Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Let's not...

I've sometimes gotten assignments about summer knitting, wherein I was supposed to show readers how much fun it is to knit when the temperature and humidity levels are insanely high. Hello? Obviously this tack runs counter to reality, not to mention common sense.

I do understand, however, that the knitting-addicted allow their obsession to override sanity. I think of my job, in such situations, as that of a practical abetter:  a friend who says, in effect, Look, I know it's ridiculous to knit under such conditions, but I understand this is about being possessed by a knitting demon.  In these cases I tend to recommend very small projects done of lightweight or non-wool yarns.

Here in New England the temperature and humidity levels have been disgusting for the past two weeks, with little rain (we're talking drought conditions), and small prospects of immediate relief. Truthfully, gentle knitters, it has been an ordeal for me to knit anything at all, even with the benefit of air conditioning. If you, too, are suffering in a similar way, I'd like to propose a brief vacation from the act of knitting. Admittedly this sounds horrifying, but you can feed your lust by reading a knitting book! A good knitting book can be almost as enjoyable as knitting the most beautiful cashmere yarn on the planet.

Photo credit: Carrie Hoge.

So, here's one to start with--new this month from Lark Crafts publishers.  I reviewed another Carol J. Sulcoski book not too long ago, and I own an earlier volume of hers that I purchased in 2012, SockYarn Studio. Ms. Sulcoski is a writer of merit, with many interesting patterns and projects for your delectation.

Self-Striping Yarn Studio might be my favorite book of hers so far, because it contains an engaging and informed discussion of the properties and quirks of self-striping yarn, acknowledges the fun of knitting yarns that change colors randomly, programmatically, and gradiently, and offers useful ideas about how to manage the layout of a particular yarn's dye patterns.  In addition, there are quite a few inspiring designs for cowls, sweaters, blankets, baby jackets, hats--really anything you'd enjoy knitting.

Photo credit:  Carrie Hoge.

I think this "Damask Iris Cowl" pattern, by Barb Brown, particularly beautiful. The majority of the volume's twenty-five patterns (designed by contributors as well as Ms. Sulcoski), arranged according to yarn weight, are equally lovely, so they offer much food for thought. And that's what we're aiming for right now as a way of getting through all the heat--food for thought, a.k.a. knitting in the abstract.

Next post I'll be raving about Deborah Newton's recent awesome volume, Good Measure:  A Perfect Fit Every Time.  This came out about ten months ago and I've been waiting to talk about it for ever so long, but really needed a while to digest it.  (Plus, someone--you know who you are--has borrowed and not yet returned my volume of the prequel, Finishing School:  A Master Class for Knitters, and I've wanted to look at the books together...so that's also been causing the delay.)

Well, I would be dishonest if I didn't undermine my opening disquisition by confessing that I actually have been knitting a little bit...another toy, this for a baby who was supposed to arrive several days ago, but who obviously hates HHH weather as much as everyone else.



He's the second sheep dog I've made, and the design is from Knitted Farm Animals by Sarah Keen (2012).  For a free copy of the pattern, courtesy of Lion Brand Yarns, check out one of my articles about knitted toys.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Family matters.

Lola--her name means "Grandma" in Tagalog! Like several grandmas of my acquaintance, she wears a skirt that rides up at the hem, and carries an overly large bag stuffed with knitting. Her raglan cardigan is removable.

Here's my latest knitted critter--a grandma!  Theoretically she's my proxy, and except for the hair color, I'd say we're a pretty close match. Later this week we're going to LA to visit the wee grand-bairns.

I'd planned to leave her there, so that the bairns could have an eternal reminder of moi, in case our video-chats weren't enough to incise me into their memories, but then the question of affiliation, of community, of belonging, arose. It's almost an existential dilemma:  where does Grandma belong?

The Community, left to right: Pippi, Sheepdog, Grandma, William Hedgehog, Babar.

The rest of the family came down resolutely in favor of the east coast.

Given that our household is a democracy, majority rule prevailed. Grandmama will return with me next week. I shall, however, photograph her, in the interim, in quintessentially Californian settings, and these photos will go into her deluxe album. Stay tuned.

Would you like to knit a grandma for yourself or someone who might need a grandma? Her name, as I've already mentioned, is Lola (not to be confused with Lola the Portuguese Water Dog). Here's the free pattern, courtesy of Lion Brand Yarns. With only minor modifications you could turn the prototype into any number of historical figures--George Washington, W. A. Mozart, J.S. Bach, Queen Elizabeth II.  It's the hair that's so inspirational.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Hello, summer!




Apparently there are some people who vacation from knitting during the summer months. Mine not to reason why, but I do have it on good authority that during June-July-August there's a parallel downturn in sales at the few LYS that remain on this planet. Here it is, merry May, but yesterday the heat slammed in so it might as well be the dog days of summer. I'm still knitting and knitting and knitting large scale (my house has a/c), although I'm writing a piece for one of my employers on how you can make an afghan by knitting small blocks that ultimately are sewn together. That way, if you don't want to deal with dragging around a mess o' yarn in the summer heat, you can still knit and survive. Two of the afghan blocks are displayed in the photo far below--actually, the pink one is most visible. (The dusty blue one's on the needles, partly obscured by the chair arm.) It's a free pattern, designed by Irina Poludnenko for Lion Brand. I really like Irina's work, and recommend her website of patterns, Hats and Not Hats, to you. Her children's bonnets are completely adorable.

Portuguese knitting has been much on my mind, and somewhat in my hands. I taught myself how to by watching videos on Youtube, some of which are pretty amusing.

 

The advantages of Portuguese knitting are that the right hand's movements are minimal, and once you become adept you can probably knit pretty fast. Although you doubtless can't tell from the above-embedded video, in which the headless instructor is competing with ambient birdsong, the right hand simply stabilizes the needle. I hold my needle as if it were a violin bow; the left hand and left thumb do all the work. Tension on the yarn is maintained by the right hand and also either by looping the yarn around your neck (if you don't mind rope burn) or by using a little hooked gizmo (purchasable on Amazon.com) that pins onto your clothes, somewhere between navel and sternum, depending on how you want to hold your needles.


It takes some getting used to, but the alternative--not knitting--isn't an option.

Foxy enjoys knitting al fresco, too.


Sunday, April 3, 2016

The elephant in the room....

Gentle knitters, I've not been moved to write much over the past month as I've been preoccupied by some knitting problems, namely my right hand which is stricken with tenosynovitis, and a mohair cap-sleeved sweater that is almost finished but has assumed a disturbing shape, even though it's hardly shaped at all. I don't mean to sound cryptic, and perhaps I'll post about this tragicomic garment soon, but right now I question my sanity whenever I look at it.

Why was I on such a mohair kick about a year ago? I bought way too much of it, and still have a lot lying around. Yes, I like its ethereal qualities, its warmth without weight. But it is a bitch to knit, horrible to frog, and after all is said and done, it's slightly scratchy.

The good news, however, is that I'm teaching myself to knit Portuguese style, which is less stressful to my ravaged right hand than the standard American way I've used all my knitting life. Until now.

A while ago I promised to direct you to wonderful free patterns, and then I promptly forgot to do so. Well, check out King Babar!




His pattern is free on Ravelry, one of many gems in the treasury of Rabbit Hole Knits. He and other wonderful animalia are the brainchildren of Sarah Elizabeth Kellner, a creator of toys and whimseys. I love her work. You will recall her Henry's Rabbit design, which I realized in yarn and transported, in early February, to his new home in LA. He was intended to companion my granddaughter Adeline, but Max, her brother, co-opted him. I promised Max I'd make him any animal he desired, whereupon an order was placed for an elephant. Babar will accompany me to LA in July, and presumably then Max will return Rabbit to his sister. (Note to self: do not hold breath.)

I try to knit toys in acrylic yarns. Loyal readers probably know by now how intensely I dislike acrylics, but I also see their utility in the construction of toys and children's garments. Unfortunately acrylic can't really be blocked, and so Babar's regal cloak has a curling hem and his crown is in a permanent state of collapse. I may attempt shoring up the crown with pipe cleaners. If anyone has further suggestions, please feel free to advise me. If you decide to knit your own Babar, you may want to use superwash wool worsted, or something that will drape without curling.

***
Bumbling around Hartford, Connecticut last week, I discovered two paintings of knitterly interest in the Wadsworth Atheneum, by artists you've never heard of. The Knotted Skein (1870), by Seymour Joseph Guy (American, 1824-1910), depicts a young woman and her boy helper struggling with, yes, a knotted skein. Perhaps this is a metaphor, or perhaps it's an omen of an unhappy relationship (hinted at by the Brahmsian figure lurking behind the young lady?). Or perhaps it's simply a depiction of a knitter dealing with a familiar problem?

The Knotted Skein by Seymour Joseph Guy (1870) 
More cheerful is The Italian Straw Hat (1952), by Peter Blume (American, 1906-1992), a depiction of the artist's studio/bedroom, according to the museum label. Either he was a knitter or had a knitting visitor. And he was mysteriously fixated on the Italian straw hat.



Given the artist's attention to detail, one feels that this painting might just as well have been titled The Blue Chest of Drawers, or even more aptly, The Knitting Basket. But as the poet said, "a rose by any other name...." Altogether I find this a delightful, fiber-filled painting (note the rug, the drapes, the hat, in addition to the basket of yarn), and I enjoy all the non-fibery details too, rendered with such precision.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Miscellany...



A miscellany is a random hodgepodge of things, and knitwear designer (and lawyer) Carol J. Sulcoski's petite volume entitled Knitting Ephemera (recently published by Sixth and Spring) fits the definition well. Be warned: The print is minuscule and packed onto the page, so you may need your magnifiers. And, there is no Table of Contents (there is an Index) or organizing principle, really, other than factoids about knitting (and some about crochet). Disorientation is part of the process, but it's a temporary state, kind of a portal state, really, to render you receptive to the luminous yarn halo of knitting consciousness.

Reading the book is like walking into a messy knitter's house (not yours, of course), that nonetheless feels familiar and comfortable, chaos notwithstanding, because, and only because, you are a heavily-addicted knitter and therefore love anything to do with the craft, and also you have the type of mind that delights in such a random collection of informational tidbits.  You are in Knitterland! To mix metaphors somewhat (actually, a lot), the book is like a recipe collection that someone has put together over the years in a folder, a collection that consists of smeary words scribbled onto index cards, recipes ripped from newspapers, or cut off the backs of food boxes. It is very disjointed but you love fooling around in the kitchen, and you love culinary history, and you love deathless volumes like The Joy of Cooking--so you don't care about its disorganized state--in fact, it feels kind of good. You also enjoy books that mimic the conventions of nineteenth-century and even eighteenth-century publishing, and come with lovely red ribbon markers to hold your place. (Again, like The Joy of Cooking.) If you are such a person, my advice is Go for it!, buy this treasury, and also think about giving Knitting Ephemera to the Knitter Who Has Everything, before someone else does. Or before the volume becomes ephemeral.

***
I encountered the word "miscellany" as a child, and since I only read it--I think there was a column in Time Magazine of yore entitled "Miscellany"--I thought it was pronounced miss-SELL-a-knee, and for many years I couldn't figure out what it meant. Then, as a graduate student, I encountered Tottel's Miscellany, the first-ever published anthology of poetry in English (1557). Subsequently the term has proved useful.

*** 

Perhaps some of you, gentle knitters, convene occasionally with like-minded souls, for social as well as instructive purposes. My cabal, a group of exemplars styled K4TOG, meets as often as manageable for knitting-centric discussion and edification. Thus we inaugurated our 2016 agenda last week....Here you may observe one of us conscientiously winding yarn and conversing with the other knitters, while admirably ignoring the temptations of alcohol.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Worth keeping...



As has happened occasionally in the past, someone just gave me a trove of knitting supplies discovered while cleaning out a house for sale. This present included a large number of aluminum needles, and notes for projects like Christmas stockings and dolls, meticulously written and illustrated.



Pearl Tiffany, the author of this notebook, made her own graph paper! Patterns clipped from newspapers, folded into the envelope above, are dated 1954 (a stellar year, methinks).


I like looking at aluminum needles more than I like knitting with them, but I'll add these to my collection anyway. I love their karma, and I love having knitting hand-me-downs.


Speaking of which, here are sweaters I made around 1983 for my eldest son, then aged three. His brother wore them later on, and now they're going to my grandchildren, who will be able to wear them in a year or so. These were most definitely worth keeping. In a few days they'll accompany me to their new home in California.