Friday, November 14, 2008

1940s- The Yarnie's Challenge: Pelican Baby Sweater

I set out to make this baby sweater from a vintage pattern I discovered at Brimfield Auction. Though Lacey's does not have a publication date, I would estimate that it was published sometime in the 1930s-1940s. Now, it doesn't take a degree in history to realize that 1940 predates the fiber Renaissance in America which is how we are all furnished with more beautiful yarn than we can shake a stick (or two long pointed ones) at. Pretty much, yarn during that time in history was sold at the 5 'n'dime stores or departments stores such as Woolworth's in small Skeins, sized 1oz, 2oz, and 4oz and was described as 3ply baby yarn and 4 ply knitting worsted yarn. Though jumbo yarn was available, the more common yarns were sport and DK. By the 1940s, women were looking for ways to ease their considerable domestic burdens as well as their financial burdens, and the introduction of machine-mass-produced acrylic yarns provided the answer. "The first synthetic, rayon, made from cotton or wood fibers, was developed in 1891, but not commercially produced until 1911. Almost a half a century later, nylon was invented, followed by the various forms of polyester." Thus is was that, the vast majority of knitting patterns destined for the typical American housewife would have involved acrylic 3 ply or 4 ply yarn., and the resultant look of nearly anything made with said yarn is almost immediately recognizable as "retro," and to some extent, the limitations of the time define the look we now recognize as vintage. So, though I am loathe to use any yarn containing synthetic fiber, I folded to history and found a Rowan Yarn compromise: Cashsoft - made mainly from ultrafine merino and cashmere, but also making a modest acrylic bow.

The down side of knitting vintage patterns is that, owing to the fine gauge of the yarn, the projects take longer than many modern American women are willing to spare. This project - chosen for the bird (stork? Pelican?) motif - was knit on US size 2 needles and took an unbearably long time to complete. Still, the very act of slowing the pace of my knitting down had an pacifying effect ...and, on a positive note - though published well before the Zimmermann 70's, this sweater is knit in one piece, top-down, leaving only the lower halves of the sleeves to be sewn.

I will add a link to the pattern HERE, along with the with my adaptations for knitting this vintage piece in our modern world.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Maine Yarn II: Romney Ridge Farm

This little beauty is Katie. She is a Babydoll sheep, and though Kelly -the owner of Romney Ridge Farm- is a purveyor of both fine yarn AND fine sheep, Katie is NOT for sale. Let me repeat that...she is NOT for sale. The reason this darling is not for sale is that Kelly (her owner) raised her like a baby...on her lap drinking from bottles. Kelly's philosophy is that good yarn comes from happy sheep and so, she has devoted her life to raising happy well-loved sheep...and it shows. In addition to devoted husbandry, she also donates time to the Lincoln County Animal Shelter AND to the local agri-business council to encourage humane and no-kill farming strategies.

I visited her farm unannounced in August while staying in nearby Damariscotta. While my friend, Elizabeth (a new knitting convert), and I salivated in the yarn stand, our assemblage of 5 boys interacted with the sheep and goats...and enjoyed playing with her son on his swings.
For an interesting read, head to Kelly's blog HERE. It is particularly fun to read about raising Katie...start in the archives around June of 2008. Should you be interested in purchasing any of her special sheep hybrids (Romney (for long fiber length), Correidale, and Babydoll Southdown (for cashmere-like-softness and thickness) or custom blended yarns, it can all be done online at the farm's WEBSITE.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Halloween Knitting Horror Story: Vitreous Humor

It was a dark and stormy night...I had lit a candle to knit by and was settling in to make myself a warm hat- having noted a chill in the air as autumn ushered in it's less hospitable sibling, winter. For the task, I had chosen a handspun yarn by Insubordiknit. It, like most of Jacey's yarns, is a twisted yarn incorporating a selection of her artfully made hand felted this case, eyeballs. It is named, Vitreous Humor, and if it makes you laugh, can be purchased HERE. The name and the yarn appealed because the medical Latin term for the gooey stuff inside an eyeball is vitreous humour and the eyeballs and yarn do bear a striking resemblance to real eyeballs with optic nerve and vascularization intact...appealing to my medical background.

So, getting back to my ghoulish started out, as do so many ghastly horror stories, with a girl naively embarking on a solo nighttime project...unaware that forces greater than her lurked perilously close to the environment she previously perceived I picked out my circular size 10 needles, paying no heed to the menacing howling of the wind outside my window. Cast on 35 stitches. Clickety-clack, snickety-snack. I placed a marker. clickety-clack. Needs abundant texture...and Gothic about the TRINITY stitch for a round...clickety-clack, snickety-snack. I rounded a row of purls and then knit for 5...and began to notice a change...clickety-clack, snickety-snack. My ball of yarn was...STARING AT ME!! Clickety-clack, snickety-snack. At first I couldn't be sure, but with each passing round...purl 2 more rows and knit one, the ball of yarn grew smaller and smaller...and it's stare, at first pleading, became a GLARE!!! As I began my reduction rows (K6 K2tog x 5, knit a round, K5 K2tog x 5, knit a round..etc), it became apparent that my hat plans for this yarn were not the same plans in the ball of yarn's "head"...and he was growing increasingly resentful of the transformation. Clickety-clack, snickety-snack. He was, in his woolly mind, fully evolved as a ball of yarn...perfection in spinning...with no need for a project. With only two eyeballs left, he seized my needle. We struggled...his strands bulging with the effort as he neared the size 10 needle to my neck.

"!!!!, I screamed reflexively...having screamed it so many times in my knitting past. At last my sheer will overcame his strength and I plunged my needles into the ball of yarn. I quickly unraveled his remains and looped him in and through the remaining 5 stitches of the hat. I looped and looped, and braided him until his boggy entrails looped out of the top like lava spewing from a volcano.
(here he is, coming at me...)

And so now, in peace, I sit...wearing my hat as I type. Happy ALL determined knitters...don't let those projects spook you!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Mrs. Beetons: Part II... "See No Evil"

Let me start by saying that this discourse is inspired by knitting my second pair of Mrs. Beetons. To rehash, this incredibly simple and abundantly gratifying pattern was published in Knitty, an online knitters magazine. It was designed by Brenda Dayne and was designed to conjure the British Victorian lifestylist, Mrs. Beeton, both in design-era and in frugality. For my second pair, I utilized a lush brown alpaca (altering the pattern slightly to accommodate a bulky yarn), topped with Rowan kidsilk haze in "ice cream." They emerged from the needles completely evocative of the Victorian era and the perfect gift for my girlfriend, Liz, who covets anything lacy, old, rose-scented, short, reminiscent of days-gone-by.

As I was knitting these little wonders, I noticed how many people asked me what they were for, or what you are supposed to do with them. There is a certain New England skepticism toward anything one would wear which is not (above-all) PRACTICAL. I pondered these lovely wrist warmers and put myself in the shoes of a woman in 1861...first a wealthy one (more like my first all silk pair), then a poor one (more likely to have this rough spun chunky weight, less refined pair)...and I think BOTH types of women would have DELIGHTED in owning anything so absolutely FRIVOLOUS. In fact, the very fact that they are- above all- frivolous, is more than half the appeal. During a time when people couldn't run to Target or order online from anywhere at any hour ANY THING that might pop into their heads (and even a lot of things they could never pre-conceptualize), the shopping-world was pretty basic. Women mostly wore what they could make with available materials. Wealthy women could afford finer and more unusual materials, including silks and beading, etc. To own something of beauty was, at that time, a rather big deal...and something "frivolous" an almost unthinkable luxury.

The next stop for my vagrant mind was on my dear new friend, Jenn Mason. Jenn is a paper artist who has published several books in the field of scrap booking and is now segueing into creating a lifestyle line (a la Martha Stewart). Her belief is that one should incorporate creativity into all aspects of one's life. On her most recent blog, Jenn very kindly tagged me for my trivial input into the blogging world... and it got me thinking...

Though I do not feel worthy of mention, in a way I am the ideal example of the importance of "creative living." I have experienced some of the most ugly, brutal, unpleasant situations humanity has to offer: I have bandaged limbs of lepers in India, had to reluctantly shake poor beggar children off my legs, worked in the trauma ER of Charity Hospital in New Orleans (where the US military sends its docs to train because it has the highest incidence of penetrating trauma in America), I've evacuated three children in the face of hurricanes, brought people back to life from the dead...I know first hand that there is a lot of really unpleasant stuff out there. Raising three boys (or ANY boys) is not always pretty either- lots and lots of flatulence jokes and reptilian pets! And when I reflect on these experiences, what I remember is the moments of levity or beauty which made it all bearable. I have a real psychic NEED for beauty...for counteract the psychic challenges of life.

In New Orleans, I worked with a female physician whom I consider one of my greatest mentors - Dr. Anand. In addition to being indisputably competent, she carried inside herself a peace which made her refractory to the chaos of the trauma ER. While the medical world swirled around her, she was still. Whenever she worked a night shift, I noticed she brought with her a fresh flower from her garden and carefully placed it in a small glass of water on her desk. This simple gesture magically transformed the institutional office desk into a refuge of sanity in the otherwise hellacious environment of the ER. From her example, I gathered that it is not GRANDIOSE beauty that matters...but SIMPLE beauty. It is the transformation of the ordinary to an unexpected bright spot in one's day which inspires living.

So back to the Mrs. Beetons...

I realize now that what is so very appealing about Mrs. Beetons is that they are not in any way, shape, or form necessary items of clothing - they make NO pretense of utilitarianism. Mrs. Beetons are meant for not other purpose OTHER THAN TO BEAUTIFY. Can there be any better reason to knit?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Maine Yarn: Part I

At the end of each summer, my husband and I take our children for an "unplugged" week in Maine. We stay in this historic farmhouse on acres and acres of land and immerse ourselves in the simple life - 0ur children play board games and ride bikes, I knit and read, my husband naps. All year long I anticipate the arrival of our retreat week. Recently, I discovered that within a short distance, there are no fewer than 3 great knitter destinations, and so I have begun to venture out and explore the environs of the Pemaquid Point region.
In the town of Damariscotta, there is a very tiny, and very wonderful yarn shop called, Pine Tree Yarns. Owned and run by Elaine Eskesen, it is the outgrowth of a midlife crisis and self-examination, leading her to chose yarn dying on a farm on the banks of the Sheepscot River over life in Manhattan. She has authored two books, "Dying to Knit," and "Silk Knits." She also writes regularly for Family Circle Easy Knitting, Knitter’s Magazine, Interweave Knits.
So, here in Damariscotta, her shop is an outpost of great design and great yarn in the wilderness. It is located in a historic downtown building (downtown being one street through the middle of Damariscotta proper) and inside looks like this:

I selected a handful of yarns, rich with texture and color...reminiscent of the rough and earthy landscape of coastal Maine. My favorites were a rich nutty brown and an intense aqua silk and wool blend. The wool was so fresh I could still appreciate the oily lanolin in it's fibers. It struck me that, with the addition of silk, this yarn would make an especially warm scarf. The scarf is from Modular Knits by Iris Schreier and is called the Multi-directional scarf. Knit thin, it is suitable for a decorative woman's scarf, but wider it becomes more masculine. When complete it became apparent it was the perfect "Thank you" gift for the delightful owner of the magical farm which we are so privileged to rent each year...knit from the yarn crafted from the Maine he holds so dear.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mrs. Beetons: Part I - Twilight-inspired

Mrs. Beetons were designed by Brenda Dayne to be 1) reminiscent of Victorian romance in dress and 2) embody the virtues espoused by British Lifestylist, Mrs. Beeton of economy and frugality. To that end, these lovely little wristwarmers can be made with such a small amount of yarn that even half a skein of most yarns will do. They are so quick to knit that I can finish a pair in a day. Even if I never wear mine, I adore just having them ...because holding them and sliding them over my weary-housewife hands makes me feel enchanting.

While knitting this pair of Mrs. Beetons, it dawned on me that in these colors, they are perfect for Twilight aficionados. The colors mirror the scheme of the book covers, the Victorian theme would suit the tastes of the Vampires, and finally...the color of Rowan Kidsilk Haze is "blood." Though she has not yet read the Stephanie Myer Twilight series, this pair is destined to be a gift for one of my dear friends as the colors and flounciness so perfectly suit her.
ps-Thanks, Jenn, for having such lovely...and available...hands!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Felting: Shrinky-Dinks for Grown-Ups

This week I worked on a felted project. I rarely felt. I intensely dislike spending days knitting, only to throw said object into a laundry machine only to find that the sizing was wrong, or that not all yarns felt alike, or that it shrunk unpredictably disproportionately in one direction. Unlike standard knitting, where everything can be frogged and reworked without sacrificing work up to the critical error, felting projected must be entirely scrapped following unsatisfactory reemergence from the washing machine.

However, motivated by the desire to start my holiday gifts, and having found the PERFECT pattern for a friend (albeit felted), I undertook - with great trepidation- a large felted project. To my unprecedented surprise, it was (for once) a great success!! At long last I am experiencing the bliss that my felting-friends rave about! My floppy knit bag was deposited in the washing machine and...VOILA...upon opening, it emerged, born again a tight and smaller version...almost unrecognizable as itself! I squealed! At last, I understand the joys of felting...

...AND I was struck with a familiar feeling from my own childhood...something I had shared with my own children not long hence... OF was SHRINKY DINKS!!! Felting holds the same joys, and sorrows, as shrinky dinks for children - but for ADULTS. Now I get it.

Anyhow, the inspiration for the bag is from Vogue Knitting: Felting and is called Plaid Bag: Falling Leaves. Great designer...I love the plaid and the preppy/New England/Autumnal idea this blog is devoted to my experience as an urban child-raising Mom, I'll share my rendering of this wonderful bag...interpreted for the contemporary city knitter.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Twilight Knitting Swap: Part II

...So the incredible thing is that my swap partner has never even SEEN my house. Today I received my package from Megdoula (aka Juniper) and am absolutely blown away. As you can tell, she is an artist...and by looking at her creation I would venture to say strongly sculptural. I have to confess, I have never seen anything quite like this. My first thought was that it resembles a lotus and appeals to my interest in Buddhism. As it turns out, this fascinating creation is a "Trifold Knitter's Bowl" and is designed by fiber artist Cat Bordhi. At her website you can observe first hand Cat's interest in magical Escher-like twisted and sculpural knits...absolutely unique! This bowl is meant to hold yarn in the middle and all a knitter's tools in the storage spaces around the edge. Megdoula's interpretation of the bowl is, I think, especially nice as she used the earthy amber color (of Edward's eyes) and the bright floral red (recalling the red eyes of the hungry newborns). And, the marvel is that, without even knowing what my table looks like, she matched the look perfectly: The wonderful bowl arrived with each magical "petal" stuffed full with another exciting and thoughtful goody. In the central compartment was the yarn for the small project with a pattern...a carefully chosen and Twilight-inspired apple shaped tea cozy.

To drink in my fashionably- insulated teapot, Megdoula, sent some custom blended tea made from Blood orange...get it?...BLOOD orange :-) I love a good sense of humor.

I knew Megdoula has a pretty good sense of my likes and dislikes when she included a darling vintage teacup and saucer/cookie plate (if you've read my blog, you'll doubtless know my fascination with Brimfield, historical finds, and flea-markets)...and here's the inspired part...shaped like an apple.

Megdoula's stitch markers are "to DIE for"...lovely and delicate and crafted with amber beads (again, recalling Edward's eyes) and finished off with (my personal favorite element...) small red petrified droplets of blood. The copper rings were a nice touch, too...they work so nicely with the bead colors.

For my children Megdoula included some hilarious gummy fangs and a vampire stamp. She also sent snacks for all of us...yummy popcorn treats (a favorite of mine) from a local market. Lastly, I have to mention a personal favorite...a precious pair of Victorian-style scissors in the most gorgeous BLOOD red! Edward himself probably had a similar pair in his youth.
I will spend countless nights wondering how Megdoula made this fantastical creation, and feeling lucky that she chose to bestow it upon me. This was a truly inspired package. Thank you, Megdoula, from the bottom of my non-beating cold, cold heart (maybe that tea will warm it up).

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Twilight Knitting Swap: Part I

"What is a knitting swap?" is the question I am asked whenever I answer the question, "what are you working on now?" A knitting swap is when a group of knitters agree on a theme, are paired with partners, and then (on an agreed upon date) exchange "care" packages related to the theme. They may or may not be a Ravelry (online knitting consortium) phenomenon, but even if they are not, they have been elevated to a new height by the advent of the Internet and computer connectivity. Knitting used to be a relatively solitary pursuit...NOT ANYMORE!!!
I was immersed in reading Stephanie Myer's vampire teen-novels and was really enjoying them, and so I searched Ravelry for fan groups of the series. To my delight, precisely the same time I was most deeply immersed, Terik was forming the Swap.

I chose my "vampire name" (Carlislesse Cullen: chosen because Carlisle is the Vampire patriarch, an ER doc, and zen-like in his ability to resist the blood that he most loves (BBQ ribs for me)), was assigned a fabulous partner, Megdoula (aka Juniper...her werewolf name), and was off and knitting.

There is no way Terik could have known what a good match she made when she paired Megdoula and I for the swap. My father was an ObGyn...Megdoula is a doula. I grew up in Maine...Megdoula spent some very important years in Maine and even named her daughter, Camden, after the town there. I was married in New Orleans and lived there for 15 years...Megdoula's husband lived in New Orleans and they spent their honeymoon there. We both love our children and our knitting. Serendipity!

During the two month period the fourth book of the series was published and online discussions were fast and furious, expertly moderated by Terik, SheWhoKnits, and Svendel. Oh, and one can't forget Knottieknitter, though not officially a moderator. We has secretive password-protected Cave meetings, and trivia contests. These folks are experts at chatting.

I sent two pre-swap packages. The first was filled with classic New Orleans foods: Zattarain's Red Beans and Rice mix, Tobasco sauce, and Tobasco red-pepper jelly AND werewolf-medallion Mardi Gras beads. Here's the amazing arrived the day after Megdoula's wedding anniversary...pure Kismet!!! Next I mailed her a "mystery pattern" I designed of a wolf howling at the moon for a washcloth.

Finally the date for the big swap arrived:
1) Knit a bag/purse/handbag: OK, I fudged a little, since I didn't use the "earthy colors" and chose instead a Twilight Theme bag. I used the Tasha pattern, knit using Rowan Denim yarn in black. I then designed a closure piece which is a modified two-rib wide piece knit in ecru denim. Attached a magnetic closure, then improvised an apple to sew over the magnet. I like it because it is bold and graphic and would look nice to someone even if they were not familiar with the book cover motif...but looks just like the hands holding the apple which is symbolic of the series.
2) A small pattern with yarn: for this I chose "Bella gloves" by Stitch & Snitch. Juniper loves to knit fingerless gloves, and this pattern is named after the protagonist of the story. The yarn I chose is made in Maine and is a lovely angora bunny yarn.
3) Stitch Markers: My first foray into making my own Twilight theme. I also included an extra stitch marker made with a Chinese medallion sporting the sacred dog-wolf.
4) Lagniappe (see my previous post on "lagniappe" for definition): Knitting needles made in Maine with apple tops,a "Twilight Knitting Swap" keyring I crafted,a wolf button, a tiny pair of red foldable knitting scissors (medical types appreciate good tools), coffee candy, a Twilight pin, a Guide to Forks, and last-but not least, a bobble-head Jacob wolf toy wearing a knit monogrammed sweater...all placed in a box I crafted to look like the Twilight book and placed inside the bag (in which it fits perfectly).

With such a terrific partner, the fun was really in the giving. Thanks to everyone involved in making this swap so much fun!!!!