Monday, August 22, 2016

Following a Thread

Years ago I claimed one corner of the family room as a sewing corner. I hung a few things on the wall, including a counted thread pattern that came from my paternal grandmother. I put the yellowed newsprint in an inexpensive frame and never thought much more about it. The other day I took it down while dusting and found a story. My grandparents lost a farm during the Depression and my grandfather died around 1940. Though it all my grandmother raised three healthy children. She was loving, kind, and very frugal. She used a magnifying glass to count stitches in photos of needlework so she could stitch the design without buying the pattern. When I looked carefully at this pattern, I found numbers Grandma had penciled near the embroidery key.

This pattern was written in German and published by the J. Wiehller Company of Berlin. The title, "Dumpfaffen" means "old world finch." The color key directs the birds be stitched in red, gray, and browns, making them similar to the purple finches in my yard. I began to wonder if Grandma inherited the pattern from her mother, Agatha. Grandma didn't buy many patterns. Perhaps my great grandmother brought it to Nebraska when she immigrated from Prussia in the late 1800's. She was 18 or 19 years old when she came with her parents. 

I gave up dusting and searched for notes I made while having a conversation with my aunt and two of her cousins, three Agatha's granddaughters. They have passed away so I can't ask them about this pattern. However my notes reminded me that Agatha learned advanced sewing skills and hat trimming while still in Prussia. She stayed in Marienburg, away from her family, for six weeks to learn those skills. Rumor has it that while she was there, she pierced her ears and learned to dance, quite a statement by a young Mennonite girl in Prussia. These ladies were quick to add that these were only rumors and no one knew for sure if they were true. Regardless, my great grandmother liked to make things. She also loved music and composed at least one piano piece. Her four sons sang as a quartet. Her daughters pooled money to buy a piano for the family. The three ladies I visited with remembered Agatha often sang to her grandchildren as I sing to mine. As a purple finch lands on the bird feeder, I wonder if Agatha liked to watch the birds. 

I am a saver of old family stuff. Sometimes I look around and wonder why I save it. I want my children to take only things they want. Stuff accumulates, makes clutter, and takes up space. For me, the stories that go with the stuff are more important. I am writing some of the stories and putting them in a notebook. They won't take up much space. As I followed the thread of this story, I finished a shawl. Maybe I'll dust another day. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Pickle Time

The summer temps are soaring, the humidity is high, and the cucumber vines are producing abundantly. Two hills, each with eight seeds, are vining up and over the raised beds. The cucumbers play hide and seek with my grandson as he exclaims with glee at spying the biggest and pokiest.

When family and friends refuse to take more, I make what our family calls "bread and butter pickles." Now I wonder if anyone ever ate them with bread and butter. Really, they are better in potato or egg salad. I use a recipe my Mom found in the red and white checked Better Homes and Gardens looseleaf cookbook. My version of this cookbook was published in 1973. The edges and spine are worn and the pages with favorite recipes have smudges from frequent use.

The pickle ingredients are basic: sliced cucumbers, green peppers, and onion. Cover the sliced vegetables with pickling salt and ice and let sit for 3 hours. Then turn on some kitchen music and wash jars. Sing as you drain and combine the veggies with cider vinegar, sugar, mustard seed, turmeric, celery seed. Bring to a boil, put in clean hot jars, screw on lids, and water bath for five minutes. Change the CD and sing with gusto as you clean-up the mess. These pickles aren't hard to make but it does take a good portion of the day. Singing helps pass the time. Mom and I made these without a food processor. We sliced the vegetables by hand, sometimes scraping knuckles or fingers. How fortunate I am to have a food processor for pickles, pesto, garlic, nuts, and other kinds of chopping.

In other garden notes, the basil tastes great while the tomatoes are late in setting on fruit. The healthiest tomato plant is growing out of the compost bins. I think this plant must be from cherry or grape tomato scraps tossed in during early spring. I'm not sure how I'll get in to harvest any tomatoes but I enjoy watching them grow. It is always fun when a plant pops up at the edge of the compost bin.

I'm knitting on a pair of socks and cast on a shawl in a pattern I've wanted to try for some time. I'm pondering my next project from yarn that has been in a storage tote for a long time. The worsted yarn project requires cooler days and a little math. Take good care of yourself and others on these hot crazy summer days.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

New/Old Projects

This summer I've been knitting a few projects from yarn that has been marinating in storage bins. These mitts are one result of a new/old combination. Sometime in the 1990's, I knit a disaster of a sweater for my daughter. I combined several patterns to make a cabled pullover with set-in sleeves. I knew little about sleeve design but persevered with the sleeve caps several times. What was I thinking? I still couldn't design a sleeve cap anyone would want to wear. The sweater is long gone but the leftover yarn, a blend of merino and border leister, held up well.

Last month, I re-skeined and washed the yarn to remove the crimp from previous stitches. There was enough for two pairs of mitts and one pair of mittens. In my mitten file, I found an old Coats and Clark Book No.192, copyright 1969. The booklet sold for thirty-five cents and contained 39 patterns, most of them rather clunky looking. However, the mitten pattern is a classic and I was happy to rediscover it. The left leaning decrease at the top is a slip one, knit one, pass the slipped stitch over the knit stitch instead of the typical SSK (slip slip knit.) I did substitute the SSK decrease. No doubt, the pattern was written before Barbara Walker invented that decrease. These will be a gift or go to a charity.

Fingerless mitts are good for driving, reading in winter, and walking in Spring and Fall. They make great gifts. I knit a pair of Kindling Mitts, teaching myself how to cable without a needle. Why have I not tried to do this sooner? I also knit these Ribbed Mitts. The pattern is free and well written. This past weekend, I gave the Ribbed Mitts to my daughter on her birthday. Twenty years later, I thought she might like to have something knit from the yarn that is wearable. No puffy sleeves were involved.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Stitching into Summer

A few months ago, I read about the book Slow Stitch. Last week I checked it out from the library. The author presents an approach to textile art that includes mending, darning, embroidery, and repurposing. She showcases several different artists. In most of the work, the imperfections of hand stitching become part of an art piece. She writes of building up worn fabrics by incorporating a patch into the fabric. I particularly enjoyed a section on Kate Bowles and her handmade books. Slow Stitch also includes sections on stitch journals as well as dying embroidery thread with natural materials such as onion skins, walnuts, and black beans. I have no plans to dye thread but it is interesting to read about it. In fact, I may never create textiles like those in the book but I'm intrigued by following the process back through all steps to better understand stitching. It reminds me of following words and ideas back to their origins while writing.  Reusing or even using materials on hand also appeals to me. Wellesley-Smith's ideas seem like an interesting jumping off point for creating and making. I found this book to be good reading on a summer day.

In a different kind of slow stitching, I finished Jonah's Christmas stocking. Although it is made of entirely new materials (if nothing, I am inconsistent) I lined it with a found piece of fabric. The pattern was published in the 1950's. For me, intarsia knitting is an exercise in slowing down. This project required some quiet extended knitting time without listening to podcasts or an audiobook. Picking up and twisting in each color while following the chart goes best one stitch at a time. The finishing that involves steam blocking, weaving in of at least 52 million ends, cinching up a few gaps between colors, seaming the stocking, and sewing and installing a lining took four days to complete. While this stockings was an exercise in patience, slowing down gave me plenty of time to knit love and care into the project. I had fun imagining what this little guy will look like through the coming years. Right now, he is five and a half months old and growing like a summer weed. This is Jonah, in his whale swim trunks, a few week ago. He's grown since then.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

June Knitting Notes

Hello. As sometimes happens, spring has jumped into hot summer with near 100 degree days. When the Christmas stocking (see previous post) is finished, I'll cast on another project or two that doesn't involve a large mass of wool in my lap. I steam blocked the stocking and wove in at least fifty two ends. Next I'll mattress stitch the seam. Then I'll make a lining, crochet a loop for hanging, and sew the most important jingle bell to the toe. This is record time for completing one of these stockings.


By the end of May, I finished the Frozen Silver Shawl with two yards of yarn to spare. The shawl turned out to be a large slightly dramatic asymmetrical triangle. It seems to call for a wearer who is taller than 5'2" and wears something besides t-shirts with a cotton skirt, yoga pants, khaki capris, or slacks. I often wear smaller shawls out to dinner, to the library, grocery store, farmer's market or gatherings with friends. I may give the shawl away or maybe we will have to dress up and buy symphony tickets.

Regardless, the soft rose yarn and two stitch patterns were a joy to knit. I had previously knit one of the stitches in the Honey Cowl. Since the cowl is worked in the round and the shawl is knit from side to side, the same stitch can be made in two different ways. This is useful information. Although we knitters may not use a technique or construction method forever, many of us seek to learn new skills, try different constructions, and discover new tricks and tips. The possibilities are endless. I also applaud the knitting community's respect for individual differences and preferences.

Now I am mulling over smaller projects - mitts, socks, mittens and perhaps a smaller shawl.
First I have to hook up the soaker hose and water the tomatoes and basil. A few weeks from now, they will make a delicious pasta sauce. Happy Summer.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Knitting Them Safely Home

We had a happy family celebration on Sunday of this Memorial Day weekend. Our son-in-law was ordained as a pastor and then he baptized his youngest son. Friends, family, and extended family gathered with the congregation to celebrate both milestones and then we had a family potluck lunch. This morning I am savoring the weekend and the joy of being together.

Yesterday everyone packed up and headed for home or out for a small vacation. Late spring weather on the Great Plains alternates between balmy sunshine and fierce thunderstorms. This month storms with hail, lightning strikes, and funnel clouds have been particularly severe. Last night I kept an eye on storms rolling across the Plains as Patrick's brother flew to Utah and our son to Texas. At the same time our daughter and her family drove west down I-80 to his seminary graduation in Denver.

What's a knitter to do besides knit? I worked on a Christmas stocking for the newest little grandson. Last week in a quiet moment, I had located the Christmas stocking pattern, charted the baby's name, and retrieved the bag of stocking yarn. In the 1950's, my aunt knit the same intarsia stockings for myself and three siblings, and her five children. Later she knit them for her children's spouses and grandchildren. She shared the pattern so I could knit stockings for my husband, two children, a niece, and son-in-law. Now I'm making them for my grandchildren.

Intarsia knitting is messy. Only a knitter could see this tangle and believe it can turn into a Christmas stocking. Paying attention and a little faith are required. As I watched radar and waited for text messages last night, I worked on this stocking. Late in the evening, everyone arrived safely at their destinations. I felt like I had knit them home.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Granola: The Next Generation

When I was a graduate student in the mid 1970's, my fiancé and I stood in line for over an hour to eat at a local health food restaurant. The waitresses wore tie dyed t-shirts, denim skirts, and birkenstocks. Pots of ivy, asparagus fern, and philodendron hung in front of windows. We ordered green salads, quiche, or sandwiches of sprouts and turkey between dark rustic breads. Friends and I traded recipes for granola made from oatmeal, wheat germ and a large amount of vegetable oil. Then not liking cold cereal for breakfast and lacking imagination, I stopped making granola and went on to bagels. I thought bagels were healthier than doughnuts but I did slather them with cream cheese and jelly.

Fast forward to 2016 Mother's Day. My husband and I spent the afternoon and ate dinner with my daughter and her family. Playing hot wheels and helping the five year old cast a fishing line off the deck was lively fun. Kate brought me a small container of home made granola. Her recipe, although still high in calories, has more nutritional value than my older version. It calls for more variety grains, nuts, seeds with less oil. She used refined coconut oil (better nutritional value than vegetable oil) and flavored the mixture with honey, maple syrup, vanilla, and cinnamon. During the week, I sprinkled this improved version over yogurt and added a little to my trail mix of roasted unsalted nuts and raisins. Yesterday I made a big batch and divided it into containers for freezing. All of this makes me smile. Here I am making the next generation of granola.

As for knitting, I am almost finished with cotton washcloths for awhile. I used most of the bubble gum pink yarn so it is no longer taking up space in the storage bins. I tried other patterns for the pink yarn before discovering the pattern, All Washed Up. It is easy to memorize and less boring than others. Two sections remain to be knitted on the rose colored shawl and I need to knit a foot to finish this pair of socks. Nothing like knitting to get a husband through a knee replacement/revision surgery. He is post-surgery two weeks today and doing well. The jury is out on how many degrees the new knee will bend into flexion. We are hopeful he will have better range of motion by the end of physical therapy. As we knitters say, "Keep calm and knit on." In the meantime, a little granola is a nice snack.

Vanilla Latte Socks Yarn: Regia, Arnie and Carlos