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.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tomorrow is the Day

Most mornings the temps have been slightly cooler. By afternoons, the air is back to the typical heat and humidity of a Nebraska August. A couple of times this past week, I thought I sensed a slight touch of fall in the air. This morning I found a red maple leaf on the sidewalk and remembered that tomorrow is the first day of school for many students in Lincoln. I remember lining up my two children in carefully chosen outfits on the front porch for photos. I remember the sense of anticipation, excitement, and feeling as if they really were a year older on the first day of school. Our daughter went to a first day of preschool on a hot August day wearing a purple and pink long sleeved sweatshirt because her Grandmother had given it to her to keep her warm at school. The sweatshirt was stuffed into her backpack within the first twenty minutes but she had it with her, just in case. Our son started kindergarten in his favorite turquoise, orange, and black surfboard print shorts, sneakers with black and white checks and psychedelic green and pink designs, and emerald green and white striped wrist bands because that is what he wanted to wear. He is our second child and by then I was less worried about coordinated clothing. I have no idea what the kindergarten teacher thought of his outfit but he had a good day. He still has a wonderfully quirky sense of humor.

This year we watch two grandsons begin the school year. The oldest one, living out of state, begins middle school and the little guy, close by, enters his second year of preschool. Taking stock after the summer, I notice both boys have grown by leaps and bounds and look a year older. I love the idea of a fresh start including new school supplies, new socks and shoes, (they always need new socks) as well as a new teacher and new grade with new chances for learning. Tomorrow morning as I walk, I will watch the neighborhood children on their way to school with a lump in my throat. I wish them all well. I hope they all feel smart and successful at school. In this crazy world, we need all of our children to be successful.

In knitting news, I cast on several projects from stash yarn. I am knitting a pair of So Simple Silk Garden socks, a free pattern courtesy of Glenna C., in Socks That Rock lightweight yarn. The color is called Stormy Weather. These are gift knitting for someone who likes a gray/black/white variegated color scheme. Knitting with these colors didn't appeal to me in January but on these dog days of summer, the silver frosty color is rather refreshing. And no, that is not frost but humidity on the patio table.

Inspired by Susan B. Anderson's blog post on a Louise sweater, I cast on a similar sweater from a pattern called Ramona. After reading her post, I remembered a sweater's worth of teal colored Montera yarn, stored deep in the stash. My sweater will be knit from one color and it will be heavy enough to wear as a jacket. I knit the yoke and separated for the sleeves but have set it aside until the weather cools off a bit. The maple leaf tells me those days aren't too far away.

Happy First Day of School to one and all!

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Summer Moments

As July winds down, I'd like to slow the passage of this summer. We have stayed close to home, enjoying the garden, reading, knitting, sewing, and spending time with our three grandsons. Here are a few highlights from July:

My book group met at A Novel Idea, a local used bookstore with a good inventory of fiction and nonfiction. We spent a pleasant few hours browsing books, enjoying cold drinks, and chatting with two bookstore employees. Both are avid readers so it was fun to compare notes. Part of the charm of this bookstore is finding the unexpected. I happened onto The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty, a book of essays by Carolyn Heilbrun. The author was a professor at Columbia University during a time when women struggled to be accepted in academia. I particularly enjoyed "Unmet Friends," an essay about the kinship she felt with poet Maxine Kumin. Since the two women never met, Heilbrun's sense of kinship with Kumin allowed her to explore the relationship between reader and writer. Some essays are dated but they remind me of the strides women have made in my lifetime. Helibrun lived about the same time as my mother which may have been another reason I enjoyed reading her work.

Now and then, our four-year old grandson and I take a field trip around town. Late Spring, Lincoln hosted a public art project to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Lighthouse, a program that benefits middle and high school students during after school hours. Large lightbulbs have been decorated by community artists and installed around town. E. and I are driving around to look at them. We have fun locating them on a city map, planning a route, and then finding them. Now when either of us says, "I have an idea . . ." we joke that a lightbulb has gone on. I will remember this"lightbulb summer" for a long time. I hope he does too.

His younger brother, soon to be two, doesn't have the patience for lightbulbs but he loves to read. Currently truck books are his favorite. This sweet little guy will pick out a book, pat the couch and say, "sit down, read" meaning he wants the adult to sit down so he can snuggle up with his favorite books. I am grateful to the creator of "Little Blue Truck" as it gives us lots of time together.

We had a surprise visit from our Texas daughter-in-law and grandson. We took A. and E. out to A's favorite breakfast spot for waffles and hot chocolate with sprinkles and whipped cream.

Early this month, my husband and I attended the funeral of an elderly gentleman. He lived a good long life, worked hard, and loved his family. He was ill and his death was not expected. At his request, pizza and salad were served after the service. Having grown up during the Depression, I doubt he complained of the customary cold cut/macaroni and jello salad lunches often served at funerals. Still his request for pizza brought smiles to the faces of his family and friends. Later in the day I stopped at a local fabric store to buy some buttons for a baby sweater. The little lime green sweater seemed to call for ladybug buttons. I found some just the right size.  As is my custom, I parked a distance from the store in order to walk extra steps. Not too far from my car was a sweet patch of wildflowers. I had never seen them before and they were certainly prettier than cedar bark mulch under traditional landscaping plants.

These summer days filled with ordinary moments have been quite wonderful.  More please.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tidying Up: A Clean Knitting Slate

I have been in a "tidying up" mood lately. Many folks are inspired to do this in January. When I taught school, summer was the time I cleaned kitchen cupboards and closets so I associate hot, humid weather with more extensive sorting and straightening of my belongings. Last week I decided to get my knitting projects in order.

In June, I finished this Nurmilintu shawl. The name of the shawl comes from a line in a Finnish lullaby that translates to "Sleep, sleep my little bird." Isn't that sweet? I believe the designer is Finnish. My dear sister gave me the Collinette Jitterbug yarn. I enjoyed the pattern and the yarn. I think the shape of the shawl makes it very wearable and I have never met a shade of blue that I didn't like. I finished the knitting three weeks or so before I washed, blocked, photographed, and posted the project on Ravelry.

Since Spring, I have been knitting in fits and starts on a Leaf Press Shawl. The pattern is well written and easy to follow. Both yarn colors are lovely but the variegated yarn seemed to get lost in the stripes. I was also tired of twisting and untwisting two balls of yarn at the color change. I might have persevered if I had liked the finished knitting but I didn't. The project spent a lot of time tucked away in a closet. After trying again to knit a few rows while listening to Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion, I decided both skeins could be used to better advantage so I ripped out the shawl. As Garrison's entertaining voice went on, I ripped out another project that had been languishing in the yarn bins for quite some time. Many years ago, I ordered some pink cotton yarn to make a shell. I have tried three times to make something from that yarn and have been unsuccessful. The color is a little sickly sweet. I ripped out the last attempt and decided the yarn might make a baby sweater or wash cloths. Ripping out projects doesn't bother me. I think of it as getting more value (money and time) from the yarn.

I also blocked a Rocky Mountains Cowl I finished earlier in the week. Although the pattern calls for a worsted or chunky weight yarn, I used a sport weight yarn and added a few repeats of the pattern to get the size I wanted.

Then I finished up a washcloth that had been riding around in the car with me for months. Last night I knitted the heel and gusset on the second top down Evergreen Sock which is my only project on the needles. I hardly recognize my knitting self. Sometimes though, a clean knitting slate is a good idea. Now, if I could only transfer this tidying up frame of mind to the storage area in our basement. A clean slate down there is a good but impossible idea. Still, a few trips to the Goodwill would help.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Another Woman's Needlework

Abundant rain continues to fall in our area. On dry days, I duck out to weed the small vegetable garden, the perennial flower beds, and herb garden. The tomato and cucumber vines look healthy. The cucumber vine has blossoms and the cherry tomato plant begins to bear green fruit. The oregano is exploding with long branches and larger leaves while the basil needs a little more sun. Hollyhocks I planted along the fence are blooming. Some years the hollyhock seeds have not germinated but this year they are doing well.

Several rainy afternoons, I searched through my handwork supplies and sewed project bags for my knitting. I purchased this pattern. It is well written and easy to follow. The designer offers a free tutorial for a small bag suitable for a sock or mitten project. I wanted a few that were larger so I purchased the pattern. I used the red geranium fabric for the small bag (free tutorial.) The purchased pattern gives instructions for eight sizes, including a recipe for making a custom sized bag. The two slightly larger bags are made from leftover quilting fabrics and old linens. Using the linens is not an original idea. Browse Etsy and you will find all kinds of uses, including bags and purses, for new and vintage embroidery.

Over the years I have inherited and purchased vintage linens trimmed with hand embroidery. I use them as dresser scarves and small tablecloths until they wear out. I keep a few stained worn pieces because I don't want to throw away the embroidery work. Once a long time ago, a family member sold my Grandmother's Depression Era Double Wedding Ring quilt to a second hand shop. She didn't mean any harm nor did she realize anyone in the family (like me) would liked to have kept the quilt. I have always wondered whether the piece found a good home, was repurposed into other projects, or was used to cover old furniture in a barn.

Because of that experience, I either use old textiles or find them a good home. When I saw these pieces among my supplies, I decided to sew them into the exterior of the bags. The pink flower may have come from one of my Grandmother's dresser scarves. The embroidered bluebird piece is one I picked up at a second hand store. I fused the embroidery to white cotton fabric so it would be more stable. The lined bags have tidy insides and the drawstring closure doesn't snag yarn. I also didn't have to purchase or install a zipper. The embroidered flower is more proportional than the bluebirds but even so I like the way the bags turned out. They were good entertainment on a rainy day and will be useful for knitting projects. I enjoy using bags that carry the work of another woman's needle.