From scratch

Knitting leaves a lot of headspace for rumination.  I like to chew on a problem, which is sometimes a bad thing—worrying, as your granny surely told you, doesn’t help anything—but is also sometimes a good thing, because it can help me get to the bottom of things.  My life is a very quiet one these days, with my littles no longer little and the house mostly empty and still.  I walk through the orchard to the pond, and the only thing I hear is my own footsteps, crunching on the frozen ground.  I spend a lot of time beside the fire, alongside the ever-snoring catdog, and there are very few distractions.  She stretches and yawns, shifts.  I shift, too, maybe turn the page, maybe turn to work a wrong-side row.  The wind hurtles across the open fields and between the bare fruit trees, and whistles through the windows of our old house, lonely and spooky, and cozy, too.  

I’m still chewing on the question of Making vs. Stuff.  This has been one of my inner monologues for a few years, and I don’t know whether I’m getting closer to solving it or not, but it is a tough piece of gristle and I’m still gnawing.  I am driven—yes, DRIVEN—to make things, but at the same time, I am also compelled to keep a lid on the amount of things I carry around with me in this life.  I have made so many quilts and blankets and bags and pillow covers and lampshades and various bits of household ornamentation that I simply do not need to do that anymore.  Making things results in having things, and really, I truly do not need—nor do I actually want—to have more things.  I am not at all sure that anybody else really wants the things I’ve made, either.  If you could see how I have overloaded my family with handknits, good grief.  I actually feel some guilt about it.   Do you guys want any of these?  I say, when they visit.  How can they say no?  How are they even supposed to choose just one and leave the rest, as maybe some kind of sad signal that my work and effort has little value?  I hope they don’t feel like they have to keep it all until I’m dead—guys, if you’re reading this, you don’t have to keep all those hats and blankets!  Donate, recycle, make a cat bed out of them!  Leave them on the train.  I mean it.  None of it is precious.  Sigh.  How did crocheting a blanket become such a fraught endeavor?  Many is the project that has ground to a halt lately as the question arises:  what am I going to do with that when it’s done?  

I knit sweaters now, because I can still find a home for those that no longer have a place in my wardrobe, and because yarn is reusable, and because I live in a cold climate where for most of the year the weather is not that great.  There is still a need for sweaters in my life.  When the shelf gets too full, I pass some of them along, and because they are just clothes, they don’t need to feel impossibly precious to my descendants.  They keep the wind off me, they help me figure out how I want the world to see me.  They fill my creative space.  There is an abundance of them in my life; possibly I own a ridiculous amount of handknit sweaters.  An honest tally of my works-in-progress reveals five half-knit sweaters on the needles right now, and so many more still waiting to be started.  I add to my yarn stash on the regular.  I make things, and right now, this is what I am making.  

My dad would have prefaced all that by saying, “More than you wanted to know…”  but I really do want to know.  So as a maker of handknit garments at the moment, I have made another something to add to the pile:  this is a little jacket/cardigan knit with no pattern, using my remnants of fingering weight yarns, held double in hopes of a blended effect, much inspired by this project knit by Clare Shaw, and also with some elements inspired by the Golden Wheat cardigan by Veera Valimaki (which I am also knitting at the moment, and which is almost finished now, too.)  The buttons came from the stash, too, and were probably thrifted.  As I was sewing in the [many jillions of] ends, Doc said, “Sometimes it amazes me how you can take nothing and turn it into something.”   I made this with castoffs and leftovers.  That feels pretty good.          


Branches and Buds: The minimum

Winter is really hanging around.  For some of you, too, I’ll bet.  Doc and I walk at night, trying to blow out some cobwebs, but we keep finding ourselves trudging into the teeth of yet another snowstorm, with a flickering, dying flashlight and our glasses completely coated with ice.  Once, we had to navigate home by nothing but our farmer neighbor’s pole light, because we could not see the road we were walking on, and our outbound footsteps had already filled in.  Another time, we both pointed at the ground and together said, “Watch out for that ice” at the same time as we both hit the ice and then flailed wildly for traction, grabbing each other and cartoonishly trying to stay upright.  Funny, but tiresome, too.  For me, snow fatigue sets in sometime in late December, but I still have to go outside.  I just want to walk in a straight line on a dry path without fear for my aging bones.  Wear grippy boots and all the handknits at once, and laugh; that’s all I can do.  
I’ve been knitting like it’s my j-o-b.  This latest finished sweater is a modified version of Carrie Bostick Hoge’s Branches and Buds pullover from the first issue of Making magazine.  I’ve wanted to make this ever since it came along, and I had some—but not quite enough—of the required yarn, and nothing for the contrast yoke, so it kept getting shelved.  Then my beautiful daughter’s beautiful girlfriend gave me some perfect yarn for Christmas—Acadia from The Fiber Co. in the teal/gray colorway “Butterfly Bush”—just right for the colorwork in the yoke of this design, so I decided to see if I could squeak it out.  The pattern calls for Quince and Co. Chickadee, a sport weight yarn, and I had some (in “Frost”) in the stash, but was two skeins short, so I made every effort I could think of to conserve yardage, including saving all the long ends, and also making no swatch.  (That’s right, you heard me.  Flying without a net!)  This sweater is worked top-down, so I made the yoke in the smallest size, and then made the body even smaller than that, and shortened the length in the body and in the sleeves.  I measured obsessively, and watched the diminishing ball with mounting confidence that I would certainly run out.  To my amazement, I did not run out, but only because this is the most abbreviated Branches and Buds ever.  This is the barest minimum Branches and Buds I could possibly have made.  It doesn’t even have the buds—maybe I’ll add them eventually.  I kind of like it without them.  It is a shortie top, good for spring, or for wearing underneath another layer.  I’m thinking of it as a shirt.  
I didn’t have much yarn left in the end, which feels like a measure of success.  This is such a nice pattern, and these are both such wonderful yarns, and I’m so glad it finally figured out what it wanted to be.  I’ll wear this a lot, eventually.  I realize I am doing a lot of optimistic knitting.  Spring will come, eventually.  
Last week, I took a long look at the state of my hair and just snapped.  Despite my giving those curls all the care and attention you would lavish on a human baby, and despite the protective measures against sun and wind and drying, and despite all the fancy products money could buy, they just looked and felt like straw and I couldn’t take it anymore.  I loved them too, but guys, they were not serving me.  So off they came, and I just feel So. Much. Better.  
It’s dry in ten minutes.  I can let the wind blow it!  I can think about other things besides frizz!  What a relief.  Let the outside match the inside.  

Process, the beginning


  I saw a photo awhile back that made my wheels start turning, and this week I got out the sock yarn scraps and dumped them onto the table to see if I could do something like it.  I love this part, the beginning of a project.  The creative part.  

When starting from scratch, I first make a little sketch to figure out what kind of silhouette I want to achieve, then I decide about edgings, and if I’m planning a multi-yarn project I sort the yarns by color and (eep!) value—you know I struggle with that—and I make liberal use of the mono filter in my photo editing app, just to help me get it as right as possible.  The table is strewn with tools and pencils and markers and swatches.  There’s the usual measuring, and simple math, and then I can cast on.  It’s just so absorbing, all of this.  And then watching the fabric and shape develop—did I get it right?  Does it drape like I want it to?  Did that first buttonhole, which is all involved with the neckline shaping and the collar and the built-in buttonbands, end up in the right spot?  There are hasty notes that I later can’t decipher, and I make changes and then forget to write them down, so the notes are effectively useless anyway, but I press on because it doesn’t matter to anyone but me, and I don’t actually care.  After the first few inches of yoke are knit, I put the piece on a length of waste yarn and pin it to the mannequin to check for these things.  If it’s good at that point, I pat myself on the back a little and then I’m ready to put on my jammies and park in front of the fireplace beside the snoring catdog and start knitting.  What a good feeling all this is!  Especially when the yarn I’m using is the beautiful leftovers from my cupboard, which really makes it feel like I’m getting something for free.  You guys, I just love it.  



 I get so wrapped up in this that I am pretty willing to temporarily abandon other (also rewarding) projects, but weekends involve a fair bit of time spent in the car, so I made good headway on this, too:

This is my lightly modified Branches and Buds Pullover—modified because I don’t have very much of that gray yarn (it’s Quince and Co.  Chickadee in—I think—“Frost”; this poor yarn has tried to be so many different things, and has been unraveled so many times.  It is kinked up like an old Slinky.  I hope this sweater will be its forever home). It’s no good counting all my projects in progress, because there are so many it would just be stressful, but I’ll just say this:  there are a lot of them, way more than I would like, but there is always, and always will be, a fresh idea, just waiting to be explored.  This is my medium, and for the sake of the creative process, I am willing to let a few things languish for awhile.  There are at least four sweaters that I can think of, all at the same place—the plain part, headed down the body or awaiting stockinette sleeves.  The fun part of all these is done, and now I just need a good Netflix binge to make some headway.  Any ideas?  What are you watching?  

Confetti and more

I can’t lie, this week has been a trial.  For healing and self-care, on Saturday Doc and I decided to go out for burritos and a car wash.  It just seemed like the best thing to do at the time.  When in difficulty, when you can’t think what to do, just get up and put on your shoes, and go do the first thing you can think of:  for us, it was to eat mashed beans with raw onions and bizarrely orange sauce.  I don’t know why it helped, but it did, and anyway, getting the car washed is sort of a reset button.  You go in filthy and covered with salt, and then there’s noise and soap and hot water, and you emerge on the other side all scrubbed and fresh.  Sometimes it’s big things, and sometimes it’s little things, and we do what we can with what we have.  Anyway, I’ve been working on the fleece lately, and turning that enormous pile of hair into yarn is one of the most satisfying things I’m doing these days.  It isn’t the most perfect yarn in the world, not by a long shot, but it is beautiful to me, and it is the loveliest, lightest, warm gray color.   I am trying to spin it woolen style, hopefully with some loft in it.  There is such an endless amount to learn about this process, and the best way I know to learn it is to keep doing it, and maybe that way I’ll figure it out.  I have three big skeins of sportweight yarn now, almost enough to make something, and I tell you I have barely made a dent in the fleece.  Maybe I’ve spun less than a quarter of it?  It feels like it will literally last forever.  I’m going back and forth between wanting to spin it all up first, and then decide what to make with it, or to just do one more skein and dive into the knitting.  I’m a little worried that if I start using the yarn, I might not get around to finishing the fleece.  I keep reminding myself that there is no rush, no rush at all.  

It is such a soothing, comforting process, spinning.  I can buy yarn, but it’s hard to buy comfort.  I keep sentimentally thinking about the sheep who grew this fleece, eating oats and chewing grass, sleeping in the clover.  Loved by two small farmers and their children.  When I was growing up, I sometimes was lucky enough to wake up in a four-poster bed, in a room with roses on the wallpaper and a flock of sheep, grazing in a meadow outside the open window, musing to each other from beneath the pear tree.  I feel such a tenderness for sheep.  I think all knitters probably do.  

With any luck, in a few weeks, there may be warm enough days that I can wear this.  It is Confetti, by Veera Valimaki (the pattern is here) knit from my stash in Madelinetosh Tosh Sock “Gossamer” and Zen Yarn Garden Superfine Fingering “Kind Hearted”.  The “Kind Hearted” says it’s a One of a Kind, but I see at least seven other projects on Ravelry using it, so I don’t know.  Anyway, it is one of those sublimely beautiful multicolored skeins I always fall for but then don’t know how to use.  This little sweater has solved that problem for me.

Watching those colors unfold and stack up next to each other was such a pleasure.  This is the best use of multicolored sock yarn I can imagine.  I am scouring the stash for more options now.  

The snow continues to fall.  The land and the sky are white.  Better days are ahead.   I spin, I knit, I cuddle my blushy little dog.  I eat burritos and get the car washed, and wait.  

The Every Day Sweater

I know I am always saying it:  I will live in this sweater.   Friends, I put this sweater on before it was even completely dry, crawled under a blanket and took a nap in it, and have since taken it off only long enough to bathe.  I am wearing it right now.  I took it off for a minute, to photograph it for you, and then put it right back on again.  A sweater this good makes me start to think maybe I don’t even need any of my other sweaters [nevermind, that’s nonsense] and another thing:  usually, after a big success, I am headfirst in the stash looking for more more MORE, but for now, I am just sitting here, curled up and purring.  It couldn’t be a grayer, simpler, more ordinary sweater if it tried.  It looks like every single thing you’ve ever seen anybody wear, ever.  The yarn [Naturally Nazareth, a 100% domestic wool workhorse aran weight yarn in the sublime colorway “Moonlight”] is stubbornly sturdy and, well, basic.  It looks like it will last a hundred years, but it made my hands ache.  It wasn’t that much fun to knit with, if I am being truthful, and I’m afraid the luxury yarn binge I’ve been on lately has spoiled me rotten for these more pedestrian yarns but after a soak and a day spread out on the table to dry, it came to life.  The cables relaxed out so beautifully and the whole thing softened up just enough, and I really, truly, want to live in this sweater.  Well, I have been.  

It is rumpled and wrinkly now, and (probably because it finished its blocking while it was on me and I was asleep) it has conformed to my shape [I won’t make a joke about also being rumpled and wrinkly, I won’t I won’t I won’t] so it’s slightly poochy at the elbows and the cuffs are stretched out and the I really couldn’t love it more.  It just feels like one of those beat and comfy old things I’ve had forever.  It is the best friend I’ve just met.  (Should I block everything this way now, by sleeping in it while it’s still a little damp?  By the way, if you did that in anything besides wool, you’d probably get hypothermia.)

The (free!) pattern is here.  It comes in only one size, but because the side panels and sleeves are in stockinette, you can easily adjust it up or down to fit you.  I added a few stitches at the bottom of the body, to accomodate my pear-shape, and decreased a few times at the sides to get to the right bust size for me.  I also winged it at the yoke, but that’s really just because I don’t like to fuss over things like attached i-cord and p3 tog.  So the pattern isn’t perfect [but it is free] and the yarn isn’t perfect [or is it?] but this finished sweater?  It has a couple wonky bits and it looks like it was knit by a loving grandma back in 1958 so somebody’s older brother could wear it to play rugby at Yale.  Yep, it’s perfect.  

Some big projects

  I light candles to cheer myself up.  I like them.  They smell good, they are cozy.  They smack of hygge.  One day last winter, I had so many scented candles going at one time that they set off the smoke detector.  Later, I chanced to wipe a noseprint off the inside of a window and the cloth came away black.  It was time to wash everything and then paint, and you know how when you paint one room, the room next door looks like a boxcar inhabited by hoboes?  A few months of frenzied candle-burning had turned every surface in the house into the ceiling of a medieval monastery, with ten centuries worth of soot and ash making the place atmospheric, and also dingy.  Tidying and cleaning and clearing out more clutter and re-styling the house has been one of the ways I’m coping with this year’s extra-bad case of the winter blues, and there’s been so much of that, so it’s a good thing I enjoy it.  I am a collector by nature, but I had amassed such an enormous heap of stuff that I suddenly felt it smothering me, so filling the car with things to donate made me surprisingly happy.  I have got rid of a lot of stuff.  I am cutting back on candles now, too, and fastidiously trimming wicks, and I’m even looking at burning one tealight at a time with some trepidation, and my beloved Doc has (almost) repainted the entire interior of our house.  There is one room left, and he will do that one next weekend.  He fills my heart to bursting with unicorns and rainbows in a thousand different ways, and that is one of them.  What a good and wonderful man he is.  

Another one is that painting up there.  I love this:  years ago, casting about for a way to fill his time, he decided to take a Spanish language class at the local community college, and painting that reproduction of one of Frida Kahlo’s famous self-portraits (with monkey) was in some way his homework assignment.  He turned it in for an A, and then later had to go and pry it free from the instructor’s reluctant grip, because she was really hoping to keep it.  I can’t say I blame her, but I had my eye on it too.  It has moved from here to there in the rotating gallery of lovely artwork I’ve collected, and has lately come to roost on that bookcase. [And the catdog has come to roost in that chair, despite the many comforters and pillowy dog beds around here.]  

I’m working on a gallery wall, too, trying to be thoughtful of where I put the next nail hole (I am so bad at changing my mind, and the walls are more spackle than plaster at this point) and will probably keep adding to it.  The centerpiece is my beautiful daugher’s oil portrait of her friend Lara; the shadowed, sleepy eyes in that painting, how I love them.  It’s so good.  Next to it is my mama’s watercolor painting of Central Park in New York, and below that is a romantic-style oil portrait by my gifted grandmother.  There is so much good art in my collection, so much more than you can see here.  There will be a lot more nail holes, I think.  

I have had to put this on the calendar:  SPIN THE FLEECE.  It isn’t going to spin itself.  I’m setting aside at least one day a week for turning these imperfect little batts into yarn, because you guys.  There is so much of it, and I feel a little overwhelmed.  Even if I can make one skein a week, it still might take months.  I know, there’s a lesson in that for me.  This will take awhile.  It’s okay if things take awhile.  But I have to actually do it, at least a little bit here and there, because I can’t knit with batts.  I want yarn.  

That’s looking a little rugged.  It’ll block out, right?  Ha.  Embracing imperfection.  

So I sit in my little room, spinning and thinking about curtains and whether we really need this chair or that table, and listen to records.  I have to get up every half-hour, then, and flip the record, so it makes me take a break.  I sing along, so loud.  “If I can’t have you, I don’t want nobody, baby” which reminds me of singing that song, also loud, on the playground in 1979.  The batts slowly, slowly become yarn.  


Did you think I didn’t knit a sweater?  I started this simple pullover last fall and it went into hibernation sometime after the holidays with little more than a sleeve left, and I don’t know why.  Little sleeves like that only take a couple hours, and then it was finished.  It is my own pattern, worked top-down to fit me, in the extremely beautiful Woolen Boon DK, colorway “Truffle Shuffle”.  It looks, as I’ve mentioned over and over again, like birchbark.  The complexity of it, though, I can’t even describe.  

There are little flecks of gold and rose and burnt orange and lilac and a thousand assorted and varied grays.  This yarn is a work of art.  



The weekly finished sweater motif continues.  Honestly, I can’t believe it myself, how fast these things fall from my needles.  I sit down to watch tv [right now, the Olympics.  Shaun White!  I love you!  Epic!  RAD!  I say things like “I want to see Shaun drop into the pipe, then we can go to bed”] and a couple hours later, there’s a fully-formed entire item of clothing adding itself to my wardrobe.  I weave in the ends, block it, and cast on something else before the needles have cooled off, and whoo, it is intense, but I am so interested in it right now, and all the patterns look so appealing, and all the yarns look so smooshy and wooly.  My stash calls to me.  It looks like I’m going to have to think about knitting more complicated projects if I’m not going to end up buried under a well-intentioned landslide of handknits.  More on this later as I continue to consider, but thank you very much for all your feedback; it is always welcome.  If you can recommend a pattern that’s not wildly intricate–I’m not looking for frustration–but that might take me a little while to make, I would love to hear about it.  Meanwhile, I’ve noticed there’s a difference between something I can wear on a day when I stay home and a day when I have to leave the house.  On a stay-home day, when I can sit on the rug in front of the fireplace with catdog and cook myself until the hardware in my bra starts to heat up, I will be able to wear these ethereal and wafty things that leave half of my arms unprotected.   And I’ve noticed that when I can do that, I feel a little bit, dare I say, happier?  It’s not just the staying home (though I do find that to be pretty wonderful) but the freedom of just putting on one thing, you guys.  I love it.  I look in the closet, think, ooh, here’s a shirt.  Add some pants.  I’m dressed.  All the layering up for winter, ugh.  I like to be able to bend my arms and legs freely!  I like to show off my tattoos!   It makes me struggle.  Don’t even get me started on socks.  If I had my choice, I would never put socks on again.  My feet wanna be free.  Anyway, this new thing–a modified Gilda, in Holst Supersoft, colorways silver, oatmeal, geranium, saffron, and burnt orange–which I was kind of knitting in anticipation of wearing in the future, is wearable for me now, if I stay home and can be warm enough, thankyouverymuch.  I really love it.  That Holst Supersoft is so compelling, I kind of want to work with it every minute.  The transformation it undergoes with blocking is so satisfying–I think I knit like the wind when I’m using it, just in a race to get to that moment.  So Gilda is good for cozy days at home where I can have the temperature the way I like it.  For other, less indulgent, more realistic days, there is this:

I could not be happier with or more surprised by this result.  Here is my Carbeth, knit in some unlabeled mystery date yarn I bought at Rhinebeck, possibly from Battenkill Farms?  Doc and I tried later to piece together where this came from, and I’m pretty sure that was it.  I have no idea about the fiber content, but it is gorgeously soft and tweedy with flecks (maybe the flecks are silk?  I wish I knew more about this kind of thing) and is a three-ply worsted spun natural brown wool.  It has a weight and density that is immensely satisfying, and I might suspect some alpaca, but since it doesn’t make my bare skin feel like it’s being chewed on by ants, I don’t think there can be any alpaca in it.  If there is alpaca in it, I will have to completely revise my whole anti-alpaca manifesto, because it is a total dream to wear, and it was a total joy to work with.  I kind of like that its identity is a mystery, but in fact, if you were in the Battenkill booth on the Sunday at Rhinebeck, and you were the one who pressed that freebie extra mini skein of this wonderful yarn into my hands, and said, “A gift, from me,” I want to thank you very much.  That little gift let me swatch my heart out for this sweater, without fear of running short of yarn. That’s the real gift, isn’t it?  This sweater.  Okay.  When I first saw the photos of Kate, modeling this new design, I thought, well now.  It looks so cute on her teeny self, but I can’t possibly…I don’t want to…won’t my bellybutton get cold?…and I just kept thinking about it, and coming back to it.  What an interesting silhouette it has.  A lot of other people kept coming back to it, too,because there’s a whole knitalong going on at MDK now [start yours today, you’ve got plenty of time and this pattern could not be easier.  I mean it.] So even though I had about forty reasons not to knit this sweater, I couldn’t help it and I knit one.  The gauge of it is enormous, and it only took four days, and whoo!  I can’t believe how much I love it.  I did add a little length to the body, in an effort to have the hem hit me at the same place it seems to hit the petite Kate in her sample photos.  I also made the sleeves super long, and the collar super tall, because I am still me after all.  I thought a sweater that was kind of abbreviated in all three of the coverage zones would just feel like a too-small sweater.  I think it made this one work for me, even though I know the cropping is what made the design unique, and mine is just kind of a little less interesting as a result.  As I’ve mentioned before, if something gets a little too interesting, I probably won’t want to knit it or wear it.  This time, though, I was wrong about that, and I might just make another Carbeth.  Actually cropped, this time.  So much for slowing down.