Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Boreal, a success


Boreal! You evocative, lovely thing. This pattern is so gorgeous. I have visions of snow-covered pine boughs, something out of Narnia. I can't believe it worked, and right out of the gate, too, with no do-overs or unraveling required. I never should have doubted. As you know, I really didn't know how this would go, and that's because the pattern calls for aran weight yarn, at a gauge of either 4 stitches/inch or 4.5 stitches/inch, and I wanted to use worsted weight yarn, at a gauge of 5 stitches/inch, and there really wasn't a size option to accommodate that. So there's math to be done right there, and it was all further complicated by the fact that every time I measured my progress, I was getting anywhere from 4.5 to 5.5 stitches/inch. Also, other knitters have reported that their sleeves were too narrow, and my sleeves were just right, so did that mean my yoke was going to be gigantic? I wasn't even close on row gauge, and I knew it. Then there's the fact that prior to blocking, stranded colorwork always looks like a crumpled-up newspaper left out in the rain and then stepped on. You just have to cross your fingers and keep going. So I did.


It is really just about exactly perfect. Well, gauge. Here's the thing--as with my last Kate sweater, I went in knowing I was not getting anything near the recommended gauge, but I could still use the gauge information given to get a good-fitting garment. I knew the distance around myself, I knew how many stitches I was getting per inch (well, I almost knew that--it kept drifting around, as I said) and doing a little math told me I should make the largest size. Even that, though, was going to potentially be a little too small for me, and there wasn't any wiggle room, because the large motifs in the colorwork design meant I couldn't just add or subtract a few stitches here and there to make any size adjustments. I thought it might maybe work, but really, I didn't know, and I just had to dive in and trust.

I dove. I wrung my hands. I knit like the wind, trying to outrun any misgivings. I measured a lot, and was both reassured and convinced of imminent disaster.

Despite all my whining and worrying, I have to admit that I have learned a few things about knitting over the years, which has led me through this gauge-related minefield, and which helped me get a great outcome. This sweater fits me because I measured, measured, and measured again, and used the data to tell me how to proceed. I'm still learning to trust what I know, but people? This is how to get stuff to fit you. Swatch, measure honestly, and do the simple multiplication.


The long floats at the back are a mess. I don't even want to show you. I'm not showing you. Just imagine a twisted nest of yarn that looks like your hair looks after you ride around in a convertible for awhile. Having to tack down the strand not in use across the large areas of color every six/seven/eight stitches across the back made me run the risk that the contrast color will peek through, especially where there is negative ease (i.e. the sleeves), and it does peek through a little. I have decided not to let it bug me.


Success! This feels like money in the bank. There's no way to wear this double-thick, snuggly pullover and not be cozy, cozy, cozy. And now, it is going to be 85 degrees for the next week. Of course. In two months, Boreal will be in heavy wardrobe rotation as winter begins to bear down on us, but at this moment, it is hot. You can probably hear me sweating. I'm taking it off now, and going to the beach.

Monday, August 31, 2015

This week: a drive-by

Utility crafts continue. I washed the Wyeth Window curtains and they fell to pieces, so it was time to sew a new one, in brown gingham this time. It looks very cottage, which pleases me. That filtered light is so delicious. I have made a million curtains. Let these last awhile, hey?

Lampshade, v. 2.0. I changed my mind about the contrast piping on this lampshade--having used the spray adhesive on the first version let me just peel off the old piping for an easy re-do. This time I used Mod Podge, so it won't be going anywhere. That tiny brown floral looks so good with the granny blanket. Now that there are no children in residence, I can do whatever I want and this room changes all the time.

Someone thinks this is her room now...
There has been much knitting. Last weekend, Boreal looked like this:

I worked like a dog--well, not this dog...in a race against my rising qualms about row gauge, up the yoke and to the finish. I kept measuring and doubting and measuring again. The long floats at the back are a hot mess. I wet-blocked it and went to bed hoping for the best.

It wasn't drying fast enough indoors, so I impatiently gave it an hour on the lawn.

Here's a sneak peek:

More later. Whew!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Boreal, the beginning

Gauge, you fickle mistress. This is the beginnings of Boreal by the always-inspiring Kate Davies, which I am knitting in a hell-for-leather attempt to anticipate colder weather with joy in my heart. It may or may not be working--there is, as yet, no way at all to know whether this pullover is going to be huge, tiny, well-fitted but too long/short, puckery, otherwise dodgy, or perfect in every way. This isn't my first rodeo, but every time I measure some part of what I've knit so far, it tells me something contrary to what it told me before. It looks like the only thing to do is to continue thrashing my way through the charts, trusting in the genius of Kate and in the almighty power of blocking. Fingers crossed.

I am reminded of the (true!) story my dad loved to tell about the night his two cop friends let the blind man down the street drive the police car. You want to hear this story! Okay: down the block from my childhood home lived a blind man named Butch. He was known to all as a sort of savant--you could rattle a handful of change and he could give a pretty good guess, and he seemed to recognize people before they spoke to him. He was so good at that one that if he'd had any irises, I might've suspected he could see a little, but his eyes were completely white. So Butch is walking home in the dark late one night, tapping his cane along the sidewalk, his face tilted toward the sky, as always, and possibly whistling to himself, when the local constabulary, a kindly pair of old-fashioned town cops, come upon him. They look out for him, though he seems hardly to need it. One leans out the police car window.

"Hey Butch, you okay?" they ask him.

"Oh, yeah, just heading home," says Butch, tapping along.

"Want a ride?" they say. It's a small town, and they are not busy.

"Yeah, sure," he says. A few beats go by. "Hey, slow night tonight?" He knows it is, he can hear all the nothing out there in the country.

"Yep. Roads are pretty empty."

Butch seizes the opportunity. "Say. Can I drive?"

"Are you crazy?"

"You just said there's nobody on the road. Come on, I always wanted to drive a car. I won't hit anything."

They probably thought about it for a second. Looked at each other. I won't tell if you won't. "Okay." He gets in the front seat, they teach him about the pedals. A few hair-raising blocks later, punctuated by terrified laughter, they arrive at his door. He thanks them, gets out, taps up the front steps. A lifelong dream, fulfilled.

That's a little how knitting this sweater feels.


Friday, August 21, 2015

Wrist Warmers and the County Fair

Falling for Fall, Thing the First: wrist warmers. In my neighborhood here in the North, there is no need for these things past, say, mid-October, because temperatures will plummet and fingertips must be covered, but until then, they make me really happy. Picture me snuggled up in a long woolly scarf, maybe also with a cute denim jacket and tall boots, rosy-cheeked and red-nosed, sitting on a log next to a bonfire and wearing these, hands wrapped around a big mug of hot cider. There's singing, and spooky stories. Guitars and sparklers. Yes, I see it! Autumn, you are not horrible! I don't have a denim jacket, must go thrifting...
These are pretty easy to make, just start knitting a mitten but quit before it's done. Embroider a big yarny flower on it, with a clump of french knots in the center. Use fall colors. Nice.

My girl came home for a visit, and we went to the County Fair, which might have been Thing the Second if the weather hadn't been very hot and not at all Fall-like. How is the Fair where you live? Our Fair is a very rural affair, mostly animals, which all give you a suspicious side-eye as you approach, and the cows are all aimed business-end out, so I feel an extra need for vigilance in the beef and dairy barn. They are all raised by wholesome-looking teenagers who listen to country music and do crossword puzzles or sleep in the hay in the next stall while their animals are on exhibit. Outside are fried pickles and Oreos, NASCAR trading card booths, 4-H macaroni projects. Bucket-sized cups of fresh lemonade. We got all rhapsodic over the vegetable exhibits; the idea of someone curating their six most perfect cherry tomatoes, carefully delivering them to the Fairgrounds on exhibition day, hoping for a blue ribbon and the accompanying cash prize of 75 cents, it just seems so beautiful. Imagine the farmer's wife in her calico apron, picking that one most exemplary leaf of kale, maybe wrapping it in a damp paper towel and holding it on her lap in the truck until it could be laid carefully on a paper plate for judging. She is famous for her kale. She wins every year. Nobody can touch her for kale perfection. My friend Al bought most of a cake for eight dollars--one piece was missing, the piece tasted by the Home Arts judges. Can you imagine a better cake than one bought at the County Fair; a perfect, buttery, careful cake, someone's very best effort, missing one telltale piece?


Thursday, August 13, 2015

A plan for Autumn, and a love letter from Catdog

This week. Well, the car is fixed (the doctor and the boy did it! My heroes!) and the bobbin winder on my beautiful vintage Singer Slant-o-Matic (I really love how that sounds) is up next. Maybe then I can finish the quilt(s) and also either make a bunch of school clothes (ridiculous; I don't go to school) or at least stop thinking about it anyway. It was 60 degrees F this morning, which just makes me want to put on tights and a corduroy skirt and read Nancy Drew mysteries while I wait for the bus. Maybe jump rope or something. Autumn is coming. I am making a plan this year to learn to love autumn, the way I did when I was little and it meant school and new clothes and seeing all my friends every day again, and I can't remember what all else, but I know it was good. I don't know when I started dreading it, and really it's only because it means summer (sob!) is over and winter is coming. And I know you know this, but winter is hard. The dread just builds in my heart, the minute the air changes, and it has. There's a change sometime in early August every year, the same change that makes me start knitting utilitarian cardigans, and I cry inside, but I think I can work on this. I don't have any illusions that I can learn to love winter, but autumn is on the table. The doctor, who knows me better than I know myself, said stuff like "Fall has so much color--get out your watercolors again. Photograph the light." He said, "Fall is when your handknits can really shine. In winter, you're wearing ten layers and a coat like a sleeping bag over it all, but in fall, your beautiful handknits are on display." I got teary-eyed at that. He's so good, and he's right. That's what I'm gonna do. Autumn, I'm coming for you. We're going to fall in love.

Influenced, as always, by the lovely Alicia, I made some macrame hemp necklaces and if I had more beads, I'd keep going. Bracelets next, I think. This kind of thing is so beautifully seventies. I hear Seals and Crofts songs in my head as I work. They're a little itchy next to my neck, but maybe they soften with wear--I can't remember.

Catdog wants you all to know how much she loves you right back. She got all serious for a minute, and very sincere. She is very earnest, like she's saying, "I'm not even kidding. I really, really LOVE you. I would not joke about this." The eyebrows crinkle a little bit as she raises them, making sure I can see her sincerity. I do, I see it. She is a little curled up ball of gentle and wiggly, wagging happiness, at least until the doctor puts on his favorite song and then she just goes electric, dancing and leaping, twirling around. She is a big fan of 70's guitar anthems. I mean, what is not to love about any of this??? Wait until she hears Frampton. There is so much great music out there for her to discover. I love you all, too, for loving her. This beautiful little dog, this sweet girl is a friend to everyone she meets.

I tell her she's a good girl, and her tail is a wagging blur.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Cut it out

Ugh, machinery. I am so over it. The machine winder is only working sporadically, and right now not at all, argh, and all I can think about is all the stuff I want to sew. I remember now why I found this so rewarding.

All cut out and nowhere to go. The doctor will have a look at it one of these days. Right now, he is shoulder-deep in the guts of the car, which, while hurtling along at 65 mph last week suddenly issued forth a hideous crunching sound from inside its belly followed by some sputtering, followed by its engine ceasing to be an engine anymore. At the wheel, the boy had a hair-raising quarter mile of coasting off the highway, down the exit ramp, and into a parking lot. It's such a sinking feeling, isn't it, to see your car on the flatbed of a tow truck? And now its innards are strewn all over the garage and fingers are crossed. Hey, let's knit!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Cables and Marshmallows and Dogs

Mornings have turned a little chilly, which means work on my annual gray cabled cardigan has begun. I don't know when I got to be so predictable, but August and September is gray or brown cardigan season in my workshop. I have also learned that I get much better results when I make up the pattern myself as I go along than if I follow a published pattern, so that's what I'm doing. There are so many great designs out there, but the finished product just won't fit me as well as it will if I do it my own way. Thus the brown cardigan I worked on earlier in the summer and the pink striped pullover I set aside a few weeks ago in frustration will probably both be unraveled, because life is short and yarn is too pretty to be caught up in a halfway-wearable garment that will probably just live out its days on the shelf in the back of my closet.

I spent some time in the kitchen, too, making marshmallows from scratch, which is time-consuming but not that hard. If you don't mind having a cloud of powdered sugar settling over every surface in your kitchen, you should try it. From-scratch marshmallows go in these sticky and delectable peanut butter marshmallow bars (recipe from this book, similar to this) and I guess you can use marshmallows from a bag, but for this project, a gift for some of my favorite people, that's not how I roll. Soft, fluffy marshmallows covered with peanutbutterscotch? Yes, please. I gave most of these away, but this recipe hasn't seen the last of me.

I try really hard not to annoy you with a trillion very-similar photos of the sleeping catdog, but dang. I just find her so irresistibly cute. She was the superstar of her manners training class, which finished last week and I miss it already. Training with this catdog has been the most fun thing I've done this summer. She focuses on me like a laser beam, does everything I ask for; sit, down, stay, wait, touch. She will not be distracted, and she works like she's doing a degree in Manners at Yale. We take her to the park, and she sniffs around in the wildflowers--milkweed, goldenrod, Queen Anne's Lace--and we amble along, walk ahead, ten, twenty, thirty yards, turn and stop. She stops sniffing, lifts her head, notices that we have gone on without her. I signal her to come back, and she tears toward my open arms, lips and ears flapping, zero to sixty in about 0.25 seconds, and skids to a cartoon stop right next to my leg. Plops into a perfect sit. Grins like a sap. Friends, there aren't enough dog biscuits in all the world for me to give this little girl. She fills my life with fun.

Later at home, this what she does. She curls up like a kitty and tucks her tail and feet up underneath her chin and goes inert. She has a very deep and rich inner life, I think. She composes poetry in her dreams.