but irresistible nonetheless.
Yellow is hard to photograph,
but irresistible nonetheless.
The plan was to knit the lovely Lang Ayre,
a large triangular hap designed by Gudrun Johnston
from The Book Of Haps by Kate Davies
which had just come in the mail.
In truth I could happily have embarked on almost any of the patterns in this compelling book,
or even tried some traditional techniques (lace edging first --who knew?), and made up my own. The book is awash in ideas and history,
and the essays--as with all Kate Davies words--are irresistibly readable.
When it came to actually casting on, however, my small stash of knitting yarn yielded only a collection of vaguely similar leftover bits that fell roughly into six categories --the number called for in Johnston's stripe sequence- so her enveloping striped hap is the one I chose.
Handily enough, I also happened to have a
super duper yarn organizer waiting in my recycling bin
with exactly six compartments
and a built in handle for easy summer transport,
What could I do but begin?
Garter stitch meant that I could read and knit at the same time (always a huge benefit for me),
and Johnston's genius way of joining the colors for the stripes
led to clean edges with absolutely no -- ZERO--ends to weave in afterward.
The pattern is well written and the stripe sequence (which I mostly followed, at least at the beginning and end of each square), compelling.
But when I finished the central square one evening at spinning,
I was suddenly confused. Shelley (the power behind The Yarn Underground , my LYS), said "garment," and almost immediately afterward Jaymi said "sweatshirt, "
and possibilities unfolded.
But were they right?
It might not be a triangular hap, but was it a sweater?
Did I want to deal with shaping and all the accompanying nonsense?
To hedge my bets I knit another bias square that could be a back, but also could be part of a rectangular stole.
The next weeks were lovely:
lots of reading and knitting,
and trotting here and there, six pack in hand,
endless garter stitch and no decisions.
By the time I finished the second square,
I was pretty sure it was a garment
but by that time my brain was immersed in backstrap weaving,
and I had to catch its attention long enough to focus on garment structure.
It took a little bribery:
"once you figure this out, you get to return to all that nice garter stitch and thefabulous book about Isobel Wylie Huchison..."
The book, Flowers in the Snow, won out, and I finally made some decisions.
First, I decided to join the front and back with a sleeve strap, which had three benefits:
1. it added a couple of inches to the length
2. it provided a neck opening (boat necks make me claustrophobic)
3. it seemed to do interesting things stripe-wise.
So casting on a few stitches and starting at the neck edge of the strap,
I knit back and forth, joining front and back as I knit,
then picked up the rest of the sleeve stitches at the edge
and knit out toward the cuff, decreasing slowly as I went.
As predicted, lots of happy knitting ensued, but another decision waited at the end:
Overhand? Kitchener Stitch? 3-Needle Bind off?
I finally chose the last, in part because I'd never done it before.
Picking up stitches along all the edges (one for each garter bump), I knit one ridge of garter stitch on each side and then cast them back off together on the wrong side.
As I hoped, it worked beautifully, the seams providing some nice structure to an otherwise incredibly stretchy garment.
And I think I like it!
It is light weight, super stretchy and fluid all at once.
The bias squares provide drape so that despite the lack of shaping (save for the sleeve decreases), it does not feel remotely like the rectangular sack that it is.
Better even than I hoped (and I'm a good hoper).
Yippee! New clothes for fall.
So now my nearly empty six pack and I will wait in comfort
for the next bossy knitting idea that happens along.
(sorry about that -- couldn't resist).
Or, more likely, we'll just get back to the backstrap Loom.
Some of the last leftover bits floating around the bottom of the six pack will be perfect for needlepoint.
The day before yesterday I planted lettuce.
Today I hope the drippy weather
will encourage the seeds to sprout.
Planting seeds and believing they'll become food
So too, is learning a tune in the hope of playing it with others,
or buying a fleece and imagining a garment.
It's even amazing when I am doing the work.
Perhaps I am easily amazed.
I'm certainly easily amused.
A few days ago I got a wonderful letter (actually an email), asking about knitting.
The author wanted to see a particular garment from an earlier iteration of my website.
She also wondered why I have so little knitting on this one.
The first query sent me burrowing around in old digital files
looking for the vest she remembered.
Alas, I found not a single pixel.
Not a single pixel of that sweater, that is.
But I did find plenty of others.
My world is awash in hand knit garments
each a physical manifestation of time and place,
of ideas and dreams,
some of which have become 'real,'
some of which remain swatches.
Each bit of cloth contains hours, weeks, decades of knitting pleasure,
the indescribably sensuous feeling of yarn slipping through fingers
wrapping around needles, loop through loop, through loop.
I've attempted to capture it in other media:
tapestry, needlepoint and paint,
but try as I might, it seems nothing can truly evoke that pleasure
other than actually knitting.
I've been knitting steadily and obsessively since my early teens.
Like breathing, it is something I can't seem to stop doing.
And I don't want to.
Why, then is there so little knitting on this website?
Why a tapestry archive and no knitting one to balance it?
Am I being elitist?
Is the dreaded art/craft hierarchy warping my thinking?
The only reasonable answer I can come up with today
is that my professional life used to be more knitting centric than it is now.
Garments I made in the past ("Kestrels Alight" for Knitting in America, for instance),
garments destined for publication, were likely to be professionally photographed,
both for the magazine or book in question and for my records.
But as tapestry came to dominate the portion of my work that was "out in the world,"
my knitting became private, my sweaters my everyday clothes.
And who wants to see that?
With no plans to publish then, I needed only enough information to make another for me
so I stopped writing down the patterns -- or only as jots on fragments of paper.
(Now that I write this, I find it curious that I immortalized the scribbles
while the original sweater lives in a pile with all the others).
But clothes are important. I like making them.
And there is infinite pleasure in simple garments that I reach for day after day,
year after year.
There are now so many that I have a notebook of when I wash each one
so I don't lose track.
I rarely photograph them,
or only as not very good sweater selfies --
hardly fit for a knitting archive.
Yet suddenly I'm intrigued with the idea of having a record---
a collection of garments I've made
all in one place.
They wouldn't have to be terrific photos, would they?
It could be interesting.
One of these fine days, I might actually do it.
Now, however, I'm trying to get a pile of mismatched hand spun leftovers to work together as though I meant it. Stay tuned....
When it comes to sewing bits of fabric together
and mending holes in my clothing
I'm a sloppy running stitch kind of gal.
But fixing stuff still demands decisions:
Is it best to put the patch on the outside, or on the inside?
Should I use denim or plain weave cotton?
Raw edge with chain stitch?
Raw edge with buttonhole stitch?
Or turn the ends under?
Might as well try all three and see which lasts longest.
These garments, after all, are for wearing while working.
I have no one to please but myself
and it pleases me to be warm.
After 15 + years of almost daily use (and nearly that many of mending),
you can still see some of the original fabric on the sleeve of my studio jacket.
Every couple of years I dunk the whole thing into an indigo pot
to even out the hodge podge of patches.
Silk/Rayon Velvet takes indigo very nicely.
Sometimes my patching fabric choices have not been wise.
But so what?
Though deeply influenced by the concept of Boro
and delighted to be distracted by looking at such garments
I choose my patch materials from my current collection of scraps--
an ever-changing assortment--
and stitch with the yarn or thread at hand
so it never looks like proper sashiko.
The mood of the moment is all.
This is not the case when mending things for other people.
When an adorable puppy had his way with my friend Heather's precious hand spun mitt, I agreed to do my best to make it useable -- then put it off for months while I worried about continuity, fretted about technique and dreaded trying to live up to the high standards of of the original maker, my dear friend Nancie who died a year ago this month.
This past weekend on my annual retreat with my spinning group
I finally tackled them,
First I darned all the little puppy-teeth holes.
Next I unraveled the mess around the pinkie, picked up what I hoped was the right number of stitches and re-knit it using my hand spun which didn't match in anything but grist (two ply cormo, about 3000 yards per pound).
Then it was time for the mess around the middle and pointer fingers.
Truth to tell, by that time I was a touch frustrated.
Indeed, if it had been mine, I'd probably have done some casual stitching around the raw edge to halt the fraying and called it good -- anything to avoid more time with 00 needles, miniscule open stitches and fragments of yarn.
But I couldn't do that to Heather and Nancie's Mitties.
And luckily my dear spinning comrades wouldn't let me.
Vicki took the whole thing out of my hands and carefully ripped back until she reached solid mitten (apologizing for undoing the pinkie finger I'd just made, but doing the wise thing nonetheless), and reknit to the base of the fingers, continuing one part of the complicated and unrepeatable cable into the new section.
I patched my jeans, drank beer and practiced feeling grateful instead of guilty.
Rochelle then re-knit the fingers -- three of them anyway.
I worked on my jacket with glee and relief.
Mary Jo wanted to knit the last finger but found her gauge was too different
so Vicki remade the pinkie with a smidgn more of my even darker hand spun.
I wove in the ends and gave both mitts a bath.
Here is the result of our communal Visible Mending:
functional, beautiful in a new way, worth the effort, clearly not new, done.
Thank You Tom of Holland for the term.
Thank You Nancie for what we hope is your approval.
After I send this post into the inter-webs
(and have a bracing cup of tea),
I'll deliver them to Heather.
Then I can come home and resume admiring my knees.
These are my current working mittens.
The blue/green pair I inherited from my son
when they shrank and his hands grew.
The grey and white pair were knit
by my dear friend Rochelle.
"Not to replace the ones you have,"
she assured me,
"but to give you a choice."
I can't think why.
Perhaps she thought
darning the darned darns
was too much.
Or that not bothering
to snip off the end of the yarn,
meant the situation was desperate.
And perhaps she was right.
But you know how it is--
the wind is howling
the dog needs a walk
your mitten has a hole...
Who has time to take off their boots
and find a pair of scissors?
I'm just grateful
when needle and yarn are at hand.
And that pair was not quite as worn
as the ones they supplanted.
which I only reluctantly replaced in '96 or so
when my friends gave me a hard time.
"You can't go to a book signing for
the sweater you have in Knitting in America
Good thing someone is paying attention.
I seem to be particularly hard on left palms.
Probably the dog leash.
Rochelle used a nice strong fleece
so I've only had to darn them once so far.
A duplicate stitch darn at that!
Of course my dog is old and hardly needs a leash these days.
Knitting mittens is great, but only when necessary.
I prefer to put my knitting energy into sweaters.
And anyway, I don't want the previous pair
to have its feelings hurt.
I always use the patterns this book.
They are great mittens.
Also, there is never time to find another pattern,
much less design one,
when the kid has grown,
the mittens have shrunk
and he asks for another pair.
I love how the sawtooth pattern
distorts as the palms shrink.
Looking at life from a mitten perspective
it seems that though I haven't changed much,
my boy is all grown up.
About time I noticed.
My bags were packed
and I had a solid hour
before it was even remotely reasonable
to leave for the airport.
Just the right amount of time
to remember that in Phillips terminology
LRD (Left-Right Decrease) means K2tog,
RLD (Right-Left Decrease) means SSK,
and to glance at the glossary.
(No room for the book in my bag).
of written instructions
for complicated lace
(with no charts)
turned out to be
exactly what I needed.
Once home, however,
the perfect panic project
ceased to satisfy.
and my casual insta-fix
was not a good choice.
Sometimes the next best idea
is the last best idea
Same as above but less flexible
Same as above but more absorbent of both water and gravel and even heavier when wet. Turning them inside out helped, but best in dry conditions.
Wool Stitch-Down I
-Warm when wet (yay wool and neoprene)
- Neoprene started to wear out on the first run.
Wool Stitch Down II
-WARM/HOT on the coldest days
-Sole material secure and flexible
-Flexible: if I do slip I can compensate.
Vive minimalist running!
-High Cuff keeps snow out of my socks
-No shopping for the upper material
-Improved appearance when dunked into an Indigo Bath
- Continual Fulling for perfect fit
-Welcoming at 5 AM in February
-Warm when wet
-Hand Spun Wool!
Oxford Stitchdowns I
- Excellent ground feel
-Water resistant if WELL greased (see previous post for how they looked after a year of hard use)
-Used a Pattern (slightly modified), from Sharon Raymond's book: How To Make Simple Shoes For Women
- WARM in the summer
-Leather Stretched: I didn't use a last, but could adjust
- Natural Rubber wears out (I still love it)
-Required Some Shopping (Link above is also for Rubber Sole material)
Oxford Stitchdowns II
One day last fall
I cast on
knit slowly into the winter,
got a little angsty in February
then finally sat in a smidgn of spring sunshine
and found out the end of the story
Now I want to make another one so I can figure out what on earth I really did at the yoke.
Or maybe I should knit sleeves to go underneath.
And of course I am longing to get back to my enticing warp.
Sarah C Swett