Wednesday, March 31, 2010

PS: It worked like a charm

This just in:  H was able to get to the house, and the water didn't reach the first floor.  It came up to two steps below the first floor...way too close for comfort, but nothing above was damaged.  The piano and harpsichord are fine, and so are we all.

I'm going to stop now and knit a sock.

The year of knitting anxiously

I've always been aware of psychological issues that come into play when I--and perhaps others--knit.  One is that of tension release. When I'm anxious or stressed, knitting offers great relief. ( I wrote about this for More Magazine in 2004. "What to Do When You're Cast Adrift" discussed knitting as a way to ease out of a toxic job.)

Thus, when I looked out my study window yesterday morning and saw that the Wood River wanted to spend some time at my house, I knew it was time to pack up my knitting and take refuge at our apartment in Providence. I was absolutely certain that I could not survive the next few days without my knitting, and in fact since I barely slept at all last night, I was able to finish the entrelac scarf begun in mid-February.

We had tried to flood-proof, because living near a body of water has obvious perils, even though until yesterday we were technically beyond the hundred-year flood plain.  Every spring there's flooding in the basement to the depth of a couple of inches. The heating units, the freezers, the workbenches, are all raised on cinderblocks. A sump pump automatically starts when its chamber fills with water, and it does a good job of clearing out. What was not anticipated was that some fieldstones in the older (ca. 1932) part of the foundation would give way to the water's pressure, and open a hole in the wall through which the Wood River could pour. A couple of hours after this happened, the basement was filled to a depth of four feet, and our freezers were bobbing like ice floes.

There is nothing in the basement I care about losing.  It's just stuff, and it can be replaced, even though the replacing will be expensive.  What's making me frantic is knowing that my instruments--my harpsichord and piano--are potentially endangered.  H doesn't believe the water came up to the first floor because our basement ceiling is extremely high. But I won't stop worrying until I really know. My instruments are beloved friends, and in the case of my piano, a friend who's been with me since 1969. We're talking about a forty+ year relationship.

Right now we can't get back to the house to check, because the interstate and some side roads are closed from flooding.  We keep watching the news, the webcams, the online reports about river cresting and road closures, and hoping there will be a way to make it down there, 35 miles south of Providence, later today.  The rain has finally stopped, but it's still cloudy, so the drying-out is going to take a while. We drove here in H's pick-up truck, because we knew we'd have to ford water and our cars were too low-slung.  The last view I had of our road as we pulled out the drive past the police barricade, was of someone's red car slowly floating towards the dam, about a tenth of a mile distant.

Readers, Lola and Fiordiligi, our twenty-year-old granny cat, came with us, but I left the boys--Kramer, Rufus, and Alfie--in the house, with plenty of food, water, and litter boxes, reasoning that we'd be home within a day or two. I hope you don't think I'm a bad pet-mother, because I feel slightly guilty about my prioritization and it wouldn't take much condemnation to send me over the edge. We had the electricity cut from the meter so that nothing would short out, but cats don't care if the lights are on or off at night. Now we're thinking that we'll have to move the boys to the apartment, as we may be staying here for a few weeks.

Here's where another aspect of knitting psychology enters the picture--magical thinking. We all know the good energy that goes into knitting a garment for someone for whom we care. We all know the bargaining-with-the-universe aspect of knitting for someone whose life is at risk (I have several times made sweaters for friends who faced terrible diseases or situations, like divorce, and guess what? They all lived!) 

Last night and early this morning, as I knitted the entrelac scarf, I could think of nothing but my beautiful instruments, and hope for the best, sending my love towards them with each stitch. It was knitting as meditation, magical thinking, and prayer, a beseeching of the cosmos.   I sincerely hope it works.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Richard is in the details

A few years ago I developed a deep interest in learning how to spin yarn. Given my good hand-eye-foot coordination from years of piano study, I thought it would be easy to transfer this ability to a spinning wheel. The thought of playing with fibers in a new way, and of spinning my own yarn was really enticing. I made inquiries about classes, instructors, and so forth, and all roads led to Richard Muto. 

Richard, suffice it to say, is the Rhode Island Laureate of Fiber. To describe him as a spinner, a weaver, a knitter, a musician, and a designer is insufficient. He's one of the most creative and joyful people I've ever met. He's a sweetheart.  He's a honey bear. He's a doll. He's a fabulous teacher. He's funny and elegant, perceptive, intuitive, gentle, kind, good, playful...well, you get the picture. To know Richard is to love him. He is awesome.

Richard taught me to clean and prepare raw fleece, card it, form it into rolags, spin and ply it. He helped me gain an awareness of fiber I could never have developed through independent reading or self-instruction. As it turned out, I didn't take to spinning at all because, oddly enough, I couldn't find the rhythm of it (despite my musical training), and after a few months of lessons, I decided to stop. But the good news was that I'd met Richard, learned so much from him that enhanced my understanding of yarn, knitting, and textiles, and had made a friend for life.  Soon  he intro'd me to David Lima, his spouse, with whom he runs a hand-crafted textile business, Roving Spinners (, 401-944-4809). Together they operate a weaving studio, give lessons, judge sheep-to-shawl, weaving, and spinning competitions, and constitute a force majeure in the New England handcrafted textile scene.

Recently Richard stopped by to show me some of his latest designs.  In the photo, he's holding two teddies, made of his hand-woven fabrics, jointed with large colorful buttons so that arms and legs move. These adorable toys illustrate both Richard's whimsy and inventive use of color and texture, as the bears are highly patterned in a subtly fascinating way. (Click on the photo to enlarge so you can see the detail.)

Two other fabulous items Richard brought were an off-white woven-and-knitted sweater of his own design, and a stunning silk-and-linen woven scarf from silk he had spun and plied with a fine black linen thread. (The photo, alas, doesn't capture the shimmer and gossamer quality of the fabric.) "Each piece you make," Richard says "should bring you to a specific place.  The silk scarf is to some degree Moroccan—the hand-tied tassels (which took forever), have that Moroccan feel to them."

From Morocco we went to the sea. The off-white sweater began as a woven shawl, but chose  its own course. Richard, always sensitive to the inner life of materials, found the fabric had an oceanic presence and it wanted to take a wave-like form. "I started with the image of the collar, everything curves, flows, melds—I got a very nautical feeling from the curve of the collar, like a wave; the sweater also evoked the 1960s—with the Chanel-like flared cuffs, and the pocket. Very Jackie Kennedy. But the pocket is slightly askew, because I wanted to follow the curvature of the neckband and followed that flow.  The pocket evolved out of an angle."

You'll notice several amazing details in this photo.  First, the textural quality of the materials.  There's the hand knitted neck, the hand-woven tufty bouclé of the body, the silky lining peeking out at the neck (the sweater is fully lined, and it took Richard an entire week to cut and fit the lining), the grain of the sea-pebble button.  Second, the lines are absolutely poetic-- the beautiful welt of the cuff (right-hand side of photo), the deliberate seaming that's part of the design, the asymmetrical, wave-like swoop of the collar ("I love the idea of being asymmetrical," Richard says), the ovoid button.  

Check out Richard Muto's Facebook page for more images of his sweaters that combine knitting and weaving. They're further evidence of his versatility and poetry.  They're testaments to his goal of "combining as many different aspects as possible of my artistic abilities.  No matter what I make it will have some sections that are knit.  The weaving adds specific texture; knitting adds another texture that can be worked off of the woven piece.  Like clay, fabric is pliable."  

Richard's designs flow from his precepts, and demonstrate how the creative process is influenced by starting from the ground up, as it were, in the spinning of yarns.  "Let the fabric bring itself to you," he says.  "I like to process my fiber right from the beginning, because each step gives me more information about what that fiber will or will not do.  Somtimes no matter what I do, it’s not going to become that project; it will dictate what it will eventually become.  The big thing is, if it wants to lead, I have to follow it." 

I'll be following Richard periodically throughout this blog, to update everyone on his creative journey.   And speaking of creative journeys, you should know that Deborah Newton, knitwear designer par excellence (see my blog post of November 17, 2009), will be teaching a day-long workshop in--what else?--knitwear design at Marji's Yarncrafts, 381 Salmon Brook Street in Granby, Connecticut, as part of their "Ewephoric Knitter's Weekend," May 1st and 2nd.  There's a downloadable brochure on the store's website:  www.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


spring light

my favorite yoga studio, Heart of Avondale, near Watch Hill

tidal river, Westerly, Rhode Island

starting a new sock

Thursday, March 18, 2010


Somebody died and a relative brought her knitting to the library. Unpacked, it covered a large table in the room where the Langworthy Knitters meet on Wednesday nights. It was mostly synthetic yarn. Jane urged us to take whatever we wanted. I waited until the end of the meeting to see what the others chose. Very little, it turned out. I found a pair of number six needles and some stitch holders and took those, because they're useful to me.

I certainly didn't need any more yarn, and I rarely knit synthetic fibers. By the end of the meeting just about everything was still left on the table.  I had another look. There were a lot of completed afghan squares, and jumbled skeins of Orlon and acrylic.

I noticed a clear plastic bag from a hospital, the kind you're given to put your clothing in after you exchange it for one of those hideous johnnies.  The bag was filled with off-white aran wool, and a pair of almost-finished children's mittens. I decided I'd take those, too. Then I saw the beginnings of a red sweater on two number eight needles that were capped with very nice point protectors and embellished with a stitch counter. Suddenly, I wanted those notions, and I thought it would be unkind to strip the red acrylic yarn from the needles. I took it all.

The hospital bag made me remember when my mother was hospitalized in 1984. I was living in a really depressing part of Illinois and had just had my second child. Mother came to visit her new grandson and unexpectedly fell very ill, spending the next three weeks at the same joke of a hospital where her grandson had been born without my having anesthesia because "we don't have an anesthesiologist on call at night.  If you want anesthesia, you'll have to go to Peoria."

The children weren't allowed to visit, lest they bring in infections, so every day I'd take them and stand on the hospital grounds outside her room. She'd come to the window. I'd hold the baby up high, and my other son, who was four, would jump up and down and wave to his grandmother. Grandma was really bored in the hospital and she asked me to bring her some yarn and knitting needles. During her stay, she made two pairs of mittens, which I still wear, and two children's sweaters, now stored in mothproof bags.

The hospital docs thought she had pneumonia.  Eventually, when she was strong enough to travel, she went back to New York and had further testing at a real hospital.  She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

When I unpacked the hospital bag with the aran yarn, I discovered an old green measuring tape among the neatly-wound balls.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

At last the rains stopped...

and the sun shined its face upon the land,

bringing forth wonders from the primordial ooze.

Whatever one thinks of rain, it undeniably makes things grow...

...especially knitting....

Happy almost spring!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Knitting therapy

More than a little rain has fallen into our lives during the past forty-eight hours. We cannot go outside to play because the Wood River has dramatically overflowed its banks. Water, water, everywhere! The neighbor's horses are quickly being constrained by ponding in their paddock. Our basement is flooded, the sump pump working overtime. Lola's daily walk has become a teeth-gritting slog. The deluge is predicted to continue for at least one more day. By then the water may have risen to the deck stairs. This is the highest it's been since 1998 and most likely that record will soon be broken.

Rufus, like me, is agitated by the rising waters. In the photo he petitions for rescue.

At times like this, knitting is obviously the coping mechanism of choice. I'm still working on the entrelac scarf (see post of 2/14/10) and Cy's dinosaur sweater (see post of 1/10/10). As of yesterday, however, I've completed the embossed vine and leaves scarf that I began some months ago, and Ted has kindly agreed to model it for my esteemed blog readers.

You'll notice that I've trimmed the edges with a lavender-chartreuse ombre i-cord, which though ultra-simple, is a great finishing touch. It looks fabulous on Ted, and I'm quite pleased with the way this scarf has turned out, so much so that I intend to do several more in different color combinations.

The design is, actually, simple. (Believe me, I don't do complicated.) Size 7 needles, medium weight worsted. I bordered the internal pattern with five rows top and bottom of seed stitch, and five stitches in seed stitch on each side. The internal pattern, free from Vogue Knitting at

goes like this:

(worked over 26 sts)Row 1 (WS) K5, p5, k4, p3, k9.
Row 2 P7, p2tog, k inc, k2, p4, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, p5-28 sts.
Row 3 K5, p7, k4, p2, k1, p1, k8.
Row 4 P6, p2tog, k1, p inc, k2, p4, k3, yo, k1, yo, k3, p5-30 sts.
Row 5 K5, p9, k4, p2, k2, p1, k7.
Row 6 P5, p2tog, k1, p inc, p1, k2, p4, ssk, k5, k2tog, p5-28 sts.
Row 7 K5, p7, k4, p2, k3, p1, k6.
Row 8 P4, p2tog, k1, p inc, p2, k2, p4, ssk, k3, k2tog, p5-26 sts.Row 9 K5, p5, k4, p2, k4, p1, k5.
Row 10 P5, yo, k1, yo, p4, k2, p4, ssk, k1, k2tog, p5.
Row 11 K5, p3, k4, p2, k4, p3, k5.
Row 12 P5, [yo, k1] twice, k1, p4, k1, M1, k1, p2tog, p2, S2KP, p5.
Row 13 K9, p3, k4, p5, k5.
Row 14 P5, k2, yo, k1, yo, k2, p4, k1, k inc, k1, p2tog, p7-28 sts.
Row 15 K8, p1, k1, p2, k4, p7, k5.
Row 16 P5, k3, yo, k1, yo, k3, p4, k2, p inc, k1, p2tog, p6-30 sts.Row 17 K7, p1, k2, p2, k4, p9, k5.
Row 18 P5, ssk, k5, k2tog, p4, k2, p1, p inc, k1, p2tog, p5-28 sts.
Row 19 K6, p1, k3, p2, k4, p7, k5.
Row 20 P5, ssk, k3, k2tog, p4, k2, p2, p inc, k1, p2tog, p4-26 sts.
Row 21 K5, p1, k4, p2, k4, p5, k5.
Row 22 P5, ssk, k1, k2tog, p4, k2, p4, yo, k1, yo, p5.
Row 23 K5, p3, k4, p2, k4, p3, k5.
Row 24 P5, S2KP, p2, p2tog, k1, M1, k1, p4, [yo, k1] twice, k1, p5.
Rep rows 1-24.

(S2KP sl 2 knitwise, k1, pass 2 slipped sts over k1.
K inc (knit increase) knit into front and back of stitch.
P inc (purl increase) Purl into front and back of stitch.)

Don't be put off--the pattern looks harder than it really is. I strongly suggest using transparent highlighter tape as you knit through the twenty-four rows, to mark your progress and prevent meltdowns.

After the scarf reaches the desired length, bind off loosely. Then, in a contrasting color yarn, cast on three stitches and knit an i-cord (for a demo of this, see, using a number six or seven double-pointed needle. When you've reached a length sufficient to border the entire scarf, bind off and with the wrong side of the scarf facing, carefully attach the i-cord to the scarf's edge with a yarn needle, using small, almost invisible stitches.

And there you have it--a bright note on an otherwise dreary and sodden day!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A Good Yarn

My deferred birthday present this year (rescheduled because of inclement weather last month) was an Audubon-sponsored eagle-watching tour of the Connecticut River, leaving from Haddam, Connecticut.

On our drive from Rhode Island to the point of embarkation (opposite that Victorian jewel-box, the Goodspeed Opera House), we fortuitously passed another charming nineteenth-century building (also in Haddam) featuring the unmistakable sign of the sheep, and all my antennae were a-quiver. Except for it being 8.20 a.m. and that we had to tour at 9 a.m. and that the Connecticut Yarn and Wool Company ( wasn't open so early anyway, I would have demanded an immediate halt to our progress. However, H genially agreed to chauffeur me there ex post facto, much to my delight.

Readers, I could scarce concentrate on viewing the magnificent bald eagles, nesting, perching, and flying along the beautiful stretch of Connecticut River between Haddam and Essex, nor the mute swans, red-tailed hawks, black ducks, goldeneye ducks, mallards, mergansers, cormorants, turkey vultures, black vultures, Canada geese, red-winged blackbirds, and various gulls that were sighted during the two-hour cruise, consumed as I was by thoughts of exploring another LYS in the immediate future! What I will say, however, is if the only bald eagle you've ever seen is that depicted on the one-dollar bill, I highly recommend a trip like this, to develop a personal acquaintance with the majestic creature. (Info at

By 11.20 we were on our way into the Connecticut Yarn and Wool Company (CYWC), housed in a ca. 1832

The establishment makes an excellent first impression on the knitting aficionada, as its front door, painted an alluring vermillion, is flanked on one side (not visible in photo) by a cadre of porch rockers, where knitters may sit in pleasant weather, and on the other by brimming shelves of yarn. The business is self-described, on its website, as

a collectively owned and operated store with locations in Haddam and Madison...founded and operated by local knitters.

(My heart thrills at these last six words!)

The CYWC specializes in Farmhouse Yarns . These yarns are perhaps the most distinctive hand-dyed yarns I've yet encountered. Their inspired colorways invite deep contemplation as well as project visioning. The yarn textures, regardless of weight and ply, are lovely to touch, and full of character. (One of them is instructively called "Lumpy Bumpy," but not all the yarns have that thick-and-thin quality. Many are smooth and elastic, such as the 80% merino-20% nylon "Fannie's Fingering" yarn--Fannie is a sheep-- a 400-yard skein of which I purchased for $24.) The skeins of most of the yarns I saw tended to be at least double the size of most standard commercial brands.

Apart from the very special and individual character of the local yarns at CYWC (the shop also sells a small selection of non-local yarns, including a nice Peruvian alpaca), there's another distinguishing characteristic. The collective sponsors free workshops on specific projects or techniques, and general knitting help every day of the week. (A calendar of these is on the homepage of the website.) My readers know how I feel about the practice of charging for knitting help. Whenever I find a LYS that promotes positive energy through the charitable sharing of knitting knowledge, I am both delighted and reassured. So bravo to the Connecticut Yarn and Wool Company, 85 Bridge Road, Haddam CT 06438. (860) 345-9300.

There's a sister store in Madison, Connecticut that I plan to visit in the not-too-distant future. Billy, the genial young man who showed me around the Haddam store, says it's very small and features discounted/odd lot yarns. Even so, it's also a venue for knitting workshops and free advice.

On the right, a wall of beautiful color at the Connecticut Yarn and Wool Company!

And here is Rufus, posing with some of the first crocuses and our skein of Fannie's Fingering yarn.

Monday, March 1, 2010

File this under "you knit what?"

If you're looking for a way to make your seder really unique, think about knitting a "Ten Plagues" runner for your table, or making a trompe l'oeil matzo yarmulke. Materials available from Iron Horse, a LYS in Natick, Massachusetts. An excerpt from their e-newsletter follows:

Passover is coming soon. Please think of us as your place to purchase special items for your home or to give to friends and family. We have traditional Yarmulkes as well as those made out of fabric that looks like Matzah. We also carry Matzah covers and afikomen bags. Won't your table look extra special with the Ten Plagues Passover Table Runner?