Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas Quarantine

I purchased this Louisa Harding Willow Tweed yarn last spring and am determined to finish this sweater before
I attend Vogue Knitting Live in January.  I have had lots of quiet time to make lots of progress
on this project.  The picture in the upper right-hand corner is of one of my father's three "spinster" aunts.
  I thought the Edwardian photo went well with my Downton Abbey related post.     
Several days ago, while scrolling through the news feed on my Facebook page, I came across an image of silhouettes of Downton Abbey characters accompanied by the title, “Which Downton Character are you?”  I clicked on a link and took a quiz, one which determined that I most resembled Bates, because I seemed to harbor some deep, “dark secret” from my past.  I was a bit shocked by these results, as, since her introduction last season, I’ve always felt a particular affinity for Lavinia.  Like me, she can describe herself as “a little person; an ordinary person,” and finds herself in awe in the presence of Matthew (her fiancĂ©) and Mary, who are, with their aristocratic bearing and good looks so “fine” (as Lavinia states) and seem destined to share a life that transcends those of mere mortals.  Of course, I digress here, as the subject of this post relates to a nasty strain of the flu that put my family members under house arrest for a week and interfered with any Christmas churchgoing or  festivities.  Naturally, though, when I think of flu Lavinia comes to mind, as she is suddenly stricken by the Spanish flu days before her wedding is due to take place, after she sees and hears evidence of Matthew and Mary’s passion for one another.  Due to her dramatic last days she is forever linked to flu in my mind, especially since I have seen her pale figure expire an embarrassing number of times and the lingering closing camera image of her shot looking down at Lavinia, pale and peaceful in the bed, is forever seared in my consciousness.  
     I have to say that I (and no one else in my immediate family) suffers as gracefully and as altruistically as Lavinia.  On her deathbed she is selfless, telling Matthew that he and Mary were meant for one another, and even after death Lavinia sends a none-too-cryptic message to the servants in the hall which asserts,   “Let them be happy!”  If my recent flu-related grumpiness is any proof, I don’t think I could ever be capable of such behavior.  I even have proof supporting this fact:  displeased with my Downton Abbey character results, I did an Internet search and found another quiz, one which determined that I most resembled the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Violet Crawley, stating, “. . .  you do not suffer anything at all because you refuse to entertain any form of discomfort in your life whatsoever.”  This assertion perhaps best describes how I cope with illness (and everything else).

     Of course, the flu and its requisite quarantine did provide me with lots of knitting time, and I’ve finished one or two items and made progress on others.  As my husband felt well enough on Christmas Eve to go out to a nearby grocery store and then to do a little cooking, my family and I were also able to share two meals together in the dining room (an area that sits forlorn and abandoned most of the year and could be put to more functional use in our tiny home).
I finished this sock monkey during my sick time.   While
this monkey might seem as if he would be out of place in
Edwardian times, sock monkeys have been around for
over a hundred years.  To learn more about this history of these
creatures, check out RoRoArt, a site devoted to sock monkeys! 

I finished this Traveling Vines scarf using a free Ravelry shawl pattern.  The yarn is some alpaca I bought in New York
State last summer.

I don't think that the Alpaca blocks as neatly as
wool, but this scarf is super soft.

     Alas, the New Year is coming soon.  I have a residual cough and congestion, but did manage to venture out to a boot sale I’ve been waiting for and also to make a trip to the bookstore.   The throngs of people in the stores were a bit overwhelming, though, and I was happy to return home to work on my knitting and to peruse my new books.  My new fashion history book (shown below) and the anticipation of the new season of Downton Abbey (starting here in the US on January 6) have put me in the frame of mind to knit something ethereally romantic, just the sort of thing reminiscent of pale Lavinia,  who may not have been destined to be “Queen of the County,” but who set an example of dealing with illness and heartache to which I aspire.  

This image is from Barnes
and Noble., where this book is available
to purchase. 

I used two skeins of this yarn to make a collar from a Louisa Harding pattern.  I am not happy
with any of the photos I've taken of this piece, but will add one with someone modeling it at a later time.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Knitting Party

I didn’t get much Christmas knitting done this season.  It isn’t that I’ve had less time than I did last year (when I made all sorts of presents for teachers, friends, relatives, etc.).  On the contrary, my husband retired from his full-time teaching job this past June, and even though his help with chauffeuring children and cooking and laundry has freed up a great deal of my time, my new found sense of liberation has not resulted in leisurely hours for me to knit away, but, rather, in a kind of acquisitive exuberance for new experiences (or exuberant acquisitiveness?) on my part to do all sorts of things I wasn’t able to before—take a college class in web page design, apply for grants for my Fiber Arts Club and for a possible trip overseas this summer, and  to host a get-together this past weekend—a real holiday party with candles and silver and decorations . . . and knitting, of course.

Rather than emerging from my Saturday-morning party and its requisite serving and polishing and teaching (of knitting) as an exhausted, stressed-out Christmas season overachiever, I have to say that while my back ached horribly last Friday night--when I did last-minute cooking and set out serving platters, china, and flatware--on Sunday morning, after the dishes were washed and the guests long gone, I actually felt reinvigorated and renewed.  As someone who rushes to and from work each day and rarely has time for domestic niceties, it was so pleasant to have candles burning, food emitting a wonderful aroma, and a whole passel of women talking to me—without having to leave the comfort of home.   The flattering compliments of my guests made me a bit puffed up--a nice sensation.

I had to show another view of the dining room table--an article of
furniture that's rarely in use.
I didn't make these petit-fours, but Harris Teeter did a great job. 
My mother-in-law has a small pecan orchard, so I used some of her crop to
make candy.

While I get absolutely filled up sometimes with the end-of-semester trying-to-teach-disinterested-teenagers-English blues, for some reason instructing the women and young girls who attended   my event how to knit was immensely satisfying.  Repeating the mantra, “In through the front door, out around the back, peek through the window, off jumps jack,” over and over while demonstrating to my pupils had a soothing, cozy effect—nothing like the struggles of attempting to dissect poetry or review vocabulary with students in my classroom.  Maybe if I'd serve my high school students brunch accompanied by strong coffee followed by fancy desserts they’d have been a little more enthusiastic at the end of the semester. . . .  Of course, young people, no matter in what context, are similar in many ways--the two twelve-year-olds at my brunch were a little giddy with the excitement of the festivities and while they quickly learned how to cast on and knit were, later in the day, running about using bamboo needles as fencing swords.  In the future, though, when they are a little older—and stiller--their new found knitting skills may provide them with a rewarding hobby.

Camille, a junior in high school, learned
to knit a few years ago but hadn't picked
up needles since then.  She'd completed
seven or eight inches of a scarf by the
time she went home. 
Danielle and Emily caught on immediately. 

Shelby, a fourth-grader, is a champion knitter
who, aside from taking a break to eat, spent
the rest of the party knitting away. 

Some of my guests are not knitting newbies, however, and these women spent their time working away and helping those learning to knit.  Watching them ply their needles added a bit of calm to a hectic, but rewarding day.  Now, however, I have to catch up with my own projects. I don’t know where to begin, but even though I have a slew of works in progress on various sets of needles, I have just cast on an oversized collar made with some gorgeous yarn I received in the mail yesterday in a package from a blogger friend in England.  The rich colors called to me and maybe to my nature (that I’m beginning to think has a bit of ADHD in it) and I couldn’t resist.  It isn’t in the forecast, but maybe we’ll have some cold days here in North Carolina over Christmas break and I can stay in, sit still, and complete a few items . . .



Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Spinning and the Social Network

While the pitfalls and dangers of online socializing are certainly real, one can’t deny that networking via the Internet opens up all sorts of positive interactions with folks who share an interest in particular niche hobbies. Last spring, I took part in a Knit and Crochet blog week competition and made a few connections with women engaged in knitting, crocheting, or spinning (or a combination of these crafts). One young woman, Ivy Mead of Pumpkin Spins, and I began to exchange comments. I followed her discussion of an impending move from Kansas to graduate school in North Carolina, and, when I learned that she would be living about an hour and a half away, I asked her via Ravelry if she would like to visit the Fiber Arts Club at my school to teach my students how to spin with a drop spindle. I’d never asked anyone I’d only encountered online to actually meet me in person, so I was a little nervous about how she would receive my request, but she expressed genuine pleasure about the prospect of coming and was able to journey to my school last Friday.

Ivy has the spindle "parked" here. 


The students are hard at work. I'd love to show
pictures of all the students, with their faces
visible, but for legal reasons can't do so here.

     Ivy arrived on a hectic day.  The entire student body and the teachers had participated in an Angel Tree event earlier that morning, one where we had entertained over 150 kindergarten and pre-k students.  More challenging than dealing with the four-and-five-year-olds (who were remarkably well-behaved), spending two hours in a large room with 200 boisterous high school students tested both my patience and my ability to process simple information later in the day.   I’d also arrived at school early that morning to set up for Ivy’s visit.  Due to some scheduling conflicts, Ivy’s presentation had to coincide with lunchtime, so I’d decided to provide lunch for her and the girls in the club (not such an easy task as some red tape dealing with purchase orders is involved).  So, when Ivy arrived in my classroom at the tail end of a school week, she found a rather exhausted teacher and a room full of talkative, exuberant girls.   

Ivy exudes energy here. 

     Ivy didn’t seem fazed by the situation.  She is twenty-two years old, and I couldn’t help but be wowed not only by her positive energy and healthy sense of self-possession but also by her accomplishments.  She is truly a bright young thing, and I probably overdid it in waxing poetic to my co-workers and students about this young woman, who not only has a degree from an Ivy League college, but who is now pursuing her Ph.D. in microbiology at a prestigious university while also engaging in her knitting and spinning hobbies as well as maintaining her blog.  She is also a pilot, who enjoys flying when visits her home.  Ivy is a vibrant presence who emits enthusiasm, and she gave a lively demonstration of how to use a drop spindle.  Even though our session was less than an hour long, the girls were exposed to basic principles of drafting, spinning, and parking—now they and I just have to practice.  (I’ve dabbled a bit with a drop spindle, but have probably only created a few yards of yarn that way.) 

Here Ivy admonishes me to not
post any bad pictures of her. 
She looks great, though. 
The fluorescent lights in my
classroom (actually a trailer) make
 getting clear shots difficult, though.

Ivy informed me that she’d learned to spin at the Webs store, which was located in close proximity to the school where she’d done her undergraduate studies.  She also told me that knitting was an effective method of “stress relief” for her when she was a student in high school.  Ivy also talked with me about her experience as a female pursuing a career in microbiology and how she would advise girls interested in science to find a way to help with scientific research while they are still in high school.  I wish I’d had more time to speak with her, as I loved hearing about her life and could also see how she could be a valuable resource for my students.  My unyielding school-day schedule didn’t allow for much conversation, however, but maybe someday Ivy and I can meet for coffee and conversation (and, of course, knitting) up in her area of North Carolina.  Even though she is much younger than I am, as knitters we share a language and culture that transcends age barriers.

For Ivy’s visit, I’d order a big box of Wool of the Andes roving from KnitPicks.  The jewel tones are rich and the fiber seems to fall in long silky strands, so much so that I imagine that it would be difficult for anyone, spinning enthusiast or not, to resist handling these fibers.  I have to confess that on Friday afternoon, when my classroom was deadly quiet and the school was virtually deserted (as teachers tend to burn rubber leaving the campus after the last class before the weekend) I selected two bunches of a particularly rich blue hue and tucked them into my tote bag of papers to be graded (essays always enjoy a change of scenery in their rides back and forth from school, even though they rarely see the light of day at my home).  At home I spun some of the blue fiber up on my wheel (an instrument which has sat long neglected for months).  Ivy’s visit was certainly an impetus to me to renew my spinning hobby, although I guess I cheated a bit by using my wheel instead of a drop spindle. 
Here is some of the vibrant blue yarn I spun. 

There's something so cozy about spinning by the fire at Christmastime.
 I made the bunting on the mantle last weekend from some red and green cotton fabric.  

Ivy’s visit not only confirmed how my blog can help me to forge non-virtual relationships and inspired me to dust off my spinning wheel, but it also made me think deeply about the students I teach.  There are many studious young women who doggedly pursue their goals in my classes, but there are also always some who are so burdened with the stresses of financial difficulty and/or family dysfunction that it is difficult for them to achieve academically or to maintain the optimism that is often so necessary to do so.  Ivy's visit made me reflect on these students and on how I can inspire them.   Perhaps Ivy will have an impact on my students beyond the immediate and visible results of her classroom visit.
“This project is supported by the Union County Community Arts Council Arts in the Schools grant program." 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Knitting Up: Academic and Advent Seasons

I was happy to find my grandmother's angels where I'd left them in the attic. 

     Most people graduate from one level of school or another and then join the ranks of adults--thus forever forgoing the student's dread anticipation and excitement at the beginning of the school year and subsequent bone weary exhaustion at the end of the year or semester.  Teachers, though, never get out of this sort of experiencing and measuring of time.  At present, I’m in the midst of the semester's end tying up stage and have two weeks to grade assignments, prepare and give exams, and turn in all grades.  Then it’s a little time off (less than two weeks this year) and then a new group of students and new classes begin in January. 

     Typically, due to general malaise paired with sensory overload (a product of encountering too many raucous high school students anticipating a break from school), I am not among the ranks of people who host holiday celebrations or even decorate their homes much for Christmas.  I tend to sit around and knit or read over the holidays, with some eating out and trips to the movies thrown into the mix.  Sometimes I’ll manage to do some cooking, but usually any elaborate recipes or large meals are done after I’ve had time to rest, after Christmas Day has come and gone (hence my family often has a post-Christmas turkey or roast beef purchased on sale after everyone else is subsisting on leftovers or beginning New Year's healthy eating regimens). 

     This year, however, my husband is in his first year of retirement, and since he’s taken over much of the domestic and chauffeuring duties of my household, over this past weekend I actually dragged down boxes of Christmas decorations that hadn’t seen the light of day in probably five years.  I also sent out invitations to a little knitting (or learn-to-knit) brunch get-together.  To make my cards, I used a vintage photo from

These decorations were my grandmother's. 

I enjoyed creating these invitations and
can see why cardmaking is such a
popular craft. 

     A couple of weekends ago, I was also able to spend some wonderful quiet time in the early morning working on some needle felting.  Great Britain blogger Elizabeth (a.k.a ThomasinaTittlemouse) who has a visual treat of a blog that shows step-by-step photos of crochet, cooking, sewing and other projects (paired with prose that is witty yet poignant at times, too) graciously sent me some felt she’d purchased in Germany, where she was vacationing. After weeks of contemplation about what to do with this wonderful, thick blue substance, I used it to make some eyeglass cases for small gifts, using a template from to cut out the thick felt.  While these small cases took a few hours to make, they certain worked up in a speedier manner than the many unfinished knitted gifts on needles that are located in various bags strewn around my bedroom.

I bought this great reference book at Goodwill a couple of years ago
and used it to refresh my memory about how to work a blanket
edging stitch.  This book is also a comprehensive source of knitting
and crochet information. 

     Due to my recent crafting and preoccupation with decorating and menu planning, along with gathering and purchasing enough needles and yarn to share with guests, I don’t have much in the way of finished projects to share in the knitsphere.  I did, however, find a great source for inexpensive yarn--Smiley's Yarn.  This company has a minimum purchase amount of $50.00, but offers amazing deals such as skeins of quality yarn for as little as $1.50 each.  In addition to scouring the Internet for yarn deals, I've been casting on some projects and putting the finishing touches on a sock monkey I started a couple of weeks ago.   Barring any unforeseen holiday mishaps or illness, after I host my gathering I’ll be sure to post lots of pictures and a recap of the event. 

     Perhaps after my guests have gone and final exams are graded and recorded, when presents are wrapped, and when Stella, Maggie, and Streaky (our family pets) are lazing (languishing is perhaps a more apt term to describe their postures) in various locations around the den, I will pause for a moment and quietly ponder the coming of Christmas.

I'm nearly done with the May Queen
Mouse.  I think I'll add a headpiece
 or veil and make her a
bride, though, and put her on the
Christmas tree. 

This yarn came shrink wrapped with a magazine.  The
pattern for the fingerless gloves was inside.  These
are easier to make than they look and might make a
nice Christmas present for someone . . . if I get them finished.