Monday, June 25, 2012

A Room with a View: Creating a Knitting Nook

I bought these letter knobs at Michael's craft store and also purchased an unpainted wooden plaque.  I also purchased knobs to spell "PURL," but haven't done anything with them yet.

I spent all of the last week in a sort of nightmare—one whose horror climaxed in the day spent scaling and descending an extension ladder borrowed from a neighbor so that I could paint a twenty-foot high space over the staircase.  (I’d set out to paint a small area--roughly five-by- eight feet--to use as a knitting nook, but after finishing this job, the adjoining hallway and stairwell glared at me with their dirty smeared walls and dull fourteen-year-old contractor’s grade paint.)  After dealing with very sore muscles, paint splattered everywhere when a soaked painting pad (a kind of thin sponge) skittered wildly from on high and landed on a bookcase filled with books,  and many, many trips to Lowe’s, I had a clean space to fill with my knitting and sewing supplies.    
My husband used this space for a cluttered
home office.  He's moved his stuff into
the living room, where the extra space will, I hope, allow him to put things away.  

I’d spent weeks envisioning how it would look, as well as examining shelving units at The Container Store, Lowes, and IKEA.  It was going to embody modern sleek functionality.  Rows of floor-to-ceiling white shelves, clever roll-out storage bins, maybe some chrome track lighting.  My knitting nook, small and humble, would house perfectly organized knitting and sewing supplies, items which were squirreled away in trunks, closets, and the garage. 

Then I received the phone call from my aunt, who, with her husband, is downsizing from a 4,000 square-foot house to a cottage in a retirement community.  “I have a desk that was in your mother and father’s bedroom.  Do you want it?” she inquired.  While my family is from New Jersey, and I was raised there, my aunt, after marrying a southerner,  moved to North Carolina many years ago.  A product of my family's genetic inheritance, she is a collector of furniture and brick-a-brack and has amassed items from her husband's family farm in Kentucky and from her side of the family. 

After. 

I painted the bulletin-board frame, but really need to purchase a larger board.  The valance is made from one yard of fabric, and I used buttons to add some draping.  (The fabric was a bit expensive, or else I would have bought more and made drapes.)  The lamp was purchased at a yard sale a few years' ago.  Dewey (a friend for Cooey the pigeon) enjoys his new home with my collection of knitting books). 
 My husband's family and my own are similar in their penchant for furniture. While other children were frolicking at Myrtle Beach, unabashedly enjoying the attractions of the boardwalk,  (unencumbered by any practical or educational emphasis), my husband spent family vacations riding in the backseat of a car meandering through the North Carolina mountains, where his parents stopped to rummage through antique stores, dragging home furniture, or sometimes pieces of furniture to be refinished, reworked, and reassembled by his talented woodworking stepfather. These treasures were added to an already formidable stash of furniture, wagons, cider presses, and other relics that resided in his childhood home and its hundred-year-old outbuildings. 







In the midst of painting, I ran to my local Wal-Mart and was thrilled to see that they had reinstated the fabric department (which had mysteriously disappeared a few years ago).  I bought some pretty quilting cotton which I used to line a basket for my new knitting nook.  I got this idea from Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse, a crocheting, baking, sewing, generally crafty blogger who lives in England and has a gorgeous blog.  


I am burdened or blessed with a similar background. My mother divorced when I was ten, and bought a house from her mother. This modest Edwardian family home was built by my great-great grandfather, and it--along with its cellar, attic, shed, and barn--was stuffed to the rafters. Recently widowed and about to remarry at 68, my grandmother sold a bunch of this stash for a song to unscrupulous antique dealers, along with a 1940's Cadillac, a grand piano, a Franklin stove, and a slew of my grandfather’s violin building and architectural drafting tools, but my mother retained a few heirloom pieces. My mother renovated the entire house and using these, along with some new acquisitions, decorated it in a charmingly antiquey but uncluttered manner. 


I hung the bracket less shelf, a perfect spot for the Spud and Chloe cow I just finished.  (I made him as a gift, though, so should probably put him away somewhere, or get to work on another one.)  The small storage shelving unit fits alongside the desk and holds a surprising amount of needles and patterns. 

Several years later, however, she remarried a man who owned a furniture refinishing and reupholstering business. Frighteningly neat with 30 years' military experience, Wes did impeccable work for local decorators and rich clients. Unlike the shoemaker whose children are barefoot, however, he also redid all sorts of furniture he and my mother picked up—from junk shops, street-side trash piles, and garage sales. Before long, the house and its outbuildings, along with a tractor-trailer storage unit were bursting with all sorts of furniture finds as well as leftover rolls of expensive upholstery fabric.

I saw my sister-in-law, Karen, yesterday, at lunch at my mother-in-law's house.  When I told her about my knitting nook, she informed me that she'd been busy reworking a room of her house for her knitting studio.  I walked over and saw her space.  "I should have brought my checkbook," I said when I saw the bins and bins of yarn.  Her poodle, Carson, even has her own bin of girlie pink yarn for her future sweaters.   


Consequently, after marrying and purchasing a two-story hundred year old house (or shack, but that’s another story) which we subsequently sold, my husband and I did not have to worry about buying any furniture, but we did have to rent a storage unit, until we were able to sort out exactly what would fit into our new residence. (My mother and stepfather moved to Arizona around this time and gave my husband and me much of their household possessions). In fact, in the eighteen years since we have been married, the only new furniture I have bought are inexpensive bookcases and bunk beds for my younger son’s room. We have too much furniture—since we sadly lack a thirty-five room family estate which might offer enough space for all of the stuff we have amassed—some of it stored in my garage and others in outbuildings at my mother-in-law’s house in the country.  Despite these issues, however, I'm thankful for the useful gifts laden with family history. 

So my knitting and crafting room, while bright and cheerful, looks more like Laura Ashley than IKEA.  I am happy, however, as I now have an organized location for all of my knitting books and magazines, and a desk where I can sketch out ideas for projects. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Seaside Inspirations


The beaches at Sullivan's Island present loads of natural beauty--I love to walk them early in the morning, when dogs and their
owners frolic in the surf. 

 "The Sea air and Sea Bathing together were nearly infallible, one or the other of them being a match for every Disorder. . . ." Jane Austen, Sanditon

This past weekend, my husband and I drove down to Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.  It took us roughly three-and-a-half hours to find ourselves out of our typical suburban subdivision and amidst palm trees, ocean breezes, and historical charm.  Mount Pleasant is situated a few miles from both Charleston and Sullivan’s Island—two of my favorite places—so it’s a convenient location to stay, and there is some cheap, albeit not luxurious, lodging available for the budget conscious.  Since we are struggling to economize, we not only eschewed charming Charleston inns and upscale beachfront resorts but also stayed in our modest and musty motel for only one night, but, despite these penny-pinching measures, we were still able to savor the beach, restaurants, and Charleston a bit. 
In this historic marker, knitting is listed as one of many
mundane household chores. 

The Lowcountry's Spanish Moss provides artistic
inspiration--maybe for a floaty cape?  The building
here is Saint Andrew's Anglican Church in Mount
 Pleasant.


As I have morphed from a normal human being to an obsessed knitter in the past few years, it is amazing how I look at my surroundings in a new way.  While I was unable to visit Knit, a well-stocked yarn shop in Charleston I’ve gone to before, as it is closed on Sundays (the day we were in town) and didn’t have time to stop in Summerville at The Village Knittery, another store I’ve visited, I still had knitting on my mind some, and found some inspiration for designs.  As I am still an “embryo” knitter (and can't even yet call myself a designer), I can’t say that I ran home and was able to quickly write up a pattern for the idea I came away with from my travels, but I’m getting there.  Of course, by the time that I actually execute the design (and face the frightening prospect of calculating increases for a shawl), I probably won’t have a finished pattern (or garment) for several months, probably around Christmastime when a light ocean inspired shawl won’t be on anyone’s to-do or Christmas lists.  But, actually, maybe I’m wise starting this endeavor now, as I can post the design next spring, thereby allowing myself a whole needed year to frustrate myself with math.
The blues of the sky and sea inspired me to begin to design my "Sullivan's Island
Shawl." I ran to Michael's craft store today to buy the beads, with hues reminiscent of sea glass.

I bought this 50% cotton, 50% wool yarn in Italy
last summer. I was able to go to an amazing yarn
outlet, where yarn was practically given away.
  (I stuffed a bunch into my suitcase at the expense of
 toiletries, clothes, and shoes I left behind,
 but the sacrifices were worth it.)   I plan to use
this yarn to make my shawl. 

I am determined, however, to work up this pattern.  If I have troubles, I know that Craftsy has an online lace shawl designing class available, but, for now, I think I’ll forge ahead on my own—I seem to be a glutton for punishment.
This pink house in Charleston reminded me of the Louisa Harding Willow Tweed yarn I'm using
 to make a lacey cardigan found in her book Little Cake.  I brought this project with me to the
beach, but was a bit too busy and tired to knit more than a couple of rows. 

As someone who must enjoy inflicting unpleasant challenges on myself, I have also been involved in planning a small knitting/office area in my house.  As my children are now in their tween and teen years and I embark on a new ambition to pursue knitting design, it seems a fitting time to rearrange, repaint, and ultimately end up with a space where I can easily access my ever-expanding stash of knitting, not to mention sewing, supplies.  Today, I have been doggedly painting and have walked away with sore shoulders and much dribbled paint on the carpet.  I plan to post photos of my finished area soon, after I’ve sewn the window treatment, hung the shelves, and, of course, finished painting.  Naturally, as I began to paint this moderately small bathroom-sized nook in my home, the filthy walls of the adjoining hallway and staircase began to stand out in their glaring ugliness, so I’ve started painting them, too.  I cannot comprehend how we have lived with ugly contractor’s grade paint stained with 14 years of children’s smears and dings for so long.  The problem now is that the living room, which adjoins the staircase looks pretty grubby.  .  .  .  At this rate, my  Sullivan’s Island Shawl (the name of my design) should be completed in time to give as a present to my now fifteen-year-old son’s wife someday. 

Of course, the carpet on the steps, the cheapest grade sold by our wonderful builders (a now-defunct company whose homeowner-company liaison quit, explaining to us that he “just couldn’t do this to people anymore”), look absolutely ungodly, but I’m going to have to wait on that project.  There are still quite a few years of spilled sports drinks and juice and ground in potato chips before my house is ready for a complete overhaul. Besides, I need to sit and knit a bit before contemplating any future projects.   
I bought this fabric the other day to use to make a window treatment for my
mini knitting studio/office.  The paint for the walls is a pale green, but I wasn't
able to capture its hue properly (from my paint samples) with my camera. 

I had to include a few more photos of my favorite place (and me enjoying it).  I'm sitting outside at Sullivan's Restaurant on Sullivan's Island.  The wildflowers are on the beach at Sullivan's  Island.  Poogan's Porch is a restaurant in Charleston, where I had She Crab Soup ( a popular Lowcountry dish).  The arched arbor leads to a house in Mount Pleasant. 

Monday, June 11, 2012

Flowers, Fiber, and Finished Projects


I remember reading somewhere that craft bloggers need to make certain that they actually find time practicing the hobby to which their blogs are devoted.   I agree with this suggestion.  Hence, as a full-time working mother, I find that if I am posting about my actual knitting, writing once or twice suffices, as I have limited time to knit.  As a teacher, however, summer break allows me a wonderful opportunity to spend more time delving into my knitting and spinning, after the initial few weeks off (where I am busy unearthing my closets, cupboards, and garage from a school year’s worth of junk and cleaning out the refrigerator, car, children’s drawers, etc.).  I’ve been home for a few weeks now, though, so for the last several days I  have shirked housework and have been finishing up a couple of projects that require quite a bit of attention to detail.  I was also able to visit a World Wide Knit in Public event yesterday. 
Last week I finished knitting some gifts for my younger son's teachers
and then made these gift tags to include with them.  The web site A
Good Yarn is a great place to find free vintage knitting images. 

One project that I finally completed is this Iris Schreier shawl shown below, an item which is also featured in a knitalong on Ravelry.  In an attempt to save money, I did not buy the Artyarns suggested in Vogue Knitting (spring 2012), but, rather, decided to use Sublime yarn (still very luxurious) and add my own beads.  After three or four trips to Michael’s craft store(roughly eight miles from my home) for more and then more beads, I’m not certain that I saved any money (especially with inflated gas prices) and I know that the interminable hours I spent stringing beads added to the time required to complete this project.  Oddly enough, however, I found a certain soothing pleasure in the repetitive stringing of beads.  Maybe I should hand out beads and string at our next faculty meeting. . . .

The beads and the silver yarn make this
shawl quite dressy. 



I also finally completed Spud, using wonderfully soft and elastic Spud and Chloe sweater yarn.  Each twist in this sheep’s wooly coat is hand-turned.  The knitter knits a stitch and leaves it on the left needle.  She then draws out a two-inch loop and twists it until it bends back upon itself.  To some knitters, this process is a bit vexing.  In fact, a woman who works at my local knitting shop kindly gave me two skeins of Spud and Chloe yarn in the proper colors to complete this project, as she had started to knit Spud, but the twisting became too frustrating for her.  Oddly enough, once again, while a bit tedious, I found the twisting a bit soothing in its mindless repetition.  I must really need to relax. . . .
This soft Spud and Chloe yarn makes a perfect for a gift for a baby.  I used some
leftover Noro yarn for the bow tie.   

In addition to working on these two and other projects, I drove to Stowe Gardens in Belmont, NC yesterday for a Worldwide Knit in Public event.  The natural areas at Stowe Gardens, each with a different focus—such as the Orchid Conservatory, Ribbon Garden, and Meadow—present the eye with a riot of color and texture.  The juxtaposition of vivid yarns and flowers was, like the beading and twisting, soothing to my weary school-teaching spirit.
There were a few animals on display at Stowe gardens, including Camilla
and Hampton, the sheep pictured here. 
Go to www.homespunclothier.freehomepage.com for
more information. 
Things Remembered framing and yarn shop provided needles and yarn for visitors to
create small plant bags.  (Soil and a plant are placed inside.)   

Stowe provides lots of opportunities for color inspiration. 
Yarnhouse, located in the Noda district of Charlotte, was one of the
vendors at the event. 

Today, rested and pleased with my finished projects, I plan to cast on a cow using Spud and Chloe yarn and pattern from the book Spud and Chloe on the Farm, where the pattern for the sheep, Spud, is also found.  I also plan to spin some fiber and hope to show the results here soon. 




Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The World of Nature




The colors shown here are reflected in Noro's yarns. I took these pictures on Thursday at the McGill Rose Garden in Charlotte.
  Click here for information about this site.   




Other than the scarves and hats I made when learning how to knit, a Noro yarn shrug is the first real garment I ever created. I had made a trip to Charlotte Yarn where I’d asked the young woman working there if she had any suggestions for a project for a beginner. She printed off a free Ravelry pattern for an Anthropologie inspired capelet, which is actually more like a shrug or short sweater. The woman showed me some Noro yarn and I was both amazed and hooked. For the knitter, the colors and textures of Noro yarns seem to multiply the tactile and visual pleasures and stimulation of knitting. Since that time I have purchased a couple of books with collections of Noro patterns and have made quite a few small projects as well as a cardigan with Noro yarn. When I visit a knitting shop, I also always make it a point to check out Noro displays to see if there are any new colors. With this love for this particular brand, I was thrilled when I found out that a new Noro magazine was in the works.
Last week, I bought a copy and my expectations were well met. In this publication, the vivid, engaging appeal of Noro yarns themselves is translated into clean graphic design and eye-popping images. I was actually a bit surprised at the positive impact the colorful pictures had on my psyche, immediately cheering me up and inspiring me to save some money to purchase enough Noro yarn for a large project. This impact of color never ceases to amaze me.
While featuring more than 35 designs, the magazine also includes information about Eisaku Noro, the founder and artistic visionary of the company. The article discusses how Noro yarns include the phrase “TheWorld of Nature” on their labels, and how the products are made using earth-friendly, organic practices. I am struck, however, by that particular phrase, as it sums up how the powerful play of colors and textures in the yarns reflects nature throughout the seasons. This new magazine, even though it can be found on the shelves now, is the fall issue, and includes some earthy colored, nubby-textured warm pieces, but there are also some projects that are reminiscent of summer gardens or the vibrant shades of butterflies. I was immediately drawn to some items made with yarn that includes stripes of an intense, almost iridescent cobalt blue. One of these garments, however, includes a neckline that is made using a steek. Yes, a steek. I am so enamored of this long sweater-vest, however, that I may have to be brave and attempt this technique. Of course, there is a note in the magazine that this sweater’s neckline can be made using a simple neckline shaping and binding off technique. One part of me, however, wants to attempt the steeking. While expensive, what better yarn to use to try out something new? If the technique works, the results will be amazing.
Finally, with a price of $7.99, Noro Knitting Magazine is a real bargain.
This vest features a steeked
neckline--a technique which ensures
that the horizontal striples line up
perfectly.




Saturday, June 2, 2012

Stitch Scarlet

The image of this book is from the Jimmy Beans Wool website.  Kits for
making some of the items in the book are for sale through this site. 
Click here to see. 

A couple of days ago I had a package from Amazon waiting by my front door.  Assuming it was a book I had ordered for my fourteen year old son’s required summer reading, I left it unopened, but when I moved the box a day after it arrived, I noticed that it seemed too heavy for the paperback I'd purchased.  Curious, I opened the box and to my delight found a copy of Knit Red:  Stitching for Women’s Heart Health, a new book I'd pre-ordered, one which I’d assumed I wouldn't be receiving for a couple more weeks.     

I’d seen a preview of Knit Red at Vogue Knitting Live last January and knew then that I would buy this book.  The book is a part of the Knit Red Campaign, a partnership between Jimmy Beans Wool and a large group of companies in the fiber arts industry, whose aim is to increase awareness of heart disease in women.  Some of the proceeds from this book will go to the National Institutes of Health’s efforts to battle heart disease.   I have to admit, however, that my purchase was not purely altruistic.  Something about the power and passion of red and the opportunity to see a varied collection of designs in this vibrant shade greatly appealed to me, even though I typically don’t wear this color, and have only knit one or two red items, garments which I gave away as gifts. 
This is the only red yarn I could find in my entire stash.  I have to remedy
this omission. 

As I looked through my new book, I was impressed by the array of projects that I wanted to make.  As knitters, I think we have all experienced browsing through knitting books in the store, and finding some that don’t include enough items that appeal to us enough to want to make a purchase.  In this book, however, there were numerous designs that inspire me to cast on.  A gorgeous shawl made with Artyarns pictured in the book also acted as a great inducement to try out this luxurious yarn.  I also enjoyed reading about the designers, as each project is accompanied by a picture and a description of the designer and his or her experiences with heart disease.

Ironically, on the day I opened this book, a close friend called to tell me that, as a result of a routine physical, her health-food obsessed active fifty-year-old husband had just discovered that he had a blocked artery.  He and his wife were in shock, especially since my friend, like so many middle-aged women, engages in an ever-lasting battle to quell the lure of cookies and chocolate, while her skinny husband seems to have no difficulty surviving on tofu, fruit smoothies, and nuts. 
This photo is from Public Domain Images

I went to the hospital yesterday to wait with my friend while her husband had surgery to place a stent in his artery.  There, waiting to be moved to surgery, her husband was reviewing his previous affinity for fast food and wondering if he wasn’t somehow culpable for his illness.  The heart surgeon, however, told him that while 95 percent of his patients eat poorly or suffer from other conditions such as diabetes, the individuals who make up the remaining five percent are healthy and active, but are probably just the recipients of bad genes.  The doctor’s discussion, however, is a reminder that for the vast majority of us, a healthy lifestyle is an excellent way to stave off heart disease.  The book Knit Red also is an important conveyor of the message that women are not immune to heart disease and should strive to eat well and exercise.  The book, in fact, in addition to knitting patterns, includes some heart-healthy, low-fat recipes.  I think I’ll go out today and buy the ingredients for the Shish Kabobs, after I make a trip to the yarn store for some red worsted to make the cabled cardigan shown below.