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!!!!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Brimfield: A Trip Through Knitting History, Part II - The Layette

This week was the third 2008 week of Brimfield - the largest flea-market in America. As I mentioned in my previous Brimfield blog, I love to bring the kids because it is so historically educational. May is generally wet and muddy, July is too hot for the kids, but September is perfect for introducing children to the magic of Brimfield.

THIS civil war memorabilia tent was run by a husband/wife team. The kids saw real muskets, brass buttons from civil war soldier's uniforms, bullets, photos...but the show-stopper was that the husband was an accomplished fife player and yearly attends a Yorktown reenactment where he plays songs from the revolution -each of which carried a particular directive along with its notes in the wind. The boys were transfixed.
HERE was a tent ENTIRELY filled with lead soldiers. My middle child was sold on this abalone shell as large as his head, so we brought that home with us. My eldest discovered Marvel Comics with this one from the 1960s. I bought it so he would have something to read on the way home, but was pleasantly surprised to find THIS on the inside cover...making it even more collectible -HI GOVERNOR!

At the tent which sold the comics, I came across these vintage knitting patterns by a company called, Lacey's, which published in the 1940s/1950s. My dear friend who evacuated to Dayton, OH after Hurricane Katrina is now pregnant with TRIPLETS, and as I have a lot of knitting in my near future, I snapped them up. I leafed through their pages, admiring the delicate knit and crochet layette patterns, I and was reminded of a poignant short story by Margaret Atwood entitled, "The Art of Cooking and Serving.":

The summer I was eleven I spent a lot of time knitting. I knitted doggedly,
silently, crouched over the balls of wool and the steel needles and the
lengthening swath of knitwear in a posture that was far from easy. I'd learned to knit too early in life to have mastered
the trick of twisting the strand around my index finger - the finger had
been too short - so I had to jab the right-hand needle in, hold it there
with two left-hand fingers, then lift the entire right hand to loop the wool
around the tip of the needle. I'd seen women who were able to knit and talk
at the same time, barely glancing down, but I couldn't do it that way. My
style of knitting required total concentration and caused my arms to ache,
and irritated me a lot.

What I was knitting was a layette. A layette was a set of baby garments
you were supposed to dress the newborn baby in so it would be warm when it
was brought home from the hospital. At the very least you needed to have two
thumbless mittens, two stubby booties, a pair of leggings, a jacket, and a
bonnet, to which you could add a knitted blanket if you had the patience, as
well as a thing called a soaker. The soaker looked like a pair of shorts
with pumpkin-shaped legs, like the ones in pictures of Sir Francis Drake.
Cloth diapers and rubber baby pants were prone to leaks: that's what the
soaker was for. But I was not going to knit the soaker. I hadn't yet got
around to visualising the fountains, the streams, the rivers of pee a
baby was likely to produce.

The blanket was tempting - there was one with rabbits on it that I
longed to create - but I knew I had to draw the line somewhere, because I
didn't have all the time in the world. If I dawdled, the
baby might arrive before I was ready for it and be forced to wear some sort of
mismatched outfit put together out of hand-me-downs. I'd started on the
leggings and
the mittens, as being fairly simple - mostly alternate rows of knit and
purl, with some ribbing thrown in. That way I could work up to the jacket,
which was more complicated. I was saving the bonnet to the last: it was
going to be my chef d'oeuvre. It was to be ornamented with satin ribbons to
tie under the baby's chin - the possibilities of strangulation through ties
like this had not yet been considered - and with huge ribbon rosettes that
would stick out on either side of the baby's face like small cabbages.
Babies dressed in lay-ettes, I knew from the pictures in the Beehive pattern
book, were supposed to resemble confectionery - clean and sweet, delicious
little cake-like bundles decorated with pastel icing.

The colour I'd chosen was white. It was the orthodox colour, though a few of the Beehive patterns were shown in an elfin pale green or a
practical yellow. But white was best: after it was known whether the baby
was a boy or a girl I could add the ribbons, blue or pink. I had a vision of
how the entire set would look when finished - pristine, gleaming, admirable,
a tribute to my own goodwill and industriousness. I hadn't yet realised it
might also be a substitute for them.

I was knitting this layette because my mother was expecting. I avoided
the word pregnant, as did others: pregnant was a blunt, bulgy, pendulous word,
it weighed you down to think about it, whereas expecting suggested a dog
with its ears pricked, listening briskly and with happy anticipation to an
approaching footstep. My mother was old for such a thing: I'd gathered this
by eavesdropping while she talked with her friends, in the city,
and from the worried wrinkles on the foreheads of the friends, and from their
compressed lips and tiny shakes of the head, and from their Oh dear tone,
and from my mother saying she would just have to make the best of it. I
gathered that something might be wrong with the baby because of my mother's
age; but wrong how, exactly? I listened as much as I could, but I couldn't
make it out, and there was no one I could ask. Would it have no hands, would
it have a little pinhead, would it be a moron? Moron was a term of abuse, at
school. I wasn't sure what it meant, but there were children you weren't
supposed to stare at on the street, because it wasn't their fault, they had
just been born that way...

...At the back of my mind, my feat of knitting was a sort of charm, like the
fairy-tale suits of nettles mute princesses were supposed to make for their
swan-shaped brothers, to turn them back into human beings. If I could only
complete the full set of baby garments, the baby that was supposed to fit inside
them would be conjured into the world, and thus out of my mother. Once outside,
where I could see it - once it had a face - it could be dealt with. As it was,
the thing was a menace.

Thus I knitted on, with single-minded concentration.
I finished the mittens, more or less flawless except for the odd botched stitch,
and the leggings - the leg that was shorter could be stretched, I felt.
Without pause I started on the jacket, which was to have several bands of
seed stitch on it - a challenge, but one I was determined to overcome.

Meanwhile my mother was being no use at all. At the beginning of my knitting marathon she'd
undertaken to do the booties; she
did know how to knit, she'd knitted in the
past: the pattern book I was using had once been hers. She could turn heels, a
skill I hadn't quite mastered. But despite her superior ability, she was
slacking off: all she'd done so far was half a bootie. Her knitting lay
neglected while she stretched out in a deckchair, her feet up on a log, reading
historical romances with horseback-riding and poisoning and swordplay in them -
I knew, I'd read them myself - or else just dozing, her head lying slackly on a
pillow, her face pale and moist, her hair damp and lank, her stomach
sticking out in a way that made me feel dizzy, as I did when someone else
had cut their finger.

For the rest of the story, click HERE.

Layettes have fallen out of vogue with the advent of the megastores, as most young mothers walk into the nearest Walmart a few weeks before birth and buy stacks of cheap Chinese cotton onesies, Pampers, and canned formula. This booklet, in a matter of seconds, swept me back in time recalling the beauty of a (nearly) lost tradition.

Anyhow, I was excited to find this in the booklet, a little set
with, what can only be a stork design. When the designer drafted the design, however, he/she mistakenly used square-celled graph paper rather than knitters graph paper, so that in the finished knit product, the storks legs are foreshortened and he becomes a squat bird...easily mistaken for a pelican (the Louisiana state bird!) ...and close enough to be meaningful for my
dear friend. Stay tuned for my version...

If YOU have any layette memories... or if you have inquiries about the
patterns, be sure to leave a comment!