Wednesday, April 27, 2016

April News

The Spring Shawl of the previous post is growing. Knitting garter stitch rows between slipped stitches is a peaceful counterpoint to the exuberance of spring celebrations. Yesterday I planted tomatoes, peppers, basil, and thyme. I didn't have much compost. Fall leaves, grass clippings, and tea bags need more time to simmer under a hot sun. A robin is weaving a nest way out on a birch limb. I trust she knows her business. The spring flowers are early but glorious this April, National Poetry Month.

Have you noticed the best knitting projects acquire a rhythm? Needles move in, out, around and through. Knit two, purl two ribs create structure. Knit three rows, slide or twist a stitch into a vine. Slip slip knit, knit two, yarn over, knit two, knit two together shapes a leaf. Spaces between stitches make a pattern.

Spaces between lines structure a poem. Sounds in letters and words lull the listener/reader. Then the poet breaks a line, repeats a phrase, or substitutes "quiet" for "hush." Rhythm and meaning change.

If you are in search of a poem, read your knitting, pick rhubarb in the rain, or peer into a tangle of columbine, wild with color.  

Monday, April 4, 2016

Welcome Spring

Spring, ever so welcome and a bit early, has arrived. The first week in March I stepped out on the deck and heard hundreds of sandhill cranes flying overhead. Two weeks later, my husband and I drove out to central Nebraska. During the afternoon we rolled down the windows and drove county roads to watch the birds in the fields. The fields were brown and the March sky filled with blustery gray clouds. Crane watching isn't a cherry blossom festival but a spectacle of natural color and season. In the fields, the cranes bounce up and down, fly a short distance, and then parachute down to another feeding spot. All the time, they call to each other with sounds that haven't changed for thousands of years.

After dinner, we dressed in layers and walked out onto a pedestrian bridge over the Platte. While light left the sky and the smell of cold wet grasses rose from the riverbanks, we chatted with two women from Colorado and listened to a father and children from Chicago spot two deer. At sunset, the cranes flew up and down the river searching for their evening roost. They kept their distance from bald eagles in a tree on a nearby sandbar. They were also wary of the humans gawking from the bridge. Still we viewed extended wings and red masks through binoculars as we listened to their ancient cries. The Rowe Sanctuary  website posts excellent photos and information about the cranes. Crane Music: A Natural History of American Cranes by Paul A. Johnsgard, a noted ornithologist, is another good resource. Most springs, I reread a section that begins,  "In the heart of North America, there is a river . . .  There is a season in North America . . . There is a bird in North America . . . "  And so, once again spring begins.

The temperatures bounce up and down from just below freezing to a warm 81. On a cold gloomy day last week, I made a list of spring cleaning chores. Saturday was warm so I worked outdoors. I stirred the compost bins. Then I gave the bird feeder a soak in a bucket of water while pulling weeds from the vegetable garden and raised bed. I finished the afternoon by potting up some pansies for the front porch. Flowering trees in my neighborhood are in full bloom. The blooms are early this year but they are gorgeous. Fresh air blowing through the house is glorious.

My knitting projects have also turned to spring. I threw caution and a cowl-in-progress to the spring winds. Instead I pulled out two skeins of rose colored yarn that I have been saving for something, evidently a Frozen Silver Shawl. Alternating garter and textured stitches is a peaceful knit. In the process, I learned a new stitch - Diamond Pattern- which looks like a trellis to me. The instructions are very clear and the stitch isn't difficult.  I have also been knitting up some dish/wash cloths. Over this last winter and holiday season, I had given my stack away. I enjoy giving them to new Moms, someone going through a rough patch, to say thank you, or just to brighten a day. A few new dish cloths in my kitchen would be a breath of fresh air. Perhaps they will motivate me as I move through my inside Spring cleaning chores.

What about you? How do you welcome Spring?

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Last Week

Last week I finished the September Morn sweater I have been knitting this winter. That is, I finished the ripping and re-knitting and finally knit the contrasting ribbing. Since my short neck gets lost in a large turtleneck, I knit a simple ribbed crew neck. Then I washed and gently blocked the sweater before weaving in ends.

The sweater was hard to photograph, especially this time of year with little contrasting color in the landscape. Too much light washed out the color and too little made for a dark photo. The shadows in this photo remind me of an older image of my Grandfather. The photo was taken in 1919, just after he arrived home (a farm in south central Nebraska) after serving on the Western Front in France. When I look at it, I see a shadow on his face and wonder what he was thinking. His smile doesn't seem quite natural, perhaps a little tentative. I also wonder who took the photo and what the family was doing and saying in the yard under the pear and elm trees. Before spinning a story, I remind myself that sometimes shadows occur in photos. Perhaps he was just looking into sunlight on a May day.

I can tell you what I was thinking when my husband helped me with the sweater photos. "Stick a fork in this sweater because this story has come to an end." The Chickadee yarn by Quince and Co. held up beautifully. I knit several skeins four times with no difference in the finished fabric. The wool, tightly spun and carefully processed, has as much memory as an old photo. I will wear this sweater/sweatshirt often because it is warm and cozy without being heavy. I prefer sport to worsted weight sweaters.

However, I am not casting on a stockinette sweater any time soon. Currently I am knitting the hand of a second mitten and a cowl. When I finish these smaller projects, I will tackle a Christmas stocking for little J.

Last Friday morning, he came to visit for a few hours. He is growing but still at the newborn stage when he melts into the chest of whoever is holding him. I can't think of a better way to spend a Friday morning.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Thoughts From a February Morning

I recently read Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. Her writing was so beautiful I read her first book, Gathering Moss. Kimmerer's essays combine science, personal narrative, and Native American ways of knowing. She writes with a gentleness that includes curiosity, wonder, and respect. I hope she continues to write.

I was inspired by Kimmerer's work to write this poem.

On This February Morning

What if we believed in both/and instead of either/or?
What if we engaged in give and take instead of win or lose?
What if we discussed rather than debated?
What if we created conversation instead of conflict?
What if we used just enough, leaving the rest to the earth?
What if we cared for the soil, trees, creatures, grasses, stones, and water
             the way they care for us?
What if?

Jane Wolfe, copyright 2016

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Winter Knitting Story

I am knitting a sweater from the pattern September Morn. I chose the pattern for its clean look including the ribbed texture in the shoulder and upper arm. Last October, I cast on with Chickadee, a sport weight yarn by Quince and Co. Ever the optimist, I thought I'd be wearing the sweater by the end of January. I knit a swatch to the correct stitches per inch. Owing to several of my mistakes, the body was too big and I was going to be short of yarn. I ripped and reknit nine inches of the body, changing the shaping to fit. I also ordered several skeins of the same Quince yarn, in a contrasting light gray. See a previous blogpost for more details.

After the holidays, I picked up stitches for the first sleeve. I knit the pattern as written and ended up with a large pouf just below the ribbed section. Then I re-knit the sleeve in the ribbed pattern to eliminate the pouf. When I tried on the sweater, the sleeve felt like body armor. I knit the upper sleeve two more times, adding more decreases to achieve a smooth transition between textures. Eventually I'll add notes to my Ravelry project page about the sleeve construction. Next time I'll be more thoughtful when I see knitted textures used in an unusual way. In this design, the ribbing is placed above stockinette on the upper arm rather than at the wrist to snug up the sleeve. Still I like the look of the sweater. Certainly, this responsibly grown and processed wool yarn holds up very well to repeated knitting.

Last week, this project began to feel like a very long winter saga. To take a break from the ripping and endless stockinette slog, I looked up the definition of a saga. The term comes from stories told in Iceland ( a land of ice, snow, and glaciers) in the 12th and 13th centuries. A saga told around a fire was good entertainment during the dark cold winters of the far north. This sweater has definitely warmed my lap and helped me while away many winter evenings. This morning I went by my knitting bag and noticed the Quince yarn tags in the outside pocket. When  I pulled them out for a photo, I noticed the color way names, Glacier and Iceland. The workings of the subconscious mind are a mystery and a wonder. Thank goodness mine is still working now and then.

Meanwhile, I ripped out the gray/blue mitten I wrote about in the previous post. Individually the yarns are lovely but I didn't like the fabric of the two strands knit together. The gray will keep for knitting on a brighter day. I cast on the Blue Glacier Cowl in the blue variegated lace weight yarn. I think this pattern is a better use of the yarn. The mesh lace is a nice change from stockinette sleeves. I am following the pattern as written, hoping for an early spring sonnet rather than another winter saga.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Old Favorites

Sharing picture books with my grandchildren is a joy. Thanks to their parents, a generous aunt, grandparents, and others, they have a wonderful library of their own. When I gave books to my children, I often wrote a short  inscription with the date, occasion, and signed my name. I do the same for my grandchildren. When I read to the boys, I call their attention to the title, author, illustrator, and text. Throughout the book, we talk about the artwork and how it might have been created. I encourage them to point to pictures and discover small details.

Reading and talking about the inscription is also part of our ritual. When they pull out old picture books, they want to hear the story behind the inscriptions to their mother or uncle. Even the two year old points to handwriting and asks,"What does this say?" Print awareness begins at a young age and it is marvelous to watch it develop. Now the newborn in this family is hearing the rhythm of language.

Books for children and adults are scattered around our home. This year I going to try and knit a few projects from knitting books in my library. In January, I knit the Strie Socks from "Sock Architecture" because I wanted to better understand toe-up sock construction. I also thought the mental gymnastics of reverse knitting the heel section would be good for my brain cells. I may not have created new neural pathways but after knitting the heel and gusset four times, I can safely say I understand the construction. I hope I remember the learning because I want to modify the Tintern Abbey sock pattern  to better fit my foot.

Right now, I need mittens with extra long cuffs in heavy yarn to wear when I walk. I cast on cable backed mittens from a pattern I've knit twice before. Although I can't find a publication date for the"Two-Needle Mittens" booklet, the price on the cover is $3.75. I made the first pair when my children were quite small so the booklet with fourteen patterns, most in several sizes, is almost thirty years old. Since I don't have any bulky weight yarn, I am combining a worsted with a lace weight yarn. Of course, it took two attempts to find a yarn to go with the gray worsted. I'm not sure yet whether I like the resulting fabric. I find it hard to knit with gray yarn during the last month of winter. Time will tell.

Even though the day is cold, the sidewalks are clear and the wind is quiet. I'm going out to walk through my neighborhood and look for the chickadees. Then I'll meander over to the bookstore. Valentine's Day is this weekend and I'm looking for books for my four favorite little/big boys. Happy Valentine's Day!


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

January Days

As I write, light powdery snow sifts down on a bitterly cold morning. Last week my daughter safely delivered a healthy baby boy. He arrived to the open arms of his family and extended family. This beautiful little guy is a lucky one. His older brothers, aged 5 and 2, stayed with my husband and I for a few mostly delightful days. The two year old wore the same superman shirt, with a few peanut butter smears, for three days. In life with a two year, this is not a problem. We played, read lots of books, and took turns visiting the new babe and his Mom in the hospital. My husband and I are fortunate to be able to share this time with our daughter and son-in-law. They are all home now, trying to learn a new routine.

After picking up the house and restocking peanut butter and Cheerios, I am back to walking, writing, and reconsidering my knitting projects. Prior to the baby's arrival, I sorted through my yarn and knitting bags. I had knitting tools and notions tucked everywhere so I divided them into three small zippered bags and put them in a basket with patterns I might use soon. I sorted and stored the yarn by weight and made a few notes about what I might knit with the yarns.

Then I put three works in progress in separate bags, each with pattern, needles and yarns. When I actually looked at the projects I discovered a Goldilocks tale. The Oliveta Shawl was just right. The sock was too small and the sweater was too big. I ripped out the almost finished So Simple Silk Garden sock #1 (smallest size) because it wasn't going to stretch to fit. The cable running down the side of the leg was almost on top of the leg. I kept pulling it over to the side thinking, I can make this sock fit. Why, I wonder, does it take so long, to listen to the knitting voice that says, "stop, this isn't working." I cast on a different pattern, toe-up, to learn something new. That is a tale for another blog post. Sometimes knitting just goes haywire. 
I am also working on my version of a September Morn pullover. Evenings, I tried it on over flannel pajamas. When I finally put it on over a long sleeved T-shirt, I knew it was too big. The sweater body took more yarn than I had planned. Since knitting faster doesn't mean I won't run out of yarn, I ordered more. I enjoy the Quince and Co. Chickadee yarn but this shade is definitely a solid color with no tonal variations. Alternating skeins of different dye lots will produce a sweater with striped sleeves. I ripped out seven inches of the sweater body and am putting in more waist decreases. I'll gain a little yardage from the original dye lot but I don't know if it will be enough. I want this sweater to be warm and comfy with long sleeves. I may order a light gray in the same yarn base and go with a color block contrast.

My plan is to knit the body down to the ribbing and put the stitches on waste yarn. Before I start knitting sleeves with the remaining yarn, I'm going to weigh it and divide it so I can knit the same amount of light blue yarn in the sleeves before switching to the contrasting color. I plan to knit the neck ribbing in the contrasting color also. Wish me luck.

In the meantime, I'm going to bundle up in well fitting socks and sweater (I have a few of those) and take a walk in the snow. I plan to savor the peace of this January day while I dream about snuggling a newborn grandson. All is well.