Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Time Out from To-Do Lists

This spring break project is going to be the Trefoil Cardigan, designed by Gudrun Johnson and
published in November Knits.  This cardigan requires steeks for the front opening and the
pockets, so it will require some patience and attention to detail.  

     I can't believe that nearly a month has passed since my last post.  My new job with its endless essays is draining me a bit dry.  But, thankfully, last Thursday, I wished my students a happy and safe spring break.  And, after a Good Friday spent at a very quiet school where I made only a small hollow in the large pit of papers I had to grade, I officially began my time off.  While many families enjoy reconnecting at the beach or other get-away destinations during time off, as usual, I have found myself at home and a bit overwhelmed by all of the items on my to-do list.  Where does one begin? 

     *Pressure wash mildew-covered posts at front of house.

     *Dust. (My mother still makes it a point to remind me that she hasn’t gotten over the layer of asthma-inducing dust she discovered on the tops of my picture frames when she visited me several years ago. There must be a fresh layer by now.)

     *Schedule an appointment at the vet for my seventy-pound dog who is afraid to get in the car (and must, therefore, be lifted) so she can get her booster shots.

     *Clean out the garage!  Someday I would like to actually park a car in there.

    *Sand and spackle and paint the sheetrock that slants overhead as one goes up the stairs.  (This exposed board has been in its current unfinished state for nearly two years.)

     *Polish silver. (When I was a teenager on the way to a college interview, my mother—divorced and struggling to make ends meet—handed me a camel hair cashmere coat to wear.  She’d purchased this item for herself years earlier at Saks Fifth Avenue.  This gift was accompanied by the statement, “We are hanging onto the shreds of our gentility.” While the coat is long gone, the silver shares a similar symbolic value, so I’ll probably hold onto it to pass onto some unwitting future daughter-in-law who will likely prefer modern minimalist d├ęcor.) 
     *Actually cook something besides the deviled eggs and bean salad I managed to throw together to bring to a family dinner on Easter Sunday.

     *Weed the garden boxes and over-sized pots for tomato plants in my back yard.

     *Mop the kitchen floor. 

     *Do laundry. 

     *Clean out the refrigerator. 

With such a list, it might seem surprising that I spent over an hour at the fabric store yesterday, happily perusing patterns and rows of bolts and have occupied myself this morning cutting and beginning to put together a floor-length wrap dress.  It might also seem odd that in the several days I have already had off, I have worked a huge chunk of a Fair Isle cardigan in fingering weight yarn (pictured above), after completing a lacy shrug (pictured below) made with soft alpaca sport weight yarn.  The answer is simple, though.  Escape!  There’s something about the easy flow of knitting or the complete concentration of sewing that banishes the swirling list of unfinished items to the nether reaches of my consciousness.  I could get up and polish and weed or go buy light bulbs for the hall light (that burnt out yesterday), and I eventually will do those things, but, for right now, having long expanses of time to spend on creative endeavors is much too appealing—especially when there is so much pollen in the air this spring that it is difficult to focus anyway.

Here is my finished Layering Shrug designed Juju Vail.  It's hard for the eye to focus on the garment
 here, as the brick-a-brack on the piano is distracting.  I really need  to put some of this stuff
 away, but knitting is a much more pleasant pastime.   

     Escape is, at times, much more preferable than reality.  So, while I have managed this week to take my younger son to the eye doctor and dermatologist, to deep clean the kitchen, to pressure wash the patio and its furniture, to plant some annuals, to put four bags of gravel along the edge of the driveway, to sort through and discard canned goods with expired "best-by" dates, and to organize part of my yarn stash, I intend to spend many hours during the remainder of my time off working on my dress or knitting. With some effort, I should make some more dents in my stash, that I am determined to reduce.  

My close friend Cindy gave me this skein of hand spun and dyed alpaca yarn last summer.  I finally cast on a lacy cowl.  

I finally finished a shawl using Blue Heron yarn.  I used a handy shawl knitting "Cheat Sheet" from Laylock, which includes five basic shawl patterns knitters can use to suit their purposes.  I made the half-circle shawl.  

     Temptation always awaits, however.  Last night, the Tuesday night knitters at Cottage Yarn began a knit-along sponsored by Classic Elite Yarns. The scarf they are making uses Santorini, a beautiful cotton and viscose multi-colored yarn, and Sanibel, a solid version with the same fiber content, and features an interesting triangle pattern.  I want to join in the fun. . . .  But if I bring any more yarn into the house at this present time, I’m not certain that any knitting, or sewing, or sketching (another hobby I’ve taken up in the last week or so) will provide escape from a stash that threatens, like some oozing tide of lava descending on Pompeii, to bury me alive.  

This is Santorini by Classic Elite Yarns.  I'm using it to make the Sanibel Lace Shawl (below)  in progress.


I have never taken a drawing class, so this first attempt is probably very primitive,
but I enjoyed working on this and the picture below.  Neither one is complete yet.    

Here is a sketch of one of my dogs, Stella.  

This pattern is a little busy.  I think it looks a bit like fruits and vegetables, but the saleswoman at the fabric store said that the design is reminiscent of jewels.  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Me and Mrs. Dalloway


     “Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”  This first line from Virginia Woolf’s novel (named for its heroine) fluttered through my mind Friday afternoon as I made my way through a local supermarket, admiring and photographing the displays of flowers, exchanging small talk with employees, and selecting a few items for an easy end-of-week dinner. In the manner of Clarissa Dalloway, I can be an introspective person, critical of life’s absurdities and saddened by second-guessing past decisions.  But, like Clarissa Dalloway, the bustle of the marketplace and the pleasures of getting swallowed up in making plans distract and engage me, lifting my spirits when they are slumped. 

I couldn't resist a rare treat--roses on sale.  

      While I move in a very different social milieu than that of Clarissa Dalloway and don’t plan society parties or even, at present, have the energy to plan a small get-together in my home, I occupy myself with planning meals, devising household organizing schemes, browsing online maps and tourism sites for an upcoming trip, and other diverting pleasures.  And, of course, as spring approaches, making plans to knit up garments in bright lightweight yarn occupies my thoughts.

     Perhaps I don’t have a right to yearn for spring, though, as I live in a region of North Carolina that hasn’t been walloped by a harsh winter with record-breaking snowfall--like so many states to the north of me.   The Charlotte area only had a light sprinkling of snow once or twice and was hit with a light sprinkling of freezing rain (although the media built up that particular storm with the dire warnings and dramatic diction and tone of voice suited for an impending apocalypse).  But it has been wet and dark on many days.  And we’ve had a schizophrenic season with bouts of record-breaking cold on the backs of balmy days in the seventies.  It is, perhaps, this inconsistency that has made people here ready for a new season.  I hear again and again, “I’m done with winter.”

While this is wool Malabrigo yarn, the "English Rose" color is perfect for spring.  This will be the Berry Wrap from Juju's Loops, a favorite pattern book I bought from Loop of London.   

The color combination found in these flowers on display at Publix could be used to make a pretty knitted spring accessory or garment.  

      Knitters share that sentiment.   My local yarn shop is a bustle with shoppers selecting linen, silk, and cotton yarns that recently hit the shelves.  As I am on a yarn fast until Easter, it is difficult to resist these temptations.  However, a store credit allowed me to engage in my addiction and obtain some Louisa Harding Noema in cheerful shades of pink.  Last year, I knit a sweater with this same yarn in a teal color; now I’m planning another, something light and open—perfect to wear this coming summer. 

This Noema yarn displays springtime tones.  


     I’m also looking for inspiration for new projects and hope to make a day trip to The Biltmore Estate during spring break.  The Vanderbuilts, who built and lived in this mansion, had an elegant way a life similar to that of the Granthams of Downton Abbey, so, appropriately, an exhibition of 45 costumes from the popular BBC mini-series is currently on display there as part of an exhibit entitled "Dressing Downton."  Making plans for a day trip to ooh and ah over exquisite garments and to visit the Biltmore's springtime gardens is a welcome distraction from this dreary, dragged out winter season.  And, as I’ll be making this excursion after the end of my Lenten yarn fast, I might have to make a stop at one or two  Asheville yarn shops on the way home.  Escapist activities such as yarn shopping and costume viewing—or the party planning and flower shopping of Mrs. Dalloway—might be a bit superficial and shallow, but they take me, and I’d venture to assume lots of other folks, away from the dark moments of  a long winter. 

Lynn, the owner of Cottage Yarn, took a picture of me with my finished winter project, the
Tracery Vest, from The Unofficial Harry Potter Knits.  

I looked at the pattern too quickly at first and cast on and knit the wrong size.  My vest is now proudly on display at Cottage Yarn.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

UFOs and a Scary Stash

        One night, when I was in my early twenties, I got in my bed in my family's old Victorian house and cracked open a book about aliens.  The author and publisher of this glossy paperback claimed that its contents constituted a nonfiction account.  This volume didn't present the habits and lifestyles of little green men, though.  Rather, it was about little gray creatures, nocturnal visitors to the bedrooms of unwitting human victims.  Those preyed upon individuals found themselves disoriented, in twilight states, as they underwent invasive and painful medical procedures.  

      As a person who, in present times, occasionally suffers from nightmares that require me to rouse my husband in the wee hours of the morning so that he can provide me with grudgingly given solace, I can attest that I was no different when I was younger.  Horror movies and scary books didn't sit well with me. I couldn't bear to finish that alien book (with a title that, probably due to the effects of post-traumatic stress, I can't recall) and had to remove it from my sight.  I had a similar experience in my late teens when I'd gotten in bed on a cold, windy night to read Stephen King's novel The Shining.  I was accompanied by my family dog, a Labradoodle who, that particular time, was splayed on the bed on a quilt but who sat up with ears perked (as much as was possible with long floppy flaps) and growled every few minutes when a mysterious bang reverberated outside.  (I think a loose shutter was hitting against the house.) Needless to say The Shining remains on my unfinished list (and I've never sat through more than a few minutes of the movie when I've come across it channel surfing).  

     At present, the agitation and anxiety I am experiencing is akin to those feelings elicited by my girlish nocturnal reading.  My once relatively peaceful (and, as yet, never-subject-to-invasion-by-strangers bedroom) is under siege--not by little gray men wielding medical apparatuses or resurrected dead pets on a rampage--but by Unfinished Objects (UFOs)  and by ready-to-cast-on projects--carefully placed in bags.  I wake each morning and look at this bonanza and am frozen with guilt and indecision. 

I am so pleased that I used one skein of two of striped Liberty Wool Light that I've had  in my possession for a year or two.  This hat was a quick project and perfect for the ice storm that headed my way on the day I finished it.  

This Eyelet Swirl hat pattern is available for free from Classic Elite yarns.  


I used yarn I'd purchased last October to make these Van Dyke socks almost in time for Valentine's Day.  


       The cotton worsted weight newborn sweater is awaiting seaming, but I know that the end result will be unpleasing--a lighter yarn would be more in proportion for wear by a tiny infant. The one-foot-knitted-so-far shawl made with lace-weight variegated yarn and cast on on a train in Italy in 2011 hints at a gorgeous finished project.  But the work is so slow moving that, after plying my needles  for an hour or more and making progress on maybe three-quarters of an inch, I am disheartened and unmotivated to pick it up again for months at a time.  The skein of sparkly, expensive Blue Heron yarn would make a stunning evening shawl--if only I could decide on a suitable pattern.  The wound ball of merino and cashmere lace-weight yarn bought in London in 2013 is waiting to use in a gossamer project that I am certain will move towards completion at a speed equal to that of a passive aggressive student when I ask him to move across the room to return to his seat.  I also have enough purple worsted  for a sweater, green DK merin0 for a sweater, etc. Two yarn shops have closed in my area (the owners retired) in the last six months, so buying in bulk was difficult to resist.

     There is also the soft Folio yarn for the Modular Lace Blouse in The Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits 2014.  I'm almost done with the back panel and plan to work solely on this project for a while--after I finish up the Tracery Vest. I've been picking up stitches to add the final ribbing.  

This will be the back panel of the Modular Lace Blouse.  

After dragging out my sewing machine, I attacked my sewing UFOs.  This is a quilt made with Downton Abbey inspired fabric.  Now on to the bathrobe, underwear, 19th century pants for a costume that await.  There's also that little girl's dress from a vintage 1950's pattern awaiting buttonholes and its matching coat that needs seaming.  

        This above list is by no means conclusive.  As I type I think about a couple of other sweater projects ready to go. With the onset of my annual yarn fast, though, I have until Easter to make a dent in my stash.  How many sweaters and shawls can be knit in slightly less than 40 days? Whatever the end result of my yarn shopping moratorium, I am not going to be cowed by my exploding stash.  With a little organization--involving squirreling stuff away in bins and boxes--I can go to bed each night and rest easy.  I don't have to face the UFO invasion head on--rather it can be slyly outwitted.   

    Of course, I only have one UFO in a summer yarn (a lacy T-shirt crafted with silk fiber), so when that's completed all of the lightweight garments perfect for balmy weather that beckon from the spring knitting  magazines that have been filling my mailbox might make yarn shopping a temptation too enticing to resist.  Of course, my silky T probably won't be finished until next year's snow is falling. . . .

School was closed for two days due to an ice storm--perfect time for working on UFOs and busting my stash.