Thursday, January 31, 2013

Hearts and Flowers

“There are always flowers for those who want to see them.”  Henri Matisse

Years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, I was preparing to give a dinner party, and my mother-in-law offered some camellias from her many bushes to use to make arrangements for my table.  Recently relocated from New Jersey to North Carolina, I found the idea of picking flowers outside in February to be both a novelty and a revelation.  The blooms were a vibrant pink color and I remember that I stuck the stems into blocks of oasis to create large globe-like arrangements for two tables.  (Note:  At this time, I was young and naïve and believed that I was capable of working full-time, raising a family, and maintaining an adult social life that included hosting fancy dinner parties and arranging flowers.  Older and wiser now, I can count on one hand the number of dinner parties I’ve given over the last decade or so, but the trips to football games, the pediatrician, the emergency room, the grocery store, and other places related to domestic life seem incalculable.) 

Image used with permission of Creative Commons:  Camellia x williamsii 'La Sonnambula'. Real Jardín Botánico, Madrid, España.  March 2009.  A.  Barra.

Of course, I digress.  This post is about camellias, the shade-loving, cold-sensitive blooms that thrive in abundance when planted in the proper places here in the South, and it is also about a knitting pattern I recently created.  My knitted blooms are a bit simple (nowhere as detailed and beautiful as those of Nicky Epstein), but I learned a great deal as I calculated their shapes and knit them, and I’ll probably add beads or change the garter stitch to something more intricate in future attempts to knit them. 

The petals do not really need to be heart shaped to create the flower; the knitter can omit the first few rows of each heart and begin with flat-bottomed petals that sit neatly on the leaves, but I liked the sentimental concept of creating a blossom made out of hearts.   The mohair-silk blend is so pliable, too, that the little points at the bottom of each heart aren’t really much bother and can be folded a bit before sewing on the bar pin. 
Click here to access the pattern, which can be quickly knit up in time for Valentine's Day. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Binding Off: Day Four of Vogue Knitting Live

This food was on display at VKL. 

Actually, Vogue Knitting Live only takes place over three days' time; however, I was still in NYC  last Monday, when VKL was done and bags and boxes of yarn and display tables were in piles under the hotel marquis, waiting for pickup.   Tonya and I did have a few hours before our afternoon flight back to Charlotte to explore a little bit more in the city.  But first, we had to pack up. . . .
This task was a bit challenging, as I'd purchased two large hardcover books at VKL, as well as a large paperback.  I'd also bought two kits from Black Sheep and Ewe, as they were reasonably priced and contained quality yarn.  This company's kits offer knitters quick projects that look stylish and rich when completed.
I'd also bought a couple of furry balls of yarn the day before (they were on sale, too), and I'd picked up a small bag of goodies at Purl Soho to give to a blogger friend.  A planner book with pages of beautiful artwork from the Met added to my haul.  This item was half-priced and I'd needed a new planner, but I certainly didn't need another book to lug around the city. 

Vogue Knitting offered these two books for the price of one, hard to resist.
I organized these items a bit in my carry-on suitcase before Tonya and I headed out to explore the city one more time.
This book from Cooperative Press is a paperback, but it is still pretty hefty to lug around.  It seems like a great resource, though, so it was worth the effort. 
Black Sheep and Ewe's kits contain wonderful yarn, such as Noro.  I bought a kit to make the poncho/cape on the left and another to make a small cowl.

This cowl from my new kit is a simple project--great to do when watching TV. 
We headed over to Barnes and Noble on Fifth Avenue, but the experience was disappointing.  When I was a child, I left this large bookseller with piles of discounted volumes.  The Barnes and Noble we visited in New York, however, was not substantially any different from the two large B & N stores in Charlotte, and I didn't see any phenomenal bargains. 
We left the store and walked over to the garment district and spent the next couple of hours happily perusing stores laden with notions and ribbons and fabric.  One shop had a whole wall of purse handles, but I had to restrain myself as I already have two sets of purse handles at home waiting to receive their knitted bags. 

Oh, if only I had time to sew (and a bigger suitcase). 

This image doesn't do justice to the row after row of notions and ribbons.

I was proud of my restraint, but I couldn't resist some gray wool fabric with velvet appliques that was only 99 cents a yard.  I purchased three yards, and then realized that this fabric was WIDE and HEAVY. 
As Tonya is an expert organizer--she is a science teacher and her labs are coordinated works of art--she was somehow able to pack my goodies up in my wheeled carry-on suitcase and we were off.  First to the subway.  Then to the bus.  Then in  the air.  Then home. 
Left with lots of artistic inspiration, some new projects, too many student papers to catch up on, and a bad cold, I have to say the trip was still a success.  Maybe next year, if I continue to hone my skills, I'll be ready to take the five-part couture knitting class and will manage somehow to also work in some sightseeing.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Learning at Vogue Knitting Live . . . Day Three


Lion had a very attractive booth, featuring some luxury yarns. 


     I actually slept past 7:00 a.m. on Sunday morning (late for me), so I woke refreshed and ready for a 9:00 class with Louisa Harding, entitled “Tell a Story with your Photography.”  Harding focused much of her talk not on the technical aspects of photography but, rather, on using one's creative vision to shape the look not only of a particular group of garments but also the style and feel of completed photographs.  She discussed how her the pre-Raphaelites were the inspiration for her Dream Catcher book, and showed us how the hair styles, model stances, background scenes, and other aspects reflected this artistic focus or lens, as did the romantic designs themselves.  Harding next discussed the use of light diffusers and online apps to help create better photos.  

Louisa Harding discusses how a class member's tear sheets
signify his design style.

The next part of the three-hour session was more personalized, as Harding had each of the participants share tear sheets we’d brought, and then she discussed with us how our choices reflect what could develop into our own particular design style or market niche.  For instance, one participant, who was wearing a very intricately designed cabled sweater, chose magazine layouts that focused on the technical aspects of knitted pieces, featuring images with minimalistic, almost industrial backgrounds.  This woman’s preference, Harding discussed, reflected her focus on the knitwear itself, its technical and precise aspects—for this budding designer romantic scenes selling lifestyles rather than the garments probably would be of little appeal.  

When looking at my choices—the website of Churchmouse Yarns & Teas and Purl Soho, ones with whimsical photography featuring animals, antiques, and food along with knitwear and focusing on other small details, Harding suggested that I point my design efforts toward contriving “really great accessories,” rather than larger garments.  Listening to Harding “read” each of the class members, was akin to hearing a gifted psychic (if such a person exists) give insight into another individual’s future. The experience was illuminating and great fun.  (Now, if only I could find time to work toward my creative aspirations.)

A preview of spring garments was on display at VKL.  

       After one final trip through both floors of the marketplace, I grabbed a very salty and dry pretzel from a street vendor and then my companion, Tonya, and I walked up to a subway stop and headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  A visit there seemed a fitting finale to the weekend’s indulgence in color and design.  We only had a little over two hours to visit the museum—not nearly enough time to see very much, as a person could spend months exploring the Met’s massive galleries.  We visited a Matisse exhibit first.  I marveled at the vibrant colors of the paintings and at how artwork, despite the crowds and time pressures, is able to speak so strongly to my soul.  The muted afternoon light coming through the glass roofs in other areas of the museum lent a dreamlike quality to the place, and I paused a moment to bask in my enjoyment of my final afternoon in Manhattan.  

This is a statue of Diana.  My friend Tonya is barely visible in the right
bottom corner. 

We walked over 20 blocks along Central Park before finally hailing a cab and heading back to the Marriott.  We then walked to La Masseria, a place that lived up to its rave reviews.  The menu featured fantastic homemade Italian food—I had fresh mozzarella and prosciutto as an appetizer, sea bass and mussels as an entrée, and a flourless chocolate cake for dessert.  (I normally don’t eat this much—but it was restaurant week, a time when restaurants offer reduced prices, and this place offered a special prix fix menu.)  Tonya had pasta Bolognese and Tartufo, which we split along with my cake.  I hadn’t had Tartufo (a favorite chocolaty cherry dessert in 25 years), so I gleefully devoured every bit.  In fact, due to our lack of food all day and hours of physical exhaustion, Tonya and I ate every piece of bread in the basket and every last morsel of food, leaving our plates looking as if my dogs Stella and Maggie had licked them clean.  Hunger and exhaustion certainly do add to culinary appreciation. 

       We were back at the hotel in time for me to catch the last 40 minutes of Downton Abbey.  A perfect end to my day in NYC.

I had to take a picture of this painting at the Met, as the Lady on the right has a connection to Downton Abbey (or at least to the real Carnarvon family whose family home is Highclere Castle.)  The painting shows Mary Capel (1630–1715), Later Duchess of Beaufort, and Her Sister Elizabeth (1633–1678), Countess of Carnarvon and is by Sir Peter Lely.

Vogue Knitting Live Marathon . . . Day Two

Purl Soho . . .

In typical fashion I awoke way too early on Saturday—at around 4:30 a.m., so I spent a groggy morning reading, knitting, and waiting until a little before 7:00 to saunter down to the Starbucks in the lobby.  At 10:00 Tonya and I attended a lecture by Nicky Epstein named for her book Knitting on Top of the World.  It was fascinating to see how this designer, after studying knitting traditions from cultures all over the world, incorporated classic techniques in innovative ways in her own designs, putting her personal stamp on traditional knitwear.  For instance, rather than using Fair Isle techniques to create the standard circular yoke, Epstein created a cardigan with a bottom band and long collar worked in a Fair Isle pattern.  Her discussion also included bits of knitting history, including the fact that in 17th century Europe knitting was a male dominated industry;  women caught engaging in this activity were often severely punished—sometimes by having their hands cut off.  The designer also talked about the Latvian tradition of a bride’s knitting mittens for all of her wedding guests—sometimes making 50 pairs or more.  Epstein also discussed Mary Taylor, a blogger who knit all of the pieces in Epstein’s book in three years.

This NYC yarn store has a beautiful collection of
luxury yarns. 

Since my traveling companion had never been to New York before, we’d planned to spend Saturday afternoon engaging in a marathon sightseeing session, but first we did a little marketplace visiting.   I was thrilled to find the booth of knit shop from a town close to my hometown in New Jersey.  I wished I had time to visit the actual shop, Wooly Monmouth in Red Bank.  (I love the shop’s clever name, as Red Bank is located in Monmouth County.)  We then watched a fashion show featuring Rowan and Lopi yarns and designs. 

This graphic sweater is a Rowan design.

After munching a hot dog from a street vendor for lunch (Tonya and I are teachers so economy is always in our minds), we took the subway downtown and visited Purl Soho’s shop.  The narrow space was very crowded, temperatures were unseasonably warm, and I was sweltering under a long wool coat and wool sweater, but those circumstances didn’t dissuade me from perusing all of the fabrics, yarns, and whimsical stuffed animal kits in the store.  Walking the quaint streets of Soho was a pleasure after navigating the masses of people and riot of video screens and noise in Times Square. 

Purl Soho is located in an area of Manhattan with lots of charming architecture.  
Purl Soho sells fabric and yarn. 

     Soon we were walking downtown, past Trinity Church to the 911 site.  The 911 memorial pools are massive in size, and the seemingly endless pit in the center of each makes the viewer reflect upon the loss of lives under the rubble, while the soaring new towers inspire hope. 

The 911 site is located so close to Trinity Church (where Alexander Hamilton is buried).  It is amazing the old church survived the attacks.  My Dutch ancestors had a grist mill and farm in the 17th century on the site of Trinity Church, and it was fascinating to imagine what this part of town looked like back then. 

I was exhausted by the evening, but we rode the Staten Island Ferry, so that Tonya could get a view of the Statue of Liberty up close.  By this point I was so bushed that, while not asleep, was unaware that the boat had even made its short return trip.  I can’t recall now whether we walked or took the subway there, but had a hearty, meaty meal of Ukrainian food at a restaurant in the East Village.  A combination platter of kielbasa, pirogue, stuffed cabbage that followed a cup of borscht was just the thing after roaming about the city all day with little sustenance.  I’d eaten at this restaurant over 25 years ago, and the food and décor are still the same—homey and simple and good. 

We then walked to a piano bar, Marie’s Crisis, in the East Village, one where patrons gather in bone crushing tightness in a tiny dark basement to sing show tunes.  Some of the clientele had amazing voices, and Tonya and I were even able to stand a couple of feet from two celebrities (stars of High School Musical and other movies) who were seated at the piano bar for most of the evening.  It was great fun to join in the singing, even though I can’t carry a tune.   The piano player’s indulgence of my request to play songs from A Chorus Line (my late father’s favorite show) evoked a bit of melancholy, but the entire crowd’s rousing rendition of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” filled the place (and me) with cheer.  We returned home around 1:00 a.m.—quite a late hour for two schoolteachers in our forties, but we were still filled with anticipation for another day in Manhattan.    

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Vogue Knitting Live . . . Day One

Since my recent trip to NY was chock-full of activity, I’ll post a recap of each day separately.
We took the picture in the top left corner on the plane; the image to the right of that one is the view from our hotel room.  Other shots were taken at VKL marketplace and gallery. 


Last week newscasters in my area began fomenting the mania that is a winter storm warning in the South.  Every few minutes forecasts of impending threats of snow and ice appeared on television, sending residents to the store to take part in the tradition of emptying grocery shelves of on milk and bread.  A wintry mix was predicted for late Thursday evening, so, naturally, I had a bit of difficulty getting to sleep, as I was scheduled to fly out of Charlotte on a 6:00 a.m. flight on Friday to attend Vogue Knitting Live in New York.  After I’d spent a mere three hours asleep, I woke up keyed up to go.  At 4:00 a.m. my co-worker, crocheter, novice knitter, and companion, Tonya, and I headed for the airport.  While there wasn’t any snow, we did have to pry open the frozen doors of my Jetta but were then on our way.    

We’d planned to take this early flight so that, barring any unforeseen delays or cancellations, we could make the most out of our long weekend and have a full day to spend in the city on Friday.  After a few minutes waiting for the wings to be de-iced we were off and, in less than two hours, had arrived at Laguardia.  Last year I’d returned to New York after an absence of 17 years to attend this same event, so this time, with last year’s recent practice, I felt like an old hand navigating mass transit.  Tonya and I took a local bus and then a subway and then found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the mayhem that is Times Square.  The Marriott there is massive and futuristic, yet, once inside, we found the rooms to be quiet and furnished very comfortably.
This is the view (looking upward)
from the eighth floor of
the hotel lobby.

We were lucky to be able to check in early and to not have to store our luggage and pick it up later.  Tonya had a 2:00 class, so we headed out for a little sightseeing, since the market didn’t open until 5:00 that evening.  We found a hole in the wall where we each purchased a head-sized slice of pizza, gobbled our purchase, and then walked to Rockefeller Center and made a stop in the American Girl store, where Tonya bought some items for her daughter, who is in the fourth grade.  I gazed in awe inside the three-story site, which includes a vast inventory of dolls and accessories and even a doll hair salon.  As I am the mother of two boys, I couldn’t justify buying anything for me, although I did gaze especially longingly at the dolls dressed in Regency-inspired garb.

We then headed over to Saks Fifth Avenue, where I was willingly accosted by a handsome man with a charming accent who smeared wonderful lotions on my face.  Conscious of needing to reserve funds to buy yarn and other knitting-related items, though, I refrained from indulging in one of my favorite guilty pleasures—luxury face creams. 

While Tonya headed to her “Not Just for Squares:  Lovely Granny Crochet” class with Lisa Daehlin, I took a very hot bath to ease the aches of lugging luggage up and down subway steps and amazingly managed to catch a short nap (something I am biologically unable to do at home—probably because I’m always too preoccupied with my domestic to-do list).

At 5:00 I met Tonya and we followed the throng, who behaved like a band of merry vacationers boarding a cruise ship for exotic climes, into the marketplace.  We only had about an hour before we had to get ready to meet an old friend for dinner, but we managed to pack in some browsing and shopping time. 
Nicky Epstein was doing a book signing on Friday. 

Steven of StevenBe:  A Yarn Garage Workshop
 had a booth with wonderful
art yarns. 
I find it difficult to articulate the sublime pleasure for someone like me (a person who spends most of her time--when not at home--teaching high school in a metal trailer stuck in the middle of a muddy field or running to Target or Wal-Mart) to experience sharing a meal and a bottle of wine and witty conversation at Cafe Un, Deux, Trois—a charming French brasserie, replete with vintage crystal chandeliers and a maitre d’ with an accent.  As a former New Yorker, the pleasures of such an evening are, of course, tinged with wistful nostalgia, but I am thankful for the opportunity to be able to experience such emotions.  (I’m also thankful for my old friend and old flame who so generously paid for the meal.)

After dinner Tonya and I, exhausted but filled with anticipation, retired to rest in preparation for Saturday. 

Monday, January 14, 2013

Casting Off . . .

"The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed.
But they none of them know one half as much
As intelligent Mr. Toad!"
- Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

This Malabrigo yarn is part of my "stash."  I need to find something to
do with this beautifully colored fiber with its pretty name. 

While Mr. Toad in Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows is certainly a foolish character, it is difficult not to smile and appreciate his mercurial nature and joie de vivre.  I don't think that I share Toad's full-blown mania for new enterprises (as I channel this enthusiasm for knitting), but I can understand the alluring pull of a wide array of hobbies, exotic food, novel learning opportunities, and stimulating travel (devoid of bungee jumping, of course).This fall, in a burst of energy and creativity, I tackled several projects--creating an online book study for the faculty at my school, hosting a knitting party, and applying for a grant to travel to England, to name a few. Last week, after I was interviewed by a panel from an area organization, I learned that I will be receiving this grant. After spending several days researching and dealing with some logistical stumbling blocks, I am now registered to spend a week at Oxford University studying “Charles Dickens: The Crime Writer.”  I've registered for the Oxford program, bought my airline tickets, and contacted a gracious friend in England—who not only offered her home to me for part of my visit, but who is also going to take me, as she put it, on a "yarn excursion."  (The pairing of the English countryside with yarn shopping addresses my romantic and fiber obsessive nature in unfathomable ways.  I can't wait.) 

I'm in my classroom here, happy to hear about the grant

I'm trying not to spend money on books in the upcoming
months, but I traded in some paperbacks yesterday
at my local used-book store and was
 able to get these two in exchange
(in anticipation of my future trip).

But now, I must. Wait, that is . . . and commence no more undertakings. I don’t want to be like Mr. Toad, zipping towards some new obsession (leaving an abandoned Gypsy cart and wrecked car in my wake). It’s time to tie up loose ends. I finally finished a sweater I've been working on for weeks and have decided that I must devote the months before my July trip abroad to spending time with my family, reducing my yarn stash, focusing on teaching my English classes, and somehow managing to complete a class in "Social Media" I'm taking at my local community college. (What was I thinking?)

I finally finished my Louisa Harding Oaksike cardigan. 

My dear friend, Cindy, who is quite a busy person herself (she once directed and staged three Shakespeare plays that were performed on the same evening, after she’d spent months frantically designing and sewing all of the costumes for the student actors), says that I always take on too much, and I have to agree. While I thrive on new projects and challenges, I often find myself exhausted and depleted at the end of every school semester, so now it’s time to slow down and focus. I don't want to be like Mr. Toad, although I can relish laughing at his follies and how he wriggles out of their consequences. 

Of course, before I adapt this new, minimalistic practical attitude towards life, I have to make my trip to Vogue Knitting Live in New York this coming weekend.  I'll rest afterwards. . . .

I'm making this scarf from Rowan Haze, and I've made some progress on the long Noro vest shown below--then I'm going to fast for awhile and only knit my stash.   

Monday, January 7, 2013

Blocking Time

I was lucky enough to receive two gift certificates to Cottage Yarn, my local yarn shop, and used them to buy enough Noro yarn to make a long vest featured in last fall's Noro magazine.  The neckline requires steeking, but I might just change the pattern a bit.  I want to alleviate stress during this coming New Year. 
It’s amazing to me how, when I focus my efforts in a concerted manner, aiming them at one particular large task to accomplish, other areas of my life seem to languish—disregarded and ignored.  I’ve been determined to finish a somewhat complex lace sweater—one that has shown its face (in various stages of completion) in my blog since Easter of 2012.  I worked diligently during my sick time over Christmas break on this project and also spent many hours this past weekend, blocking and seaming—although the garment isn’t completely finished yet.  

Slowly I'm putting together this 2012 sweater project--a Louisa Harding design made with her Willow Tweed yarn.  The picture on the bottom is a sleeve I'm joining using the mattress stitch. 
Consequently, I’ve neglected my blog for a bit, and now that I am working at it again, I’ve decided not to write a New Year’s resolution post filled with new skills I wish to master.  After reviewing the list of goals I related early in 2012, I realize that there aren’t enough waking hours in each day for me to tackle all that I want to accomplish—knitting related and otherwise.  (I’m also a bit embarrassed that I could post virtually the same list this year without the need to edit out any completed tasks.)
My sister-in-law and I each gave one another yarn bowls and yarn for Christmas--my gift to her is made of pottery; her gift to me is wooden and was handmade by her husband.  He used a jigsaw and some type of routing tool--a very clever idea and a great gift. 

Also, it’s now January 7—New Year’s Day has passed and I’m already caught up in the teaching routine and family schedule that eat up the vast part of my energy and time.  There aren’t windows for planning and executing grand Jane Austen inspired designs, spinning three big bags full of fiber, or learning how to steek.   There is time, however, to eke out the small pleasures  of knitting each day—as I did yesterday evening while I watched a program about Highclere Castle shown before the PBS airing of the first episode of season three of Downton Abbey.  There are also moments for cooking special meals, spinning odd skeins of fiber—who then eagerly gather together, rubbing shoulders in bins and baskets, naively anticipating their role in future projects—and for experimenting with new techniques here and there. 

This is a pretty cowl I made with Mohair yarn from England. 
This frog purse is almost ready to felt.  

With the constraints of time and with some self-knowledge I’ve gained over this past year, writing resolutions, which merely amount to a to-do list, seems a bit pointless at this juncture.  Maybe I’ll think differently when I have some time off to ruminate, but for now, instead of setting goals,  I will undertake to try to keep alive all that was positive in the past year and leave behind all that was damaging.  This “resolution” is less daunting to me than a traditional list and, I hope it will serve as personal encouragement as well.   Happy New Year !

My mother in Arizona asked me to knit a red scarf for her.  I'm making this with
Rowan Kidsilk Haze.  I am savoring this rich color and the soft feel of this haloed yarn.