Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Green Days

A news anchor announced this morning that this summer the Charlotte area has seen 71 days with temperatures in excess of 90 degrees.  A steamy, muggy span with afternoons when thunderstorms erupted, making a trip to my backyard after such a downpour feel like a visit to an Indian sweat lodge for a steam bath, minus any residual health benefits.  While I’d been aware of the heat, I was shocked to hear that the blistering days had lasted for such a long period.  Time has alluded me recently, perhaps because I spent so much of it indoors, taking real estate post-licensing courses, visiting with my mother in her home in Arizona, and engaging in home-repair projects that had been ignored during the last couple of years, when my family faced some challenges that derailed us a bit.  Of course, during these dog days, I also spent some significant indoor time knitting.  

As I surveyed several recently finished objects, I noticed that these items had something in common—their green color.  I wonder if on some subconscious level I hadn’t chosen to work in this verdant hue because it is is such a cool, organic color, one which is easy on the eyes and which transmits a sense of much-needed peace and tranquility.   Or maybe I chose green because it represents renewal and change, appropriate at a time when I have transitioned to a new career and there have been alterations in my family’s living situation, as my nineteen-year-old son recently moved out to his own apartment.    

The Flip Top mittens pattern is available from free from Lion Brand Yarns.  The colorway of this Malabrigo Yarn
128 Fresco Y Seco. 

As I examined my green projects and mused about color symbolism, the poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight came to mind.  It is a work which I typically taught toward the beginning of the semester, after starting off with Beowulf.  This medieval romance allowed me to escape the cinder block confines of my classroom to sojourn, along with a scant number of equally romantic students, to the age of chivalry with its heroes and high ideals. The story also provides opportunities for explaining allusions and symbolism.  The Green Knight himself is reminiscent of the Green Man, an ancient fertility symbol, and the holly bob the knight carries into the hall of Camelot on Christmas Eve is an evergreen, symbolic of life to come after the darkness of winter.  Even the Green Knight himself represents rebirth, as he virtually comes back to life as Gawain chops the behemoth’s head off with the knight’s giant green axe:  

On strong legs and roughly reached through thrashing
Feet, [Gawain] claimed his lovely head,
And carrying it to his horse caught the bridle,
Stepped in the stirrups and mounted, holding
His head by its long green hair,  Sitting
High and steady in the saddle, as though 
Nothing had happened.  
(Burton Raffel translation)

I used one skein of Cascade Heritage Sock in Moss and this multi-colored Skacel Zauberball to make Stephen West's Chadwick shawl.  This ball does have a variety of colors, but the dominant color in the project is green.  I have half of this ball leftover and used an entire skein of the moss.  

As I try to shed off my teacher skin, I cannot approach the fall without thinking of Gawain, Beowulf, the Wife of Bath, and a host of other literary characters, along with some equally idiosyncratic and larger-than-life teenagers, who frequented my universe for the past 24 years.   I also can’t help but look back at how a series of sometimes traumatic events surrounded my life change.   However, I recently began reading a book, which offered some reassuring insight about the chaotic nature of change.  I am not normally a person who reads self-help books, but a woman in one of my real-estate post-licensing classes told me that at one time she had regretfully left a new career in real estate to return to the retail industry because of the frightening nature of real-estate sales, with its commission-based earnings.  We talked for a few minutes about fear, and then she pulled a book with a bright yellow cover out of her tote bag, a volume entitled, You Are a Badass.  She said, “You need this book.”  

Even though I typically avoid self-help literature, I placed an order on Amazon and have read several chapters so far.  The author, Jen Sincero, states that when a person makes a radical change, he or she is “virtually murdering The Big Snooze.  And she is going to come at you, rolling pin raised over her head, to beat you back into your old life.”  In other words, everything around us might fall apart for a while.  We get hit by a bus or the new business we opened burns to the ground.  Limiting false beliefs and fears basically constitute “The Big Snooze,” and getting rid of these things isn’t easy.  So this reinvention thing might be a slow and sometimes painful process. A believer in a higher power, Sincero also emphasizes that the whole journey is much easier with “faith being greater than your fear.”

This is the Quadro Shrug by Laura Nelkin from Knockout Knits.  The circular construction was challenging but kept my interest.  The yarn is Cascade Yarns Venezia Sport in the Deep Sea colorway.  

Funny, though, a week or so ago, I cast on a sweater using Malabrigo Rios, a garment with a yoke striped with vibrant Ravelry Red.  And another project I have on the needles, the Uncia hap, uses Fiberspates Vivacious yarns in the Crocus colorway.  I’m seeing a trend here, as I have a bag full of bright red worsted in a silk-merino blend that I plan to cast on next, to make a sweater for a Christmas gift.  As we head into fall, perhaps the time for my seeking the cool comfort and escape of green is over, and with cooler temperatures not far away, my knitting in scarlet and purple tones will reflect an energetic and passionate moving forward, armed with faith, leaving fear behind.  

This is the yoke of Sprinkle by Juju Vail from Loop's 10.   

This is the start of Lucy Hague's Uncia, from Kate Davies' The Book of Haps.  

I dragged out this rust-and-scarlet fiber from my hall closet.  With fall coming, it seems like it's time to spin again.  My wheel has lain idle for many months.

Here are some photos from a trip last weekend to the Charlotte Regional Farmer's Market, where brightly colored vegetables announced that fall is just around the corner.

I'd never seen purple sweet potatoes before.  I bought a couple but haven't used them yet.  

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Hot Time for Cool-Weather Knitting

It’s steamy here in the Carolinas.  Last Friday night, I returned from Arizona, where the weather wasn't any better. Monsoon season has taken hold, so heavy rain and sky-scraper-high streaks of lighting (particularly impressive when viewed with the jagged Santa Rita mountain range as a backdrop), filled the skies, when the sun wasn't searing the landscape.  But I spent most of my time there indoors with my mother, who doesn't care to venture too far from home, especially when temperatures are over 100 degrees.  I found lots of time for knitting.  It seems strange that I have been busy working on all sorts of warm-weather projects, when my thoughts should be turning to beaches and swimming pools, not cozy cowls and shawls.

This Day of the Dead fellow is keeping cool in a shop in Tubac, Arizona, a nearby town my mother and I visited when we braved the elements.   

But the last few months have been unusual anyway.  In mid-June, after a spring spent teaching high school English during the day and taking real estate pre-licensing classes at night, I took and passed my real estate exam.  So now I am in a holding pattern, eager to get started with a new career, but just emerging from months spent living at a frenetic pace.  So maybe it’s good I have had some relatively idle time away and that the weather is hot, it’s a slow holiday week, and I have time to knit and rest.  

The pattern for my Biltmore Gardens cowl may be purchased on Ravelry or at your local yarn shop.  

Since my last post I have worked on several cowls.  Two of them are my own designs.  I have published the pattern for my Biltmore Gardens cowl on Ravelry, but I need to find a test-knitter for my King Street cowl (or knit another cowl using this pattern myself) to make certain that the math is correct.  With months of calculating square footage, net operating income, changes in profit and equity, etc., I can, however, say with certainty that my math skills have been honed a bit with practice, so if I choose to be my own test knitter, I think I can check my calculations with accuracy.  I also have three new inexpensive calculators to assist me!  (Didn’t want to be unprepared during my licensing exam!) 
The yarn used for my King Street cowl is hand-dyed by Debbie Davis, a local shop-owner.  The yarn
is "Fifty Shades of Gradient" in the Desert Sunset colorway.  This picture was taken a few weeks ago,
before the hot weather set in.  

I also completed the Delilah cowl designed by Louisa Harding, using her Noema yarn. I’ve made two sweaters with this yarn, so I had enough leftover in my stash to make the small two-skein version.  I began this project on my flight to Tucson and sewed in the ends a few days after I’d arrived.  I really shouldn’t have cast on anything new in June, as the works in progress situation at my house has reached a bit of a crisis point—in terms of space these items occupy and their ability to pull my already multi-tasked-to-the-max brain in different directions, but I couldn’t bring myself to haul my bigger unfinished items on the plane.  A worsted-weight merino sweater or oversized Shetland shawl requiring 18 skeins of different-colored yarn just seemed too hot and bulky to take with me to the desert.  So I left them home and once I’d finished the Delilah cowl, I cast on a shawl from Kate Davies’ new The Book of Haps, an accessory which only requires two modest, carry-on friendly balls of Fiberspates Vivacious yarn.  Davies’ book comes with a code for a digital download, so I could view the pattern on my iPad and didn’t have to lug the volume with me.  The beginning of the book with its historical information about haps and the role of the knitting industry in Shetland made for interesting reading while I was in the air en route home.  The historical photos, as well as the engaging images of haps designed by a variety of individuals, included in the book also provided an appealing distraction from dwelling on the monsoon-induced turbulence. 

The Delilah Cowl by Louisa Harding is perfect to wear in springtime, but the weather in North Carolina is to hot for wearing it in the summer.  

I particularly found the author’s discussion of the term hap informative.  I first heard the word last spring, in the context of a conversation about a trip to the Shetland Islands I am planning for next summer.  A well-traveled woman, who is part of our Shetland group, mentioned Gudrun Johnson’s design for a “hap shawl.”  Ironically, providing ample proof for the Baeder-Meinhof Phenomenon, since I’ve first heard the term hap that day, it now seems to be turning up everywhere, most notably in Davies' recently published book, which provides an explanation of the etymology and meaning of the word.  The author notes how hap is often used to describe a fairly humble and serviceable garment, while shawl is reserved for lighter, lacier, more formal items—think wedding shawl or Christening wrap.  Hap, too, has its origin in a verb meaning “to enfold, to cover, to wrap,” so it’s appropriate that the word is used to refer to a practical garment, not merely a decorative one (Davies 7). 

Hap or shawl, I have two on my needles.  The Renaissance Crescent using 18 different colors of Jamieson’s and Smith’s Shetland Yarn which waited patiently at home for me to return from the Southwest and the Uncia hap, cast-on while I was away.  Once I finish the final sleeve of a sweater, I’ll get back to these. As I sit in the air conditioning, looking out the window at my fading flowers and patchy brown grass, I envision winter days wrapped in the warmth of these creations.  
This is the start of the Uncia Hap, an asymmetrical accessory.  

This is a detail from the Renaissance Crescent shawl.  
The pattern for this shawl instructs the knitter to knit back and forth in rows, but I am working in the round and
using a steek.  "Sticky" Shetland yarn is perfect for steeking, and I don't enjoy purling while doing colorwork.

I finished this project in June and had to share.  This is the Fala sweater made using Berroco Indigo
yarn made from recycled fiber.

This is one more project I completed in June, the felted Scholar's Cap, something Thomas Cromwell might have worn.  I made this for good friend Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse.  Check out her gorgeous and inspiring blog HERE.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Common Threads


                A SERGEANT AT THE LAW who paid his calls,
                                   Wary and wise, for clients at St. Paul’s
                                   There also was, of noted excellence.
                                   Discreet he was, a man to reverence,
                                   Or so he seemed, his sayings were so wise.
                                   He often had been Justice of Assize
                                   By letter patent, and in full commission.
                                   His fame and learning and his high position
                                   Had won him many a robe and many a fee.
                                   There was no such conveyance as he;
                                   All was fee-simple to his strong digestion,
                                   Not one conveyance could be called in question.

                                                     -Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales

Fee simple absolute.  Fee simple defeasible.  Fee simple determinable.  Fee simple defeasible subsequent to a condition subsequent.  For the last couple of months, my brain has been swimming with such terms, as I prepare to take the North Carolina Pre-licensing Real Estate Exam. As I juggle attending real estate classes at night with teaching high school English during the day, I sometimes stumble on connections between my English curriculum and the knowledge I’ve attained in my real estate studies.  Chaucer’s description of the Sergeant at Law, with a reference to “fee simple” and “conveyance,” makes more sense to me now that I am versed in many property ownership terms that have their roots in English common law. 

I also allowed my real estate studies to enhance my classroom instruction when my students were reading Macbeth. In Act I, the king awards the valiant soldier Macbeth with the title of Thane of Cawdor.  I explained how the term "title" in current legal parlance means the rights or evidence of ownership in real estate, but in Macbeth's day it denoted not only a fancy form of address (one that was often inherited) but often also the holding of an estate.  (Note the word “estate,” a term with a lofty heritage that—coupled with the word “real”—denotes  land and anything attached to it.) 

            As one can see, it can be difficult to compartmentalize knowledge.  And managing a hectic schedule while attempting to cook occasional meals, keep the house halfway habitable, and get some knitting in has been problematic.  But I was recently able to complete one project—the Marianne cardigan from Jane Austen Knits Fall 2015. 

In Austen’s novel Sense and Sensibility, Marianne Dashwood is forced to leave Norland Park, the family estate, to take up residence in a humble cottage, a dwelling offered to Marianne’s recently-widowed mother and her children by kindly relatives.  The rules of the time that dictate that the estate go to the male heir—Marianne’s half-brother—precipitate this relocation, one which translates into a move down the social ladder for Marianne and her sisters, a decline which has implications for the sisters’ chances of securing advantageous marriages.   

This photo was taken by Debbie Lee at Cottage Yarn, the wonderful, well-stocked local yarn shop that supplies most of my stash and the place where I spend a great deal of my time.  


Marianne’s character has always had a place in my affections, as her romantic sensibilities, manifested in her open unbridled affection for her first love interest, Willoughby, mirror my own life-long difficulties with sometimes letting my passions and emotions get the better of me.  I can empathize with Marianne when she nearly wastes away, lovesick from Willoughby’s rejection, as I can recall a time in my early twenties when, suffering from a broken heart, for months on end I indulged in near-daily bouts of tears and lived on popcorn and grilled cheese sandwiches, not really having an appetite or an appreciation for much else. 

Of course, sad times do pass, especially in Austen’s novels, and Marianne eventually finds love built on a more solid foundation with Colonel Brandon.  She even becomes mistress of a fine estate, with the right of quiet enjoyment (one of the “bundle of legal rights” in real estate lingo), although actual ownership most likely would have been denied to her during that time period. 

The sweater I knit bearing Marianne’s name is a project that I thoroughly enjoyed.  The Fiberspates Vivacious yarn creates beautiful stitch definition, and its tonal effects are subtle enough to not detract from the complex lace pattern around the bottom of the garment.  I am sure Marianne herself would be pleased with this romantic, lacy cardigan.  This item of “personal property” (a term for movable possessions, also known as chattels or personalty) is sure to become a wardrobe staple I will wear over and over again.  Now on to studying and working on some other knitting projects.  About a month to go until my final exam. . . . 

Over spring break, my husband and I made a day trip to Southern Pines, NC, a town with a long history as a center for equestrian activities and golfing.  It also has a yarn shop, where I used a gift certificate I'd received at Christmas to purchase enough Ella Rae worsted to make the Siline Cardigan from Loop's tenth anniversary book, Loop 10.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Cleaning Up and Casting Off

This is my special yarn stash, kept in a plastic box under my bed.  
          A couple of years ago, I received a message from a stranger on Ravelry, a woman who informed me that she would be happy to send my high school Fiber Arts Club some knitting needles she no longer used.  I was moved by this woman’s generosity—even more so when I received a box filled with more than 20 pairs of quality stainless steel circular needles.   The fact that someone could part with such treasures awed me as, at that time, I viewed my personal knitting supplies and library as sacred items I would hold onto for a lifetime.  A few months ago, though, with the help of a friend and the advice from a handy little book by cleaning consultant Marie Kondo entitled The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:  The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, I have altered this attitude, not only towards my knitting supplies, but also towards other personal possessions.  I also experienced an epiphany which has, as the title of the book asserts, been life-altering.

     It all started before Christmas, at the beginning of my two-week break from school, when I met two friends and former co-workers for lunch.  I approached this get-together with a bit of a heavy heart.  Like most people employed in education, at the end of the semester, I was exhausted.  I had gained roughly 20-25 pounds during the previous year-and-a-half I'd been working at my new job, due to stress eating.  Every week for months, I’d made a resolution to eat better, but each evening would return home from work and binge on carbohydrates.  All-in-all, on top of two months of nearly constant rainfall, that day I was in pretty grim holiday spirits. 

     After complaining and catching up, I asked one of my friends (and knitting buddy), Tonya, however, if her teenaged son, who owns a pickup truck, would be interested in helping me clean out my garage during my time off from school.  She contacted him and we made a plan for the Monday morning following Christmas.  Tonya, who is an energetic chemistry teacher with a flair for home d├ęcor and craft projects, showed up on that misty dark day, too.  Revealing my horrendous garage to this individual—one whose inviting home epitomizes order—was an experience akin to divulging a shameful and freakish habit on the TV show My Strange Addiction (although I suppose having a hoarder’s garage isn’t quite as unsavory as enjoying drinking human blood or eating cat hair).  Of course, my visitors were probably uncomfortable, too—in the manner of Pip in Great Expectations when he first lays eyes on Mrs. Haversham’s wedding feast.

    With my prompting, my fifteen-year-old son joined our garage group.  Over four hours later—after much laughter and gracious cajoling from my friend in the form of “Are you going to use this?” (as she held up items such as a hand-me-down Tupperware pitcher from the 1960s) or “What is this?” (as she raised up a cast-iron 19th century shoe last), lines delivered in her charming southern accent, with inflections and drawn-out vowels that seemed to add to the humorous irony of these inquiries.   Seeing my treasures through her eyes convinced me that I needed to make a change, so after four truckloads of detritus (including an inflatable boat, an old car stereo, and attachments for a prehistoric two-ton carpet shampooer) were deposited at The Salvation Army and after we’d created a mountain of trash in the yard—miracle of miracles, I was able to drive my car into the garage!  I felt light, as if the proverbial albatross  had been removed from my neck, and this sense of liberation translated itself into days of revived energy, which manifested itself in my tackling the inside the house to purge it of a great deal of clutter.

          Taking a break from many trips to The Salvation Army, a few days later, I headed to Barnes and Noble, where my eyes lighted on Kondo’s book.  I am not one for self-help books and am typically a bit embarrassed to stand in the book store perusing them, but, Kondo’s work is more of an instruction manual and, after reading a few pages, I was intrigued.  I’d heard that organizing one’s home can reverberate and impact other areas of one’s life, and Kondo’s anecdotal evidence supported this notion.

         My experience supports her assertion, too.  I now have a kitchen where I can actually see the food in my pantry and am not bombarded with an avalanche of foodstuffs and housewares when I try to extract a sleeve of crackers from a container or remove a box of pasta from a shelf.  Inspired, I also revamped my eating habits and replaced holiday snacking sessions (including three days spent single-handedly devouring an entire enormous dulche de leche cake from Costco) with eating sensible meals and snacks of fruit or nuts. 

          When it comes to clearing clutter, Kondo’s mantra to discard objects that do not “spark joy” prompts the most acquisitive and retentive hoarder to let go.  And her organizing tips are so practical but simple, I feel a bit foolish for not thinking of them myself.  After wrestling with crammed and messy sock draws for over four decades, I now have a drawer where every sock is tidy, visible, not uncomfortably stretched (Kondo attributes human emotions to objects) with room to spare for new acquisitions.

         Kondo also notes that often when people make radical changes in purging their home environments, other changes in their lives follow.  My recent experiences seem to confirm her assertions.  I have lost weight and can fit back into skirts I bought last year to wear to my new job.  I have also submitted retirement papers to my place of employment, signed up to take a real estate pre-licensing class, and am prepared to move forward.  I am also eager keep clearing my house and purging my yarn stash.  Kondo doesn’t have any specific tips for organizing yarn per say, but she has motivated me hold each skein in my hand and weigh its capacity to elicit joy.  I want to let go of guilt about not using certain skeins and to surround myself with pleasurable textures and colors that beckon me to use them.
This yarn is a treasured new edition to my stash.  Check out the Renaissance Crescent pattern.  I plan to use this yarn to make that gorgeous shawl.  

                   In the coming months, as I transition to a much less structured life, one lived outside the bounds of bell schedules and semesters, I hope to continue to work to let go of negative behaviors and material objects I’ve held onto for far too long.  A few days ago, I purchased Kondo’s second book, Spark Joy:  The Illustrated Guide to The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.  If the results of reading Kondo’s first book are any indication, reading this little volume with its illustrated instructions on specific tidying tasks, (such as how to fold underwear) will be sure to prompt more life-changing experiences, maybe even some of those involving knitting and yarn!    

I need to go through these odd balls I yarn I have stashed in an old trunk that's been in my family for a century or so.  

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Marching Forth

                                                         Work without Hope

                                  All Nature seems at work. Slugs leave their lair–
                                  The bees are stirring–birds are on the wing–
                                  And WINTER slumbering in the open air,
                                  Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
                                  And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,
                                  Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.
                                  Yet well I ken the banks where Amaranths blow,

                                  Have traced the fount whence streams of nectar flow.
                                  Bloom, O ye Amaranths! bloom for whom ye may,
                                  For me ye bloom not! Glide, rich streams, away!
                                  With lips unbrightened, wreathless brow, I stroll:
                                  And would you learn the spells that drowse my soul?
                                  WORK WITHOUT HOPE draws nectar in a sieve,
                                  And HOPE without an object cannot live.

                                       By: Samuel Taylor Coleridge
                                       Lines Composed 21st February 1825

In typical North Carolina fashion, traffic-paralyzing ice storms, tree-toppling gales, and sunny daffodils have all paid calls here within a month’s time.  In the last week, green shoots have reared their heads, bringing life to my backyard, a grim space with its shriveled stalks still clinging to their footholds in last year’s pots, windswept bits of debris, patchy grass, and gigantic eyesore—an overturned Leyland Cypress tree (a twenty-foot-high victim of a recent storm).   With the impending turn of this season, I find myself at an impasse, a point of no return, so, like the vegetation in my yard, I can only do one thing—seek the light, throw off the somber coat of winter, and change with the season. 

I am probably being too metaphorical here.  This is a knitting blog, after all.  And much of knitting is about literal precision.  It is also, however, a knitting blog written by an English teacher of many years, one, who, after a series of disturbing personal and professional setbacks, has found herself ready to cast off from the safe, albeit often stormy, harbor of a secure routine and paycheck, one who has lost hope in her current professional situation, but, thankfully, has not lost hope entirely about future endeavors. 

This Into the Woods cowl was a February project.  

At fifty-two, I made the decision this month to leave teaching to pursue a new career, one that I hope may carry me through the next decade.  This profession offers a bit of autonomy and flexibility (words I’ve never heard in conjunction with a conversation about teaching in the state-funded and managed public high schools of my state).  While what shape my future schedule will take is a mystery, in future, I do hope to still be able to squeeze in some time for knitting each day, and for blogging occasionally, too. 

During the past few months of sleepless nights spent wrestling with the decision-making demon, knitting has offered solace and meditative moments, times free from perseverating about my future.  Tuesday night sessions with the “Therapy Group” at Cottage Yarn have also carried me through this rather dark time.  This group of women—who have maintained their sense of humor, joie de vivre, and creativity while navigating some of life’s deepest troubles—have not only offered me a diversion from my preoccupation with personal problems, but have also boosted my self-esteem at a time when I need it most.  Whether complimenting my finished objects or showing that they have faith in my abilities by asking me to oversee the logistics of planning an international trip for the group (details to follow in a later post), they have made these past few months if not joyous, at least bearable.  A dear friend in England, who reassured me that sometimes an individual needs to engage in “recalibrating” and that “banging our heads on brick walls” isn’t something that God wants us do and others who have sent me texts with affirming messages, met me for crisis coffee sessions, or spent hours listening to me work through sadness and anger have both inspired and supported me. 

While this future move requires taking a leap of faith, I am so thankful for the loving friends who hold my hand while I make this jump.  (Details about future career to follow.)

I finished this Multi-Directional Cardigan in February, too.

I used Liberty Wool Light to make this Endless Rose Cowl, which I blocked yesterday.