Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Work in Progress: Marian Part I

As I discussed in my previous post, I have a son who is an Irish dancer.  Last year, during a growth spurt and while training with extra long hours for the World Championship competition, he developed pain in his legs.  The pain grew progressively worse the more he practiced, and eventually he required evaluation by a physician.  He, like so many rapidly-growing young dancers, had developed a very serious stress fracture... and despite casting, physical therapy, and even acupuncture (notwithstanding my skepticism, I was willing to try anything by that point), he was unable to dance by the time the Worlds competition came around.

     By the time we knew there was no hope of him competing, it was mere days before our scheduled trip to Scotland where the competition was to be held.  I had lacked the foresight to imagine such misfortune, and so I had not purchased trip insurance.  Thus, though my son was not planning to dance, we embarked on our trip anyhow.  Seriously... there is not enough yarn to knit away the frustration, the disappointment and sadness, and powerlessness I felt... as a mother, AND on my son's behalf.  I packed two major projects (including the long Mardi Gras Cycling Hose and a slouch), which I promptly completed, and so one day into the competition week, I found myself hitting the streets of Glasgow in search of a yarn shop.  I was stress-knitting.... nolens volens.

    Luckily, I discovered that my tiny hotel was located just a short walk from a quaint and conveniently located Glaswegian shop called, "the Queen of Purls."  Run by a fiber artist, Zoe Armstrong, the shop caters to people seeking natural fibers, hand-dyed yarns, and rare and native-breed sheep.  I knew I needed a pattern in which I could immerse myself... one which would both take longer to complete than the socks AND not require much yarn (given limited suitcase space).  I settled on a pattern I found in the shop called the Marian Tunic -a perfect fit for my needs -  a lace tunic which was sufficiently complicated lace to occupy my mind, and openwork so as to use fine-gauge yarn and not much of it. 

Leto is in green.  

     The yarn I selected is one of the shop's hand-dyed yarns... created by the shop owner herself. 
Leto is a 100% North Ronaldsay heavy Lace weight. [Leto pictured in green.  I used the  natural Ardalanish for my Isle of Mull Slouch].  North Ronaldsay sheep are from Orkney where they graze on a diet of primarily seaweed.   This yarn has a very rustic, rugged quality - qualities which give it a rough feel which reflects the harsh conditions in which the sheep live.
North Ronaldsay Sheep by Liz Burke

     During and since the trip, I managed to nearly complete the tunic with the yarn I purchased... but for the edging of ONE SLEEVE!  What started out as a panacea for my son's frustrating situation morphed ironically into a source of frustration all its own.   Thankfully, technology is such that finding Zoe online and obtaining one more skein of this rare sheep in her custom dyed colorways is no longer an impossible task. Should YOU wish to purchase some of her unique Scottish yarns, you may do so on her website HERE.  Stay tuned for the completion of this WIP.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Amigurami Irish Dance Doll: Jigs, Slip Jigs, and Slip Stitches

Crochet is not my first language.  Nevertheless, needing an outlet for some excess time and creative energy sent me reaching for my hook.  One of my sons is a Irish Dancer.  For years I drove him to lessons, to feises (competitions), and more recently even on international trips for bigger challenges at major competitions.  This past summer, adolescence, an enormous growth spurt, and repetitive stress-related injury combined in a perfect storm of misfortune, resulting in my son electing to stop dancing.  At the time he stopped, it was unclear whether he would quit forever, or take a break.  What WAS clear was that we both suddenly found ourselves with an immense amount of newly discovered time on our hands.  Afternoons, nights, and weekends which had previously been booked solid with dance commitments were now wide swaths of emptiness and stress about the future.

Not unlike 2009, when I found myself knitting an oversized ear because I was trying to pass time whilst my eldest son was undergoing surgery on that important sense organ (you can read all about it HERE)... I once again found my myself perseverating on dance... and a resultant dance-related project on which I could focus... occupying my hands and and stilling my mind.

This doll was the happy result of that uncertain period in our recent history.  I elected to make a female dancer because the costumes are more distinctive than the boys'... and I was intrigued by the prospect of making the characteristic oversized curly wigs worn by female Irish Dancers.  I began with the yarnpaint's wonderful Jane Austen Inspired Regency Doll pattern (available on Ravelry HERE).  I altered the pattern considerably... shortening the dress length (making the sides longer than the mid front/back so as to create the flat appearance of Irish Dance costumes), adding long sleeves, a cape, and ghillies.  The hair was great fun.  I used metal chopsticks as my form and (as per instructions) wrapped yard-long lengths of acrylic yarn tightly around them, wetted them with water, and then dried them in the oven for an hour at 200 degrees.

The end result of my labor was this talisman... a lovely doll which will be raffled off at the Dance School's benefit ceilli ... AND a son who has resumed dancing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mardi Gras Cycling Hose

Inspired by my last historic knit [Yachting Jersey], I decided to undertake another pattern from Weldon's Practical Knitter... the "Cycling Hose" from Volume 12 34th Series.  I chose this pattern because I was intrigued by the so-called "Plume Pattern," which is a fleur-de-lis pattern iconic in my former hometown of New Orleans.  The pattern calls for three yarn colors (navy, fawn, and light blue), which I changed to purple, green and gold... and though this pattern is decided English and not French, this easy substitution results in the PERFECT Mardi Gras costume stocking. 

[For information about yarn particulars/project notes, check my Ravelry Project Page HERE]

Isle of Mull Slouch

Traveling in Scotland with my middle son to the Irish Dance World Championships, I suddenly realized that I hadn’t packed ENOUGH YARN for all my nervous energy.  Had already completed a pair of socks and a hat on the flight from the US…so to Queen of Purls in Glasgow I went. Met the wonderful shopkeeper, Zoe, and acquired this lovely, lanolin-rich aran yarn from the Isle of Mull. Love the farm philosophy as they describe it...  " Ardalanish Farm lies in the remote south west corner of the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, extending west from the white sand of Ardalanish Bay. We rear native Kyloe Highland cattle and Hebridean sheep, and use the sheeps' wool for weaving our unique and distinctive tweeds.  Our farming practices represent our belief in the primary importance of understanding the land and its needs and allowing ecological relationships to develop with animals that are already co-evolved with the environment. We believe the balance achieved with these methods produces a quality and an ethical standard which reflects the conditions that nature bestowed in this unique Hebridean landscape."
You can read more about the yarn and farm HERE.

This hat was easy knit with nice result. I also love the story behind the pattern… “The Ertebolle hat is part of the Doggerland: Knits from a Lost Landscape collection. Doggerland consists of 8 patterns and is a collection of accessories inspired by a submerged landscape between Scandinavia and the UK. The collection uses motifs commonly found on artefacts from the Middle Stone Age and seeks to take you on a journey through landscapes of your own.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Joar Awesome" Dog Sled Hat... Let the Iditarod Begin!

Though obscure to many Americans, I follow the Iditarod as passionately as most people follow the Superbowl.  My obsession with this trans-Alaskan dog-sled race stems from at least four factors.

I was born to a Norwegian father, and as a result, I am drawn to all things Arctic.  The Scandinavian countries have a long tradition of Mushing and Dog skijoring (X-country skiing pulled by dogs, ponies, or snowmobile).  In fact, in 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen used sled dogs in a race to become the first person to reach the South Pole. *

"Skijor worlds" 1

The second factor which makes the Iditarod so fascinating to me is the medical history.  As I am a physician, I am particularly interested in the dire story which inspires the Iditarod. 

"The children of Nome were dying in January 1925. Infected with diphtheria, they wheezed and gasped for air, and every day brought a new case of the lethal respiratory disease. Nome’s lone physician, Dr. Curtis Welch, feared an epidemic that could put the entire village of 1,400 at risk. He ordered a quarantine but knew that only an antitoxin serum could ward off the fast-spreading disease.  The nearest batch of the life-saving medicine, however, rested more than 1,000 miles away in Anchorage. Nome’s ice-choked harbor made sea transport impossible, and open-cockpit airplanes could not fly in Alaska’s subzero temperatures. With the nearest train station nearly 700 miles away in Nenana, canine power offered Nome its best hope for a speedy delivery.
Sled dogs regularly beat Alaska’s snowy trails to deliver mail, and the territory’s governor, Scott C. Bone, recruited the best drivers and dog teams to stage a round-the-clock relay to transport the serum from Nenana to Nome. On the night of January 27, 1925, a train whistle pierced Nenana’s stillness as it arrived with the precious cargo—a 20-pound package of serum wrapped in protective fur. Musher “Wild Bill” Shannon tied the parcel to his sled. As he gave the signal, the paws of Shannon’s nine malamutes pounded the snow-packed trail on the first steps of a 674-mile “Great Race of Mercy” through rugged wilderness, across frozen waterways and over treeless tundra."2

The third appealing aspect of the Iditarod is the relative equatability of male and female mushers.  Nobody seems to care about the gender of the musher very much ... may the best man OR woman win.  There have been many important women racers over the years... one of the most notable from Massachusetts.  Susan Butcher, the second woman to win the Iditarod, was born in Cambridge, MA in 1954.  She is one of only 6 people who have won the race four times.  This year 25 of the 78 mushers are female. 

Susan Butcher 3
Lastly, but not insignificantly, is my love of dogs.  The dogs of the Iditarod are the true athletes of the race.  While my spaniels are content to sit on the couch and are more likely to pull a Max than actually PULL a sled, the dogs in the Iditarod are born to run.  You can see it on their smiling faces at the start of the race.

The race itself was created by Joe Redington who hoped to save the dog-sled culture and the vanishing Alaskan husky, by clearing the trail and establishing the race in 1973.  This noble dog, as exemplified by the hero lead-dog from the original 1925 expedition, Balto, is immortalized in this bronze statue in Central Park. 
So for all these reasons... and a love of sport and knitting... I decided to knit a Mushing hat.  I was inspired by Nowegian musher, Joar Ulsom's hat from 2014... so it is admiringly called the "Juar Awesome" Mushing hat.
Juar Leifseth Ulsom and his awesome hat

I couldn't find a pattern online, or a chart... so I made my own.  I simply CO 84(child)/ 98 (adult) stitches, used 2x2 ribbing, knit the chart, then finished with a 6 (child)/7 (adult)-petal peak (K12 K2tog...).  Should you wish to use it... here is the chart.  Enjoy, the knit AND the race!

*  Notably, Amundsen succeeded at reaching the pole while his competitor Robert Falcon Scott, who had instead used Siberian ponies, did not.
 1.  Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Skijor_worlds.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Skijor_worlds.jpg
2.  History in the Headlines, Accessed 3/4/2015
3.  Photo from Mental Floss, accessed 3/4/2015