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 ornaments...in 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 story...it 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 as...safe. 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 appeal...how 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...will...not...be...conquered...by...this...project!!!!, 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 Halloween...to 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, ...in 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 loveliness...to 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.