Sunday, October 19, 2014

October quilt



The doctor is trying really hard to keep me busy, probably so I won’t sit around and mope too much about how I don’t have to get up at six in the morning anymore to pack lunches, or spend three evenings a week sitting in a school auditorium somewhere, or stand in the rain watching one kid or the other run around in circles or march down the street carrying a trombone--how I actually do miss those things, though, oh my goodness, I can’t even describe it.  So in order to keep me from bringing home a puppy or something, he makes plans.  We went out for coffee twice yesterday.  We went to Bed Bath and Beyond.  We went to the post office, also twice.  Between trips to the hardware store, I managed to finish this quilt, and right before it started to pour with gusty rain, I hung it up outside to admire it.




I machine-pieced the top a long time ago, got around to basting the layers after awhile, folded it up and left it to sit there for a month, then finally hand quilted it in one long day while listening to thirteen Zilch podcast episodes in a row.  I discovered recently that the real name for my huge, hurried quilt stitches is “utility quilting” which seems right.  There’s nothing fancy about them at all, but they look fine to me, and they get the job done.  The finished dimensions of this quilt are 72” x 81”.  


After our extremely busy day of leafing through magazines and buying squirrel deterrent, we put on our clean shirts and went into the city to see this, and I laughed so hard I couldn’t see straight, which was the best medicine ever, though I warn you it is not for the faint of heart nor the easily offended.  Back in our quiet midnight kitchen, we shared the last of an apple pie, still laughing.  It was a really good day.  I don’t know how he’s going to keep up this pace, but I’m looking forward to it. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Cowl Bag Pillow


Amidst all the knitting going on around here, I just felt like crocheting something, so the other day I made this cowl (pattern recipe by the always-inspiring Vanessa) while the doctor and I binge-watched the last season of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix.  (No spoilers, ya’ll.) This is all scraps and leftovers—the bright yellow is a remnant of my turmeric hand-dyeing adventure—and I worked it on a US G hook.  This is the perfect fall palette for me right now:  gray and beige and teal and turquoise; butternut, bittersweet, and pumpkin.  Olive.  Warm and soft, but with a little pizzazz, thanks to the turmeric. 

I don’t know what it is about these column-shaped cowl things and my neck, but though I find them nearly irresistible, I always discover in the end that I can’t really wear them.  Everybody else looks so chic (Vanessa looks like Duchess Kate) but I look like I’m wearing one of those cones that keeps a dog from biting his stitches.  I might need to wait for my hair to get a little longer, because right now it just looks like a big pompom on top of a birthday party hat.  (By the way, thanks so much for all the hairdo love.  You guys are so nice.  If you’ve ever tried to grow out a pixie, you know my pain.  Today, somebody said to me, “You’ve changed your hair.  Huh.  It’s…different…”  What, nothing about the black rayon bathrobe I was trying to pass off as a long jacket?  The tiny, mummified frog taxidermy I was wearing around my neck?  [It is October, after all.  I never said I was normal.]  The unpredictable curly-ness of my hair is a little maddening, and I feel like I could so easily win a Bilbo Baggins lookalike contest, but I am trying to tough it out.)  Anyway.  I digress!  The cowl! 

I love this cowl, but I might not wear it.  In fact, it looks tantalizingly like most of a satchel (add a strap, a lining, a vintage button at the top), or perhaps a pillow cover (what could be easier?  It’s the texture that’s missing from my couch!)


See?  Lovely, either way. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

The Cure for Melancholia


These are the autumn days that remind me of years ago--my own childhood of knee socks and mom-made dresses and brown soft-soled shoes, my green plaid blanket coat with the big pockets full of rocks and buckeyes and interesting bottle caps, my school bag banging against my leg on the way home from the bus stop.  Nancy Drew mysteries.  Metal roller skates.  Whispering at night through the big gap in the paneled wall between my brother’s room and mine, his warm, little kid breath on my face.  We were so close then, almost best friends.  When I couldn’t sleep at night, I tapped on the wall.  “Hey.”  A shuffle, as he woke up.  “Hi.  Whaddaya want to talk about?


These blue sky, mercurial days of changing purple clouds and yellow leaves remind me, too, of more recent autumns when the doctor (back then just an engineer) and I loaded our kids and our dog into our VW camper and spent long weekends hiking and canoeing and climbing mountains together.  As we climbed, the children sang songs only they knew, and filled their pockets with rocks, too.  Sometimes, we let them range far ahead of us on the trail, so they could feel that sense of being free in the wild woods, their bobbing orange bandannas just visible in the distance. 


I am tempted to get melancholy, not just with the changing of one lovely season into the next, but with my echoing, empty nest grown huge around me.  My beautiful daughter, the one with the mermaid hair, has left home and gone off to make her own life in Philadelphia, and she has taken her big orange tomcat with her, and the space she and her brother--her own childhood best friend--who fledged the nest six weeks ago, have left behind is gaping and strange.  I am tempted to lie on my back listening to sad Nat King Cole songs and letting the tears drip into my ears, but instead, I am knitting. 


I finally finished this scarf, and it is a thing of gossamer beauty, just as I hoped.  It took at least as long as a blanket would take, and was a lot less interesting to work on, but the end result, as I knew it would be, is completely worth all the endless hours of ennui. 


It is nothing more than a massive stockinette rectangle using about 1000 yards of laceweight yarn, worked on US 3 straight needles.  I know.  I love this kind of boredom, and if you do too, I can recommend a project like this wholeheartedly for when you just need the sheer solace of plain work.  It doesn’t get any more mindless than this, and I totally loved/hated making it.  It was impossible to make visible progress on it—hours of knitting resulted in the remaining yarn ball getting no smaller, so not only does a thing like this soothe the nerves but it also defies science!  Magic! 

I know you want to know what yarn I used, but I’m ashamed to say I still can’t seem to keep track of a ball band, no matter how hard I try, so I don’t know.  It is very fine laceweight, and there were 1000 yards of it (which I used all up) and I would describe the color as some kind of light grayish-periwinkle.  If that helps at all.  Really, if you want to make one of these, just pick out any fine laceweight yarn in a color you love, take up your US size 3 needles and cast on 100 stitches.  Then just work in stockinette stitch until the yarn runs out, block the finished piece using blocking wires or string, and that’s it, you have a beautiful wrap that looks like it was made by woodland fairies out of spider gossamer.  Presto.  My wrap blocked out to 14” x 96”. 


What else is life but joy mixed with tears, peace interrupted by chaos, summer followed by fall? 

Friday, October 3, 2014

On the road


I went on a trip with my mama and my beautiful daughter, to a stunning city a long way away, across the ocean.  I had never been that far from home.


We ate bitterballen, and cheeses made by hand, in cafes beside the canals.  We drank Grolsch, Amstel, and Heineken.  And, once, oude jenever, which is really just fire water, and which made my mama say, “my esophagus is hot!”


We explored every little alley we could find.  I helped three guys hoist a bed up to their fourth floor window using a rope and pulley.  I learned to use the tram.  I saw a hundred famous paintings up close, and felt starstruck in the moment, standing face to face with Vincent—his self-painted eyes are so desperate. 


I met a guy who uses this windmill to make peanut oil.  With ropes, the wind, and his hands.  A curly-haired kid wearing trendy glasses used two huge machines to make a wooden shoe in about three minutes.  Beautiful people were everywhere.


I want to move there immediately, to fill a room in the attic of a Golden Age house with books and art, and then sit in the window writing poetry every day until the bells of the Westerkerk tell me its time for bed.  I want to paint things now, and ride my bicycle, and get some of those fantastic round tortoiseshell eyeglasses I saw everywhere.  I will even eat herring.  There are no lovelier, kinder, more pleasant people in all the world.  Amsterdam, I love you so.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Super Secret Agent Vest


Oh, hello there.  You’ve caught me in a rare, relaxed moment.  As a matter of fact, just a few minutes ago, I was dangling by a high-tension wire into a bank vault protected by an incredibly complex maze made of laser beams.  But I do have a little time to talk. 


Don’t be fooled by the frizzy gray hair and double chin.  I am undercover, actually.  Super-secret covert activities.  Top-level classified stuff.   Hang on, I just spotted an enemy operative, over behind the hydrangeas…


Oops, false alarm.  Turns out it was a squirrel!  Well, you can’t be too careful.  Always on my guard, that’s how it is in this business. 

Do you like my vest?


This is the magically-named “Long Vest” designed by John Brinegar, from the (oh no, it doesn’t say) well, some back issue of Vogue Knitting from anytime starting now and reaching back to approximately 2004.  I tore out the pages with the pattern and recycled the rest of the magazine.  Oh wait, here it is.  I changed all the edging from seed stitch to garter stitch, because seed stitch is just tedious and I couldn’t face it.  I used something like ten balls of KnitPicks Wool of the Andes in “Coal” and a US 7 needle, and it took proportionally forever to knit this, because the hem is a mysterious shape and I found it hard to wrap my little head around it.  Also, the collar is luxuriously large, which means that also took a hundred years.  It is long, long, long (I see now why the experts at Vogue gave it that name) and it covers the derriere, so I will be wearing it a lot. 



Wearing it, I feel like I have auditioned for, but not gotten, a part in The Matrix. 


Nobody ever laughs when Neo does this. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

In the mood


A gray day today, getting blustery and damp, and dark.  I have lit the fire.  I want to bake cookies and make soup.  Even though I’ve been grown up a long time, and now my children are grown up too, a day like this makes me feel like sewing some school clothes.  An orange corduroy jacket, lined with polka dots, and with wooden toggle buttons, and deep pockets for collecting things.  A gray flannel dress with tiny flowers and a white peter pan collar.  A big red patchwork satchel with a buckle, for carrying my books.  I always find this season a little bittersweet, and more so as I get older.  We went for a slow walk yesterday, along a country road, with our old dog sniffing and ambling beside us.  The fields are like paintings now, full of wild aster and goldenrod.  The air is spiced with apples.  As we rounded the bend, a hawk swooped up out of a tree, gave two flaps of his big wings and was gone, and a long, white feather dropped away from him, and drifted down.  It took a long time to reach the ground. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014



My girl said, “Now, remember; when you have a new hammer, everything looks like a nail.”





Michelle came over with a 5-gallon bucket and an indigo dye kit, and we spent a whole day dunking and shibori-ing everything we could think of.  Every single thing in my house that was some shade related to white or off-white seemed like fair game.  I considered doing the slipcover on the sofa, but I didn’t think it would fit in the dye bucket.  She brought a whole mess of stuff too, and it all went in the pot, and not one thing didn’t turn out gorgeous. 



I lost count of it all.  We dipped tablecloths and napkins and shirts and scarves and big lengths of linen fabric and still the bucket was full of dye, and I confess I haven’t dumped it out yet, because I keep imagining I’ll think of something else that would look better blue. 

Her glove leaked in the first five minutes, which made us shriek, then laugh, then giggle every two seconds all day, every time either of us noticed it again.   The freaky blue fingernails were the best part.  She thought about doing the other hand too, just to make them even, but then she chickened out. 




It all looks so much like a coastal summer; like sunlight reflecting on the lake, or ripples in a swimming pool.  It makes me think of steamed lobster and beach glass and an ice cold Corona with a wedge of lime stuck in the neck.  Don’t all those beautiful blues make you just want to put together a picnic basket of potato salad and salami and a big hunk of sourdough and a bottle of chilled prosecco?   I just love all the varying, surprising ways the different fabrics absorbed the dye.  



Every time either of us pulled something new out of the bucket, or took off the resists to see what the design looked like, we went “Oooooh, that’s great!” and “Awwwww, I LOVE that!”  and then we kept being amazed, again, as things oxidized from greenish to whatever of the various shades of indigo they eventually became.  It was endlessly interesting.  It was tie-dye for grownups.  I dyed some yarn, and it is exactly the color of the sky.  When you have a big pot of blue dye, everything starts to look like it should be blue.


I want to say, too:  thank you all so much for your kind words and thoughts about Grandma.  She would have been thrilled to pieces.  She was a whiz with a sewing needle, a paintbrush, a garden trowel.  She made beautiful things, every day she could do it.  She was one of us.