Thursday, May 30, 2013

Exploring Entrelac

For the five years that I have been knitting, I have viewed entrelac with a bit of fear—something about all those triangles and squares with stiches running along different sides.  But since summer break is here for me, and I now have some time to learn a new technique, I decided to face my trepidation, keeping in mind Julia Child’s words which apply just as well to knitting as they do to cooking:  “This is my invariable advice to people . . . learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all have fun!”
I purchased the book Entrelac  a few weeks ago, a nice hardcover volume with clear instructions and interesting patterns.  Sweet Shawlettes is a book I already had in my collection, which includes a pattern for an entrelac project entitled Harlequin Cape (a picture of this garment is shown on the book's cover).  Since I had two skeins of Noro Furisode yarn my sister-in-law had given me for a Christmas present last year and these were the proper weight for that project, yarn shopping wasn't even necessary.  (It’s wonderful having another knitter in the family.)   


Amazingly, entrelac wasn’t too difficult—although it did help that I had two books to guide me.  I didn’t even need to view instructional videos on Youtube.

At the Tuesday night knitting group at Cottage Yarn everyone oohed and ahhed over the project.  They were also enamored of the Sweet Shawlettes book.  It is a great little volume which came out in 2012.  All of the projects in it by designer Jean Moss use luscious Rowan yarn, and there is a variety of patterns for attractive capes, ponchos, cowls, etc.  contained between its covers. An asymmetrical tartan poncho using Rowan Lima yarn in the book is on my to-do list.  

Anyway, I enjoyed working the entrelac pattern, watching the various colored blocks and triangles emerge, and I knit up the project within a few days.  If I were more inspired and disciplined I’d include an entrelac tutorial here, but I’ve been teaching school all year, and would rather go sit and sip some iced tea and work on a few other projects rather than teach a lesson.

My wrap is a lot wider than the one in the book.  While the Noro yarn is wonderful, I think
it grew and grew and grew after I'd washed it, and it might not have been chunky enough for
 the project.    In future, I really should knit a swatch and block it before casting on. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Zen and the Art of Unwinding

I recently saw a list of suggestions for achieving happiness.  This philosophical gem was posted by a friend on my Facebook Newsfeed.  One item dealt with the positive benefits of getting into the flow of an activity, and, I as I read it, I immediately thought of knitting.  I also recalled my friend Cindy who often says, “Such and such is very Zen for her,” when talking about individuals who lose themselves in artistic pursuits or even activities as mundane as shopping.  While Zen is a school of Buddhism that emphasizes enlightenment, Cindy’s usage has a slightly different meaning.  The Urban Dictionary defines Zen as “a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind.”  And when I think of this word, my mind goes to this definition.

Last weekend, in an attempt to assuage end-of-year school stress, I decided to refrain from doing household chores and lost myself in activities, not solely knitting and spinning, that are very Zen to me.  On Saturday morning I went to a local farmers’ market.  This market takes place in a town that was once as small-town in atmosphere as Mayberry, but is now in the heart of the suburbs and has a main street with restaurants and shops that capitalize on its old-time charm.  I bought some eggs, kale, and lettuce at the market, and then purchased a coffee and sat at an outside table and knit awhile. 

The entrance to Matthews Farmer's Market is inviting. 



I then walked to a nearby hardware store.  A quaint remnant from earlier times, Renfrow, sits on the main street, displaying some of its wares on the sidewalk.  With its pot-bellied stove, well-worn wooden floors, chickens and plants for sale, and cavernous room-upon-room filled with seed packets, tools, and anachronistic items such as washboards and jelly jars stocked to the high ceilings, visiting this place made for a nice way to round out my trip to the farmer’s market and to get into the “flow” of a peaceful Saturday morning. 

Renfrow sells these dried gourds to use for birdhouses. 

My morning’s activities did exhaust me a bit, so my intentions of returning home and cooking up a meal using my purchases dwindled.  I ended up spending the afternoon with a friend at the movies (The Great Gatsby) and ate popcorn and other snack food for dinner.  My boys were pleased at not having to sit down together at the table (I’m not sure what that fact says about my family dynamic) and at being able to graze from leftovers in the refrigerator. 

But on Sunday, energy renewed a bit, I threw myself into other activities in which I engaged myself fully, once again swimming into a soothing current.  I cooked some bacon and eggs, stir fried kale and zucchini, and dusted off my pasta maker, a gadget for which I’d registered when I’d married, envisioning years of lively entertaining and cooking with fresh ingredients, and had only used once—over twenty years ago.     I have to say as I’ve aged I’ve become much more patient and attentive to following directions and, this time (unlike in my previous attempt where my finished product crumbled all over), my pasta, made with a mixture of semolina and wheat flour, turned out surprisingly well.  Some of it was lost, however, as my scramble-brained dog, Maggie (a lab mix), enjoyed pulling some of the strands of pasta from the rack on which I was drying them.  I didn’t worry too much about residual saliva on the remaining noodles.  Heck, boiling kills germs!  (I hope my mother and aunt aren’t reading this!)

I served my pasta with a heavy cream and sundried tomato sauce.  I have to say,
it was delicious. 
Anyway, tired from cooking and cleaning up residual flour, I spent the making significant progress on my Taini vest.  I'm using Rowan Summerspun to make this garment--love this wool-cotton blend.  Now it’s back to some winter knits I’ve put on hold for a while.  Before this past weekend, I also finished my Shetland Triangle Shawl and need to get that off in the mail—a late Mother’s Day present. 

I have to say my weekend, which also included eating tapas at a restaurant on Friday night and taking my dogs for a long walk, left me fortified for the work week ahead.  Doing one pleasant thing at a time and doing it completely was a way for me to escape from my sometimes frantic and fragmented workaday life, even if I was left on Monday with a pile of mail from the previous week piled up on the counter and a to-do list a mile long.  But my summer vacation starts today, so I can get to work on catching up. 

Our family pet, Streaky, needs no lessons in unwinding.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

In Love with Llama Fiber

     For many years I’ve driven past a sign proclaiming "Carolina Llamas"  that is found at the end of a long gravel driveway surrounded by woods.  Despite the fact that this sign is within a few miles of where I live, I'd never driven in to see what is there, but last week, after receiving an invitation from a former school principal, I visited this farm, to learn a little about llamas and to, perhaps, buy some fiber or yarn.  I am subsequently both thrilled to have access to wonderful yarn and fiber practically within a stone’s throw from my house and a bit apprehensive about my ability to restrain myself from making one-too-many fiber shopping stops at this all-too-convenient location.

A former co-worker and her year-old baby boy, Leonardo, accompanied us on our visit.  The morning was a rare specimen of perfect Carolina springtime beauty—cool breeze, bright sun, not-yet-dry-and-gone-to-seed fields, riotous flowers in bloom.  We received a warm reception by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable llama farm’s owner,  Craig Swindler, who graciously led us around the large establishment he runs with his wife, Janet.  He told us about llama fiber and the history of the llama’s origins and their relationship to alpacas—apparently they share common ancestors and can interbreed.  I also learned about the fiber from these creatures--the coarser guard hairs and the superior fibers that are a desired product of breeding.  We were all quite awe-struck by the large national champion Lord of the Dance, the farm's prized male used for breeding purposes.    

Swindler also placed a halter on a baby llama named Saint and let us interact with him.  It’s amazing how young creatures have a natural affinity for one another.  The baby llama and baby boy were equally curious and amused by one another, and neither was squeamish about touching noses. 

I had never spun llama fiber before and I am now a convert.  My yarn is so much more consistent
 than that I've produced with other fibers.  It's wonderfully soft, too.

We concluded our visit to the farm by examining the yarn and bags of fiber and roving for sale.  While there is not an actually store on the premises, the dining room table of the Swindler's farmhouse serves that purpose.  Since the owners are retired, visitors are welcome to stop by any time.

To learn more about llamas, I read a little bit.  I discovered that llamas were domesticated in the highlands of Peru, approximately 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, making them among the oldest domestic animals.  The llama was also worshipped by the Incas and also served as a pack animal and source of clothing and food for these people.

Coincidentally, this past week, while planning to write about my llama farm visit but a bit overwhelmed by grading odd bits of end-of-semester make-up assignments and three class sets of literary analysis essays, I had the opportunity to meet Neale Bayly, an individual with very close ties to Peru.  Neale is an adventure traveler and motorcycle journalist who has ridden across 45 countries in 35 years. 

During a motorcycle ride to Peru years ago, Neale was transformed by the abandoned children he discovered being raised by eighty-year-old Sister Loretta at the Hogar Belen orphanage. As a result of that experience, he formed Wellspring International Outreach, a nonprofit dedicated to helping orphans around the world. Check out the videos below about Neale's work and his upcoming cable television program showing a grueling eight-day trek across Peru.

NEALE BAYLY RIDES Trailer from Neale Bayly Rides on Vimeo.

At the end of the school year, I feel like running off and going on a motorcycle adventure.
Maybe when I retire  . . .

Monday, May 13, 2013

Lavender Blue

Click HERE for the PDF pattern for these mitts.  (I apologize, but some of my other pattern links were not working properly.  I think I have them all fixed now.  Please let me know if a link doesn't work.)

Lavender Blue seemed an appropriate name for my fingerless mitts, since the yarn I chose is a hybrid mixture of blue and lavender.  The name seemed fitting for this time of year as well, when the countryside in my area is in full, colorful bloom.  

The song “Lavender Blue” (the inspiration for my design’s name) has an interesting history as it apparently has progressed from a rather bawdy 17th century work celebrating sex and drinking to the folk song below and also to a shortened nursery rhyme version. 

Lavender's blue, dilly dilly, lavender's green,
When I am king, dilly, dilly, you shall be queen.
Who told you so, dilly, dilly, who told you so?
'Twas my own heart, dilly, dilly, that told me so.
Call up your men, dilly, dilly, set them to work
Some to the plow, dilly, dilly, some to the fork,
Some to make hay, dilly, dilly, some to cut corn,
While you and I, dilly, dilly, keep ourselves warm.
Lavender's green, dilly, dilly, Lavender's blue,
If you love me, dilly, dilly, I will love you.
Let the birds sing, dilly, dilly, And the lambs play;
We shall be safe, dilly, dilly, out of harm's way.
I love to dance, dilly, dilly, I love to sing;
When I am queen, dilly, dilly, You'll be my king.
Who told me so, dilly, dilly, Who told me so?
I told myself, dilly, dilly, I told me so.

This wool yarn from my stash, with its purple (and pink) hues, is also evocative
of springtime.  

These lyrics make me think of warm weather and springtime, so maybe the color of these mitts may serve this same purpose for their wearer in the heart of winter, although they would be an odd wardrobe choice for May—at least here in North Carolina.  I do know, however, that I often start thinking about winter knitting in the summer, and that season is almost here.  For me, school ends on May 24, and I am looking forward to having some time to work on some projects I’ve started that are suitable for cold weather.  

I couldn't find any lavender to photograph in the country yesterday but
did see some wonderfully deep, rich iris blossoms.  

With winter in mind, I've also been participating in a knitalong, where I'm making a Shetland Triangle Shawl.    Check out Girls in Sheep’s Clothing to see how the other participants are getting along with their projects.  

Friday, May 3, 2013

Free Knitting Pattern: Thistle Fingerless Mitts

Here is the promised link to the fingerless mitts I designed in relation to last week's Scottish Knitting and Crochet Blog week.  The mitts pictured here are short--designed to stop just before the knuckles, but the pattern includes instructions for lengthening them if the knitter so desires.  

My knitting pattern is perhaps a bit wordy for a design that is relatively simple.  I spelled out detailed instructions for each row, making the pattern a bit long, but doing so helped me keep track of things and will probably aid the novice knitter.  Click here for the PDF.  

I've started working on a design for a variation of the Thistle Mitts--shown below.  I'll post the pattern soon.  Fingerless gloves knit up so quickly, I think I'll make a bunch for next Christmas--but first I have to complete some works in progress and also get started on a Knitalong (KAL), for which I'll be making a great Shetland Triangle shawl.  Information on the KAL can be found at Girls in Sheep's Clothing.  I ordered the yarn today and will post soon.