Saturday, October 15, 2016

Home to Autumn

We arrived home safely from a week-long road trip. We drove to Kansas City and picked up our daughter and her youngest son at the airport. We loved spending two days with them and taking care of the baby while she taught a short workshop. I gave this youngest grandson his pumpkin hat in Kansas City and it fit. I knit a toddler size for this nine month old. Next year he will need a bigger hat.

After we put them on the plane, we drove to Fort Worth to see our son and family. Despite the hurricane on the East Coast, the weather in the middle of the country was lovely. Our son and daughter-in-law welcomed us with a Texas style barbecue. We toured the 6th Floor Museum and the Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas. We also took in our oldest grandson's 7th grade football game. When we left Fort Worth, the 6:00 a.m. temperature was 76 degrees. We wore lightweight clothing and sandals. Silly us. Somewhere in Oklahoma the temperature began to drop. By the time we stopped in southern Kansas, the outdoor temperature was 56 degrees. During the drive north, the temperature kept falling. At noon, we picked up more coffee, pulled on jackets, and arrived home at 6:00 p.m. for the first local frost.

We drove many miles safely and spent time with dear ones and for that we are thankful. I drove two short spells but had plenty of knitting time. First I finished a pair of ankle socks. I wondered if I'd like to wear them on cool mornings or give them as gifts. Since they were an experiment, I used scraps and a vanilla sock pattern. On the second leg of the trip, somewhere between Kansas City and Oklahoma, I wove in ends and cast on another pair of socks. On the long day home, I pulled these shorties out of my bag and put them on for warmth. I like them.

When we left, the trees in our neighborhood were mostly green. Now we are home, home to autumn. I plan to finish drying herbs, pull out frosted tomato plants, and begin Christmas gift knitting. Thank goodness for knitting. Knitting, walking, and poetry are going to get me through the last few weeks of the national election. I'm off to put on a pot of soup. Enjoy October.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Changing Seasons

Although the Farmer's Market is rich with tomatoes, eggplant, and watermelon, last night's full moon rose earlier. Light shifts toward autumn as the heat begins to relent. Evenings, I brew a cup of hot tea before I sit down to knit. Autumn is my favorite season. I am ready for the flavors of butternut squash, apple, pumpkin, ginger, and cinnamon as well as long walks among the changing colors.

Two of our four grandsons have begun new school years. The seventh grader attends school in Texas and is busy with sports, orchestra, and the Civil Air Patrol where he learns about flight. The next youngest grandson is a big kindergartener in Connecticut. He is meeting new friends and learning about the ocean. Our daughter and son-in-law took advantage of a wonderful opportunity and moved to the East Coast.

As we travel this Fall to visit both families, we will share new experiences with them. Meanwhile, thank goodness for technology and snail mail. We play the little boys' favorite game of hide and seek via Where's Waldo postcards. As is my custom, I sent a book as a birthday present. I chose Fall Walk, a story about a Grammy and a grandchild taking a walk to identify leaves from various trees. This past summer, the little boys and I enjoyed this book, sitting together on the couch. Now we will read it over Face Time. My local library has a great selection of children's book so with a little planning, I can check out the books the boys have in their home and we can read them together. While distance in miles changes, distance between hearts remains the same.

Other things also remain the same. Wherever they live, boys grow. If they live in cold climates, they need warm hats. I can knit hats. Dashing through my local yarn shop, I thought the color of this fingering weight yarn would make a cute pumpkin hat. So I bought the yarn and started a hat for my youngest grandson. At seven months, he will not be able to scoff at being cast as a sweet little pumpkin. Most patterns for the vegetable and fruit hats are knit in worsted weight so I am making up a pattern for this lighter weight yarn. Whether these boys live across town or the country, knitting a hat that fits is a gamble. I'll be finished shortly and that is a good thing. This hat won't fit anyone next year.

Wherever you are, I hope the change of season is full of possibilities. Happy Autumn.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Some of my projects take longer than others. This bright crazy Apron Strings Quilt has been in progress since 1995. Some years I put the box away and worked on other handwork. I may not work quickly but I am persistent. This past weekend, I sewed the last stitches of the binding.

My copy of the Quilter's Newsletter Magazine, circa 1980, that published the pattern is long gone. As I recall, there was a line drawing of a block without any specific instructions for overall design. No matter, I began piecing scraps. I sewed the four patches and half square triangles by machine and then hand stitched the four units into blocks. About midway through piecing, I decided to arrange small squares of the four patches so the colors marched diagonally across the quilt. I numbered the color combinations, made a diagram, and pieced accordingly. I sewed rows of blocks together by hand and sewed rows together by machine. After finishing the top, I cobbled together a backing from large leftover pieces of fabric with parts of a quilt that never fit together.

Most of the scraps in the quilt come from other sewing projects and quilts. Several blocks contain a red, white, and blue print from a quilt my Mom made for our son. She pieced an Ohio Star crib quilt for him in 1981-1982. Other scraps come from a good teacher friend, now in her 80's. On the first day of a teaching assignment, I walked by her first grade classroom. She was reading the picture book, Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt to her class. At the end of the day, I introduced myself and we have been friends ever since. I pieced blocks on a trip my daughter and I took to commemorate her 21st birthday and my 50th birthday. My mother and I sat in the shade at Mahoney State Park as I stitched on blocks and she worked on counted cross stitch. Our extended family was together celebrating my parents' forty-fifth anniversary with my siblings and families.

This summer I took the quilt to a woman who does beautiful machine quilting. The drive out to her old gracious farmhouse is part of finished the quilt. After she finished, I sewed scraps together to make the binding. Two long pieces of binding are leftover from a quilt I made for my daughter when she was five years old. The day I finished stitching the binding, our son and oldest grandson arrived for the weekend. My husband joined them as A. attended his first Nebraska football game. The next morning, he helped me hold the quilt over the railing for a photo.

Lives and quilts stitched from pieces and memories are so very good.

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.