Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hello Dolly

"Every stress leaves an indelible scar, and the organism pays for its survival after a stressful situation by becoming a little older."

                                         -Hans Selye

In Guy de Maupassant’s short story “The Necklace,” Mathilde Loisel, struggles for ten years to pay a debt for a lost necklace. This decade of toil inflicts ill effects upon Loisel’s appearance, so much so that, when she encounters a wealthy girlhood friend (the woman who had loaned her the necklace), Loisel is greeted with the words, "Oh! . . . my poor Mathilde, how you have changed! . . ."  When I think about the ravages this past year have worked upon my psyche and physique, I envision a similar reaction from individuals I run into who have not seen me in a year or two. 

This has been a tough school year, and a week ago, just when I was ready to exhale, thinking I was in the home stretch, my seventeen-year-old son was driving home from a friend’s and took a turn too fast in his car.  The vehicle went airborne and spun around, before running through fence posts and collapsing like some failed soufflé in the middle of field.   The totaled vehicle with its broken axles had to be “winched” out of the earth to load it onto the wrecker, but, incredibly, my son was unharmed and seemingly none too fazed by the experience.  His accident didn’t interrupt his trips to the gym or daily runs around our neighborhood. 

His parents, needless to say, haven’t fared so well.  The stress has been palpable, as has the exhaustion.  In typical fashion, however, I have sought solace in quiet, endeavors related to handicrafts.    A quiet Sunday spent in solitude knitting and working on restoring an antique doll was balm to my troubled spirits the day after the accident.  I didn’t exactly talk to the doll (so, despite tension, I haven’t quite lost touch with reality in the manner of Laura in “The Glass Menagerie”), but I have to say that once or twice the words, That will look so nice, Dolly, did pop into my mind, as I carefully washed the doll and her clothes, embroidered new French knot pupils, and began work on a shawl of my own design for her to wear.

The doll does not belong to me.  A co-worker, Ann, and I had been talking early in the semester, and she’d mentioned that she had a doll (appropriately named Dolly) that had belonged to her great grandmother, a woman who had lived in the  mountains of Virginia, and that the doll had gotten quite soiled.  Ann told me that planned to take her to the dry cleaner’s.  I almost shrieked, “No, don’t do that!” as dry cleaning shops, with their noxious chemicals and owners notorious for their avoidance of accountability for damage, seemed the least hospitable place for Dolly to go to be spruced up.  So I volunteered to do a little bit of research about cleaning old fabrics and asked my co-worker to wait until close to the end of the school year before trusting Dolly to my care.  I figured that I would get to work once school ended, but the task beckoned to me last week.

I read a little bit about cleaning old fabric and discovered that gentle detergent (I used Euclan) as well as lemon juice and salt would work, so I removed Dolly’s stitched-on garments and set about soaking these items and Dolly herself in the bath. 

The top is washed and pressed here, but still has some stains.  

I also added some new hair made out of Debbie Bliss’s baby Cashmerino.  In case my co-worker was concerned with preserving Dolly’s integrity as an antique, I left the original hair underneath.  But Ann, my fellow English teacher loved Dolly’s hair—and her new braids with ribbons, an alteration I made to one of the doll’s two heads.  She exclaimed that her great grandmother was looking down and smiling when I returned Dolly to her, and Ann also appreciated Dolly’s new pink shawl. 

The shawl is a simple pattern I created.  I have the chart completed, but need to work up some simple instructions (which I will post with the chart soon).  There is only a hint of a lace design, as anything too fancy wouldn’t compliment Dolly’s humble calico skirts and sun bonnets.  

As I worked on Dolly and packed her up to return her to her owner, I couldn’t help but sing to myself, “Well, Hello, Dolly.  Lookin’ swell, Dolly,” words from the old musical, which I recall watching as a child. The lyrics here seem particularly apropos: 

Hello Dolly, ......well, hello, Dolly
It's so nice to have you back where you belong
You're lookin' swell, Dolly.......I can tell, Dolly
You're still glowin''re still crowin''re still goin'         strong
I feel that room swayin'......while the band's playin'
One of your old favourite songs from way back when
So..... take her wrap, fellas.......find her an empty lap,        
Dolly'll never go away again

Hello Dolly, .....well, hello, Dolly
It's so nice to have you back where you belong
You're lookin' swell, Dolly.....I can tell, Dolly
You're still glowin''re still crowin''re still goin'         strong
I feel the room swayin'...while that ole band keeps on    
One of your old favourite songs from way back when
So...golly, gee, fellas....find her an empty knee, fellas
Dolly'll never go away....I said she'll never go away
Dolly'll never go away again

--Louis Armstrong

As Dolly is now spruced up for another century, she will probably not stray from her home for some time now.  The stress of time did leave some indelible marks on Dolly, but, in general, she appears fresh and pretty.  Maybe a few weeks of summer rest will have the same restorative effects on me, so that the haggard schoolteacher (who wore jeans and sported hair that went in every direction the last week of school) will emerge with a rested and revitalized glow by summer’s end. I will also have a new shawl of my own to wear.  In stolen moments this past month I finished a lace shawl for myself, a bit fancier than the one I made for Dolly.

The pattern for this shawl is called "Turquoise Lace Shawl and is found in the Holiday 2013 issue of Vogue Knitting.

I used Juno Fibre Arts Alice Lace, a hand-dyed yarn composed of baby alpaca, silk, and cashmere.  

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tangled Lessons


I've always done things the hard way. I was born like a piece of tangled yarn. The job is trying to untangle it, and I'll probably go on doing it for the rest of my life.
       The sentiment expressed by Karen Allen (probably best known for her role as a spirited sidekick to the hero in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) applies to me.    As a result of hard-headedness, grandiose aspirations, impulse-driven endeavors, and general ignorance and impatience, I can look back remorsefully on so many mistakes in my life . . . and in my knitting.  Of course, so much of life is maintaining a healthy perspective, and, as I get older, I try to view blunders with less regret and, instead, examine them for the lessons they have imparted. 

        I recently finished a lovely Trefoil Cardigan, a task that provided numerous unwelcome reminders of my shortcomings as a knitter and person.  When I steeked the center opening of the cardigan,  I found that the loose ends of the contrast yarns threatened to unravel.  (I don't have pictures of the escaping strands, as, at the time, I was too worried and preoccupied to pick up my camera.)  Lesson 1:  Superwash Wool is not “sticky” (its scales have been removed).  "Scaly" Shetland yarn is a Fair Isle and steeking staple for a reason.  Lesson 2: Read up on a skill before tackling it.  I ignored the instructions and didn't do research before choosing to use crochet to secure the steek.  I later had to resort to the sewing machine to tame unruly strands.  

This is the center with the crocheted reinforcement.    

Using scissors on one's knitwear can be intimidating.  

Troubles with the center opening encouraged
 me to secure the pocket steeks with a 
sewing maching before cutting.

     This sweater also taught me a lesson that is reinforced and forgotten each school year.  By April, a teacher's thinking is fuzzy, as each day she plods along, while the students become less motivated, are plagued with heightened emotion about impending final grades, and display increasing unruliness with each hour that brings them closer to summer break.  It is not the time of year to tackle challenging knitting projects.  

Notice how the top two buttons are too close together.  

 I decided to tear out the button band, remove the buttons, and fix my error.

I used fresh yarn to replace this curly frogged stuff.

      In the wee hours of the morning, I tore out and measured and marked and measured and marked.  I then carefully reknit the button band and reattached all 11 buttons.  But, when I was done, I realized that I had blindly ignored the big picture (see below). Ugh!  I have a retired teacher friend who, while sewing costumes for a springtime student play years ago, improperly attached a mermaid tail--inside out--to a costume body three times!  Her error makes perfect sense to me. 

Look at the misaligned yoke!

      With visions of cool winter days, where I proudly accept compliments on my homemade sweater, I once again tackled removing and reattaching the buttons.  Thankfully, the buttonholes were evenly spaced and didn't need reworking.

The final product may not be perfect, but I have also learned that perfectionism can be a curse!

      To celebrate finishing this item, several days ago I cast on a lovely lace shawl, a pattern I'd found in a past issue of Vogue Knitting.  I had purchased a skein of some divine cashmere, alpaca, and silk lace weight yarn at Loop in London back in 2013, and thought I'd better use this up.  (I don't want to  feel guilty buying more yarn on an upcoming trip to England this summer.)

       Of course, I dove right in and didn't realize that this pattern has bobbles, hundreds of bobbles!  While not a tragedy, working bobbles with lace-weight yarn requires slowing down and actually focusing--not an easy task with the end of the school year less than a month away (and 77 essays left to grade!).

This is the work-in-progress with its many tiny bobbles.

     This shawl is wonderfully soft and the intricate bobbled pattern is worthy of the fine yarn.  I worked another project with bobbles that taught me a lesson the hard way.  This dress was my first attempt at making a sweater. Knitting this garment was a process fraught with hurled expletives. But now I am the proud owner of a finely wrought garment crafted in rough, inexpensive, and rather dull-colored green yarn purchased at a big-box store.  Lesson:  Craftsmanship deserves quality.    

      Alas, I must remember that my knitting successes have been more frequent than my failures.  Such an attitude is conducive to maintaining a positive outlook regarding knitting and life. 

This is my classroom at the school where I started working last August, after 22 years of teaching in a different county--really a different country!  I have learned lots of lessons here!

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 décor.) 
     *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.