have two empty chairs. One woman moved out of state and the oldest passed away. We miss them but their blocks are in this quilt.

Everyone brings or doesn't bring their own projects to craft. In the earliest years, counted cross stitch was the rage. Several of us discovered quilting and others knit. Over the years, my friends have stitched, mended, hemmed, quilted, knitted, clipped coupons, sorted through photos, and cleaned out their purses. Now days three or four of us may be working on something. More important is the friendship stitched together through the years. When we began, we talked of our babies and sleepless nights. We commiserated over divorce and teenagers. Then the children grew up and we danced at their weddings. One by one we have lost parents and other loved ones. These days we celebrate grandchildren and new parts via joint replacement surgery. Lately we toasted a bride at her happy second marriage. When I hosted the Crafters in October, we picked up exactly where we left off in September.  

I love being part of the on-line knitting community so this isn't a question of which is better. My knitting friends support each other and charities in other ways. Friendships reach across the country and knitting gathers us together. Locally, I am also part of an intelligent thoughtful group of women who meet monthly to discuss books but that group is worthy of another blog post. I treasure all of these connections to other women.  

Some ten or thirteen years ago, the Crafters set out to make Friendship Quilts, exchanging blocks and helping each other along the way. I honestly can't remember the year we began this quilt. I do remember the times friends from both the Book Group and the Crafters have showed up at my door with a hug and dinner in a picnic basket. They never blinked an eye at the dust in the living room, laundry on the couch, or the sticky kitchen floor. They understood I'd spent a long few days at the hospital with my husband or that I'd just seen my father or mother to the end of his or her life. Books come and go and quilts may be folded away but the friendships remain. They are as rich as deep reds and golds on an autumn day.  


Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ginger Mitts

Last week I knit these mitts. About ten o'clock one evening, I finished the second thumb and wove in the ends on both mitts. Then I tried them on to admire them, the way we knitters do, only to discover the thumbs are differently placed in the ribbing. Rather disgusted with myself, I set them aside and went to bed with a book.

I knit these while listening to a Charles Todd mystery, A Pale Horse. I particularly liked the end of this story. Charles Todd is a mother/son team who have published two mystery series set in England and France during and shortly after World War One. One series features Bess Crawford, an English woman serving as a nurse during the war. The other longer series, that the above book is part of, is set in England after the war. The protagonist is Ian Rutledge, a Scotland yard detective, who served as an English officer in France. Rutledge suffered shell-shock during the war and carries his demons with him. I find both series well written with the right amount of plot, history, and descriptions of place and characters. While they are about murder, they do not contain gory details that keep me up at night. Occasionally I wish Rutledge could find a little peace but Todd's portrayal of shell shock is more authentic. I enjoy the mysteries so I was probably imagining the English countryside or listening for red herrings while drinking tea and knitting merrily away on the second mitt.  

Many others have knit the Align Mitts successfully so the mistake is mine and not the fault of the designer. I did think to knit an inch cuff of ribbing to keep the stockinette portion from rolling up along the bottom edges. The mitts don't take much yarn and would be easy to size up or down. I like their tailored non-fussy look. I will probably knit them again as the pattern is well suited to leftover fingering weight yarn. Other yarns could be substituted and the stitch count changed. The designer made a few suggestions on how to do this on the pattern page. I used Entice Yarn by Hazel Knits that was leftover from the Shallows cowl. The yarn is lovely around the neck or to wear on the hands.

My first inclination was to rip out the second mitt and reknit it so the two would be a perfect match. Indeed, I think of ripping and re-knitting as getting more value and enjoyment from the yarn. I have ripped out sweaters because I knew they weren't going to fit. I have ripped out lace patterns in order to maintain the melodic rhythm of the stitch patterns. I stand by the idea that if, I don't like a mistake now, I won't like it ten stitches, ten rows, or ten inches of knitting later. I have fixed and fudged all kinds of mistakes.  

Earlier this week I happened to have a conversation about perfection with an acquaintance. I didn't know the woman well enough to offer advice so I listened as she stated her home would never measure up to the newly built new homes of her friends. I countered with my thoughts on accepting less than perfection when celebrating the winter holidays. When I got home, I looked up the dictionary definition for perfect. My old hard copy of the American Heritage Dictionary listed eight definitions for the word used an adjective, two for usage as a noun, and several more about verb usage and verb tense. Only once did the dictionary define "perfect" as being without defect or blemish. Other notations in the list included the following: lacking nothing essential to the whole, completely suited for a purpose, excellent and delightful. More over, some of the word origin comes from a Latin participle meaning "to finish" or "to do."

I decided not to redo these mitts. They are very warm and comfortable. They fit well and are sturdily made. I wove the ends in with care and the cuff won't roll up out of my sleeve. And for heaven's sake, they are made of merino, cashmere, and nylon yarn that is perfectly delightful next to the skin.

Perhaps you will join me as I raise my knitting needles high and salute whole and delightful perfection!



Saturday, October 10, 2015

Happy Autumn

Recently my husband and I drove up the Minnesota shore of Lake Superior. I kept thinking of the line from The Teddy Bear's Picnic, "If you go out in the woods today, you are in for a big surprise." We didn't see any bears but we had several picnics and found other surprises in the north woods of Minnesota. Autumn is my favorite season and traveling early in the season only improves the scenery. The leaves on deciduous trees were starting to turn colors. I loved the cooler temps and crisp air. I took a fleece jacket and was pleased to wear it.

Previously, when we visited Duluth, I considered it to be a northern outpost. This time we continued up the shore to Grand Marais, Minnesota. The banner strung across the main street proudly proclaims, "The Best Small Town in America." I might agree. Grand Marais is home to a thriving community of artists. My favorite artist's studio, complete with beautifully illustrated children's books, was that of Betsy Bowen. We stayed at the MacArthur House, a lovely B and B, and ate delicious dinners in small local restaurants. There wasn't a chain restaurant in town. One day we drove up to Grand Portage National Monument and hiked a short distance to Pigeon River along the Canadian Border.  On the return trip down the shore, we toured Split Rock Lighthouse. We might visit this area again.

My husband likes to drive so I logged plenty of knitting miles. I finished the Shallows Cowl and cast on a sock in some wild self-striping yarn by Desert Vista Dyeworks. Duluth has a great little yarn shop called Yarn Harbor. I bought a skein of Three Irish Girls fingering weight yarn because it is dyed locally in Superior, Wisconsin. The color, Bayfront, is about the color of the lake on a clear autumn day. I am not sure whether it will become socks or a shawl. I do know the stitches will carry a hint of autumn days in the North Woods.

In the past few days, the leaves on the birch in my front yard have begun to change. I'm off to walk around the neighborhood and watch autumn arrive. I hope you find time to enjoy October. Happy Autumn.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Knitting Inspiration

Where did September go? This morning, the day of the Fall Equinox, a thunderstorm is in progress, bringing a change in recent warm temperatures. The word equinox originates from two Latin words, aequus meaning equal and nox meaning night. Today the hours of day and night are equal but tomorrow the northern hemisphere begins the turn toward shorter days. Fewer hours of light cool the earth and bring winter to our doorstep. Word origin aside, I am ready to bite into a crisp apple from a local orchard. Autumn is my favorite season. I prefer crisp cool temperatures of sweater weather. I haven't worn any wool socks yet but I will be pulling them on soon.

I read a blog called My Sister's Knitter. I enjoy Andi's photos and notes on knitting and life in general. Last December, a knitter in her Ravelry group created an informal knit along challenge to knit a pair of socks a month in 2015. The idea was to put twelve different skeins of sock yarn into twelve paper bags. Then each month, the knitter chooses a skein to knit a pair of socks. The socks knit from a variety of yarns, patterns, and colors are great inspiration. While I don't knit a pair of socks each month, I usually have a pair in progress. The small project is a good way to fill travel or waiting time. Though I admire the intricate textures and designs, I knit repetitive easy to memorize sock patterns. Having my hands occupied in rote movement frees up my thoughts. I keep small notepads in my knitting bags in order to make notes about a project. Sometimes I set the knitting aside to jot down an idea or thought that becomes part of a poem or at least begin to solve a challenge in a piece of writing.  

Last Saturday evening while listening to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, I finished the Frosty Garden Socks. Inspired by Andi's blog, I took a photo of socks I have finished in 2015. Surprisingly, there isn't a blue pair in the pile. I will remedy that soon. Whether my finished objects are poems or socks, reading or looking at them often inspires me. I am not sure what that says about my working style but I am not going to fret about it.

I cast on Shallows cowl in a Hazel Knits yarn to celebrate the autumn season. The color way, henna, reminds me of pumpkin spices and is different from my usual color choices. I have always wanted to knit an autumn colored yarn in the autumn and decided to seize the moment. I also cast on a baby hat. We have another grandchild due in January. Here in Nebraska, that little one is going to need a warm going home from the hospital hat. Now I am off to find a skein of blue sock lingering somewhere in the yarn stash.  

What inspires you?


Friday, September 4, 2015

Creating from Scraps

I am a saver. Whether projects involve knitting, writing, bookmaking, or quilting, they generate leftover materials that I have a hard time throwing away. Some scraps inspire me to make something new and some do not. The trouble is, I never know what will be useful so I save papers from bookmaking, fabric pieces, embroidered table runners, sentences, bits of poems, and small balls of yarn. My husband is patient with me. He saves other kinds of stuff but that is a story for another day.

Recently, I wanted to make a backing for a queen sized quilt top that I finished last summer. I pieced the Apron Strings pattern from scraps and leftovers. While I have plenty of fabric from my quilting years, I don't have long lengths suited for quilt backs. Rummaging through boxes of scraps, I unearthed pieces of a Boston Commons quilt that went awry ten years ago. The quilt was to be made by machine piecing strips, sewing them together, cutting across those pieces to make strips of small squares, and then piecing those strips with others into a checkerboard of squares. I miscalculated the seam allowance and ended up with quilt sections that didn't fit together. I tried some solutions but nothing worked so I packed up and stored the whole frustrating mess. Last week I retrieved the project and removed large corner sections. Then with more joy than precision, I trimmed and sewed the larger and smaller pieces together into strips to use in the quilt back. I found one good sized piece that never became a quilt and sewed the strips to either side. My goal was to square up the uneven edges and create a sturdy fabric that would lay flat on the back of the quilt. Eventually, I succeeded. Next I'll have it machine quilted. When the quilt is finished, I'll have an extra blanket for my grandsons' sleepovers. I wouldn't even care if they used it to make an indoor fort on a winter day.

At the same time I knit what I am calling the Blue Yoga Shawl from leftover yarn. I think the simple garter stitch will make a good wrap for the end of yoga class. I started with the Diving In Shawl recipe pattern and added three rows of eyelet and a narrow border from Numinlintu, another pattern I had recently knit. Most of the yarn is Quince and Co. Finch although I had one small ball of a leftover variegated sock yarn that went quite well with the colors. I wish I had done the increases, one stitch in from the edges, like those in the Numinlintu pattern. They would be neater with a more finished look but I didn't think about it until I had finished my shawl. I considered ripping it out but decided this is a shawl from scraps made primarily for warmth and comfort.

Meanwhile, I have started completely over with the blue Sundara yarn. I fixed the edge of the Ishbel shawl only to knit too far in the stockinette section so I ripped out the extra rows. Then I did something goofy in the center increase on the first row of lace. I pulled the needle out and discovered the piece looked like a miniature sample so I frogged the project. Some years ago, I knit an Ishbel shawl in some yarn I bought from a dyer no longer in business. I really like that shawl and this blue light fingering yarn wasn't going to make the same kind of fabric. After muddling around in patterns, I chose one called Tympani from a knitting book on my bookshelf. Now, there is a novel idea, actually looking through a book I already own, right? The shawl is back on the needles and I've found the sweet spot of knitting that occurs when needles, yarn, and pattern play well together. I've had the yarn for several year and who knows when I bought the book. This will be the third pattern I've tried to knit with this yarn. It is holding up well which means any leftovers may be useful.

I hope your fabric or yarn, and patterns play well together on this Labor Day weekend.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

August: Gardening and Knitting Notes

As the nights cool, my garden has that end of the summer look. Despite this earlier photo, most of the beds are none too attractive. The tomato vines are a mess. They are dying back while a few pieces of green fruit dangle from dry branches. I planted them two weeks later than usual because of heavy May rains. More rain fell in June so they had a slow start. I'm not complaining about the moisture but I am glad I don't depend on my garden to feed my family in the way my great grandmother. I have harvested some tomatoes but will not have enough to can for winter soups. However, the cucumbers thrived in the cooler damp weather. I made plenty of bread and butter pickles and gave away as many cucumbers as I could find willing takers. I'm pulling up the last wilting cucumber vine today. I also made a gardening note to plant only one hill of cucumbers. How many pickles can one family and neighborhood eat? For the first time, I had good luck with a bell pepper plant. We have been eating "orange blaze" peppers in salads and with hummus. Yesterday I chopped up three extras and put them in the freezer. I also have lush basil plants and will freeze some pesto. My slightly haphazard approach to composting seems to be working. I added a fair amount to the vegetable garden, herbs, and perennial flowers along the fence.

The hollyhocks were beautiful before some sort of blight grew on the underside of the leaves. I usually let them go to seed but this year I cut most of them down hoping to minimize the spread of whatever was growing on them. I don't use gardening chemicals or even natural/homemade sprays. I've never found anything that worked very well or seemed worth the time to mix and spray. If a flower, vegetable, or herb grows and thrives I keep it around, if it doesn't I let it go. The perennials in my garden have to tolerate the Nebraska summers and winters.

In knitting notes, I am chugging away on the second gray variegated sock. The single cable running down the side adds just enough interest to keep the project interesting without requiring too much concentration. The cable on the right sock twists to the front and the one on the left sock twists to the back. This thoughtful detail of a mirrored cable on a free pattern is typical of meticulous detail by the designer, Glenna C. I have an Ishbel shawl on the needles - in blue of course. Late last night I picked it up and discovered a few rows back, I had began to knit two edge stitches instead of three. I decided to wait to fix it in the light of day. I'm going to try to drop down and reknit the stitches instead of ripping out six to eight rows. Wish me luck. I am looking forward to cooler temperatures and a chance to wear a shawl. I hope the end of summer is treating you well.