Sunday, November 24, 2013

South End Mittens

I prefer winter and fall, when you feel the bone structure of the landscape. Something waits beneath it; the whole story doesn't show.
Andrew Wyeth

          As winter approaches, my thoughts invariably turn to working up cozy accessories for gift giving.  This year, I also decided to try my hand at designing a pair of mittens with a simple lace motif.  I do realize, of course, that the world probably does not need another pattern for a pair of knitted mittens.  There are thousands of designs out there for every weight of yarn and in every style:  Fair Isle, lace, felted, garter stitch, etc.  But taking the time to work out a “from scratch” mitten pattern was an excellent learning exercise for me, as well as a way to justify purchasing a pretty skein of Madeline Tosh hand-dyed merino yarn.  And I did end up with a pretty pair of mittens purposely done in a longer length to give them a comfy look and feel.  I'd intended to give them as a gift, but ended up wearing them out to dinner last night.  I'll have to cast on another pair today!  I have some great Rowan Tweed in a warm red that should be perfect for Christmas wear.  

I named the mittens for a quirky neighborhood in Charlotte, North Carolina.  South End has an artsy vibe—it’s a place that boasts an eclectic collection of quaint shops, restaurants, re-purposed industrial mill buildings, as well as a working antique trolley. These mittens are perfect attire for a taking part in a wintertime South End gallery crawl or for keeping warm at the trolley stop. 

          This mitten pattern is, in fact, the reason for my absence from my blog this last couple of weeks.  I’d set a goal for myself—to execute a pattern from start to finish, knit it up, and post my results.  Now that these tasks are done, I really have to get to work on sewing a costume I am making for a co-worker.  He’s a social studies teacher who plans to assume the persona of abolitionist John Brown and perform a monologue for his students, and I’ve been busy making a shirt and a vest for him to wear in this role.  I purchased the patterns for the historical garments from Past Patterns and was a bit overwhelmed when I opened the plastic zipped bag that each came in and found myself with an awfully large amount of pattern pieces, as well as detailed instructions that called for a great deal of hand sewing.  I omitted some of the handwork, as a costume for a teacher to use in a high school performance won’t come under the kind of exacting scrutiny it would if I’d made it for an historical reenactor.  (These folks are known for being sticklers for historical accuracy.)  Of course, in addition to making buttonholes, sewing together the vest front to the canvas insides to the lining and then attaching the padded inside panel, I’ll still be knitting in the evenings.  November is drawing to a close and before long the Christmas holidays will be here, and I really have to finish up some presents. 

After my mitten" photo shoot," my husband and I stopped for lunch
 at the Big Ben British Pub in South End yesterday.  


Friday, November 8, 2013

Pre-Season Speed Knitting

On October 6 I cast on a sweater as part of 30-Day knit-a-long.  On November 4, I cast off, sewed on buttons, then removed the buttons (which I thought overpowered the pretty cabled bands of the sweater), and washed and blocked the garment.  This experience was surprisingly not overly taxing. Worsted-weight yarn knits up pretty quickly, and there was quite a bit of suited-for-simultaneous-TV-watching stockinette stitch employed in this design.  The main problem with my participating in this KAL was its timing.  I finished the sweater on November 4.  That fact means that I now have less than two months to knit Christmas presents!  And due to some indulgence in travel and yarn shops this past year, I intend to use my stash to make presents for practically everyone on my gift-giving list, save my two teenaged sons (who, at their ages, don't see any value in handmade items).

On top of holiday knitting, there is also the whirl of my holiday social obligations:  the annual faculty White Elephant potluck luncheon and gift exchange and a few small lunch or dinner get-togethers with a a friend or two. Perhaps I should be thankful that there aren't a slew of  glittering holiday parties booked on my calendar, as I might actually have time to finish some holiday knitting in time for Christmas.  

This past weekend, I did have some social activity on my calendar, though, as I'd invited an old friend (and former co-worker) I hadn't seen since last spring over for coffee.  After a visit, we attended a small Scandinavian festival held near my home.  I have some Scandinavian heritage, as my great-grandmother emigrated from Sweden to the United States when she was thirteen-years-old. She traveled on the ship to Ellis Island by herself, carrying a small copper coffee pot and a basket of eggs; the coffee pot traveled well and is still in my possession, but the eggs went bad on the journey and had to be discarded.  I never knew her, but her joie de vivre and strong passions make up family stories. Apparently, she used to faint at will after Sunday lunch at my grandmother and grandfather's house, so that she could avoid helping with the dishes.  I'm not sure if she was a knitter or not, but maybe, in addition to my red hair and Sarah Bernhardt tendencies, remnants of her Swedish genes have given me some skill with knitting needles, as knitting talent seems ubiquitous in Scandinavian cultures.  

Here Elfrida is dressed up for a Japanese
tea ceremony.  She was six-feet tall--I definitely
did not inherit the height gene from her.  
Even the small Scandinavian festival I attended provided a fix for my fiber addiction. Knitwear in various forms--from Christmas Santa dolls with knitted caps to Fair Isle stockings were at nearly every booth, even though this event was not fiber- or yarn-themed. 

I loved these socks for sale at the festival, but the old, "I-can-make-these-
myself" thoughts took over my mind, preventing me from making a purchase.  

Taking a class in Fair Isle knitting is on my to-do list.  

Mr. and Mrs. Claus sport knitted garb.  

Happy Hills Alpaca Farm had a booth at the Scandinavian festival.  

I ate a bit at the festival, but behaved myself as far as knitting-related purchases.  Even though we'd indulged in some homemade scones slathered with apple butter with our coffee at my house, when we were out, my friend and I shared some smoked salmon with dill on rye and a few Norwegian meatballs. I'm not sure why there weren't Swedish?  Since overeating and the holidays go hand in hand, this day was a fitting prelude to the season.  

I added dried cranberries to my scones and served them with apple butter and
 pear jam.  I found the recipe here.  

I came home from the festival with a few cookies for my sons and inspiration to get started on holiday knitting.