Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Wednesday Works in Progress

     I've intended for some time to post pictures of my knitted items at various stages of completion every Wednesday as part of "Works in Progress Wednesdays" (an idea dreamed up by blogger Tami of Tami's Amis).  My blog posting never seems to fit into any sort of specific-day-of-the-week schedule, though, and I haven't wanted to start a routine I won't follow regularly.  Since today is Wednesday, though, and I'm bogged down at work and not particularly inspired to write much, I'm going to share some pictures of the things I’m making—both simple and challenging.  
I'm making this Louisa Harding shrug, named Beauty, from her Three Graces
book.  I cast this on last week.
I've made some progress on this work, and am about halfway to its completion
 as of this  morning.  Louisa Harding always designs interesting, pretty lace
 patterns that keep me engaged. 

     Knitting projects, for me, fall into two categories:  mindless TV items and challenge pieces.  At any given time, I have at least a couple of each of these types of projects on my needles.  Mindless, close-your-eyes knitting is perfect for Downton Abbey viewing sessions, and more complicated lace projects are suitable for early-morning, coffee-fueled times of clarity and focused concentration.
I'm making "A Sensible Shawl" from Jane Austen Knits Fall 2012.  You can see some projects using this pattern on Ravelry.  This project is very easy--great to do when tired or when watching television or busy talking to friends.

I ordered this book last fall from Vogue Knitting. I'm finding that it is a very handy tool for designing knitwear. It includes
graph paper, places for notes, and some useful charts and other resources at the back of the book.
Now if I only can find the time to finish all of the projects I've outlined.

I started designing this hat this morning, after I'd awoken at 2:30 and couldn't go back to sleep. 
I did complete the project these notes outline a couple of weeks ago.

This is the back of a Mock Cable Tunic I'm making using
Noro yarn.  Click here to see a picture of the finished garment from
last fall's Noro magazine. 


This isn't technically a work in progress, as I finished this cowl last week.  I used the yarn shown on the model's cowl, but different lighting and editing created a big variation in the blue of garment of the one on Louisa Harding's brochure. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Free Download - Knitting Bookmarks

Several years ago I announced to my principal that I would no longer act as my high school’s yearbook advisor. I had worked as a high school yearbook advisor for 17 years at three different schools, and had had enough.

“A yearbook advisor,” you might ask, “what the big deal in that? Watch kids take pictures and add captions?"
In reality, acting as a high school yearbook advisor is teaching school full-time while simultaneously running a business.  But, unlike business professionals, a yearbook advisor can’t easily “fire” employees, so she frequently finds herself with a teenaged staff who would rather socialize than get to work and who love the notion of frantic, last-minute deadline completion. Consequently, many advisors who don't deal well with last-minute pressure spend hours and hours every weekend, holiday, and sick day editing—and sometimes redoing or creating—layouts.  An advisor also works to raise money to fund publishing the book—in the form of candy sales, car washes, business ad sales, and even beauty pageants.  (I can’t even type the last two words of my previous sentence without shuddering.)  The advisor also plans all school photos and serves as a liaison to parents (or as the hapless victim of parental browbeating) and must also plan yearbook distribution parties replete with hot dog and hamburgers and a DJ.  (I planned several of those for over 750 students).
See below to access the link to the PDF.

Ironically, after I gave up the yearbook advisor stint, I missed the creative aspects of the job—taking pictures, designing page layouts, etc. My blog, therefore, fills this creative need.  The other day I also fulfilled my graphic design interest by creating some bookmarks. I’d set out to mail a letter to a friend and wanted to include some little token, so I dusted off my layout skills and used Microsoft Publisher (since I don’t have InDesign or a more sophisticated program available to me at this time) and created some knitting bookmarks. You can download them and find directions HERE.

If you would like to create your own designs, a good source for free vintage knitting pictures is A Good Yarn.   Miss Mary Park offers some wonderful free Victorian clip art as well, and she has even made the backgrounds for some cut-out images transparent, so these are great for layering, as you can add them to a colored background.  Hope you enjoy my simple creations.  I certainly had fun making these bits of ephemera, especially without the stress of a firm deadline looming over my shoulder. 


Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Thing of Beauty . . . for Valentine's Day

This post is a little out of character, as it's not about knitting, but I couldn't resist sharing this poem by John Keats for Valentine's Day, along with some pictures I took this past weekend in the North Carolina countryside.    The flowers are camellias.  Click here to access a free pattern for a knitted camellia corsage I posted earlier this month. 

A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

by John Keats

A thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep
A bower quiet for us, and a sleep
Full of sweet dreams, and health, and quiet breathing.
Therefore, on every morrow, are we wreathing
A flowery band to bind us to the earth,
Spite of despondence, of the inhuman dearth
Of noble natures, of the gloomy days,
Of all the unhealthy and o'er-darkened ways
Made for our searching: yes, in spite of all,
Some shape of beauty moves away the pall
From our dark spirits. Such the sun, the moon,
Trees old, and young, sprouting a shady boon
For simple sheep; and such are daffodils
With the green world they live in; and clear rills
That for themselves a cooling covert make
'Gainst the hot season; the mid-forest brake,
Rich with a sprinkling of fair musk-rose blooms:
And such too is the grandeur of the dooms
We have imagined for the mighty dead;
All lovely tales that we have heard or read:
An endless fountain of immortal drink,
Pouring unto us from the heaven's brink.


Nor do we merely feel these essences
For one short hour; no, even as the trees
That whisper round a temple become soon
Dear as the temple's self, so does the moon,
The passion poesy, glories infinite,
Haunt us till they become a cheering light
Unto our souls, and bound to us so fast
That, whether there be shine or gloom o'ercast,
They always must be with us, or we die.


Therefore, 'tis with full happiness that I
Will trace the story of Endymion.
The very music of the name has gone
Into my being, and each pleasant scene
Is growing fresh before me as the green
Of our own valleys: so I will begin
Now while I cannot hear the city's din;
Now while the early budders are just new,
And run in mazes of the youngest hue
About old forests; while the willow trails
Its delicate amber; and the dairy pails
Bring home increase of milk. And, as the year
Grows lush in juicy stalks, I'll smoothly steer
My little boat, for many quiet hours,
With streams that deepen freshly into bowers.
Many and many a verse I hope to write,
Before the daisies, vermeil rimmed and white,
Hide in deep herbage; and ere yet the bees
Hum about globes of clover and sweet peas,
I must be near the middle of my story.
O may no wintry season, bare and hoary,
See it half finished: but let Autumn bold,
With universal tinge of sober gold,
Be all about me when I make an end!
And now at once, adventuresome, I send
My herald thought into a wilderness:
There let its trumpet blow, and quickly dress
My uncertain path with green, that I may speed
Easily onward, thorough flowers and weed.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cold Turkey: Yarn Stash Busting

Today is Mardi Gras, the last hurrah of feasting before the Lenten period of fasting begins.  I am no theologian, so my explanation of the church calendar will stop here, but I will discuss the fast that I am officially beginning tomorrow.  My disciplinary practice does not involve eschewing chocolate or pasta (favorite foods which typically appear in my daily diet) but, rather, refraining from the purchase of yarn.

This Malabrigo yarn is waiting for a project. 

     Only a fellow knitter would understand this sacrifice.  He or she might also be aware of the fact that, like a dietary fast, my abstention should reap some positive benefits, aside from the obvious financial ones.  Firstly, while there is many a knitter who can proudly boast that he or she is (as Adrienne Martini discusses in Sweater Quest), a SABLE—an individual with a “Stash That Exceeds Life Expectancy," a huge cache of yarn can become an overwhelming physical burden—especially to those of us with limited square-footage in our homes.  Designer Anna Hrachovec, known for her Mochimochi creations, featured her mother-in-law, Bonney—a woman with the “World’s Biggest Yarn Stash”—in a blog post (here).  Bonney is an individual who definitely has the space for her collection, so much so that Hrachovec describes Bonney’s spacious stash room as a “cathedral.”  As I share rather cramped living quarters with two dogs, a rabbit, a cat, two big boys, and my husband, I, unlike this amazing fiber collector,  must deal with how a knitting stash can limited mobility and access to windows, doors, beds, etc., so reducing my stash before it expands to unwieldy proportions seems a good idea. 

I have three large balls of this yarn I spun over a year ago that need a project. 

Secondly, a knitting stash presents to me not only a physical burden, but also a psychological one.  If I buy yarn on sale and it sits for two long in a basket or trunk, I am conscious of its idly taking up space.  In the same manner that seeing my sons sitting still for too long in front of a video screen prompts me to rail against the lack of creativity and imagination on the part of modern youth, piles of yarn that luxuriate like warm cats in their respective baskets seem irritatingly lazy.   They, like my sons, should be doing something productive! If my stash grows too much, I also feel a bit of Puritanical guilt about not sharing my largess.  But, unlike the innumerable boxes and bags of books and clothes and toys that I have taken to Goodwill over the years, only three balls of scratchy acrylic yarn from my stash have ventured to that locale.  Like Gollum, I want hold onto and caress “my precious” yarn.  So to avoid acquiring Gollum’s displeasing mien and corrupted sense of priorities, and to ease my conscience a bit, I intend to use my stash this spring to knit up gifts for next Christmas.

I bought this Alpaca Love by Debbie Stoller's Stitch Nation on sale months ago. I plan to make the wrap pictured, from a Jane Austen knitting magazine, but am not ready to cast on yet. 

In addition to a desire to not be wasteful and to put items to practical use, the idea of an ever-expanding yarn stash haunts me a bit.  I am sometimes plagued by the question:  What is the difference between a “stash” and a “hoard”?  Of course, I am a person who, if I happen upon Hoarders: Buried Alive on TV, cannot sit through an entire episode without getting up and tossing magazines and old cosmetic containers in the trash.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with this program, Hoarders features attempts by friends, relatives, and professionals to get invariably irascible chronic hoarders to let go of their possessions, heaps of which have overtaken their homes and lives.  The show, which features video of houses filled with piles of rat droppings and rotting food, is aired on the ironically named network “The Learning Channel,” the same organization that provides the public with other educational programs such as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Sister Wives.   I’m straying off topic, though, back to hoarding.  I am no hoarder (although my house is by no means decorated in a minimalistic style), and the idea of owning too much so that I do not know exactly what I possess disturbs me.  Thinking about stashes and hoards reminds me of when my children were very little and I was working full time and living in a state of constant chaotic disorder.  During school breaks I would clean out the pantry and find seven bottles of ketchup or eleven jars of mayonnaise.  A neighbor once saw my canned goods collection and said that I was prepared for the apocalypse.

I have enough Spud and Chloe yarn to make something nice. 
The white yarn show here is wonderful lightweight alpaca.  The multi-colored ball in the front was purchased in Italy and is a lace weight yarn. 

Right now, though, I’m on a more minimalistic course.  Simplify.  Streamline.  Economize.  My yarn fast is a part of this overall current preoccupation.  I hope I can stay the course.  Whenever I think of fasting and Lent, however, the mayor in the movie Chocolat comes to my mind, making me take pause and question my resolve.  After spending weeks decrying the opening of a chocolate shop in his village during Lent (and censuring those individuals who frequent it), the mayor loses control one evening and can be found the following morning, Easter Sunday, asleep in the front display window of the shop, his mouth smeared with a gooey brown mess, surrounded by the decimated chocolate sculptures he’s devoured in a furious frenzy.  Of course, I don’t think I’ll engage in a stealthy nighttime yarn shop break-in, but there is always online shopping.  .  .  .

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Knitting: A Spouse's Handbook

See below for instructions to make this scarf.

Last night, I finished up knitting a whisper-soft lace scarf.  Handling this vibrant red mohair-and-silk yarn each day, coupled with an awareness that it will soon be Valentine’s Day, must have affected my brain, as, in a way that’s a bit out of character, I’m compelled here to discuss marriage, romance, and, of course, knitting. 

My knitting hobby has, of course, impacted my marriage.  Not only am I engaged in an activity that takes time, eats up resources, and lures me leave home for periodic overnight stints, knitting has also made me vocally question my future along with the previous choices in my past.  Why didn’t I study textiles in college?  Why didn’t I learn to knit sooner?  How much money does it take to open a yarn shop?  My husband endures listening to me muse about potential knitting-related writing or editing or design careers and possible yarn shops or sheep farms in our future.  He also patiently bears my waxing poetic about his accompanying me on knitting tours in Scotland or my warmly reminiscing about a trip to a yarn ship in Italy, pairing my reflections with assertions that I have to return there someday . . . soon. 

My spouse is no stranger to my wild flights of fancy, and I’m ashamed to say that in almost 20 years of marriage, I’ve heard one too many people refer to him as a “Saint,” a word that is carries with it the somewhat mortifying implication that he’s earned this status as a result of his marriage to me.  Of course, he is generally patient and kind and refrains from passing judgment, although occasional well-placed dry-witted retorts do bubble to the surface, such as his vehemently flung accusation during our first year of marriage that I was “Marie Antoinette.” This appellation was hurled when we were having a heated discussion related to renovating a dilapidated 150-year-old house we’d recently purchased, one, that came replete with a rotting foundation, views of sunlight through bedroom walls, and three crumbling chimneys.  I, of course, had been the one who’d been compelled to rescue this place, as I could see all of its creative potential. 

Marie Antoinette moments are few and far between, but my spouse stepped out of his ever-patient persona again the other morning, flinging another barb. This event occurred after I’d watched part of a talk show where the host voiced platitudes about goal-setting, referencing a popular book (The Secret) that asserts that all an individual has to do is optimistically ask the “universe” for something and he or she will receive it. I’ve never had a desire to read this book, but the few moments I heard about goal setting got me thinking: Knitwear designer? Social media specialist or salesperson for a yarn company? Novelist? Yarn shop owner? On my way out the door for school the next day I crankily asserted, “I really need to set a goal. I can’t ever succeed if I don’t work toward one focused aim.”

With a weary eye, my husband, who’d just roused a sullen teenager and an irate tween from sleep and had prepared breakfast (so that I could have my morning knitting time), shot me a pointed look and said, “Paying credit card debt sounds like a good goal to me.”   I felt a twinge of irritation that I vocalized and later wished I’d suppressed, as, with some reflection, I realized that spouses of obsessive knitters such as me are members of a class of people with a unique cross to bear, people who should be appreciated and thanked for their forbearance and generosity of spirit.    

My husband is a member of SOCK (Spouses of Obsessive-Compulsive Knitters).  A government publication from the National Institutes of Health defines obsessive-compulsive as a “disorder in which people have unwanted and repeated thoughts, feelings, ideas, sensations (obsessions), or behaviors that make them feel driven to do something (compulsions).”  The article adds that “not performing the obsessive rituals can cause great anxiety.”  That ritual, in my case, and in that of so many women, is knitting.  Below are some guidelines which might make lives easier for spouses of those suffering from this disorder. 

  • Be aware that a knitting addiction is often a symptom of a finely tuned romantic or creative aesthetic (it should come as no surprise that your wife gets a little too wrapped up in period dramas or pours over dreamy images of models draped in lace who stand in the middle of cow pastures).  Appreciate the romantic nature that attracted you to her in the first place, and remember to eagerly beam when your wife comes down the stairs one morning and, out of the blue, announces, “I’ve booked us on a knit-the-fairies hiking trip in Iceland . . . in January."

  • Understand that the boundaries in your domicile are fluid and subject to change based upon new knitting-related purchases or expansions of the same craft; ie.  a large spinning wheel and antique yarn swift now reside comfortably in what used to be your favorite corner to sit—and your bookcase is now a repository for knitting magazines.  Remember, your children will go off to college one day, and then your wife can use their rooms for her supplies and you can get your corner back. 

  • Avoid dreaming of cracking open a mystery and relaxing on your upcoming vacation; understand that  your wife has carefully researched every knitting shop within a day’s drive of your destination and has already planned your packed daily itinerary. 

  • Be aware that while it is your duty as a husband to greet your wife with cheerful alacrity (and an engaging facial expression to match) when she speaks to you, even if you are busy preparing income taxes or phoning in a prescription refill, you must tread cautiously when approaching your knitting wife to inform her that the dinner you’ve prepared is ready.  She just might lose count and mess up her lace pattern.

  • Know that knitting is like culture, and comes with its own set of unwritten rules.  Work to learn them, so that you don’t experience culture shock or misunderstanding.  Expecting to wait in the car for a few minutes while your wife “runs into” the local yarn shop is akin to the naive bravado of the southerners in Gone with the Wind who assert, “We’ll finish them [the Yankees] in one battle” or their calm belief that “Gentlemen can always fight better than rabble.”   Bring a newspaper, or maybe a Dickens’ novel and enjoy a moment of well-earned peace and quiet. 

  • Finally, in times when your patience is worn to its thinnest, remember that while living with a knitter does present its challenges, at least you are not married to Marie Antoinette.  Of course, Antoinette was a knitter herself, one so obsessed with her craft that when in prison and denied her knitting needles, she fashioned her own needles from toothpicks and pulled yarn from a tapestry to knit a garter (Bishop).  Imagine, too, how your daily existence would, perhaps, be even more difficult to weather if your wife were deprived of her hobby.  Her behavior might be a lot worse (as would have Marie Antoinette’s) if denied this creative outlet and source of stress relief.

You will need a copy of Vogue Knitting Stitchionary Vol. 5 To make the scarf shown above.  (The lace pattern is copyrighted, but the overall scarf design is my own.)

Materials:  2 balls of Rowan Kidsilk Haze in Rosso

                Size 7 needles
                Size 5 needles


With larger needles cast on 55 stitches.

Knit Wildflower Meadow lace pattern on page 23.

Repeat until scarf is 54 inches long.

Bind off.

Using small needles, with right side facing, pick up 64 stitches at one short end.

Row 1:  Knit into the front and back of each stitch. (128)
Row 2:  Knit
Row 3:  Knit into the front and back of each stitch.  (256)
Row 4:  Cast off.

Repeat for second short end. 

Weave in loose ends, wash, and block.