Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Local Color

All the colors of autumn make me think about the multiple meanings of the word "color." As a noun, color is defined as "a phenomenon of light or visual perception that enables one to differentiate otherwise identical objects." As a transitive verb, the word color may be used to give meaning, as in "the story has plenty of local color." The word originates from the Middle English, colour, that comes from Latin. The American Heritage College Dictionary gives the Latin origin as "kel" from "kelos" (color and hue) and means that which covers. "Kelos" is related to "occulere" or the occult and means to cover over. So this is my vocabulary lesson for today. 

As a knitter, I am drawn to yarn by both texture and color. I often choose yarn colors related to the season. Late winter/early spring I knit some yellow socks, a yellow cowl and matching mitts. When I ordered the sock yarn, I meant to trade the monochromatic landscape of winter for something warm and bright.

The pale yellow yarn in this cowl was left over from a sweater knit fifteen years ago. The color reminded me of the soft yellow daffodils in my yard. During the summer I knit two shawls in shades of lavender and two pairs of socks from two different greens. Lately I have red yarns on my needles.  I knit a pair of slipper socks for my Texas grandson. He requested socks and red is his favorite color. I knit another gift, a Biscuit Cowl from bright red colored yarn. In between the slippers and socks, I worked on a Tea Leaves Cardigan from a deep cherry/garnet red.

When I knit socks or shawls, I don't worry about colors in the yarn pooling. To me, a pool of color across an ankle or in a thumb is the charm of a hand knitted garment. Sweaters from tonal yarns are a different story. I'd rather not have a blob of color across my torso or in an armpit. This cardigan is knit from a tonal Madelinetosh Merino DK. Shortly after casting on the neck edge, I opened the skeins and looked at them in daylight. Three of the skeins were quite similar, while the fourth was a little darker and the fifth was considerably lighter than the others. I knit the yoke in one of the three similar skeins. As I knit down the body of the sweater, I changed skeins in order to blend in the lightest colored skein.
I didn't alternate every two or three rows because I didn't want to create stripes. I used the darkest skein for the bottom 1.5 inches of body and sleeves while leaving enough of the three similar skeins to knit the garter stitch borders and button bands. All of this left quite a few ends to weave into the finished sweater but that doesn't bother me. I rather enjoy the tidying up chores that finish a garment.

I plan to weave in ends and sew on buttons this afternoon while sitting on the deck in the golden light of October. Mother Nature is doing a magnificent job of pooling colors this autumn. While walking I've enjoyed the crimson and orange-red maples as well as ash trees that are yellow at the bottom with tops tinged a golden brown that turns toward a deep eggplant. The yellow locust trees lining one street look like fringe on a shawl. Yesterday, I was so enamored with the colors, I almost tripped on a raised edge of sidewalk. I am soaking up all the pools of glorious color in order to welcome the gray-blue hush of winter.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Slipping into September

Once again September and Autumn are slipping into Nebraska. The basement shelf is full of canned tomatoes for use in winter soups and casseroles. Yesterday I clipped a tray full of seed heads from the zinnias at the end of their glorious bloom. After they dry, I will store them in a paper bag in the shed for next year's garden. This week I hope to get to a local apple orchard to pick some fresh apples.

The changing season reminds me of a book I read to my children when they were youngsters. "Over and Over" by Charlotte Zolotow was published in 1957 and illustrated by Garth Williams. In this quiet story, a little girl celebrates a holiday or notices a seasonal change and asks her mother, "What comes next?" At the end of the book, she celebrates her birthday, wishing for all of it to happen again.  The story ends with these lines, "And of course, over and over, year after year, it did."

September is a birthday month in my family. My grandfather and I were both born early in September. Four years ago, my first grandson was born mid September. This year we had two small birthday dinners, one for the four year old and one for me.  E. chose firetrucks as his theme so his Mom made him a firetruck cake. I tied red, yellow, and orange balloons to his chair and we set the table with firetruck napkins and cups. Perhaps remembering his monster truck party from last year and looking forward to his firetruck party this year, he decided I should have a "yoga" birthday party. He and his Mom drizzled frosting stick figures in yoga poses on cupcakes. Everyone chose their favorite yoga pose for dessert and we all wore yoga pants. I kept the menus simple so we could enjoy the time together. The balloons and the firetruck cake were a big hit. Sharing a birthday month with my Grandson and Grandfather make me think of the little girl in the book, looking forward to the change of season.

Autumn is my favorite season. I love the chilly mornings and warm afternoons. I look forward to soup in the kettle, knitting in the evening, and warm apple crisp. Later this morning I am going to try a new recipe for pumpkin scones. These first quiet days of autumn are very good.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Summer Socks

Knitting socks in the summer means I can knit with wool and alpaca fibers without accumulating heavy warm fabric in my lap. This summer I knit two pairs of socks from green yarns. After a long cold winter, I longed for the green of summer. I knit the first sock of each pair on a road trip to north central Minnesota. I cast on the first sock of the second pair while knitting with my sister at their lake home so it seemed logical to finish that sock on the trip home. As the miles ticked away, I stitched together memories of loon calls in the evening and my grandson's joy at catching (and releasing) small frogs along the shore.

Both pairs reflect my preference for socks knitted in simple textured stitches. Once I made some lace socks only to have the cuffs stretch and sag around my ankles. Last winter I wore out the first two pair of socks I knit for myself. They were simple stockinette stitch socks but they warmed my feet for seven or eight years. Hand knit socks are my insurance against Nebraska winters.

Before we left on vacation, I cast on the skyp ribbed socks.  The Bluestocking yarn spun from the wool of blue-faced leicester sheep. It also has 20% nylon content. While it is not quite as soft as merino or a merino/cashmere blend, it is sturdier. I have knit another pair of socks from the same yarn and pattern and they have worn well.

I knit the second pair of socks from a pattern called Couplet.  Since I have a narrow foot and knit at a slightly looser gauge, I adapted the pattern to knit a sock that fits my foot. The pattern by Bonnie Sennott is well written and easy to knit. I knit these socks from Malabrigo Sock, a soft merino yarn without any nylon content. The lightweight fingering yarn is not as sturdy as other sock yarns. I wonder how it will wear over time.

I finished both pair of socks at home. Even though I count rows and write notes on the pattern, I find it challenging to knit two socks that are exactly the same. While I used the same set of needles on the second skyp sock, it looks slightly wider.  Perhaps knitting in short spurts at home changed my gauge. As my grandson frequently asks, "How does that happen?" Rather than reknit the sock, I am embracing the variation that occurs in anything crafted by hand. I am also looking forward to wearing the socks this coming winter. They will warm my feet as I remember summer afternoons at the lake and knitting with my sister on their screened-in porch.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Everyday Hollyhocks

When my sister and I were little girls, my grandmother showed us how to make dolls from hollyhocks. Often we placed two blossoms end to end to make a bodice and skirt and then placed a bud on top for a head. On others we added a second toothpick and used more buds for arms. A few dolls rated tiered skirts of several blossoms. We didn't play with the dolls but occasionally we put them in a bowl of water and used them as a centerpiece. Like many childhood amusements, the fun of hollyhock dolls was in the making as well as spending time with Gram.

Gram, who was quite particular about things like popsicle juice on the front porch and the finish of her hand sewn garments, was generous with hollyhock blossoms and buds. She never fussed about the flowers we cut from tall stalks growing between the gravel driveway and the house. She grew up in Omaha in the early 1900's so perhaps hollyhocks were everyday flowers to her. Indeed they often grow without much care in alleys and along fences.

Hollyhocks are part of the hearty mallow family. The word mallow is derived from the Greek, althea, which comes from altheo, meaning to cure. Historically, parts of the plant were used for medicinal purposes. The plant is native to Turkey and other parts of Asia but came to Britain in 1573 from China by way of Palestine. Crusaders may have brought back the plant with them because it soothed horses' hooves. (landreth seeds)

The word hollyhock may be derived from the Anglo-Saxon terms holy (holly) and hoc (hock.) Hock might be a reference to horses' hooves or it might come from the term ad hoc, hoc meaning place. Thus the name hollyhocks could be interpreted to mean a holy place because they originally came from Palestine.  Regardless of how the flower came to be called hollyhock, I enjoy the reminder to find the sacred in ordinary flowers as well as ordinary days. (Hollyhocks: Dancing Ladies)

Gram probably had none of this in mind as she entertained two little girls on hot summer days. When I see hollyhocks in city alleys, small towns or in farmyards, I think about the women who plant and tend flower gardens which include hollyhocks, zinnias, and cosmos. I wish them joy and beauty in their ordinary days.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Garden Work

After I read about several local yard and garden tours, I began to write a poem about my ordinary garden. As I muddled around in the poem, I thought about my frugal approach to gardening. I grow vegetables, herbs, and perennials that do well in southeast Nebraska. I observe my yard for differences in sun, wind, shade, and water and then plant accordingly. Sometimes when plants don't thrive, I move them to a better location. If they die, I replace them by dividing a perennial that already grows in my yard. This year I tucked rosemary and tarragon in the bed along the fence because the location is sunny and protected from the wind. I plant basil near the tomatoes so both can be watered with the same drip hose. I water new plants to get them established but choose hardy herbs and flowers that withstand heat and wind. I conserve water and keep down weeds by mulching with grass and leaf clippings from the top of my compost bins.

About every two years, I get a good amount of rich composted soil from two large wire bins. This year, we added a covered tumbling bin so the table scraps won't attract possums and raccoons. Turning the compost in the bins makes my back ache so I hoped the ease of flipping the new bin would speed decomposition. Unfortunately, that hasn't happened. Like other worthwhile work, transforming raw materials into compost takes time.

All of this brings me back to the unfinished garden poem. After working on the poem several mornings in a row, I put the rough draft and notes in a folder to wait for work on another day. Will the poem be a tour of my garden, a comment about conservation, a story of my connections with plants like the rhubarb that comes from my grandparents' garden, or something else entirely? Often words and ideas or leaves and scraps make a fine risotto. Other times, the transformation requires a change in the ingredients and more time. Both benefit from stirring. While poems and compost brew, I am going out to pull weeds, dig black gold back into the ground, and enjoy the green colors. I plan to leave electronic devices indoors.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Necessary Shawls

In this crazy world, I find wrapping a soft knitted shawl around my neck and shoulders is necessary. Old lady-ish or not, I have a few stalwart shawls that I wear around the house for warmth on cool evenings or mornings. I let the shawl rest on my shoulders and tie the ends into a loose knot. If the weather is very cold, I wrap up in a larger shawl and toss the ends over my shoulders. Comfort, not fashion, is my goal.  

Recently I finished knitting two warm weather shawls. Although they have a shade of plum in common, the patterns were quite different. Zephyr Cove by Rosemary Hill begins with a small leaf knit at one end of the shawl and ends with a simple lace pattern in a second color. Garter stitch short rows shape the shawl into a long boomerang. While the construction was interesting, it was the name of the pattern and the leaf drew me to the design. Hill named the pattern after a cove in Lake Tahoe and knit the original in teal blue and forest green. I'm not sure I'll knit a shawl with such an elongated shape again but the ends will wrap twice around my shoulders. I knit this shawl in fingering weight yarn, Tosh Merino Light.

The Red Robin Shawl by Helen Stewart is knit from Blue Sky Alpaca Silk. Stewart's pattern made a simple but elegant shawl. Her meticulous design includes an ingenious beginning which eliminates the pesky little point that sometimes happens at the beginning of triangular shawls. She also added a stitch to the edges that eliminates the awkward increases next to purl stitches. I had a few wobbly looking rows in the stockinette section of the shawl but blocking smoothed them out. I will probably knit this pattern again.

Shawl knitting offers a wide variety of designs. Some shawls come with intricate lace patterns while other create simple lines with stockinette or garter stitch. Shawls can be shaped in a crescent, rectangle (stole), large circle, triangle, or some variation of a shape. I happen to prefer a triangular shaped shawl for the straight forward construction and ease in wearing.  Summer is a great time for knitting a lightweight shawl, as the garment requires less attention to fit and finishing. Matching the pattern to yarn is a delightful process.  My advice for the summer is to choose a design, choose a yarn, knit, and enjoy. Then wrap up in your shawl and a book from your reading list.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Spring News

After several rains, the trees and yards in my neighborhood are a glorious green. One yellow iris is blooming while others are growing lavender buds. Last week a Baltimore Oriole stopped for nectar in the neighbor's apple tree. Yesterday morning I was doing breakfast dishes when an unfamiliar bird caught my eye. I knew from his slender shape he was different from a robin so I studied him through binoculars and identified a brown thrasher. His rust-red colored back, cream and brown streaked breast, and yellow eye were striking. His long tail and curved beak also made him stand out from other birds that frequent my yard. Since this thrasher prefers a wooded area tangled with undergrowth, I wondered if Sunday's strong storm blew him off course. He was only in the yard for a few hours and I haven't seen him since. Hopefully he found his way back to more familiar territory.

The last few summers, my large perennial flower bed has grown wild and weedy. Taking advantage of cooler Spring days, I spaded up a strip four feet wide along the fence and in front of the shed. I dug out weeds and ruthlessly thinned and moved perennials that grow well in the space. I added tarragon, rosemary, and three gaillardia because they will grow if bindweed and larkspur don't choke them out. I potted some lemon balm for the patio and plan to share a few leftover plants with friends. Now I'm trying to decide whether to mulch. The bed gets a fair amount of hot Nebraska sun so mulch would keep moisture in the ground. If I mulch, I prefer using leaf and grass clippings mixed with a little dirt or compost over newspaper because the mixture will eventually break down and contribute to the soil. However anything I use will have to be anchored against the wind.

Inside on wet or rainy days, I used these two books as references, Cover to Cover and Book Craft, and made several small books of my essays. First, I manually formatted the essays into landscape orientation and made a mock-up for the book. I folded and assembled pages into three signatures (sections) before sewing and glueing them together. In separate steps, I glued end papers to the book block and a piece of mesh fabric to the spine. Determining the correct size and spacing for the spine was tricky as it required measuring spaces to 1/16th of an inch. Making the cover reminded me of covering school text books with grocery sacks on my parents' kitchen table.

Nothing made by hand is perfect and these four little books are no exception. Although I revised and edited the copy many times, I found two typographical errors. Two of the books have spines that are a little too wide. I did manage to make two copies in which the the book block sits remarkably well inside the cover. The notion of handcrafting a container for my writing appeals to me. I have also learned a book is worth the price on its cover.