Thursday, January 22, 2015

January Thaw

Banner Elk, NC

"The shortest day has passed, and whatever nastiness of weather we may look forward to in January and February, at least we notice that the days are getting longer.  Minute by minute they lengthen out.  It takes some weeks before we become aware of the change.  It is imperceptible even as the growth of a child, as you watch it day by day, until the moment comes when with a start of delighted surprise we realize that we can stay out of doors in a twilight lasting for another quarter of a precious hour."
                                        -  Vita Sackville-West

While the longer, brighter evenings of the past couple of weeks seem to foreshadow easier days, January is still an unpredictable and generally gloomy month, especially in the South.  Whether frigid or mild temperatures prevail, the atmosphere tends to be bleak, as (unlike in the North) there is rarely a blanket of snow to reflect light and brighten the landscape.    This year, in the hopes of staving off the inevitable winter blues that are a product of these dismal days, I’ve even bought a “Happy Light” with a broad spectrum bulb that is supposed to elevate seasonal sadness.    
At this time of year, too, along with coping with the environment, now that the Christmas frenzy is over, there is my annual taking stock of diet, exercise, finances, home repairs, and general life maintenance.  And after the gluttony and general profligacy of December, this time is often one for rude awakenings—and for formulating lots of resolutions.  It is also my birthday month, so the beginning of the year marks not only the evolution into springtime but also provides me with another concrete marker of time’s passing.    

The blog of Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse with its beautiful nature pictures  accompanied by reflections on Epiphany inspired me to take some photographs in Banner Elk, North Carolina, where I visited family last weekend.  

Despite the onset of a new year, I am not making any firm resolutions.  My hope is to continue what I have been doing—getting up, getting dressed, and sallying forth to deal with the day’s challenges—without experiencing too many seesawing emotions or a sense of being overwhelmed.  As a person who thrives on planning and scheming—envisioning future career paths, trips to take, classes to enroll in, skills to master, home projects to tackle, this past year (one where my energies have been stretched too tenuously) has caused me to reach an impasse.  

So my aims this year are humble ones--to continue teaching, attacking the monster of personal and professional paperwork, spending some leisure time walking and enjoying pleasing food and entertainment (generally books and movies) and, of course, Downton Abbey (the new season just began airing here in the US). 

And, of course, there is knitting.  This task isn’t something I need to resolve to do, however, as my affinity for knitting runs deeper than any attraction for a mere leisure pastime. Writer Temma Erenfeld in “Open Gently” in Psychology Today best describes my relationship with knitting when she recounts how Betsan Corkhill, a British physiotherapist, labels this  activity a “constructive addiction." So, at best, I can plan to not seek a cure for my yarn-related "illness" and simply continue to knit in stolen moments that make the daily grind easier to bear. 

And, while not technically involving goal-setting or resolutions, each trip to the yarn shop or time spent perusing knitting books and magazines typically culminates in my learning a new technique or completing a new type of garment.  A modest target I have right now is finishing the Tracery Vest, so that I can cast on something new.   I hope to use some recently purchased Liberty Wool Light yarn to make the Edmonia T-Shirt found in New American Knits. Next, it's on to the daunting-but-doable All-Colors Sweater.

My Tracery Vest from The Unofficial Harry Potter Knits is a work in progress.  

Maybe when spring arrives, I'll be in a better place to make firm resolutions and I'll even revisit pursuing Master Knitter certification (abandoned sometime during the onset of the previous school year), but for now I'll knit on through the winter as the days slowly lengthen into spring, keeping in mind the following inspiring sentiment expressed by poet Anne Bradstreet:  

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome."

This yarn was a birthday present to myself.  I love Liberty Wool.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Crossing the Pond

While my design and writing inspiration have been a bit stifled lately—by my work at a new large high school where classes are BIG and demands for rigor are high—I have been knitting a great deal.  Perhaps in response to daily struggles and stresses, I seem to be knitting fast and furiously and to have firmly latched onto my new-found Fair Isle fascination.  Perhaps it is the intrinsic uniformity and order of Fair Isle—where only two colors are worked in each row (perfect, as one strand can be held in each hand) and where simple stockinette stitch predominates—that are offering comfort during this stressful time of change.  I’ve finished my Vogue Knitting Fair Isle Cowl and am now over halfway through with Debbie Bliss’s Fair Isle Legwarmers.  I’ve nearly run out of “Eggplant” Liberty Wool Light yarn, though (due to my negligence in not initially seeing that I needed 100, rather than 50 grams of this color), and my yarn shop doesn’t have anymore in stock.  So I have to wait for Monday’s mail—and hope I find it in my box before I get carried away and cast on yet another project. 

I need to get these Fair Isle Legwarmers done before January is over.   

I’ve also done another color-work item (stripes rather than Fair Isle) in the form of the frog pictured below.  Once again, I find that my recent scattered energies caused me to make a bit of a mistake, as I used sport weight yarn from my stash (mistaking it for DK) for the light green parts and too-big size six needles, so Froggy is a bit loosely knit up making him appear somewhat primitive (although his beautiful dark mottled green head and body are worked up in Rowan fine art—a luxurious silk-and-wool blend, held double).  Since he’s a North Carolina native from a community perched on the edge of rural countryside, his imperfect appearance does lend him an appropriate rustic air.  But Froggy is about to find himself thrust out of his familiar Lake Park community, as he is taking a trip across the pond, to visit his new family in Oxfordshire, England.  (I saw the pattern for this creature in Laura Long’s Knitted Toy Tales and thought he would make a perfect gift for blogger and lover of whimsical creatures, Mrs.Thomasina Tittlemouse). 

Froggy knows he should bone up on some culture before heading to England, especially since he will be living in close proximity to Oxford.  "Maybe tomorrow," he muses.  

A mini-library in Froggy's community offers lighter reading fare.  

I had some blue and purple felt on hand, but neither seemed appropriate for the crown that is supposed to adorn Froggy’s head.  I meant to venture out for some yellow felt on Saturday but a dreary day and a pile of student essays to review dissuaded me.  Maybe I’ll get a crown worked up before Froggy begins his voyage; if not he’s sure to find the perfect topper in the land of fairytale kings and gleaming crown jewels. 

Froggy likes the fact that pansies bloom throughout a good portion of the southern winter.  

Near his new digs, Froggy may find himself punting on the Cherwell (a river that runs through Oxford), an activity, perhaps, a bit less hazardous than dodging frog “giggers” in North Carolina.  Individuals who go frog “gigging” use long multi-pronged spears to catch their unwitting prey.  (This practice attests to the fact that the French don’t have a monopoly on viewing frogs’ legs as a delicacy, although the version served up in my locale is fried, rather than delicately sautéed and seasoned with wine and garlic.)  In his new home, Froggy might also find himself lucky enough to chance upon a real princess who can help him rise above his humble station. 

His new family might want to bestow a more suitable moniker upon him, rather than the nondescript “Froggy” hastily given to him after his eyes were stitched on a few days ago.  With the hope for a fitting name in mind, Froggy asked that I share one of his favorite poems with his new family along with any readers who plan to adopt a frog anytime soon:

The Frog


Be kind and tender to the Frog,
   And do not call him names,
As ‘Slimy skin,’ or ‘Polly-wog,’
   Or likewise ‘Ugly James,’
Or ‘Gape-a-grin,’ or ‘Toad-gone-wrong,’  
   Or ‘Billy Bandy-knees’:
The Frog is justly sensitive
   To epithets like these.
No animal will more repay
   A treatment kind and fair;
At least so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,  
They are extremely rare).

Source: Complete Verse (1970)

Froggy will miss the bell tower here in Lake Park, but I'm sure he'll find some
beautiful historic bells to listen to in Oxfordshire.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Sample Sale

      Last year, when I attended a class at Vogue Knitting Live, a fellow student, who was also a yarn shop owner, said that only about 30 percent of knitters who entered her shop came in with a plan in mind. The rest were happy to find inspiration from shop samples and eager to join other customers who were making the same project.  Another shop owner in the group concurred with this estimate. 

     In typical fashion, for me, I’m not one of the majority.  I always seem to be on the edge of things—uneasy in my acceptance in cliques or clubs.  And that sense of never quite fitting in applies to making projects displayed in yarn shops or in joining thousands of other individuals knitting the same wildly popular garment found on Ravelry.  I see knitting and fashion as intertwined, and believe that a person’s fashion choices should be based on the considerations of height, weight, body shape, coloring, personal aesthete, etc.  I’m five feet two inches tall and know that if I knit up and wore the popular Outlander-inspired cowl on display at my local yarn shop (a large, twisted piece created using three strands of bulky yarn held together and worked with size 50 needles) I would look like a mouse peering out of a man's knit cap or a top-heavy load ready to tumble.  For me, the effect would be overwhelming—the same way that sporting a wide-brimmed hat would make me look—in the words of my late grandmother—like a “bug under a cabbage leaf.”   Unlike tall women, the only statement I would make when wearing an over-sized cape or shawl (especially one in bright colors or with bold geographic shapes) is to resemble a swaddled traveler on the steppes of Siberia (before the days of Thinsulate jackets). 

     So I know it is important to create flattering, individually suited garments, but, by the same token, I love the infectious enthusiasm shop samples evoke in patrons and have enjoyed being an amused onlooker at my local yarn shop, witnessing groups of women choose skeins to make the same design, sharing camaraderie and a sense of adventure.  And I have to admit that while I enjoy my quiet early-morning moments spent perusing knitting books and magazines to find the perfect pattern just for me, I sometimes enjoy a knit-along (organized or informal) inspired by shop samples.  

I was inspired to knit this when the yarn shop owner's daughter was selecting yarn to make this for herself.  On Ravelry there
are 149 projects posted of this design.  I haven't finished or blocked this yet.

     While the shop sample isn't finished and on display yet, I was snared when Lynn, the owner of Cottage Yarn, recently showed me a pattern for an upcoming January knit-along of the All Colors Sweater.  By local designer Amy Gunderson of Universal Yarns, this item incorporates 137 colors of yarn.  Yes, 137!  The strands are spit spliced together. (I looked up this technique and surmised that I will have to stay well hydrated when working this cardigan.)  I can’t wait to make this beautiful garment that not only offers the challenge of working with so many colors but also involves another daring task I’ve experimented with only once before—steeking.  I wonder how many other victims will fall prey to the lure of this ambitious knit-along, especially if they have a chance to see a sample of this item on display!  I am sure I won’t be alone.  Luckily, yarn shops will be making up and selling kits for this project, so that individuals in humble circumstances like my own won’t use up two years’ worth of yarn shopping funds on one garment.  This sweater is also simple in its shape and should look flattering on a variety of heights and figure types. 

I've been wanting to make a project with Liberty Wool for ages and a Debbie Bliss pattern for Fair Isle Legwarmers should work well with these colors.  I'd better get these done before the All Colors knit-along.

     Ultimately, a knitting hobby provides the opportunity to carefully consider personal style and tastes, wardrobe needs, and preferences for yarns and knitting techniques.  But it also allows for succumbing to seductive sample temptation—like the time I was enticed by an item on display at Vogue Knitting Live, inspired to make a cape with bulky yarn—an outer-garment that dwarfed my frame and triggered profuse sweating.  I’ve now frogged this item and am using the beautiful Debbie Bliss Como yarn (a cashmere and wool blend no longer manufactured) to work up a more modest-sized Cabled Cowl I found in The Art of Seamless Knitting.  I hope this garment becomes one of my wardrobe staples.  At present, only nine other people have posted this project on Ravelry, but maybe when I wear my completed work I’ll inspire some others to join in making this quick knit.  

This is the start of the Cabled Cowl.  
I have to admit that I enjoy when other people see my works in progress and decide to knit the same item.  At a recent Tuesday night knitting group, I proudly displayed the Fair Isle Cowl on my needles and waxed poetic about my new-found passion for the Fair Isle technique.  I could tell that I'd piqued an interest in one woman.  Her eyes looked wider.  And brighter.   I later found out that she’d returned to the shop several days later to buy numerous skeins of yarn to make the same cowl. I'm happy to have a companion for this project.  And maybe someday with time to create original designs, I can enjoy a similar satisfaction by watching other knitters create them.   

Yesterday, during a trip to Barnes and Noble, I was lured by a British magazine packed with a
 kit to make this tape measure cover.  This little bear knit up quickly.