Monday, September 18, 2017

Stitching Life Together


A welcome rain is falling this morning. I finished Jonah's little gray sweater. Photographing a gray sweater on a gray day is not optimal but I think you can see it against the quilt. This is a larger version of last year's Flax sweater. Jonah is growing and by winter, he will have grown some more. The sweater looks big to me but he is a good sized little guy. He loved last year's sweater, so I am hoping he hasn't changed his mind. As he cruises into the terrific 2's, his opinions will develop and change. If so, my daughter can find a good home for it. The sweater, knit on size 6 needles and a familiar classic pattern, was an easy peaceful knit during pre and post cataract surgery.

I also finished the scrap quilt underneath the sweater. My quilts and quilt fabrics are hopelessly out of date but that doesn't bother me. I love using pieces from other quilts and from family and friends. I enjoy working with the humble nine patch block. The pattern can be arranged in many ways. The nine squares in the block are predictable, and easy to piece from small bits of fabric. Heaven knows I have plenty of fabric scraps on hand.


I added the half-square triangle and split blocks for fun. It makes me happy to break a few quilting rules. Some of the spacer blocks came from a very worn tablecloth I bought at a second hand store. I used it as a dresser scarf until it fell apart and then saved the embroidered sections done by an anonymous woman. I mended the fabric near one of the motifs so I could put it in this quilt.


I don't know why or when I started piecing these blocks and tossing them in a box. Last September, after my daughter and family moved to the East Coast, I was straightening up the basement family room and came across the box of blocks. I carried it to my corner of the couch and began piecing the top. Although I didn't think about it until now, I realize I did what I often do. When life changes or throws me a curve, I often stitch it back together.

I finished the quilt a week before cataract surgery by threading my needle under a magnifying glass. The tiny almost invisible hand stitch securing the binding is called a blind stitch, quite the accurate term for this summer's stitching. By August, I sewed mostly from muscle memory. At least the last blind stitches are on the back of the quilt. They are staying in the quilt as they are part of this previous year. My new glasses lenses are due to arrive by Friday. I can't wait. While I am grateful for medical technology and an excellent ophthalmologist, I am anxious to be able to read a knitting chart and any book I choose. I am celebrating with a trip to the library.


Until then, I hope everyone is safe and dry. I wish you a good week this mid-September.   


Wednesday, September 6, 2017

September Threads



Early September days pull me from the generous tomato/basil harvest of summer toward autumn. My favorite little summer bouquet of old fashioned sweet peas and black-eyed susans decorates our table. The lavender is blooming so I add a bit of fragrance to the old syrup pitcher. The sun warms my back. As I walk, I savor bright marigolds, a lush bed of impatients, and the red/purple morning glory vine cascading over a neighbor's railing. I share parsley in my herb garden with very hungry caterpillars that will become butterflies.


I finished this summer shawl. The yarn is lovely, a very slight blush color in a light fingering. After reading the Ravelry notes of others, I made the shawl slightly smaller than the pattern specified. It is still a generous size. I think it will be good for summer wear which is one of the reasons I chose the yarn and pattern.


Until I get new glasses, I am happily knitting away on Jonah's sweater. I wonder if it is too big. This afternoon I am going out to find a toddler sized sweatshirt for comparison.


I had a lovely birthday weekend. My son was home, the little guys sang Happy Birthday via FaceTime, and my dear sister knit a beautiful pair of two color mittens for me. Both children gave me flowers. My husband brought me a latte and helped me order some new knitting needles. September is also the birth month for my grandfather and first grandson. That grandson and his family will be visiting here the end of September.  As awful news spirals through the newspapers and media, I give thanks for all that I have and do my best to offer kindness and support to others. I also knit on.

Yesterday the prevailing summer breezes shifted, coming from the north. When I walked I saw two trees with small streaks of red. Looking from the top of a hill, I noted muted browns showing along the edge of some trees. September threads connect us to a new season.

What threads connect your September days?


Sunday, August 27, 2017

Through the Lens


Last week was a week of new lenses for me. On Monday we watched the total solar eclipse at a friend's country home. Despite a few cirrus clouds blowing in and out, we saw most of the moon's movement, a small solar flare, and the silver diamond ring of the sun. I thought the changes to the blue gray twilight were stunning. Naturally we wore the funky ISO approved eclipse glasses. My favorite eclipse instructions were don't drive or walk around while wearing the glasses. Well of course not, the lenses obscure everything but the sun. I was also pleased I could see the eclipse given the cataract in my left eye.

On Thursday, I had the cataract covered lens removed and a new lens inserted. Surgery went well and my eye is healing. On the drive home, I noticed bright vivid colors with sharp precise distance vision. I am forever grateful to medical personnel skilled in the newest technology. As I type, I can see all the markings on the chickadee at the feeder. Literally, I have a new way to see. Now I wonder how else I limit my vision by looking though my own cloudy point of view. It's worth considering.

While my eye heals, I have no lens in the left side of my glasses. I will need some bifocal correction for that eye and more powerful correction for the right eye. The right eye isn't ready for surgery. Until this eye heals, reading remains a challenge. Friends, family, audiobooks, enlarged fonts, and knitting are the answers. Thank you all for your kind words and thoughts.

I am also grateful to be a knitter. I finished the striped socks before the eclipse. I prepared for the post surgical transition by choosing two skeins of yarn. If I absolutely couldn't knit, I planned to wind yarn. However, the night of the surgery, I propped my glasses over the large bandage on the left eye (the doc's suggestion) and knit on this washcloth. It was comical as the glasses kept sliding down my nose. Early the next morning, the bandage was removed at a followup appointment. Since then I've finished the Gemma Shawl (it is blocking), worked on Jonah's sweater and cast on a pair of mitts.



Yesterday I found a mostly red maple leaf. The color was beautiful. Today I may wind the pink yarn for mittens or I may toss a bin of yarn just to look at the colors. Mitten and wool sock weather is around the corner.



Saturday, August 12, 2017

Under the Canopy

Most days I walk in my neighborhood. I wonder if the neighbors are amused by my habits. In the summer, I walk one direction to have the sun at my back. During cooler weather, I reverse the route so the steeper hill comes first. On hot summer mornings, I zig-zag back and forth across streets to stay in the shade. I leave electronic devices at home. I look folks in the eye and greet them. Lately I've been noting the arrangements of porch furniture and pots on the small front porches. Many decorate these spaces but no one ever seems to enjoy them. Our porch is very small, about large enough for two flower pots. My dream home has a large wrap-around front porch with a swing and comfortable chairs and pillows.

This week I stopped to look up and into the canopy of trees. This morning I stood under the very dense, deep green canopy of a linden and the layered leaves of a maple. I stood in the sun dappled space under an ornamental pear and was almost hidden by low hanging limbs of a large oak. The sound of the breeze through the leaves is peaceful. I didn't have a camera. Honestly if I'd stood under trees and took photos, the neighbors might think I was really unravelling. At home, I stood still and breathed deeply from the canopy of a linden. A pair of chickadees flitted among the branches and called to each other. Across from me, a mama house finch fed a fledging. I discovered a hint of autumn in the yellow leaves. Despite the craziness in the world, the rhythm of the season continues. The trees stand in the rain, sun, wind, cold, and heat. They take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Every year they grow a little taller and stronger. I find all of this reassuring.


Earlier this summer, I picked up a copy of The Cottonwood Tree, at a used book store. It is on a list of 150 books by Nebraska authors created as part of  Nebraska's sesquicentennial celebration.After cataract surgery, I plan to read it and learn more about the tree.

In the meantime, I am knitting more than reading. Although I set these socks aside, I tried again because I wanted to learn how to knit an after-thought-heel. Never one to give up easily, I placed the sock on the table, held a magnifying glass with my left hand, and picked up heel stitches from waste yarn with my right. This first sock was a little saggy so I ripped it out. It was a tangled mess but I did manage to save the yarn.


This heel doesn't fit my foot as well as a traditional heel flap and gusset. However, I might knit it again in order to maintain the sequence of stripes in self-striping yarn. Yesterday I cast on the third sock of this pair. Three socks for the price of two - more knitting time from the same amount of yarn. I may just carry my sock and chair outdoors in order to sit under the canopy of the linden. The day is fair and the leaves are rustling in this sheltered space.






Saturday, August 5, 2017

Jonah's Christmas Quilt


When my children were young, I made them each a Christmas Quilt. When they had children of their own, I gave the quilts to them. Austin now has Aaron's quilt and Emmett has Kate's quilt. Emmett loves "his" quilt and was not inclined to share it with his younger brother, Micah. Honestly, I didn't think he should have to share so I made a quilt for Micah. A week or so after I finished Micah's quilt, my daughter and son-in-law announced they were having another child. First I knit Jonah a Christmas stocking, then I began his quilt.


Jonah's quilt contains many of the same motifs as his brothers but unlike the others, I set the blocks together with sashing. After arranging them, I merrily cut and sewed the green vertical pieces to blocks, forgetting to square up the blocks. I fudged and fumed as I ripped out long and short seams. Eventually I lined up the blocks as best as I could and sewed the top together. My excuse is that I was sewing while taking antibiotics. Or maybe I'm just getting forgetful. It's a good thing I love these little guys like crazy.


I had the top machine quilted by a local woman. Her work is meticulous and she is really a quilting artist. She matches thread color to compliment each motif and piece. She combines stippling and designs in a way that makes a quilt sing. On this quilt, the red border is quilted with red Christmas trees. She quilted around each tiny snowflake in the plain bright blue fabric blocks. On the light blue fabric blocks she quilted a large snowflake. She also saved the angel by quilting a wing that I had forgotten.




Each Christmas quilt includes something unique for each child. When I made Aaron's quilt, he requested "stars that twinkle." Aaron/Austin's quilt is pieced stars with sashing that meets in a small star at the corner of each block. The three brothers have motifs I traced from an old coloring book. Kate/Emmett's quilt has a boy and a girl hanging up their stockings. Both Kate and Aaron's quilts have a poem/message written to them. Micah's quilt has an extra lamb as he has a beloved 'baa baa." Jonah won the snow and snowman lottery for winters in the northeast. The quilts are set together differently.  Each quilt contains a sprinkle of mistakes topped with a heaping scoop of love. Little Jonah will have a Christmas quilt when he moves out of his crib. Meanwhile, I have to figure out the best way to get this quilt from Nebraska to the East Coast. Perhaps a hand delivery and a hug would be best.


P.S. I realize the quilt photo skims off the top of my head. It was either me or the quilt. I opted to show the quilt.



Saturday, July 29, 2017

Life as a Monet Painting


Summer continues with its glorious colors. The bright cone flowers and black-eyed-susans shout joy amid vibrant green leaves. This season a cataract is growing in the lens of my left eye. I debated about whether to write about it but decided to be honest. Cataracts are one of the unavoidable processes of aging. The vision in my right eye is good but constantly adjusting to the increasing cloudiness of the left. The good news is surgical removable is low risk with excellent results. Last week I saw an ophthalmologist and scheduled the procedure to be done in three weeks. Hooray! I'd have it done tomorrow if I could but at least I am in the queue. I have a new appreciation for clear vision and good ophthalmological care. I think of others who can't afford treatment and/or cope with more serious, not so easily treated vision issues. I also recall some former students with significantly impaired vision. They struggle with poor vision all of their lives.

In the meantime, I am adjusting to life as a Monet painting. Reading from a Kindle works well. I am not driving on the highway. If the glare and light of a day is too challenging for driving, I call on my husband or a friend for a ride.


Wonder of wonders I can still knit with light colored yarn, a repetitive pattern, and good lighting. As my husband says, "thank goodness." I set aside some socks on size 0 needles because I want to try an after thought heel and I can't see well enough to pick up the stitches. They will keep. I finished the HItchhiker - most of it knit during the miles from Minnesota. I continue to work on the Gemma Shawl. I put the stitches on a dark needle for contrast. Where there is a will, there's a way.


I cast on a Flax Sweater for my youngest grandson. Last winter, the same sweater was a big hit. The yarn washed well and the little blonde guy was handsome in soft gray yarn. Best of all, he liked the sweater. Once he grabbed it off a chair and crawled over to his Mom so she could help him into it. I ordered the same yarn and am knitting the next size up. I have washcloth yarn for garter stitch, if necessary.


If my photos are slightly blurry, know that they will improve in a few weeks. For now, put on those sunglasses, have your eyes checked regularly, and enjoy the flowers.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

High Summer

Hello. Recently we drove to north central Minnesota to spend a few summer days with my sister and brother-in-law at their lake home. We also were able to catch up with my Montana brother and his daughter. Our lake visit of warm days and cool nights was lovely. The company is very dear to us. I love being shoulder to shoulder with my sister in the rocking chair, the kayak, along the roadside for a walk and in the kitchen. North central Minnesota had a late cool spring so the wildflowers continued to bloom with wild abandon. One afternoon, Lance and I walked with our niece. We heard all about middle school, piano competitions, and her upcoming trip to Japan as she snipped wildflowers for a bouquet.

Close to the lake, my husband saw a fox slink across the road. Small frogs hopped in and around the grasses at the lake bank. A great blue heron fished intently from a small floating dock anchored near the shore and a pair of loons bobbed on the lake. During the day, birdsong floated into the screen porch where my sister and I sat in rocking chairs with our knitting. My husband and brother-in-law completed a small woodworking project in the garage. Two evenings we played board games around the table. I didn't take many photos but instead tried to make the most of time with wildflowers and family.

Both coming and going, we stop at a rest area outside of Worthington, Minnesota. It is a good lunch spot with shaded tables and a path around and through a big meadow of wildflowers. The flowers are bright and beautiful this year. I discovered a variety of coneflower with fluttery lavender petals and patches of bright orange milkweed. Both varieties were new to me. On the way, I knit the second foot and toe of a pair of socks, kitchenering up the toe just before we hit the last 45 miles of winding road around the lakes.


While at the lake, I knit on a hitchhiker. I made good progress in the rocking chair and on the return trip to Nebraska.


Since arriving home,  I'm catching up with my own garden. The black-eyed susans are beginning to bloom. This morning I spied an orange tomato in the vegetable bed. High summer season has arrived. I hope summer is treating you well.




Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Details

This morning when I stepped out to water the flower pots on the porch, I was greeted by one perfect blossom on a geranium plant. This past Friday we hosted an early 4th of July picnic. I hoped this geranium would welcome our good friends with three or four blooms but it did not. The first blossom had only just appeared but the orange and white impatiens were lush and beautiful. Orange and white is a new color combination for me but I am enjoying it. Who says an old gardener can't learn something new? This ordinary variety is among the genus of 850 - 1000 species. Historically many varieties have been used as a herbal remedy. Currently they are used to study evolution and ecology. Who knew? If you are interested in more information see this link to Wikipedia.

As summer turns up the heat and humidity, I am knitting small projects. The eternal cuff of the second sock increases at the pace of a summer snail but then I would have to knit on it to make progress. Funny how that works. I have completed two pairs of mitts with some very nice details. The twisted rib stitches in the Spring River Mitts make nice crisp edges. Last year, my sister knit a pair of these for me. The color work makes the fabric of the hand double and quite warm. I followed my sister's lead by choosing Koigu yarn - one solid and one variegated skein. Look at the stalk of lavender in the photo. I love how the plant grows two small blossoms toward the bottom of the stalk - a beautiful after thought.


I also knit a pair of Alfresco Mitts. This free pattern is full of designer details that make it a joy to knit. The cables, flowing out of shifted rib stitches, twist opposite directions on the right and left hand. Three purl stitches on either side of the cable keep it from disappearing into the ribbed body of the mitt.



The thumb gusset is thoughtfully constructed. The two stitch rib running up the thumb resumes in the body of the hand. I plan to make two additional pairs to give as gifts.


May the details in your life bring you joy. Happy July!


Saturday, June 24, 2017

Labor of Love



This quilt was made in 1882 by Ankey Keaton Hutchison. Ankey, who lived in West Virginia, had no children of her own. However she raised her step-grandson, William Hutchison, my husband's great grandfather. When William decided to move to Nebraska to farm, she made this quilt for him. Using whatever tools were available in the early 1880's, she cut strips of fabric and hand appliqued letters and designs onto them. The strips allowed her to organize the verse and keep the letters in apple pie order. Then she sewed the strips together by hand. This quilt contains many many tiny stitches. William's name and the date are appliqued on the right hand border. Later I learned the verse was a German Baptist hymn. (Valentine, F. West Virginia Quilts and Quiltmakers: Echoes From the Hills. Athens: Ohio University, 2000)




I think of Ankey, age 42, stitching on the quilt after her chores were done. Carefully cutting each letter and lining them up just so, knowing that when this young man left home she would never see him again. I hope he wrote letters to tell her about his farm, his young wife, and their three children. Even an occasional letter would have been reassuring, knowing he had arrived safely, worked hard, and later had a family. While the hymn was a stern instruction to him on how to live, the gift of this quilt was a labor of love.



My mother-in-law gave the quilt to my husband and I on Valentine's Day, 1993, surely another gift of love and trust. Since then I have stored and cared for it. Every year I refolded it and wrapped it in a clean piece of sheet. Quilt historians recommend archival tissue and boxes and refolding to prevent permanent creasing. Failing archival materials, they suggest wrapping quilts in muslin or "never-been-used" sheets, preferably with no color.

Although this quilt is in good condition, it won't last forever. My husband and I talked with other family members and then decided to donate the quilt to The International Quilt Study and Museum here in Lincoln. This museum is a local treasure with an international reputation. The gorgeous building was specially designed for quilt exhibits, storage, and study. It is worth a visit. The staff will care for the Hutchison quilt and occasionally exhibit it in a way that preserves it for as long as possible. Leaving the museum this week, I wondered what Ankey would think about her quilt becoming part of quilt history in this wonderful place. I hope she would be pleased that her work has and will be lovingly cared for in another new home.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Summer's Eve




Something about summer's eve speaks of abundant possibility. The outdoors is lush and green without that wilted look of too much heat and sun. My herb garden is growing well. I have enough oregano to supply an Italian restaurant. When I clip herbs for cooking, I pick extra sprigs to dry on a paper towel. I have little jars labeled with parsley, basil, oregano, and thyme. After the herbs dry, I crumble them into the jars for winter cooking. The only drawback to this low tech method is the pile of paper towels that accumulates on the counter. Usually I harvest enough for my use as well as for my son and daughter. They make great stocking stuffers for cooks. The lavender is full of blossoms. The tomatoes and sugar snap peas are flowering. I could grow sugar snap peas just for their delicate flowers. A thunderstorm on Monday a.m. dropped three inches of needed rain, more bounty for the season.



As for knitting, I have new projects on the needles. I finished the Pebbles socks and cast on this pair. I was a wee bit disappointed to run out of gradient yarn at the toe but the yellow made a good sturdy toe. If I had knit a shorter cuff I might have had enough but ripping out the sock didn't make sense. Watching the colors change in this Beach Glass colorway made for quick knitting. I also knit one of a pair of Spring River Mitts.


Since I keep looking (in vain) through my shawls for a more neutral, light colored one to wear with summer clothes, I cast on the Gemma Shawl. The designer remarks that that pattern is just right for summer knitting and she is right. There is a nice easy rhythm in the stitch patterns. I also appreciate her attention to detail at the beginning of the shawl. This yarn came in an enormous skein. I finally split it into two balls because the first became too big to hold in my hand. There will be enough left for another project. I could have knit some kind of short sleeved, short bodied sweater but I bought the yarn for this shawl pattern so away I knit.


Honestly I would like to cast on more projects. Something about relaxed summer days makes me think of three or four other skeins of yarn that I might like to use for mitts or a cowl. Summer's bounty from the natural world spills into my knitting. This side of summer has a richness that will last only a few weeks. Enjoy these June days.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

Blue: Old and New


Thursday evening I sewed the buttons on this sweater. I am always amazed to make a sweater that fits. Whew! A slight pulling in on the button band blocked out well. I didn't want to rip it out but I probably would have, given the investment of time and yarn. Even though I alternated skeins, some variation in color is noticeable. The pattern is well written for multiple sizes. The small cables at the side seams and down the middle of the back are a nice detail. I knit a slightly shorter body with fewer increases in the hip area because I wanted an everyday boyfriend sweater, not a bathrobe. The yarn is a little luxurious for everyday wear but I follow the advice of my Gram who taught me to knit."Always knit the best yarn you can afford." Besides it was on sale last Thanksgiving weekend.


I am currently mending a quilt top. I hand pieced, appliqued, and quilted this Basket Quilt from 1989-1991. When I finished, it matched the wallpaper in our previous home but my love of blue hasn't changed much over the years. We used the quilt on our bed for a number of years and then I put it away because it was showing some wear. Since I make quilts and knits to be used and enjoyed, I put it back on the bed this past winter. The top row of blocks needs mending.


After washing it for winter storage, I unearthed a box of odds and ends of old linens, pieces of fabric, and embroidery floss I save in a box labled, "blue - odds and ends."  


Since mending was going to be visible, I began by using the corner of old handkerchief to mend the first block. In a slap-happy sort of way, I'm enjoying finding something in the box for the worn spots. The handkerchief belonged to my Gram although I'm not sure why because she was a gal who favored pink almost exclusively.  

How do you mend?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

I write this post on Memorial Day. Yesterday my husband and I visited cemeteries where our parents and grandparents are buried. We drove Nebraska Highway 15 from Lincoln to the Butler County cemetery, then stopped at Schuyler, and Norfolk. The wind blew across the fields as Lance drove and I knit on a second sock of a pair. He showed me the hill where his mother took him to look for Native American arrowheads (they never found any) but she liked to get away from the house in the tiny town and walk out in the country. I told him about my family's infamous sledding trips in Ta Ha Zouka Park and high school days cruising the main street of Norfolk before pulling into the Double K Drive-In for french fries and cokes. We know these stories well but the day seemed like one for remembering. So we turned off the radio and audiobooks and exchanged stories.

Memorial Day originated with remembering soldiers of the Civil War in the North and the South. Today an article in our newspaper lamented many folks don't practice the true meaning of the holiday, that is to honor men and women who have lost their lives in military service. While I honor those who lost their lives serving our country, I also remember and honor others. Honoring one group does not dishonor the other. I also applaud families and friends who spend time together sharing stories and meals. Honor and remembrance come in many forms.


The word "memory" has several origins. One of the earliest comes from the Latin word, "memor" meaning mindful. Today I am holding stories and dear ones in my mind while I knit the second toe of the second sock. Last week I finished the baby sweater with yarn to spare so I'm knitting a matching hat. The little sweater has a one button closure in the neck ribbing that is currently held in place by a stitch marker. Although I'm tempted to pick out a little duck button, I think a babe would be more comfortable with a smooth round button (sewed on securely) against the neck. I think the sweater is a 6 - 9 month size. By then most babies should be holding their heads up but those big heads do get heavy and come to rest on chests. I have buttons to sew on my cardigan and some two color mitts in the works.

However you celebrate, I hope you have a lovely Memorial Day.