Friday, September 28, 2012

Time Passages

In the sometimes insanely narrow world of public education, an environment shaped by ever-changing initiatives and mandates, one filled with too many acronyms to remember properly,  a former co-worker of mine named Cindy was a breath of fresh air.  She infused her classroom with wry wit and humor—dancing a frantic Friday Dance in the hallway at the end of each week, sporting eccentric clothing (including a vintage WWII Red Cross worker’s cape and a voluminous purple tie-dyed maxi skirt), directing student plays, engaging students in massive art projects.  Cindy brought a much needed passion for learning for learning’s sake, compassion for students and co-workers, and a fiery impatience with nonsense into the school. 

Cindy recalled an anecdote to me years ago that has helped me a great deal in my personal and professional life.   She was in a parent-teacher conference for a hyperactive student who was known for his over-the-top antics and struggles with academics.  Cindy told me how she’d sat in a meeting with teachers, the misbehaving boy’s parents, and administrators, a group who, in typical fashion, were wringing their hands over the litany of this student’s shortcomings that had been laid on the table.  Cindy recounted how she paused a minute and said loudly, “You’re all forgetting something.  He will grow up!”   

This boy did grow up and did just fine, establishing himself with a successful career as a salesman, where his unlimited energy and talkative nature are assets.  I’ve called on Cindy’s story of this young man to help me in my dealings with my younger child (who informed me at a very young age that his “job” at school was to entertain the other students to break up the daily torture of “prison”).  I’ve also seen her statement about maturing prove itself recently, when my school hired a young Spanish teacher who is also one of my former students.  While Paul never proved to be a serious classroom disruption back in high school, his biting wit and subtle encouragement of off-task classroom debate (for two years in a row in daily classes that were 90 minutes long) could be trying.  Listening to him bemoan reading Sir "Gayman" and the Green Knight or arguing that, of course, five year olds should be allowed to watch R movies made for lively, but sometimes exhausting classes.  And the social studies project  dealing with a minor Greek goddess that he turned in to my friend Cindy might have been met with anger by a less good-natured instructor.  When he presented his project Paul discussed how this goddess was known for her "hideous ugliness" and displayed a box painted black on the inside with a photo of Cindy's face on the inside!  She'd been feeling guilty about responding to him pretty roughly with some verbal jibes the week before, so she was able to laugh at this juvenile act of revenge.    

The grown-up version of this student is a fine teacher now, his pointed sarcastic humor injecting life into his classroom and staff meetings. He’s even married--to a young woman I also taught.  She was a demure excellent student when I taught her, one whose practical nature must now certainly temper her husband’s high jinx. Our school had a baby shower for the two last Wednesday, and I gave them a cabled lace baby sweater I’d rushed to complete before the party. I’m certain that as this baby grows, she will manifest some of her father’s spark of devilish humor. After all, we all grow up, but our children, sometimes much to our discomfort, remind us of our younger selves—including some aspects we’d like to forget.

Paul and his wife, Ana, are shown here with a hand-knitted bag that a co-worker's mother made in the 1950s.  Ginny, the giver of the bag, does not knit, but her late mother did beautiful and prolific work.  Ginny, who has one child, a grown daughter with Down's Syndrome, wanted to pass the bag on to a family with a little girl.   
This bag has lost much of its pink color, but the fine handiwork is still apparent.  I'd like to recreate this design. 

Here's one more picture of the happy couple.  Paul is holding up the sweater I made. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Teaching Bonus

Last month I posted a project with DonorsChoose, an organization that helps pair teachers with benefactors who fund classroom projects.  Rather than asking for money, teachers who register with this site are directed to catalogs, from which they select supplies they desire to use in their classrooms.  I’d selected over $400 worth of yarn from an art supply catalog to use with students in my Fiber Arts Club and was eagerly awaiting donors, but was not wholly optimistic that any would step up to pay for my order. 

Yesterday I had a wonderful surprise.  Two donors, KiaMotors and the Team, have funded my project!  I am now looking forward to a huge injection of colorful yarn into my club’s meager stash, a collection which was comprised mostly of odd bits of leftovers from my own knitting projects.  I was familiar with before I saw the notice that this group had generously donated money and had even considered registering for some of their online classes.  I will definitely do so now.  And when I’m in the market for a new car, this gift has inspired me to definitely visit the Kia dealership near my home and check out their models.

I bought 20 of these bags for my club members, for less than $1.00 apiece at Wal-Mart.  

I imagine that my response to receiving this huge supply of yarn in the mail will be similar to how any hobby obsessed person might feel about receiving a windfall of items related to his or her mania.  My feelings will be no less intense than those experienced by a rabid football fan who opens an envelope containing free season tickets for his favorite team or those of a Lord of the Rings fancier who stumbles on one of the genuine rings used in filming the movie (fans of The Big Bang Theory will understand the deep sentiments conveyed by this reference).  My situation is a bit different from that of these football fans or fantasy fanciers, though, as this gift of yarn will keep on giving (sorry for the cliche), as I will be sharing this donation with the high school girls who are in my fiber arts club. 

Though we meet once a week on Fridays and it’s still early in the school year, this group of non-knitters has cast on and begun knitting.  Each day when I walk outside during lunchtime I see one or two girls carrying the brightly-colored bags I handed out on the first club meeting this year, so that students would have a place to keep their yarn and needles.  And I’ve heard talk from other teachers of how students are pulling out knitting during free time.  It’s rewarding to see the immediate impact of my teaching in this way, and I’m incredibly grateful to my generous donors for helping me pass on my beloved craft to young people. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Post Haste Post Stress

This work in progress is a baby sweater made from a kit from Plymouth Yarns.  The kit comes with cute teddy bear buttons. 
All too often I search online using knitting-related key words and find myself stumbling onto blogs with their most recent entries dated several years ago.  These blogs are like ghost ships resting unmoored on the water, ships with half-eaten plates of food on tables, ships with empty pilot houses and rumpled still-warm cots with absent inhabitants.  The blogs seem to just stop, with no words of farewell or explanation. 

While I do not plan to stop blogging anytime soon, I can completely understand how sometimes one avenue of endeavor that requires time and attention has to be ended or put aside.  This past week, I was engulfed by school tensions, but did manage to write a blog entry related to knitting, school, and the current stresses faces public school teachers.  Since I want to keep my knitting blog relatively light, however, I opted against sharing my essay (which was laced with lots of satire and clever discussions of the distinction between knitting—my “hobby job”—and teaching—my formal career). Anyway, after a week of finalizing grades for the marking period, preparing all sorts of online documents (so that my performance can be assessed by some mysterious authority out in cyberspace), I’m back to blogging and have no plans to end doing so in the near future. 

I found the pink yarn I needed and finished the shower sweater today.  The yarn is Cascade Superwash Sport 220.  Here the project is shown wet, without the button at the neckline sewn on. 

In addition to keeping up with career demands, I'm attempting to finish up some projects, but ran out of yarn--with one inch remaining to complete one sleeve of a baby sweater for a baby shower that is this coming week.  Of course, I had a valid excuse to visit my local knitting store yesterday, so I am actually kind of happy about this yarn shortage.  When I was checking out, I learned that I had enough holes in my frequent shopper punch card to earn $25.00 of free merchandise—an event that occurs rather  too frequently, I have to confess, so I picked out two balls of luxurious Rowan Lima yarn.  Fellow blogger Judith Hamid has a free knit-and-crochet pattern for fingerless gloves using this yarn.  You can also find some great how-to pictures, by visiting her site:  I Read, I Sewed, I Crocheted. 

I'd love to know what you call this type of yarn--I'm sure that there is a term for yarn that isn't so much plied as woven or braided.  Whatever it's called, the yarn knits up beautifully.

I’ve also been frantically knitting another Brynn shrug—a pattern I’ve discussed in the past couple of posts.  This time I’m using a heavier weight yarn—Rowan Tweed Aran.  This woolly yarn seems appropriate to use on this first day of fall, and handling it has me thinking of sitting by the fireside with a cup of hot cocoa or tea.  Of course, in North Carolina on most fall days, a sweater is appropriate to wear in the morning but shorts are more suited for the afternoon. 

This is the back of the Brynn shrug. 
This is an up-close view.  The vertical blue stitches are slipped, so there is no tedious running of strands behind the back. 
I’d intended to attend Vogue Knitting Live at the Southern Women’s Show yesterday, but Vogue Knitting decided to cancel its participation due to low registration numbers for classes.  I was terribly disappointed by this turn of events, but the folks at Vogue Knitting have been very generous to those of us who’d registered for classes—giving us both a coupon to use in Chicago or New York and a gift certificate for products!  I spent early yesterday morning perusing books on Vogue Knitting’s website and ordered Knit Notes by Nadine Curtis.  This title is essentially a workbook for planning design projects and includes two types of graph paper, information about yarn and gauge, as well as places to write design details.      I also ordered a copy of a volume in the Stitchionary series devoted  to lace.  As some of my previous posts attest, my relationship with lace is a bit masochistic—but I love the results of the sometimes tedious and maddening lace-making process.  Now I’ll have to figure out a way to save up some money to go to New York for Vogue Knitting Live in January.  The Chicago event, which is in late October, takes place a little too soon for me to get my ducks—and finances—in a row. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Full Plates and Knitting Bags

"Just a Reminder.  You signed up to provide a vegetarian dinner for 20 board members tomorrow night."    A couple of years ago I sat at the desk in my classroom and stared at this email in horror.  It went on, “As it is Lent for those board members who are Greek Orthodox, be certain that the meal is vegetarian.”  This note came from the head of the hospitality committee at my younger’s son’s Greek language charter school.  I cannot recall all of the particulars of the obligations and stresses I had at this time (although I do remember that one of my children was struggling with health issues and I also had a few rather trying students, one of whom had recently put a copious amount of hand sanitizer in my iced tea), but I can clearly recall how this email felt like a painful jolt of electricity. 

It came at a time when I felt as if I needed to run away from home to find one moment of calm, uninterrupted time.  I’d signed up to provide this meal months earlier and had completely forgotten doing so.  While life isn’t quite so hectic now—my husband has retired and is taking up much of the slack in housework and chauffeuring children—and my son is relatively healthy now—I still shudder when I look back and remember that email.  I fight to not over commit myself, but this month, with self-imposed knitting deadlines I've been pushing the envelope, so to speak, in terms of setting and attempting to reach my goals. 

Ironically, however, since knitting is generally such a pleasurable and relaxing activity (except when attempting to knit lace after dealing with high schoolers all day), I can’t say that a full plate has pushed me to the point where I have to take a mental health day (as was the case with the whole dinner email), but a day off to finish knitting the following works in progress would be restorative. . . .

Sew buttons on baby sweater.  Sweater is newborn sized and my niece's baby is due September 15.  Wait . . . that’s tomorrow!

Finish necktie I'm making for a co-worker.  (He's paying me to do this, so I really should get cracking.)


Cast on another Brynn shrug, knit wildly, seam, block, take a picture, and submit to Rowan Ambassador contest by September 28.     (I have one made that's shown below but want to make one with yarn that's the weight suggested by designer.)


This is the Aran yarn the pattern calls for.  I
made the red shrug shown above with Rowan
Tweed, which is a worsted weight. 
Finishing sewing up my May Queen mouse.  The poor creature has been languishing in a drawstring bag hanging from a hook in my knitting nook.


Knit this scarf I started as a Christmas gift for one of my younger son’s teachers last year.  I created a design using the school’s initials. (I sewed the bag several years ago, when I was going through a bag phase.)


Keep knitting with this gorgeous Louisa Harding yarn.  I love this yarn (Willow Tweed) and the lace cardigan pattern (from the Little Cake pattern book), but put this work aside to knit baby gifts and my shrug.


Finish this sweater for a co-worker’s baby that is due in November.  This pattern is from 60 MoreQuick Baby Knits, a volume that is filled with cute designs using 200 Superwash Sport from Cascade Yarns.  I’m using the recommended yarn here and am happy with the results. 



Monday, September 10, 2012

Southern Seasons

I just have a little bit to cast off, and then I'm done.  Then it's on to making another shrug, this time with the heavier
weight Aran yarn the pattern calls for. 

This past Saturday, I went to my local knitting store, Cottage Yarn, to sit and work on my Brynn shrug for a while.  A sale was in progress, along with a free class, so the shop was busy, but there was a comfortable chair available, so I sat down and chatted with a couple of other women.  What a pleasure it is to find company in this manner, without having to play telephone tag, without having to compare school or work or family schedules to eke out a few mutual free hours for a get-together.   Visiting with like-minded companions without having to lay the groundwork of planning and mapping out is a rare pleasure in the jam-packed life of a modern working mom. 

After my brief respite, however, it was on to my younger son’s first football game.  There I sat on hard bleachers, sweating from the heat.  (The expanding piece of wool knitwear that lay on my lap as I worked my needles certainly added to my discomfort, but I couldn't resist the chance to use my time seated in a productive manner).  My son’s team won the game, and, despite having been sick and missed several practices, he was able to play some, so the day was a cheerful one.  Moments after the game ended, a forceful afternoon rainstorm began, but, luckily, my knitting project was in a plastic tote bag, so I was drenched, but the tweed stayed dry.  (I do have my priorities in order.)

The rainstorm also ended a miserable weather cycle.  After weeks of insufferable humidity, high temperatures, and daily violent afternoon thunderstorms, a cold front moved in on Saturday night.  Sunday dawned, cool and bright and clear.  I celebrated the brief, perhaps short-lived onset of cooler weather by taking my dog for an early-morning walk. 
That evening, I went to a cookout at my sister-in-law’s house. A passionate knitter herself, Karen showed me the latest additions to her impressive stash (including some Noro Aya I gazed at longingly). The colors of Noro yarn are so intoxicating. As the get-together was a birthday celebration, during my visit, I gave Karen a book, Sock Yarn Studio, which has some great ideas for using her sock yarn stash. There is also a pattern in the book for a beautiful shawl that is made using remnants of leftover yarn—perfect for avid sock knitters who don’t know what to do with leftover bits of yarn. 
I was also able to spend some time wandering outside a bit and here, I thought I’d share some pictures I took of the North Carolina countryside. I hope that soon the leaves will be fiery in color, my tweed shrug will be complete, and I can wear my other fuzzy wool creations, items that would serve me well in the depths of snowy winter in more northern climes. 
The Icelandic horses enjoy the cooler temperatures. 

These chestnuts have such a beautiful rich brown color. 

I love the old-fashioned outbuildings. 
The hibiscus are still in bloom. 







Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Past Forward . . . Knitting and Fashion Shift Gears

The Ralph Lauren store at Southpark Mall in Charlotte displays some
new fall fashions. 
Toward the end of July, I set out to buy some school clothes, not for my children—for me.  Teacher clothes.  Nothing too outré.  Nothing too revealing.  Separates that I could mix and match.  When I arrived at the petite department of a large store at a local mall, I was taken aback a bit, as I was assaulted with a sea of colors and ruffles.  I felt as if I’d stumbled off a cruise ship into some tropical bazaar where vendors in market stalls hawked gaudy souvenirs.  The parrot-like colors and off-the-shoulder ruffled blouses were everywhere.  Granted, the store did have its summer inventory on display, but I was still surprised not to find some tailored slacks and tops.  At under five-foot three-inches tall, and with a curvy figure, the clothes I found were neither flattering nor professional.  Needless to say, I walked away empty-handed. 

As I left the mall, I wondered when the fashions would change and women would be able to find classic clothes that actually possess some shaping and definition.  While some stores and catalogues catering to mature women do carry clothes in muted colors, those companies have seemed unwilling to give up the whole peasant-/maternity-top look—for the last few years anyway.  I was happy, therefore, when I received the September issue of Vogue, and saw lots of fitted jackets, pencil skirts, and generally structured clothing.  The magazine also presented me with lots of inspiration for knitting.  A Ralph Lauren ad features Fair Isle vests paired with herringbone tweed, hounds tooth, or surprisingly conservative-looking leopard coats.  Michael Kors’ glossy images reveal creamy, bulky fisherman’s sweaters, and Belstaff England (a company with which I’m not familiar) displays pictures of men sporting chunky sweaters—one of them with cables.  A white sweater—with distinctive cables that widen into a triangle from the neck—are in an advertisement for Chloe Boutique.  And a model for Tommy Hilfiger sports an interesting rich brown cowl—more like a turtleneck due to its snug fit—with a belt and buckle around it.  Hilfiger’s ads also include a man wearing a cabled sweater with suede elbow patches, a woman sporting an unusual Fair Isle sweater (almost a jacket), and another wearing knitted boot toppers. 

Some of the designers do present less conservative looks.  Nina Ricci shows a colorful sweater made of yarn that looks an awful lot like Noro, although the middle of the garment is interrupted with see-thru black lace band.  Designer Vivienne Westwood poses in a body-hugging knit dress with cutout décolletage, an image accompanied by a web address for, while in an ad for a woman wears an unusual black knit dress with a skirt decorated with loop after loop of yarn.    

Despite a few unusual looks, though, the general feeling for the season seems to be a return to classics.  In fact, when I received a pattern book entitled Rowan Tweed in the mail on Saturday, I opened it and read the following:  “There is a renewed interest in a British aesthetic and classic heritage tweed yarns and fabrics are at the forefront of this resurgence.  On the winter 2012 catwalk, heritage fabrics  . . . are reworked into a contemporary take on traditional countrywear.”  The book also mentions an “important shift of fashion values.”   With this shift, I assume, knitwear will probably also move away from ruffles and novelty yarns.  When I visited my local yarn shop on Saturday, its owner informed me that she was a awaiting an order of a variety of Rowan yarns, a company whose designs for this winter reflect this return to tradition.  Once I finish my Brynn shrug, which I’ve been furiously knitting since Saturday, I think I’ll make a cabled cardigan from some yarn I have at home and then it’s back to the knitting store to purchase some yarn for a Fair Isle sweater.  I’ll enjoy this design trend while it lasts. 

This is not the green yarn I displayed in my last post when I discussed my recent yarn order. I have no clue how I ended up with red instead of green. I have faith, though, as my gauge seems okay, and I am happy to not be adding yet another green garment to my wardrobe. My error may actually have been serendipitous.

This is the back of my Brynn shrug.  The photo does not do justice to the wonderful claret colored yarn. The pattern calls for Rowan Tweed Aran, but I'm using Rowan Tweed--another mistake probably due to the fact that I was trying to order yarn during my 20-minute lunch break and searched by color name (the names such as Keld and Bainbridge are the same for both types of yarn).  I hope the slightly lighter weight doesn't affect the fit too much.