Archive for January 2009

This life and then the next

January 24, 2009

Pattern: Diamante by Deb Barnhill
Yarn: Knit Picks Risata (42% cotton, 39% merino wool, 13% polyamide, 6% elastic), Ash colorway
Needles: U.S. 1 nickel Options fixed 32″ circular (one-at-a-time Magic Loop style)

Let me take you back to November 2007. Hillary Clinton was the presumptive Democratic nominee for the following year’s election. I had just turned 42. The American Academy of Religion was holding its annual meeting in San Diego, and I was just a few rows away from finishing my third pair of socks as I flew west. I took pictures on my hotel room balcony, and got down to business starting the next pair — a toe-up pattern from my favorite sock designer, Deb Barnhill, called Diamante.

I got about halfway up the foot of the first sock on that trip — slow going because I had to follow a chart. I took the socks on my next several trips, and worked on it sporadically in between. Socks, though, are mostly travel knitting for me, so progress was intermittent. I finished the first sock, and turned the heel on the second, by summer 2008.

When it came time for the next trip, though, I didn’t take the Diamante socks. They were too close to being done, you see. If I took them, I’d finish them halfway through. And then I’d be out of knitting, unless I took a whole new project as well. Better to take the new project, which would easily last me through the trip, and put Diamante on ice.

And so it went for the next year and a half. I never managed to find the occasion to finish that second sock. Until 2009 came, and with it my stash knit down resolution, which required me to finish all WIPs before starting anything new. Diamante being the closest to completion, I picked it up first. And now, a few days later, it’s done.

So here I am wondering what took me so long. These are possibly the best-fitting socks I’ve made, and I’ve had no complaints about the fit of any of the others — it’s just that these are noticeably perfect. The cotton-wool blend is cool, crisp, and hard-wearing, but not without a certain soft springiness, especially in the ribbing. I put it on last night after finishing, and had no interest in taking it off all evening.

The same thing happened today, when I donned them for a quick photo shoot in the chilly, sunny afternoon. I left them on for the rest of the day. They’re plenty cozy, but I can tell they’ll be just as comfortable in warm weather. The grey colorway is muted and professional, yet shows the stitch pattern beautifully. And did I mention that they fit like, I don’t know, they’d been made for me?

Honestly, even though I had enjoyed the knitting just fine back in the olden days of 2007 when I started it, I wasn’t looking forward to going back to it just because the color wasn’t so exciting. But I am seeing for the first time the unexpected, secret enjoyment that comes from a perfect piece of clothing that nobody would ever notice. It’s not only serenely natural and comfortable to wear, it’s not only a little gift to yourself (like all handmade garments), but it’s also yours alone. You need not share it with anyone.

It may not come with choirs of angels, but it’s my little private heaven.

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No wonder my happy heart sings

January 18, 2009

My mom is visiting us, along with my dad, while Noel is away at the Sundance Film Festival. They’ve been helping out immensely. I expected the delicious home-cooked meals we’ve been enjoying since Friday. What I didn’t anticipate was that they’d save my bacon when the furnace failed, and they shivered while waiting for the repairman while I had to be at work.

I think this is a great picture of my mom wearing the cowl I made for her for Christmas. But I know she’d disagree.

Like a lot of woman of a certain age, Mom hates having her picture taken. Starting Christmas Day when I talked to her on the phone, I made it clear that I needed a picture of her wearing it for my project notebook. She put me off, jokingly from a distance, but then more adamantly when she got here. I only got this snap by pretending that I wasn’t including her face in the photo, and she barely stood still for it. This was the second shot (I really did only photograph the cowl in the first), and she’s bolting for the street — I’m surprised the picture isn’t a blur.

I know Mom is serious about thinking she looks terrible in pictures. And I’m sure I’ll be the same way in a few years. We carry around the image of ourselves in our heads, and it gets frozen at a certain age. We don’t like to be reminded that we’ve moved on from that point. Mom says that she’s lost weight, and her face is too thin, and she looks terrible. And given her vehemence, I’m sure she believes it.

But to me, she looks just the way I remember her throughout my upbringing. When I see pictures from that time, she seems impossibly young — too young to have kids, practically a girl. In my memories, she’s exactly the way she is now — maybe a little more spry, maybe a little lighter on her feet, but mature, smiling, authoritative. A mother.

I know my dad will look at this page, but I hope he’ll see fit to keep it a secret from Mom. I want to add her face at this moment to all my memories.  She may not believe it, but it fits right in.

Tell all the stars above

January 14, 2009

Pattern: Drive-Thru by Wendy Bernard
Yarn: Plymouth Encore Worsted (75% acrylic, 25% wool)
Needles: U.S 7 and 8 Harmony wood circular (32″ and 60″)
Size: 6

One day last November while I was working on my FLS, Cady Gray, as she often does, asked me what I was knitting. “It’s a sweater,” I told her. And then, the inevitable next question, accompanied by hopeful doe eyes: “Is it for me?”

I promised I’d make her a sweater the very next thing, and I knew just which one: Wendy Bernard’s “Quicko-Cheapo.” It’s a simple bottom-up raglan, cardigan or pullover, with one main color and yoke stripes that use very little of three other colors.

And I knew just which yarn I would choose: Plymouth Encore, a workhorse wool-acrylic blend that comes in hundreds of colors. I had been swayed by a Ravelry thread singing the praises of Encore for items that need washability and a wide color choice. (Wouldn’t you know it that just as I was finishing the sweater, this thread about how much people hate Encore was going strong. That’s the way it is with Ravelry.)

I let Cady Gray pick out her own colors (with a little push from me into the brighter shades of her favorite “rainbow” hues). I ordered from Webs. But when the yarn came, Christmas knitting was in full swing. And then job number one after Christmas was completing the FLS. But I knew that the first project I wanted to cast on for 2009 was CG’s Drive-Thru, and on January 3, I did.

The knit could not have been more straightforward. And after weeks of lace and fiddly little gifts and finishing, the stockingette on the body — 9.5 wonderful inches of it — was so relaxing. And the bright blue color was delightful to watch emerging as a fabric. Before I knew it, I was putting the body on hold for the sleeves, which knit up quick as a wink Magic Loop style. After joining them to the body, I continued to Magic Loop it while going around the sleeves for several rounds; I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have that trick

Just when the stockingette and the blue start to get old, it’s time for the stripes. The pattern suggests spacing the decrease rounds so that they occur on a solid color row (instead of the transition rows when you’re stranding two colors), and I heartily concur — in fact, I can’t figure out how you’d do it any other way.

I decided on a bunch of little buttons rather than fewer bigger ones, and that may have been a miscalculation; the buttons are almost too small for the buttonholes. In a pinch I guess I could sew up the holes to make them a bit snugger, but I don’t think it will be necessary.

Cady Gray loves it. I convinced her to save it to wear tomorrow to the first day back at school, but it was a tough sell — she had no interest in taking it off after I presented it to her this morning. A complete success both in her eyes, and in mine. She wanted a sweater of her own in all the colors of the rainbow, and I wanted a sweater that had all the simplicity and brightness of my little girl. I hope she’ll wear it and love it until it falls apart.

Love look what you’ve done to me

January 4, 2009

Pattern: February Lady Sweater by Pamela Wynne
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran (55% merino wool, 33% microfiber, 12% cashmere), Red-Orange colorway
Needles: U.S. 8 Harmony wood Options, 60-inch circular for body and 32-inch circular for sleeves (Magic Loop style)

You knit a sweater for a couple of months. You look at all the pictures of all the completed versions of this sweater on different people — tall, short, thin, plump, flat, buxom, punk, prim. You can’t quite picture it on yourself, but you knit on in hope.

Then you sew on the buttons and weave in the ends, and the blob that’s been sitting in your lap (and occasionally being pulled round your shoulders for fittings) turns into a sweater. You put it on — and miraculously, it’s perfect.

It’s impossibly cozy. Softer than any piece of clothing you’ve ever worn. Substantial, yet not heavy. And the way it swings around your torso and hits right at your hips is unexpectedly just right.

You remember the last few weeks, while the lace was progressing with such ease. You read your knitting like a pro and never needed to refer to the instructions. When it was time to start the sleeves, you realized the genius of putting those stitches on hold after starting the lace — underarm holes aren’t mistake, they’re part of the pattern. This is so amusing and so perfect that you laughed out loud.

The buttons you bought at your out-of-business LYS more than a year ago have a home. And oh, that garter stitch — cushy and boldly textural. Once again you thank Kay and Ann for being garter stitch’s tireless champion. They couldn’t be more correct.

The sweater draws you in to smaller and smaller details, to their perfection and beauty. Yet its overall effect is simply — natural. A well-made garment, thoughtfully constructed, eminently wearable. The last thing anyone in the world would remark upon, and yet the one thing that makes it all worthwhile.