Almost Mindless Knitting

Last summer, I found myself very briefly between Big Events in my life, and I needed to knit something that didn’t matter. Too much else mattered in my life at that time for me to also be knitting anything with emotional investment. Besides, my mind felt too soft to focus on anything that required much brain power.

What do you make when you need your hands to be active but your mind to rest? What do you make when you need to feel like you’re moving forward but you don’t want to put too much hope in the outcome?

I made dishcloths. I haven’t made dishcloths in years – they just aren’t the type of thing I typically want to spend my time on. But it turns out that all the things that make me usually shy away from them are what made them exactly the right project for me last August.

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This is the Almost Lost Washcloth, a round scalloped washcloth I find perfectly adorable. I can’t tell you what yarn or needles I used, because I kept no notes (and didn’t even log it on Ravelry until today). It was just some cotton yarn I had on-hand. I made these in almost no time at all.

And quickly followed up with a Mini Almost Lost Washcloth, equally adorable but on a smaller scale.

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The thing about knitting dishcloths is that, unless you are giving them away, it really doesn’t matter if you make mistakes in them, because they will still be perfectly useful These are by no means perfect – I think the wee one even has an extra petal in there – but the knitting was therapeutic and the final product is functional, plus the colors make me happy. Knitting therapy at its finest.

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Advent Activity Calendar :: The Middle School Edition

How it got to be December already is a mystery to me. Also a mystery to me? Why I decided six years ago to set myself up for endless pressured creativity and activity for Advent every year. But when my sons were in kindergarten, that’s exactly what I did, by creating an Advent Activity Calendar for them, with a slip of paper for each day with a family activity on it. I was such a gung-ho Mom back then. Also, my kids were young and seemed to appreciate any idea I came up with.

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But my kids are in their first year of middle school now, and let me assure you that they no longer automatically appreciate any effort or idea. Also, I am tired and not very gung-ho.

And yet, my little men-children still want an Advent calendar. When I raised the possibility that perhaps they were too old for such a thing this year, they were shocked, scandalized, and horrified. What? Not do an Advent calendar? That is unacceptable. (It was basically the exact same response I got when I suggested they were maybe too old to go trick-or-treating.)

And that is how I found myself last night, hanging up the garland.

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Those little mittens bring me so much joy, even though I’m now faced with the daunting task of coming up with 24 family activities that middle schoolers would enjoy. I’ve been working on a list, but if you have suggestions, I’m certainly interested to know what they are. Each year, I do some of the favorites from years past (making homemade marshmallows, for instance, is an absolute tradition at this point), but I also like to introduce some new possibilities, too. My ideal activity is one which engages the kids, is in harmony with the spirit of the season, and doesn’t wear me out. Pretty tall order, eh?

If you are interested in seeing what I’ve done in the past, you can click the Advent Activity Calendar tab above, or choose the Advent Activity Calendar category on the right side of the screen. I used to be way better at documenting our activities than in recent years (like I said, I’ve lost my gung-ho-ness), but those first three years have plenty of ideas you can use or build on.

And whether or not you are making an Advent activity calendar, I can’t recommend the Smitten holiday garland pattern highly enough. I’ve made two sets so far and could see more in my future someday (possibly handspun). These little mittens are so fast and so fun and so absolutely adorable.  If you are looking for some instant gratification or quick gift, you can’t go wrong in casting on for a single wee Smitten (but you probably can’t stop at just one).

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Smitten Advent Garland

For a Little Fashionista (Handspun In Threes Cardi)

Earlier this year, I did what is for me a nearly unprecedented thing – I finished a handknit present a whole six weeks before the gift-giving occasion. This feat was made even more remarkable by the fact that I also spun the yarn up first. I then made up for this extraordinary punctuality by waiting more than half a year to blog about it.

I think I did show you the yarn last spring, but just in case not, here ’tis:

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This is Southern Cross Fibre “Dragon Fruit” on Bond/Silk, the February 2015 Club Offering (my first SCF club!). I spun it up as soon as I received it, and it was a dream. I ended up with 252 yards DK 2-ply, perfect for a toddler cardigan.

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This picture doesn’t do justice to those juicy colors. Oh YUM, I love them.

The knitting was fast and easy, and one week later, I was done:

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This is the In Three Cardigan, and it was a very sweet knit. After finishing up, I had enough yarn to crochet this precious Flower Accent, perfect for embellishing the sweater or attaching to a headband. I found some gorgeous green bakelite buttons from Sewing Vineyard on Etsy.

The sweater was for my great-niece, on the occasion of her first birthday. I made the 12-month size but with a slightly bigger gauge, figuring it would fit for fall.

And it did…

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Oh mercy, y’all. She is KILLING ME with the cute! And those grey boots!!! With those jeans! There may be nothing I love more than seeing someone I love wearing something I made for them. And when one of them looks this good in it, it just makes my heart explode.

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Handspun Sisterhood Stretcher (Quaker Yarn Stretcher)

Last month, thanks to a cancelled flight and some reshuffling, I had some extra hang time in airports on my way to Rhinebeck. It seemed to me the perfect time to cast on for something new.

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I had packed this skein of my own handspun – the first yarn I spun after my mother’s unexpected death, after weeks of not feeling like knitting, spinning, or doing anything I usually enjoyed. The yarn felt special to me, a symbol of hope and comfort as I began to try to emerge from those early dark days of devastation.

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Southern Cross Fibre Organic Merino, “Laurel Crown”

It was so deeply satisfying to knit with this particular yarn, in our cabin in Red Hook, surrounded by a circle of friends. As I’ve already written, the time with these women was nourishing and healing and strengthening, and just so, so good.

On our last night together, I bound off the project I’d started on the way there.

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It was a fast and thoroughly enjoyable knit, extremely easy and perfect for travel. The pattern is the Quaker Yarn Stretcher, a free pattern designed for using a single skein of handspun (it can be adapted to be bigger or smaller depending on your yardage).

The simplicity and texture really show off the beauty of handspun.

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I enjoyed every stitch, and now that it’s done, I love wearing it too.

It’s like a little piece of Rhinebeck I brought home with me, the hours of laughter and stories from knitter-sisters stitched into it.

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When I put it around my shoulders, I feel wrapped in sisterhood, which really helps these days.

Also, it’s just pretty!

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It is rare to find a pattern that is so deeply satisfying in both the knitting and the wearing. It’s so functional too – perfect as a scarf, it also works up easily in more yarn as a shawlette or shawl. I would highly recommend this pattern, and I will almost certainly be knitting this again.

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The Almost Perfect Sweater (Handspun Laurie)

This summer, I had a brief lull between major events in the life of my family. That lull neatly corresponded with Tour de Fleece, so I spun and spun and spun, ending up with more finished yarn than during any previous Tour.

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I was especially excited about the pound of Hello Yarn “Gobbler” on Cheviot. A wooly wool similar to Shetland, this was a delight to spin.

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I spun it with a sweater in mind, thinking these colors would be absolutely perfect for fall.

I cast on during my family’s staycation in mid-August. The following week, I knit my little heart out in the waiting area while my husband had surgery.

In June, my husband was diagnosed with moderately aggressive prostate cancer. The diagnosis was scary and the surgery to remove it was major, but everything went very well and his prognosis is excellent. The pathology report indicated that the cancer was confined to the prostate and that the surgery got it all.

But before we got to that point, the summer was fraught with worry. My knitting was a good companion during the time of waiting; this sweater has a lot of hope stitched into it.

I wanted a sweater pattern that was simple, slouchy, and textured. The Laurie pattern looked like it would fit the bill, and mostly, it did. I love the wide neck, and the intriguing sweater construction. After the neck, the knitting is just round and round, with the tiniest bit of texture to keep things interesting.

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One of the things that drew me to the pattern was its shape – a little slouchy, a little boxy. But that’s also what kept it from being totally perfect. Because once I finished and put it on, it looked too boxy. There’s a whole bunch of weird extra fabric in the back (almost like wings), and no way to fix that by taking in the sides because it’s seamless.

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At first, I thought the problem was with my execution – perhaps I picked a size too large, or maybe it was the fact that I was knitting with a heavier weight of yarn (worsted as opposed to DK, with my stitch count adjusted for my gauge). But the more I studied the pattern photos and pictures other people have posted of their sweater, the more I realized that, no, it’s a feature of the sweater. Everyone seems to pose their way around it – with arms crossed, or hands on hips holding the sweater in closer, for instance – but if you look more closely, you will see the extra fabric in the back on some pictures.

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If I pose like this, you can’t see the extra back fabric, right? (ironic duck face distracts the eye even more)

At first I was pretty disappointed. It was a lot of knitting (not to mention spinning) to end up looking like a blob.

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Blobbiness emphasized by horizontal stripes!

But my husband has convinced me that it looks better than I thought, and that not everything has to be the most flattering things I’ve ever worn.

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I can always rip back to the armpits and decrease several stitches at the bust, to see if that helps. But for now, I’m going to keep wearing it as is.

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Because it is so comfortable, and so cozy, and the colors are so yummy.

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I wore it to Rhinebeck, so it also reminds me of super-happy times with a sisterhood of knitters.

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It’s not everything I wanted it to be, but it’s almost everything. And it’s basically almost perfect. And for now, that’s good enough.

 

Once in a Blue Moon (Handspun Rosa Sweater)

Once in a blue moon, I write a post exactly when I intended to write it. This is not that time. I’ve been trying to write this post for three months.

I’ve written a little about the difficult summer my family went through this year, which culminated devastatingly in the sudden, unexpected death of my mother 10 weeks ago. As horrible as losing her has been, things actually could have been even worse. Because a little more than a month before my mom died, my father almost died.

It’s a long and unusual story that I don’t have the emotional energy (or hand dexterity) to tell now. But the upshot is that, on the evening of July 29, I found myself speeding up the road from the panhandle of Florida (where I had been vacationing with my husband, kids, and husband’s kids) to Atlanta, where my dad was being rushed (from a hospital two hours away) for emergency surgery for an aortic dissection that had gone undetected for 10 days. I made it to his bedside literally five minutes before he was wheeled away (at 12:45am), and my brother and I spent a fretful night alone in the waiting room, calling our mom with updates (my mom, a paraplegic, was unable to travel to be there herself). At 6:30 the next morning, the surgeon came to tell us that not only had the surgery been successful, but it looked like my dad might regain kidney function (he had been in kidney failure for several days at that point and, going into the surgery, we thought the best outcome was that they would save his life and he would be on life-long dialysis). To get to see my dad awake, alert, and okay following the harrowing events of the previous several days was one of the happiest experiences of my life.

After spending several more relief-filled hours in Atlanta, I drove back to my parents’ house to spend an unexpected evening with my mom. It was a wonderful evening together, as we celebrated my dad’s remarkable survival. We went to bed with such relief. The next day, I drove back to the beach to spend a final night with my family there before packing up to leave there the next morning. When I had left them two nights earlier to head to Atlanta, we had never expected that I would make it back to the beach. But I did, and that night, we had a picnic down by the water, and we saw this:

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A blue moon, that happened to be orange.

It felt to me like a harbinger of hope. My heart felt exactly like that moon – big and luminous. We went back to the beach house and, later that night, I cast on for something out of some handspun I had finished a week earlier. It was the first I’d been able to knit in days, and I did it out of such a sense of joy and relief.

I started with this:

Into the Whirled, "Death," on Superwash Merino

Into the Whirled, “Death,” on Superwash Merino

And though it was only four ounces, I decided to attempt something I thought might be impossible – an adult-sized top. I just cast on and went for it. We went from the beach back to Georgia, where I enjoyed more time with my mom (while my dad continued to recover in the hospital). There is so much conversation with my mom knit into these stitches. And the knitting just breezed by – I finished in three days. It was my last completed project that my mom got to see.

Once in a blue moon, fiber goes from bag to wheel to needles to body in a flash.

And then, the day after I took the modeled shots, I got to drive back to Atlanta and pick my father up. He was discharged and sent home, not only having survived the aortic dissection and emergency surgery, but having unexpectedly recovered full kidney function.

Once in a blue moon, the impossible thing becomes possible, and life happens where death was meant to be, and celebration and relief take the place of fear and grief.

When I tried on this piece, I was disappointed, as I often am. I had to finish knitting before i wanted it to be done, because I only had so much yarn. So it’s shorter than I’d prefer. And the stress of this summer took its toll on me. so I’m also heavier than I’d prefer. Even so, I put the thing on and went out in the Georgia heat to take pictures.

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The pattern is called the Rosa Cardi (I don’t know why, because there’s no cardiganized version). As originally written, it has points on both sides of the hem, but many people have knit it with just one point, which is obviously what I did, too.

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I really like this fast and easy pattern a lot, even though it may not currently be the most flattering piece I own. It is really fun to knit, and I think it’s cute in handspun.

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But I’m very unlikely to wear it without something underneath it (and in fact, I think it’s intended as a layering piece).

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So after these photos, I put it away for awhile. Then my life slid sideways and I kind of forgot about it altogether. Then a few weeks ago, I saw it in my closet, and I felt a lot of pain, remembering how happy my mom and I were during the time I made this sweater, and how hopeful. I wasn’t sure if I’d ever feel like wearing it.

But this week, I did. The day I had to go to the orthopedist about my hand, I suddenly felt an unexpected and very strong desire to wear the sweater. So I put it on, over a long-sleeved t-shirt, and I wore it to the doctor’s office.

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taking a picture in the doctor’s office bathroom, as one does

And despite the look on my face, I was really pleased to be wearing it, and actually got multiple compliments.

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I like it a lot better as a layering piece, and I already have plans for making another.

When I got out of the doctor’s office with my new splint, my very first impulse was to call my mom. Which is not much different from every other day, honestly. So that was hard. But there’s something about wearing this sweater – and I know this sounds woo-woo or mystical or maudlin or whatever – but … I mean, there’s a piece of her in it. Her happiness, as we celebrated my dad’s remarkable survival; her companionship, as we watched baseball and true crime; her encouragement, as she saw me model it; her love, which stills wraps me up, and covers me.

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Once in a blue moon, something that was too painful to do (like wearing this sweater) becomes an unexpected door to some kind of solace (like feeling her love when I wear it), and the difficult becomes good, and the stitches become some kind of healing.

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The Best Part

In your opinion, what is the best part of knitting? Is it the planning – considering patterns, comparing yarn options, making purchases, making a decision? Is it the start? Is it the soothing nature of picking up something you’ve been working on for awhile? Is it the renewed energy and commitment that come from picking up an old project out of hibernation? Is it the ability to fix almost any mistake you’ve made (unlike real life)? Is it the finish? The blocking? The wearing? The gifting?

I love them all. But today I think the best part might be casting on.

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Handspun Southern Cross Fibre South African Superfine, “Nobby”

This will become a hat, and it’s long overdue for its recipient, but now I have cast on, and the new beginning has been begun. And it feels good.

Lying and Plying

I accidentally lied to you yesterday. I said that when I spun that Hello Yarn Polwarth/Silk “Slumber” that it was one of those cases when I knew exactly what I wanted the fiber to eventually become and then I spun it that way. Later yesterday, I reread my original notes (i.e., looked back at my blog posts from a year ago), and discovered that no, it was exactly the opposite of that. I spun the fiber the way I felt like spinning it, and then as soon as it came off the wheel, I was like, This has got to be a Pi Shawl! And then I became obsessed with knitting it. So yeah, sorry about the lying.

But THANK YOU for the nice comments here and elsewhere about my Pi Shawl. And to answer a question in the comments: I spun the yarn into light fingering-to-laceweightish singles. I ended up with close to 800 yards. Even so, that was only 4 ounces, and that meant a slightly smaller shawl than the shawls my friends brought to Rhinebeck. I am already plotting my next Pi Shawl, and am thinking towards something bigger.

In the meantime, I did another kind of lying yesterday – and that was lying all the way down to ply. That’s right, I am exactly that lazy. To wit:

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(I made a gif, y’all! I’ve never done that before. I’m playing with the Live Photos on my new phone and used a new app to convert this one into a gif. I hope it comes through right).

That’s me, lying all the way down on the couch to watch Jon Oliver and ply some yarn (that’s my sweet puppy hanging out on the floor). I’ve certainly put my feet up before while plying with my new Hansen e-spinner, but I’ve never gone into a full on lie-down – I didn’t realize I was that lazy and/or tired. But apparently I am. And I’ll be honest, I actually did snooze a little while plying – crazy but true.

And when I woke up, I’d made this:

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It’s still drying from its bath, but I’ll be back tomorrow with better shots and more details. I’m excited to think I might be really back to spinning at last.

Making My Pi and Wearing It Too (Handspun Pi Shawl)

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This post has been far too long in the making, but at last, I shall show you this thing that I made that I love.

Last November, I spun up this yarn:

"Slumber" on Polwarth/Silk

“Slumber” on Polwarth/Silk

It’s 4 ounces Hello Yarn “Slumber” on Polwarth/Silk, spun up as low-twist singles. It was one of those cases where I was suddenly struck by an idea of what I wanted to knit with the fiber and so immediately spun it for that particular project. And then as soon as the yarn was dry, I cast on for a Pi Shawl:

Handspun Pi Shawl beginnings

Handspun Pi Shawl beginnings

Ravelry tells me I cast on almost exactly a year ago (November 7, 2014). It was such a delicious and entrancing knitting experience. Just round and round I went, throwing in the occasional yarnover row. It went with me everywhere and grew quickly.

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knitting during kids’ piano lessons

I set it aside as needed to finish up holiday knits and such, and then picked it back up every time I could. Sometime mid-January I got to the end:

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I did a little picot bind-off all the way around, and then still had a little bit left and threw in some extra picots in about four or five places.

And then the shawl sat around till April waiting to be photographed. And then those pictures sat around waiting to be blogged, until now. So without further ado, here they are. (Get ready for picture overload)

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Despite all these action shots, how I usually wear it is like this:

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I want to spin and knit more of these. I want to make bigger ones and maybe smaller ones. I want to make more that are just like this one (plain stockinette) and some that have more yarnover rows and some that have lace designs in them. It is one of the most soothing knits imaginable, and highly wearable, not to mention a fantastic pattern for showing off handspun. Perhaps it will take me less than a year to show you my next effort.

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But knowing me, I wouldn’t bet on it.

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Loop through Loop upon Loops :: Learning a Little About Grief from My Knitting

Thank you so much for your very kind, very tender words on my last post. Losing my mom (and so unexpectedly) has been the most painful, most disorienting experience I’ve ever gone through, but the kind words and support of friends, acquaintances, and even strangers has truly made a difference for me. Some of you shared in the comments on my last post your own experiences with grief or depression, and I feel very honored that you would do that. It makes me feel less alone.

One of the weird things for me has been that, professionally, I deal with grief quite a lot. From a professional/academic standpoint, I feel like I know a fair amount about what’s “normal” and what’s “expected.” But none of my knowledge or experience makes any difference for my own grief. No matter how “normal” this is – how I feel does not feel normal. No matter how much I expect grief not to move in linear stages, it is still always a surprise to me to find myself back in the middle of feeling shocked. I can go for two or three days of feeling like the absence of my mom is the new reality, and I’m adjusting to it; and then, I’ll suddenly have a day where it will feel like a total surprise (of the worst kind), and something that cannot possibly be real. Knowing this is how grief works hasn’t made it any more comprehensible, or reasonable, or manageable.

I realized several days ago that the addiction recovery movement has something to teach me about grief recovery: one day at a time. You know this. I thought I knew this. But I’m knowing it in a new way now. When I think too far ahead – how can we celebrate Christmas without my mom? – I’m sunk. But if I can just think – today, I’m not going to have a chance to talk to my mom, and that can be okay, because there have been plenty of days like that in my life, and those days were okay – if I can just think like that, and approach each day as a single day, and just get through that one day without her, then I do all right, and I think that maybe I can keep being all right.

In other words: grief has a lot in common with knitting.

As you and I both know, the only way to knit a sweater is one stitch at a time. Not even a single round or row at a time – a single, tiny stitch. If you just keep doing that, you will have a sweater in your hands eventually. It may take longer than you’d hoped, it may involve ripping back and redoing some portions, it may involve tears, anger, frustration, and discouragement, you may have to set it totally aside from time-to-time. But in the end, the only way to move forward is to knit the next stitch.

Of course this analogy is imperfect because I don’t expect I’ll ever be “done” with my grief the way I expect to eventually be done with a knitting project. Still, for now, it’s helpful to keep in mind that all I have to do is the next tiny thing.

For me lately, that has finally meant picking the knitting needles back up. It’s not with the same zest and energy I typically have, and it hasn’t been every day. But I am making the time to make some stitches, and it feels good.

handspun Laurie pullover

handspun Laurie pullover

Wooly stitches offer a kind of familiar solace that I’m cherishing now (handspan wooly stitches even more so!). This is supposed to be my Rhinebeck sweater, and with a cuff and a sleeve left, I’m still not sure I’ll get it finished in time. I have ten days to get ‘er done, so we’ll see.

I’m also, at last, back at the wheel e-spinner, and that, too, feels so good. If the grief process is like a spiral, then I suppose it has something in common not only with knitting but also with spinning.

Over the last few days, I took this:

Southern Cross Fibre Organic Merino,

Southern Cross Fibre Organic Merino, “Laurel Crown”

And did this:

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and this:

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And I ended up with this:

230 yds light worsted 2-ply

230 yds light worsted 2-ply

And I love it very much.

Squoosh!

Squoosh!

And I guess this is one more thing I’m trying to learn from my knitting and spinning. If I just keep going – stitch-by-stitch, loop-by-loop, turn-by-turn – eventually, something beautiful might be created. I do believe this – I do believe that out of great sorrow, something new and beautiful and good can come. Pain can be a good teacher, if we let it be, and loss can shape us in ways that make us stronger and truer than we were before. I have seen the tiniest flashes of how this might become true for me – ways my mother’s legacy suddenly burns brighter in my life – and I trust that a new strength will grow and deepen in me if I can open my heart to my own grief.

In the meantime, I knit on.