Saturday, January 23, 2016

Turn, Turn Turn: Time Travels and Vogue Knitting Live

                Revisiting places from one’s past is a powerful and sometimes poignant reminder of the turning of the years.  Returning to New York four or five years ago, after a 17-year absence, was such a time, as was last weekend, when I traveled to the city and brought along my fifteen-year-old son, James.  I combined attending Vogue Knitting Live with spending time with my son and showing him a bit of Manhattan.

                Late on a Friday afternoon, we flew out of Charlotte. When we arrived at Laguardia and waited outside in the dark for a bus to the city, a young woman from Georgia and I began to chat.  After we’d boarded the bus and rode for a bit, for some inexplicable reason, the driver told everyone to disembark in Harlem (not the scheduled last stop for this bus).  The pretty red-headed woman I’d met, who is an art teacher, tagged along with James and me to look for a subway station, as she asserted, “We Southern girls need to stick together!”  I have been living in the South for far too long! I thought, taken aback a bit.  I’d never been called a “Southern girl” or “southerner” for that matter and have always been aware of my status as a Yankee and an outsider when I’ve found myself in the thick of southern culture.

                Despite 24 years of living in the South, however, I felt quite at home in the city, as I’d worked there for five years after college and had spent my teens years exploring the city where I’d frequently visited my father, who’d lived in Greenwich Village at the time.  After boarding the subway and taking a short ride, James and I, wheeled suitcases in tow, ran the gauntlet that is Times Square (think circus combined with Disneyworld) and checked into the Marriot Marquis.  I’d bought tickets for an improv show that night at a theater in the East Village.  James and I had dinner at a British pub named Cock and Bull (where I particularly enjoyed the black-eyed pea salad) and then rode the subway downtown to the Upright Citizens Brigade theater.  I was a little uneasy about what sort of outlandish environment I’d be exposing my born-and-raised-in-Carolina son to in the East Village, but the audience in the small theater seemed to be comprised mostly of young professionals and while the show, with its line-up of comedians interspersed with improv skits by the three hosts, did contain some off-color humor, it was witty and no less shocking than anything on network TV. 

                The next morning, I took advantage of the fact that my teen-aged son, if left to his own devices, will sleep till well past noon and spent a few hours at the Vogue Knitting Live marketplace. I bought a kit from Wooly Wonka for the Into theWoods Cowl and also purchased a Yarnit  ball holder and a small hand-held yarn winder (from yarnvalet) but that was the extent of my purchases, whose cost amounted to less than $100.  Not bad, considering two floors of temptation beckoned me.  Of course, the entire time I shopped, I was aware that I had to feed a six-foot-two teenager in Manhattan (an expensive proposition) and couldn’t live on granola bars and one meal a day, as I’d done on my previous visits to Vogue Knitting Live.

I couldn't resist this braid of Finnulgarn yarn in the kit for the Into the Woods Cowl.  

Around 1:00 that first day, James and I grabbed hot dogs from a vendor (a small snack for my son) and headed for a walk downtown, on a surprisingly balmy day (48-50 degrees) for this time of year.  We walked as far as Little Italy, where James and I shared a wood-fired pizza at La Bella Vita and then took a cab to Macy’s, where James bought a jacket, as he had neglected to pack one (teenagers have different notions about temperature and comfort).   That night, we had dinner at a sports bar, the West End Bar and Grill, and headed to a performance of The Book of Mormon.  Definitely off-color and irreverent, the show did, however, present a phenomenal display of talent and witty writing.  James surprised me by asking me if we could go to Sardi’s after the show (he’d heard about this New York theater district fixture somewhere), and I was happy to oblige.  We each had a dessert and soaked in the atmosphere—white tablecloths, red-jacketed waiters, caricatures on the walls, and a sense that the décor hadn’t changed since the 1950s.  I remembered going there with my father and was struck with the sense of how a place can stand still, while the people change at an alarming rate. 

I attempted to sneak this picture of James in Little Italy.  He caught me and didn't want his picture taken!

The next day, while James slept off our busy Saturday, I had a morning class with Amy Singer, entitled Plug + Play Lace Shawl Design.  Even though I was tired, I was able to start planning my own triangular lace shawl and left the class inspired, but wishing for more time to work on my own designs.  After the class, James and I had lunch at Irish Pub, Emmett O’Lunney's (my restaurant choices were based on providing ample teen sustenance, rather than personal preferences), and then James and I took a cab uptown to the Metropolitan Museum, where we explored the Egyptian wing and the Arms and Armor display.  I visited the Costume Institute, where an exhibit of clothing from the style icon Countess Jacqueline de Ribes was on display, but didn’t linger, as I didn’t want to have James remind me for the rest of my life of how I’d tortured him at the Met.  It was difficult, however, to maintain a Carolina boy’s interest in the museum, when he saw that it was snowing outside.  A walk in the flurries for ten blocks or so along Central Park made for the perfect New York moment.

The American Wing provides an inside-outside experience.  

Central Park is romantic in the snow.

That evening, James and I attended another Broadway show, The School of Rock.  Lots of kids and teens made up the audience, one which proved to be a bit unruly before the curtain opened, but settled down once the show began.  While not as witty and biting as The Book of Mormon, the cast with many children who sang, danced, acted, and played musical instruments did a phenomenal job.  After the show, at a pizza place near Times Square, I purchased three slices, two bottles of water, and a min-bottle of wine ($5.99) to take back to the room, and the total was 41 dollars!  Talk about gouging tourists!

The view from our room at the Marriott was impressive.  

The temperature dropped on Monday, but James and I headed off for a morning stroll to Rockefeller Center, and then it was back to the hotel to check out, store our bags at the bell hop stand, and meet an old friend of mine, from my college days in the 1980s.  At Café Un Deux Trois,  we caught up a bit, and he and James became acquainted.  Sitting in this roomy French bistro with its sunny windows and sparkling chandeliers while sipping good coffee and eating a salmon crepe was food for the spirit before heading back to the real world—grabbing a cab to Laguardia, waiting for a delayed flight, returning home to go to bed before nine, and heading out for school before 6 a.m. the next day!  I hope my get-away sustains me through the coming semester, with its new students and inevitable challenges and uncertainties.  I am certain, however, in my thankfulness for the opportunity to show my son a bit of my past and leave him with his own memories.    

StevenBe's booth was filled with people and enticing yarns, such as these skeins from  Hedgehog Fibers.  

Steven Berg of StevenBe talks with a shopper.  

Jeremy Smith of StephenBe graciously posed for a picture for me.  

There were lots of opportunities for yarn sampling.  

Attending Vogue Knitting Live is like going to a huge fair, only better!

One of the vendors (I think he's from The Verdant Gryphon) pulls out on Sunday.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Christmas Bells

The pattern for "I Heard the Bells Mittens" is available on Ravelry.  

Several weeks ago, a friend-of-a-friend, arrived at my Tuesday night knitting group at Cottage Yarn with a stack of handmade mittens in tow and a promise to get a book of folk mitten patterns to me, as she’d heard about my interest in Fair Isle knitting.  I’d never met this pleasant woman, named Pauline, but I’d heard about her whimsical miniature mice, felted fairy houses, and other creations that she knits and sells at area craft fairs.  The mittens she brought were exquisite—some worked in intricate Fair Isle designs and one delicate white pair constructed with Austrian cables and embroidered with flowers. 

        When the mittens were passed around, one of the Tuesday-night knitters held the white pair in her hands, choked up, and started to cry.  Through her tears, she stated that the mittens reminded her of her late grandmother.  I admired that beautiful pair, but, when my eyes lighted on a pair of white, blue, and yellow Fair Isle mittens with the first stanza of Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells” worked into them, I was intrigued. 

        I later engaged in a little research and found myself deeply touched, actually a bit choked up myself.  The poet wrote this work, which later was set to music, on Christmas Day during the American Civil War, at a time when he was grieving the death of his wife—after her dress caught on fire and he was unable to extinguish the blaze—and coping with the fact that his son, who had enlisted in the army, had received a life-threatening wound in a skirmish.

I ordered Cascade 220 Fingering Yarn from Webs to make these mittens.  

Longfellow’s contrast of the pealing bells’ “chant sublime/Of “peace on earth” with the noise of canons that “drowns the sound” seems timely and appropriate, when one considers the current woes in the world, as does his choice of the word “forlorn” to describe households torn apart by war.  The poem also resonates with me this year, when I think of struggles that have made facing too many days in 2015 more akin to going into battle than to merely going through a mundane, but familiar routine.    

         After reading the background to this poem, naturally, I had to make these mittens.  As I knit them, I found that the activity took me away from reminiscing about Christmases, people, and places of the past—a melancholy activity in which I tend to indulge this time of the year.  Working the mittens with their simple poem also offered a respite from this season’s overabundance of advertisements, hours and hours of holiday music and movies dripping with sentimental portraits of a life I’d speculate that most of us have never known, and the general frenzy of activity that always makes me long to escape to a quiet cabin in the woods for Christmas. 

         Focusing on manipulating two colors, using one hand to work each, aiming toward a deadline to give these mittens as a gift, and thinking about the poem itself, with a last stanza where the bells “more loud and deep” overcome despair and where Longfellow asserts, “The wrong shall fail/the right prevail,” was the perfect soothing tonic for this hectic, and sometimes difficult, time of year. 

This month, I also made these Tulle mittens for a gift.  They are from Interweave Knits Winter 2016.  I used some Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino that I'd been given a few years ago.  This  yarn made soft mittens that hug the hand beautifully.  

In November, I  finished this Wrapped in  Leaves shawl using Berroco Folio yarn.  The green color is perfect for holiday wear.   (I'm keeping this for myself.) 

These holiday mittens didn't get finished in time!  I love the Milla-Mia Swedish yarn I'm using.  

I had to share a picture of another project that has kept me occupied in recent weeks.  I  used a package of fat quarters that I had bought in London at John Lewis to make these bunnies.  (I improvised and made my own template.)  The fabric looks like a Liberty Print but it's by "Sew Easy."  These bunnies are stuffed with fiber-fill, but I also ordered a large bag of lavender from and made numerous sachets with the same fabric for presents for friends and co-workers.  

I was also able to make this bird pincushion and still have fabric left over.  The pattern is available for free from Janome.  Here is a PDF of instructions.  A video tutorial and more pictures are available at thediydish.

Christmas Bells

    I HEARD the bells on Christmas Day
    Their old, familiar carols play,
        And wild and sweet
        The words repeat
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And thought how, as the day had come,
    The belfries of all Christendom
        Had rolled along
        The unbroken song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Till ringing, singing on its way,
    The world revolved from night to day,
        A voice, a chime,
        A chant sublime
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    Then from each black, accursed mouth
    The cannon thundered in the South,
        And with the sound
        The carols drowned
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    It was as if an earthquake rent
    The hearth-stones of a continent,
        And made forlorn
        The households born
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

    And in despair I bowed my head;
    "There is no peace on earth," I said;
        "For hate is strong,
        And mocks the song
    Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

    Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
    "God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
        The Wrong shall fail,
        The Right prevail,
    With peace on earth, good-will to men."

Monday, November 16, 2015

Looking Backward

          I just put the finishing touches on a Fair Isle cardigan, one I worked using vibrant hues of Jamieson's Shetland yarn.  I love the Fair Isle technique, not just because the patterns are aesthetically pleasing and interesting to knit, but also due to the fact that this style is evocative of a particular time and place, one discussed by author Sarah Laurensen in an article in Scottish Memories magazine.  She recounts how in the mid- to late- nineteenth century, “. . . Fair Isle knitwear became a sort of souvenir that epitomised rural Scotland.  Associations with the everyday life of fisherman fed in to romantic notions of Scottishness at the time, as well as a revival of all things Nordic” (100). To me, knitting Fair Isle, with this connection to a pre-industrial, and perhaps, mythical, past makes me feel tied to tradition and history.     

          Knitting the Foxglove sweater also evoked more current times, last July in particular, when my husband and I visited friends in the English countryside.  My gracious hosts made certain our week's itinerary included a visit to the nearby Oxford Yarn Shop, where the owner introduced me to some of Kate Davies's publications.  Davies is a designer whose work reflects her links to the Scottish Highlands, where she resides, and to its heritage of wool and knitwear production. While Davies often employs traditional styles, her engaging designs appear fresh and have a viable appeal to contemporary knitters.  

Kate Davies' blog provides instructions for finishing a steek in a way that's a little different from the other crocheted steeks I have seen in books and videos.  With her method, a neat covered seam is made in the the center and then is cut open.  

I actually like cutting steeks.  The experience is scary, but successfully executing the precise
process  fills me with a great sense of accomplishment.  

         Now that I’m done knitting my Fair Isle cardigan, I’ve moved on to another garment, one that perhaps does not reflect a tradition grounded in a particular location or time, but one that is certainly evocative of the past.  The Marianne sweater from the latest issue of Jane Austen Knits is next in my queue, and I have some lovely Fiberspates Vivacious yarn to use to complete it.  While Marianne Dashwood in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility probably never wore anything of the kind, the lacy cardigan brings to mind romantic trysts on woodland paths, walks in the rain, and fireside recitations of romantic poetry.  This sweater should take me lots of places—at least in my mind.  Romantic Marianne eventually grew up and ceased her woolgathering (I love this word!). Maybe I will do the same one day.  

I found some inexpensive Celtic-looking buttons to use.  After showing a friend my finished garment, she told me about friends of hers who make and sell hand-crafted pewter buttons, many in Celtic designs.  I'll have to buy some for my next cable or Fair Isle project.  I checked out their website and saw that they also make knitting inspired jewelry!

I love this "Bunny Button" from The
Rams Horn.    

This is the artists' "Large Bold
Celtic Spiral" button.

Davies recommends trimming the crocheted steek edge.  I was afraid to do this but steeled myself and went ahead.  

The edges didn't fray.  

Davies shows a vintage sweater on her blog with a blanket stitch used to finish the steek edges.  I used this method.  I'd bought ribbon to cover the steek but it was polyester and didn't go with the organic feel of the sweater.  I need to find some 100% cotton grosgrain ribbon for my next project.  

Cited Source 

Laurenson, Sarah. "Fair Isle Knitting." Scottish Memories (2015): 100. MasterFILE  
Complete. Web. 12.  Nov. 2015.