Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tangled Lessons


I've always done things the hard way. I was born like a piece of tangled yarn. The job is trying to untangle it, and I'll probably go on doing it for the rest of my life.
       The sentiment expressed by Karen Allen (probably best known for her role as a spirited sidekick to the hero in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) applies to me.    As a result of hard-headedness, grandiose aspirations, impulse-driven endeavors, and general ignorance and impatience, I can look back remorsefully on so many mistakes in my life . . . and in my knitting.  Of course, so much of life is maintaining a healthy perspective, and, as I get older, I try to view blunders with less regret and, instead, examine them for the lessons they have imparted. 

        I recently finished a lovely Trefoil Cardigan, a task that provided numerous unwelcome reminders of my shortcomings as a knitter and person.  When I steeked the center opening of the cardigan,  I found that the loose ends of the contrast yarns threatened to unravel.  (I don't have pictures of the escaping strands, as, at the time, I was too worried and preoccupied to take them.)  Lesson 1:  Superwash Wool is not “sticky” (its scales have been removed).  "Scaly" Shetland yarn is a Fair Isle and steeking staple for a reason.  Lesson 2: Read up on a skill before tackling it.  I ignored the instructions and didn't do research before choosing to use crochet to secure the steek.  I later had to resort to the sewing machine to tame unruly strands.  

This is the center with the crocheted reinforcement.    

Using scissors on one's knitwear can be intimidating.  

Troubles with the center opening encouraged
 me to secure the pocket steeks with a 
sewing maching before cutting.

     This sweater also taught me a lesson that is reinforced and forgotten each school year.  By April, a teacher's thinking is fuzzy, as each day she plods along, while the students become less motivated, are plagued with heightened emotion about impending final grades, and display increasing unruliness with each hour that brings them closer to summer break.  It is not the time of year to tackle challenging knitting projects.  

Notice how the top two buttons are too close together.  

 I decided to tear out the button band, remove the buttons, and fix my error.

I used fresh yarn to replace this curly frogged stuff.

      In the wee hours of the morning, I tore out and measured and marked and measured and marked.  I then carefully reknit the button band and reattached all 11 buttons.  But, when I was done, I realized that I had blindly ignored the big picture (see below). Ugh!  I have a retired teacher friend who, while sewing costumes for a springtime student play years ago, improperly attached a mermaid tail--inside out--to a costume body three times!  Her error makes perfect sense to me. 

Look at the misaligned yoke!

      With visions of cool winter days, where I proudly accept compliments on my homemade sweater, I once again tackled removing and reattaching the buttons.  Thankfully, the buttonholes were evenly spaced and didn't need reworking.

The final product may not be perfect, but I have also learned that perfectionism can be a curse!

      To celebrate finishing this item, several days ago I cast on a lovely lace shawl, I pattern I found in a past issue of Vogue Knitting.  I had purchased a skein of some divine cashmere, alpaca, and silk lace weight yarn at Loop in London back in 2013, and thought I'd better use this up.  (I don't want to  feel guilty buying more yarn on an upcoming trip to England this summer.)

       Of course, I dove right in and didn't realize that this pattern has bobbles, hundreds of bobbles!  While not a tragedy, working bobbles with lace-weight yarn requires slowing down and actually focusing--not an easy task with the end of the school year less than a month away (and 77 essays left to grade!).

This is the work-in-progress with its many tiny bobbles.

     This shawl is wonderfully soft and the intricate bobbled pattern is worthy of the fine yarn.  I have another project with bobbles that taught me a lesson the hard way--a sweater dress.  This project was my first attempt at sweater knitting. Working this garment was a process fraught with hurled expletives. But now I am the proud owner of a finely wrought garment crafted in rough, inexpensive, and rather dull-colored green yarn purchased at a big-box store.  Lesson:  Craftsmanship deserves quality.    

      Alas, I must remember that my knitting successes have been more frequent than my failures.  Such an attitude is conducive to maintaining a positive outlook regarding knitting and life. 

This is my classroom at the school where I started working last August, after 22 years of teaching in a different county--really a different country!  I have learned lots of lessons here!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Time Out from To-Do Lists

This spring break project is going to be the Trefoil Cardigan, designed by Gudrun Johnson and
published in November Knits.  This cardigan requires steeks for the front opening and the
pockets, so it will require some patience and attention to detail.  

     I can't believe that nearly a month has passed since my last post.  My new job with its endless essays is draining me a bit dry.  But, thankfully, last Thursday, I wished my students a happy and safe spring break.  And, after a Good Friday spent at a very quiet school where I made only a small hollow in the large pit of papers I had to grade, I officially began my time off.  While many families enjoy reconnecting at the beach or other get-away destinations during time off, as usual, I have found myself at home and a bit overwhelmed by all of the items on my to-do list.  Where does one begin? 

     *Pressure wash mildew-covered posts at front of house.

     *Dust. (My mother still makes it a point to remind me that she hasn’t gotten over the layer of asthma-inducing dust she discovered on the tops of my picture frames when she visited me several years ago. There must be a fresh layer by now.)

     *Schedule an appointment at the vet for my seventy-pound dog who is afraid to get in the car (and must, therefore, be lifted) so she can get her booster shots.

     *Clean out the garage!  Someday I would like to actually park a car in there.

    *Sand and spackle and paint the sheetrock that slants overhead as one goes up the stairs.  (This exposed board has been in its current unfinished state for nearly two years.)

     *Polish silver. (When I was a teenager on the way to a college interview, my mother—divorced and struggling to make ends meet—handed me a camel hair cashmere coat to wear.  She’d purchased this item for herself years earlier at Saks Fifth Avenue.  This gift was accompanied by the statement, “We are hanging onto the shreds of our gentility.” While the coat is long gone, the silver shares a similar symbolic value, so I’ll probably hold onto it to pass onto some unwitting future daughter-in-law who will likely prefer modern minimalist d├ęcor.) 
     *Actually cook something besides the deviled eggs and bean salad I managed to throw together to bring to a family dinner on Easter Sunday.

     *Weed the garden boxes and over-sized pots for tomato plants in my back yard.

     *Mop the kitchen floor. 

     *Do laundry. 

     *Clean out the refrigerator. 

With such a list, it might seem surprising that I spent over an hour at the fabric store yesterday, happily perusing patterns and rows of bolts and have occupied myself this morning cutting and beginning to put together a floor-length wrap dress.  It might also seem odd that in the several days I have already had off, I have worked a huge chunk of a Fair Isle cardigan in fingering weight yarn (pictured above), after completing a lacy shrug (pictured below) made with soft alpaca sport weight yarn.  The answer is simple, though.  Escape!  There’s something about the easy flow of knitting or the complete concentration of sewing that banishes the swirling list of unfinished items to the nether reaches of my consciousness.  I could get up and polish and weed or go buy light bulbs for the hall light (that burnt out yesterday), and I eventually will do those things, but, for right now, having long expanses of time to spend on creative endeavors is much too appealing—especially when there is so much pollen in the air this spring that it is difficult to focus anyway.

Here is my finished Layering Shrug designed Juju Vail.  It's hard for the eye to focus on the garment
 here, as the brick-a-brack on the piano is distracting.  I really need  to put some of this stuff
 away, but knitting is a much more pleasant pastime.   

     Escape is, at times, much more preferable than reality.  So, while I have managed this week to take my younger son to the eye doctor and dermatologist, to deep clean the kitchen, to pressure wash the patio and its furniture, to plant some annuals, to put four bags of gravel along the edge of the driveway, to sort through and discard canned goods with expired "best-by" dates, and to organize part of my yarn stash, I intend to spend many hours during the remainder of my time off working on my dress or knitting. With some effort, I should make some more dents in my stash, that I am determined to reduce.  

My close friend Cindy gave me this skein of hand spun and dyed alpaca yarn last summer.  I finally cast on a lacy cowl.  

I finally finished a shawl using Blue Heron yarn.  I used a handy shawl knitting "Cheat Sheet" from Laylock, which includes five basic shawl patterns knitters can use to suit their purposes.  I made the half-circle shawl.  

     Temptation always awaits, however.  Last night, the Tuesday night knitters at Cottage Yarn began a knit-along sponsored by Classic Elite Yarns. The scarf they are making uses Santorini, a beautiful cotton and viscose multi-colored yarn, and Sanibel, a solid version with the same fiber content, and features an interesting triangle pattern.  I want to join in the fun. . . .  But if I bring any more yarn into the house at this present time, I’m not certain that any knitting, or sewing, or sketching (another hobby I’ve taken up in the last week or so) will provide escape from a stash that threatens, like some oozing tide of lava descending on Pompeii, to bury me alive.  

This is Santorini by Classic Elite Yarns.  I'm using it to make the Sanibel Lace Shawl (below)  in progress.


I have never taken a drawing class, so this first attempt is probably very primitive,
but I enjoyed working on this and the picture below.  Neither one is complete yet.    

Here is a sketch of one of my dogs, Stella.  

This pattern is a little busy.  I think it looks a bit like fruits and vegetables, but the saleswoman at the fabric store said that the design is reminiscent of jewels.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Me and Mrs. Dalloway


     “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”  This first line from Virginia Woolf’s novel (named for its heroine) fluttered through my mind Friday afternoon as I made my way through a local supermarket, admiring and photographing the displays of flowers, exchanging small talk with employees, and selecting a few items for an easy end-of-week dinner. In the manner of Clarissa Dalloway, I can be an introspective person, critical of life’s absurdities and saddened by second-guessing past decisions.  But, like Clarissa Dalloway, the bustle of the marketplace and the pleasures of getting swallowed up in making plans distract and engage me, lifting my spirits when they are slumped. 

I couldn't resist a rare treat--roses on sale.  

      While I move in a very different social milieu than that of Clarissa Dalloway and don’t plan society parties or even, at present, have the energy to plan a small get-together in my home, I occupy myself with planning meals, devising household organizing schemes, browsing online maps and tourism sites for an upcoming trip, and other diverting pleasures.  And, of course, as spring approaches, making plans to knit up garments in bright lightweight yarn occupies my thoughts.

     Perhaps I don’t have a right to yearn for spring, though, as I live in a region of North Carolina that hasn’t been walloped by a harsh winter with record-breaking snowfall--like so many states to the north of me.   The Charlotte area only had a light sprinkling of snow once or twice and was hit with a light sprinkling of freezing rain (although the media built up that particular storm with the dire warnings and dramatic diction and tone of voice suited for an impending apocalypse).  But it has been wet and dark on many days.  And we’ve had a schizophrenic season with bouts of record-breaking cold on the backs of balmy days in the seventies.  It is, perhaps, this inconsistency that has made people here ready for a new season.  I hear again and again, “I’m done with winter.”

While this is wool Malabrigo yarn, the "English Rose" color is perfect for spring.  This will be the Berry Wrap from Juju's Loops, a favorite pattern book I bought from Loop of London.   

The color combination found in these flowers on display at Publix could be used to make a pretty knitted spring accessory or garment.  

      Knitters share that sentiment.   My local yarn shop is a bustle with shoppers selecting linen, silk, and cotton yarns that recently hit the shelves.  As I am on a yarn fast until Easter, it is difficult to resist these temptations.  However, a store credit allowed me to engage in my addiction and obtain some Louisa Harding Noema in cheerful shades of pink.  Last year, I knit a sweater with this same yarn in a teal color; now I’m planning another, something light and open—perfect to wear this coming summer. 

This Noema yarn displays springtime tones.  


     I’m also looking for inspiration for new projects and hope to make a day trip to The Biltmore Estate during spring break.  The Vanderbuilts, who built and lived in this mansion, had an elegant way a life similar to that of the Granthams of Downton Abbey, so, appropriately, an exhibition of 45 costumes from the popular BBC mini-series is currently on display there as part of an exhibit entitled "Dressing Downton."  Making plans for a day trip to ooh and ah over exquisite garments and to visit the Biltmore's springtime gardens is a welcome distraction from this dreary, dragged out winter season.  And, as I’ll be making this excursion after the end of my Lenten yarn fast, I might have to make a stop at one or two  Asheville yarn shops on the way home.  Escapist activities such as yarn shopping and costume viewing—or the party planning and flower shopping of Mrs. Dalloway—might be a bit superficial and shallow, but they take me, and I’d venture to assume lots of other folks, away from the dark moments of  a long winter. 

Lynn, the owner of Cottage Yarn, took a picture of me with my finished winter project, the
Tracery Vest, from The Unofficial Harry Potter Knits.  

I looked at the pattern too quickly at first and cast on and knit the wrong size.  My vest is now proudly on display at Cottage Yarn.