Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Birch Bark

We're having slow days here.  If the sun shines, I run to the window and turn my face towards it, my eyelids glowing and orange from the inside.  I wait for the snowplow to thunder by.  I read and knit and read and knit.  There are three sweaters in progress, and all three of them are at the same point--endless, soothing miles of round and round knitting as I work my way down the body to the hem, the book propped up in front of me.  I get so much done that way, honestly.  Sweaters knit themselves when the book is good.  This kind of project is also perfect for a string of evenings staring at the Netflix box--this is my latest binge, oh my goodness.  Doc and I both think we are so funny now.  We keep working on new bits, cracking each other up, slapping the table.  He had one at breakfast this morning about Alternative Sanitation.  We worked up a whole hilarious idea about a coffee shop that only had decaf, called "Sleepy's", and we were breathless with laughing.  Every single thing seems funny right now.  

[edited:  I had a question about how the reading + knitting thing works--basically, I sit at the kitchen table (we have comfy chairs there) with the book propped in one of these, and blaze along on the long stockinette parts of socks or sweaters, which I can do without looking at it.  I learned to knit without looking when I got tired of having to decide between reading and knitting, just by practicing until I felt confident. It's one of the most useful tricks I've ever learned!]

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


Here is Arboreal, all blocked and dry and ready to be my armor against any upcoming blizzards.  You guys, I am so pleased with this one.  I washed it and spread it out to dry before lunch yesterday, and by dinnertime, it was ready to wear.  Look at that smooth, well-fitting yoke!  No billowing at all.   Jackpot!  And this ultra-fluffy, wafty, wooly and sheepy Plotulopi has completely stolen my heart.  Like the Lettlopi, it is a little rough on bare skin, but that doesn't really bother me very much, and an insulating underlayer is always part of my winter gear anyway.  Didn't my lovely mama choose the perfect colors, too?  Her own tastes run to the beautiful jewel tones that look so good with her snowy white hair and rosy cheeks, so buying wool for me in Gray and More Gray probably stuck in her craw a little, but she did it.  Thank you, Mom!  In order to get the fit and silhouette I prefer, I made the yoke in Small, the body in Medium, and the sleeves in XS.  So, a little easy math, no big deal.  I also, as usual, made the sleeves and body longer than the pattern suggests.  And I am thrilled with this result.   Ever since I cracked the code on how yokes work, and then the penny dropped about my own shallow yoke depth, garments with round yoke construction--and there are SO many good ones--are all back on the table for me.  

Monday, January 8, 2018

New Year

Sigh, it's January.  I do not love January, and I'm glad to get it out of the way right at the beginning; to have all of April and June and August and October still to look forward to.  January is deeply dark and miserably awful.  I have some feelings about this.  At the moment, the death grip of arctic cold that's been ravaging pretty much our entire continent is loosening temporarily and I'm feeling slightly joyful about that.  Maybe I will be able to get the back door open!  I guess it is all relative, then, because if 33 degrees F starts to seem like a relief, then I really can get used to anything.  This post-holiday lull is when I am at my most gloomy, so I try to combat that by cleaning and tidying and generally getting the house--where I am sometimes trapped for days--back into shipshape.  Thus, we took the whole house apart last week, and threw plastic over all the furniture and piled all the books and paintings and pillows and chair cushions in the corner in preparation for painting.  I washed all the walls and we spackled over my forty-jillion nail holes and took off the outlet covers.  Chaos, buckets, caulk, disorder, screws loose and scattering...and then the sky opened up and dumped a million tons of snow on our heads and everything was closed, and we were becalmed.  We couldn't get any paint.  We couldn't even get to the mailbox.  And then the polar cold turned the road into a sheet of ice.  And then the wind drifted a million more tons of snow into the driveway, and we had to alternate endlessly shoveling with just sitting bleakly in the middle of all the plastic while the catdog, who does not enjoy change, paced nervously, wondering where all the recognizable features of her life had gone, and (despite her very cute wardrobe of sweaters and boots) refused to go outdoors.  I drank all the coffee in the house, switched to wine, and heartily sympathized.  I didn't want to go out there, either.  I knit monogamously (whoo, that's rare) on that sweater up there, "Arboreal" by Jennifer Steingass, and finished it this morning.  It's sprawled in front of a fan right now, trying to dry, and I'll show it later, in action.  I used the most interesting stuff:    
This is Plotulopi, an unspun yarn (is it yarn?  Unspun fiber?) that my mama brought for me from her recent trip to Iceland.  (You can get it in the US here).  It comes in "plates" and it just looks like very thin pencil roving.  I had never worked with anything like this before, and it was so fascinating.  The wool of the Icelandic sheep is pretty unique, and the staple length of the fiber seems to be quite long, so while Plotulopi has a reputation for being fragile, I only broke it twice, when I sat on it accidentally, and otherwise was plenty sturdy enough.  You'd never be able to sew a seam with it, though, hence the Icelanders have the good sense to use it for their famous lopapeysur--patterned yoke sweaters, knit without seams, and that's what I used it for, too.  The structure of it, this unspun stuff (and this is also true of the other lopi yarns--"lopi", or "lopa", by the way, is Icelandic for "wool"-- which are spun, but loosely) traps a lot of air, so fabric knit with it is very fluffy and apparently will also be very hard-wearing.  If you are thirsting for more knowledge about Icelandic wool, you can read more from the true experts right here.) In my own limited experience, Plotulopi is without a doubt the hairiest thing I have ever knit with--it shed like a Labrador--but the garment it made might also be the warmest garment in all the world.  The heat of it on my lap as I worked on it was pretty unbelievable.  It felt like it was plugged in.  The extreme fluffy hairiness of the Plotulopi does somewhat obscure the leafy patterning of the Arboreal yoke, but I have decided to look at that as a design feature.  This thing will be perfect when winter comes roaring back with a vengeance next week.  
Catdog is hoping things will calm down around here.  Her very rigorous napping schedule is all in disarray.  And now that I have finished another sweater, it's time to pick out something else to make.  (Didn't I just say that last week?  Uh oh, too much knitting?)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Deep Freeze

Greetings from the frozen north!  Deep winter is upon us here in my neighborhood.  The yard creaks with cold.  Catdog loves the snow, for about three minutes.  She chases a snowball, running practically sideways with her skinny little legs all a blur, and leaping through the drifts like a bunny, her ears pricked up and pink, and then, before I'm even tired of the game, she's at the door wanting to go back inside.  The lure of the fuzzy fireplace rug just calls to her.  It calls to me, too.  We spend a lot of time curled up there together, soaking up the warmth.  
This kind of weather calls for a serious sweater.  I have a new lopapeysa!  Guys, Icelandic wool...I can't even.  Where have I been?  
It's so hairy that I sort of feel like a catdog myself, but whoo.  So warm.  It's a little rough on the bare skin, but I don't really mind that.  The pattern is Moon Pulls, by Dianna Walla, in Lettlopi "Ash Heather" and "Golden Heather."  The cream is a skein of Andy's Merino from the stash that I decided to use when I realized that the second lopi contrast color I'd chosen wouldn't work.  (Value/contrast.  This is the hardest lesson there is for me.)  The collar and cuffs are lined with the oh-my-goodness-so-soft Woolfolk Sno.  I may live in this until March.  I want all the lopapeysas now.  
There's really been quite a lot of knitting going on around here, actually.  These tucked-in days when the sky outside is raging are so good for lots of cozy needlecrafting.  This is my newly-finished Shadow by Olga Buraya-Kefelian, in West Yorkshire Spinners Fleece, the very excitingly named "Brown" colorway.  This yarn is dense and soft, and sort of cushy.  It makes the cables jump right out of the fabric.  
I started "Shadow" back in September, made the whole front, and then got sidetracked by a lot of other things.  When I decided I really wanted it so I could, duh, wear it, I got it back out and focused on it for awhile, and one night, in the (constant) blue glow of the Netflix box, it got done.  It has 3/4 length sleeves, which would have been fine a month ago.  Well, this is what wristwarmers must be for, right?   I think I'll wear this one a lot, too, if I can pry myself out of my lopapeysa.  
Also, I finally managed to produce this.  It is Ravello, by Isabell Kraemer, in Holst Supersoft "Bleached White", "Verbena", and "Heath".  I have knit and then unraveled two other Ravellos, and I almost had to do the same to this one when I ran out of white three inches from the end of the second sleeve, but my favorite LYS came to the rescue.  We drove to them in a snowstorm, and it was wound and ready for me when we got there.  Yarn Culture.  They are awesome.  This garment is so light and wooly and weightless--I think it would fit in my purse.
I know, that's a lot of finished sweaters, all at once, isn't it?  I'm often asked how I manage to get so much knitting done, and I'm curious about that, too, so I've thought about it a lot, and the answer is really mostly that I spend a LOT of time knitting.  I just knit a lot.  If I'm not doing something else, I'm knitting.  It might come in small increments of a few minutes here and there, but it adds up.  Another big contributor to production speed is that my style preference is for garments that are mostly unadorned, so I don't often choose patterns that have a lot of lace, or complicated stitch patterning, or quirky shaping or construction.  That means there are usually long stretches of stockinette stitch, usually knit in the round, and that is ground that I can cover very quickly.  Another thing that helps me is that I have had nearly forty years of experience with knitting, and with garment knitting in particular.  I know what I want, and I make those things.  I decided early on that I wanted to make socks and sweaters, so I abandoned all the half-finished garter stitch scarves I had started and grown sick of, and started making socks and sweaters.  The early ones were pretty awful, but of course I wore them and was very pleased at the time.  So by now, I know how those things go together.  I don't have to spend a lot of extra time deciphering instructions because I've been around the block a few times already, and if I find I'm doing a lot of peering at a pattern and struggling to understand something, it's a pretty good indication that I'm not going to enjoy the process of knitting that thing, nor will it be anything I will want to wear.  I appreciate brioche stitch and all that, and I can admire a design where you cast on at the left shoulder and build out from there in a diamond pattern, or whatever, but it isn't my style.  So that's just experience talking to me, and saving me time.   Years of experience also means that I am pretty deft and fast (I'm a thrower, English-style) and that helps projects build quickly, too.  That's just muscle memory.  And really, I just love to knit, and it has loved me back.  So that's three finished sweaters since the last time we saw each other.  Which means, of course that it's time to start something new!  Isn't that just the BEST?  

Friday, December 15, 2017

Family Hats

We celebrated the holiday early this year.  [Still shopping?  Wrapping?  Baking?  Enjoy!  I'll be over here eating Triscuits from the box and finishing off the last of the wrinkled clementines!] All four of my ducklings came home, but because they're all grownups now and have Lives, they could only make all their visits overlap by twelve short hours, so there's been a lot of relaxing and lazy baking show binge-watching with a few of the ducklings at a time, and we had tater tots for dinner and took turns cuddling with the catdog, and then yesterday everyone was here and there was one golden, joyous day of chaos and mayhem. So we stayed up late last night, laughing and hugging and gifting and drinking a little gin, and then we had to get up before dawn to deliver a couple of them to the airport.  I'm so tired my eyeballs feel like raisins, but it was so worth it.  I feel so lucky that they all want to be here with us, to be all together.  They don't come from the ends of the earth, but there are planes and rental cars and pet sitters, and there's work schedule juggling and there's Finals Week and it is a lot, and I am so glad and so happy.  I love the wonderful things they give each other, and the comfortable way they are together, and the funny cards and inside jokes.  What a lucky mama I truly am.  
In a successful effort to keep a lid on my own overwhelming need to cover them all in handknits, I only made hats this year.  Everyone got a hat, all knit by me from my stash and scraps, using the hat pattern that comes with Strange Brew from Tin Can Knits.  I used a different palette and a different colorwork pattern for each, but I tried to keep them all kind of relative to each other--these are our Family Hats!  It was a little bit tough to stop at six.  Choosing all the colors and stitch patterns and then drawing charts and then being able to finish one of these in a day or two made for a pretty satisfying project.  These rode around in my project bag for quite awhile.  There is definitely a Strange Brew sweater in my future.  
We unwrapped them all on the count of three, and the payoff for me was huge; everybody made such happy, appreciative noises when they saw them, and immediately put them on, exclaiming over the colors and saying all the nice things.  The time overlap was so short this year that we didn't have any daylight hours with everyone in the house together, so we improvised a group photo.  We set the timer on somebody's phone and took a group selfie in the dark, in front of the tree.   Totally knitworthy, every single one of these gorgeous people.  
I wish you all the merriest and most joyful of holidays.  As always, thank you all so much for being here with me.  It really means more than I can say.  Xoxoxo  With Love--Kristen, Doc, Marissa, Katie, Shirleejae, Adam, and Catdog.  

Monday, December 4, 2017

Moving in the right direction

Sometimes it takes me awhile to get up the guts to pull the plug on a project, but I will eventually get them.  I just counted back, and I'm pretty sure I've unraveled four almost-finished sweaters this year.  That's a lot of wasted knitting time, isn't it?  These were all things I cast on in haste, either by being desperate to try a new yarn, or being persuaded by an expiring discount code, or being too lazy to wind something and just using what was handy [if you can believe it, that is something I actually do] or suffering from FOMO, or boredom, or yarnlove blindness, or whatever.  I'd been working on a Granito in Holst Supersoft since last summer, and from the very beginning, I sort of knew that Supersoft was the wrong choice.  It was gray and in the stash at the exact moment I was ready to cast on for the project, and I got gauge.  So, go for launch!  Don't think about it or anything!  On the plus side, Supersoft comes already wound and ready to go, but straight out of the cake, Supersoft is not supersoft.  Supersoft has a hand only a mother could love, and it requires a leap of faith, and you have to keep on leaping for the duration of the project.  Actually, I have to carry that unrelated purple swatch along with any Supersoft project, and I need to keep it right in front of me the whole time I'm knitting with Supersoft, and I have to keep cuddling it now and then to remind myself what that yarn really is inside, because otherwise, I will completely forget about how it transforms with washing and becomes a nice fabric and I will hate my knitting.   Witness.  Supersoft before a bath:
String-like and rough.  A bit like what your grandad uses to tie up the tomato plants.  On the recommended US 4, the fabric is mesh, and pretty unappealing.  It can be dispiriting.  However.  Supersoft after a bath:
Lo, it is good!  Fluffy and plumped, and comparatively soft.  It's never going to be merino, but not everything has to be that soft.  This is a rustic, wooly wool, and light as a feather.   So, even though I had a pretty strong feeling this wasn't the yarn I wanted for my Granito, I kept thinking about its potential for dramatic transformation and that made me keep going.  Then, last week, when I realized I hadn't put even one stitch on that project since August, I knew it was time to let it go and I unraveled the whole thing, which always hurts a little, but which is, in the end, a move in the right direction.  This time, it also left me with two holes in my life, because I still desperately want a Granito, and I have some Supersoft now, which wants to be a sweater.  Obviously, faced with a situation like that, even though I already have what Ethel refers to as my Yarn Museum, I betook myself to the LYS to find a remedy, and came home with a bunch more Supersoft.  Sigh.  It comes in so many colors!  I can't resist it!  I have quite a stash of it now, but never exactly what I'm looking for, which is how stashes grow.  [Could I do one of these in time for Rhinebeck 2018?] That up there, the cream-and-olive striped thing?  That's neither the sweater I unraveled, nor the yarn I unraveled from it, nor a new Granito.  That is Yet Another Sweater, on my needles.  I am running out of size fours.  Ravello, by Isabell Kraemer.  In Supersoft.    

Monday, November 27, 2017

All day, every day

Friends, I apologize for gushing.  This sweater is just...squeal!  Ahhhh!  This sweater!  I am just so in love with it.  I have hardly taken it off since it dried from blocking.  
There isn't any pattern because I had some gorgeous yarn and an idea, so I just went ahead and did it.  This happened the way it usually does, whenever I start with the yarn; using my Fashionary Panels (indispensable, honestly) I drew a silhouette, and then measured my back neck and raglan lengths, and knit that.  I tried to write this one down, but somewhere around the armpits I forgot to keep taking notes, and then it was mostly too late.  Starting with the yarn.  This is just occurring to me right now; if I have a yarn I want to use, I almost always just make up something to fit me.  Somehow it works better for me that way, and I am more likely to get what I want.  Trying to find a pattern to match what I've got in my hand is hard for me.  If there's a pattern I want to make, finding a yarn to match it is easier.  Why would this even be true?  I don't know, but it seems to be true for me.  Maybe having the yarn in my hand starts up the creative process?  Certainly the way a yarn feels matters a lot to what kind of thing should be made from it.  Right, the yarn!  This is the (deep, contented sigh) very luxurious "Tynd" by Woolfolk, in colors 18 (a warm, pinkish gray) and 19 (a raw umberish/chocolately brown).  This is not a commercial for Woolfolk, but let me just tell you the truth here:  this yarn is the very softest yarn in the world.  I do not exaggerate.  It is softer than cashmere.  It feels like a kitten.  Working on this sweater was like cuddling a warm, sleepy kitten.  I could hardly knit this sweater slowly enough, because it (is all stockinette) was a tremendous pleasure to have on the needles, but I also could hardly wait to finish it so I could put it on.  And now that I have it on, I will wear it all day, every day.  If you see me anywhere, ever, this is what I'll be wearing.  I must tell you, it has already become pretty fuzzy, and there is the expected amount of pilling in the high friction areas--this is soft yarn (did I mention it was soft?  SO SOFT!) and soft yarn will pill.  I'm not worried about it.