Monday, May 25, 2009

Strange Fits of Fashion, Part 2 (Apologies to Wordsworth and Cy)

It took far too long to get this done, but the finishing parts of projects are always like that for me. I've noticed that many local yarn stores give classes in the finishing of knitting endeavors, or will farm out the projects to professional finishers, at a cost, of course.  Suggesting that many knitters suffer from finishing-itis (or phobia?).

The problem with procrastinating when knitting for children is obvious.  Wait long enough and the garment just might fit the little brother or sister rather than the intended recipient.  In this case, the weather has turned warmer, so Cy won't be wearing the sweater until the fall, most likely, and then who knows if it will fit?  I did make it a size 2, but that's no guarantee of anything.

I bound off the faux-steek, underlined the binding with black yarn, crocheted button loops, and affixed buttons.  The effect is a bit lumpen, but it's definitely time to let go.  

Monday, May 18, 2009

We'll Go No More A-Roving, Part 2

Most of the animals were fairly calm, 

There were so many beautiful yarns.  I bought hand-dyed merino in an indescribably gorgeous chestnut color with plum highlights, from Judy Jacobs (pictured, holding my two-skein purchase) of Ball and Skein:

We'll Go No More A-Roving, Part 1


At one point in the ancient past I studied spinning with Richard Muto, the RI Laureate of Fiber. He is a gifted teacher, but I soon realized, despite my hope that the coordination I've developed as a musician would transfer to operation of a foot-pedaled wheel, that this was definitely not my thing.  I produced numerous yards of weak, lumpy yarn that looked more like abraded dental floss than anything generated by a woolly beast.  And then, in accordance with my LITS  (Life is Too Short) principle, decided to call it quits. Now I am quite admiring of those who spin, and since I did learn much from Richard about the qualities of different fibers, their processing, etc., I consider myself more knowledgeable than before in assessing the integrity and beauty of different yarns.

The Bristol Fiber Festival, small and admirably low-key, was a celebration of fiber in every way, shape, and form.  There was the requisite shearing of sheep, a covey of spinners and weavers, and the traditional sheep-to-shawl event.  There were fiber animals to pat--Pygora goats, alpacas, angora bunnies, sheep--and there was a way-station for knit-a-holics, hosted by an engaging group of knitters from the East Bay area.  And there were vendors of beautiful yarns, roving, knitting accessories and tools, and ancillary handcrafts, like baskets and hooked rugs.  Photos follow.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Festival Overture

The weather was beauteous and so I enjoyed getting lost in Colt State Park en route; the waterfront views were dramatic and spectacular.  Eventually I arrived at the Third Annual Bristol Fiber Festival; J had already gotten there and and was stamping her feet and alerting personnel to track me down the instant my shabby dark green stationwagon pulled into the drive of the Coggeshall Farm Museum, the charming historic mileu wherein the festivities occurred.  J, the self-proclaimed "last housewife in Weston, MA" (although I call her "the most entertaining person in Weston, MA") has a persuasive manner (i.e. a friendly stream-of -consciousness rap that always involves childhood memories, beloved pets of yore, and gossipy tidbits about people you don't know and could care less about, but who become semi- interesting by virtue of J's byzantine narratives that mainly involve whose kid went to school with so-and-so and how they have succeeded or fucked up). The traffic man did as told, and when I slowly coasted past stopped me to ask if I were S?  

Behind him I could see J flapping her wings impatiently.  I invited her to ride with me to the first available parking space, which was shortly found, and we then rushed to the farmgrounds, just in time to see the first sheep-shearing demo of the day and to discover my friends Gerry and Janice, of Westerly's May-Ger farm, selling their alpaca products (yarn, roving), honey, and eggs.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Strange fits of fashion, Part 1



Late last November, despite the fact that more guests were to arrive imminently and the house was in shambles after the dionysian excesses of Thanksgiving, I drove several exits down I- 95 South, past the lurid Potemkin facades of Ye Olde Mistick Village to one of my favorite Connecticut yarn shops, Mystic River Yarns (  My mission: to witness the act of steeking. 
Steeking, as you may not know, is when you cut up the sweater you have just knitted circularly to make holes for the sleeves or an opening down the middle of the front for a cardigan, or similar such slashes. Timid thing that I am, I wanted to see someone else do this in cold blood, and to experience the Schadenfreude of knowing that the tragic aftermath was her problem, not mine.

The demonstrator was a kindly woman named Ginnie Dugan who had completed the body of a cardigan in gorgeous Shetland yarns of varying autumnal hues, and with what seemed to be very small needles.  In other words, her project had been highly labor intensive. After explaining to the assembled many interesting facts about knitting Fair Isle patterns, she brandished a pair of long-bladed scissors and deftly cut through the center steek, the knitted-in line of demarcation between the two sides of the front.  

As she did this, the fibers of the wool self-healed in a way that only Shetland wool can, so that instead of turning into a mess of raveling frayed ends, they simply folded back on themselves and formed a placket. Rather than playing the role of horrified onlooker, I found myself encouraged by Ginnie's sang froid, and came away thinking that such an act was within my realm of possibilities.

Which is probably why, after I made a sweater for Cy Place-Perrotti's first birthday, I agreed to ruthlessly slash the neck opening for purposes of enlargement.

Young children have a way of growing fast. Cy turned one on February 26th and the sweater was large at that point. By April getting his head through the neck hole was like replaying the drama of birth.  I told his mother I'd see what I could do to adjust the opening.

With the steeking demo I'd witnessed at Mystic River Yarns in mind, I coolly sliced through the neck and shoulder of the sweater, creating a gash that immediately began to ravel. Unfazed, I threaded a yarn needle with some leftover worsted that more-or-less matched the green of the bulky yarn I'd used to knit the sweater (on size 10 needles), and picked up the live loops and started to bind them down.  (Sewing with the same bulky yarn would have created an extremely thick seam.) And the results...well, so far, not so great. But I shall persevere.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sweetness and light

For a few weeks in late February and March H and I attended a beekeeping course at URI extension.  "You take the notes; I'll knit," I said.  He didn't take notes because that's not the kind of thing he does, but I got through most of a sweater I was making for Langston, Louella and Alan's son, who arrived on April 19th, weighing close to ten pounds.  I was pleased to see that several other knitters were in class, as well as a significant number wearing handknit sweaters.  One knitter came by my seat to display a shawl in process and talk the talk.   She asked if I was going to the fiber festival in Hartford to see the knit designer Sally Melville, because she had already gotten a ticket and couldn't wait.  Her shawl under construction was of dark red variegated wool with metallic highlights, an openwork lace, and she'd ripped it out once already and started anew, she said.  "Do it right, or not at all, you know what I mean?" 

 I do.

 During one break, the beekeeping instructor came over and said, "Madame Defarge, Madame Defarge!"  He was bee-like (no surprise)--round, fuzzy, and buzzy.  

 "I am so tired of hearing that," I observed, without smiling.  H kicked me under the table, because he hates it when my undiplomatic self emerges in public.   To be honest, the last time I'd heard this comment regularly was some thirty years before in graduate school, when the Victorian lit professor for whom I t.a.'d missed no occasion to offer the same witty allusion. Perhaps he was so moved because I sat in the front row of the lecture hall, needles and yarn in hand, doing something useful while he treated the hundred or so captive undergrads to insights like "the word literature is an anagram of true lie art." (Said insight was accompanied by a clever diagram on the blackboard.)

 The beekeeping instructor edged away, but later returned, before the break was over.  In the interest of positive energy I asked, "So, what kinds of things do you knit?"

 "Socks, mostly," he replied.

 This raised him several points in my estimation.  The beekeeping course was, however, extremely discouraging, focused mostly on the different ways bees can sicken and die (don't ask), and I attended only three of the five sessions.  H attended four.  Ultimately we decided we weren't ready to become beekeepers (bee health care providers would probably be a more accurate description, if the apiculture teacher is to be believed), although we would like to keep bees for garden pollination as well as honey.  One day.

 It's probably no accident that the buttons on Langston's sweater are shaped like bees and flowers.  There seems to be a connection between knitting and beekeeping, if I may generalize solely from my observations of those in the URI class.  Oddly, I forgot to photograph the sweater, something I usually do with everything I knit, before I gave it to Langston's mother, and so must deliver an image to these pages at a later date.  However, here's a link to the pattern, which I think is really clever as well as beautiful: