Slow Stitching on a Simple Project

Is grief like a baby, in that once you hit the 3-month mark you stop counting time in weeks? I’m not sure if I can stop counting that way. Every Thursday marks another week without my mom, another week of getting further away from her death, further away from her life. Today it’s been 13 weeks. It has also been exactly three months. Am I ready to stop measuring time by weeks? I don’t know.

Lately, I’m also marking time with slow stitches, and not the knitting kind. With my broken hand keeping me from knitting, I have been pushed to find other outlets for my impulse to create. And so it is that I found myself digging out a little cross-stitch project I started five years ago (can that be right? I just checked, and it’s right.) I bought this pattern from sewingseed on etsy, on Black Friday five years ago. I promptly got to stitching, but only sporadically. I lost it for awhile, then found it again the following November. I made some more progress and then put away again, until a year ago, when I picked it back up right after Thanksgiving. I had gotten this far:

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I think I worked on it for another day or two at that point, and then put it back down again for a year. I guess when given a choice between cross-stitch and knitting, I always pick knitting.

But during this time without knitting, I’ve picked it up again, and I’ve made more progress:

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I just need to finish the snow and then I get to do the deer. The strange thing is, as easy as cross-stitch is, I have found the stitching lately to be very slow-going, especially those white stitches. I feel clumsy and slow and frustrated. It gives me lots of time to think and to breathe.

Despite some of the frustration involved, I’m going to keep going this time. The progress is painstaking, but, as is often the case with my crafting, it is reminding me that, if I just keep stitching, no matter how slowly, eventually something beautiful will emerge.

I am choosing to keep believing that this will be the case with grief, as well. It is painfully slow stitching, y’all, and I can’t see the whole design of it from this point. But I trust it will yield its gifts, its wisdom, and its beauty, if I persist.

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Hail Thee, Festival Day!

That’s the name of a church hymn I’ve never sung. But I like the title of it, and it’s relevant to what I want to write about today, which has nothing to do with church hymns but with something else I do find sacred: Rhinebeck! (i.e., the New York Sheep and Wool Festival, in Rhinebeck, New York)

Months ago, I made the decision to attend (my first time in four years), but then when my mom died just a few weeks ahead of the festival, I couldn’t imagine going and enjoying myself. Or even knitting ever again, for that matter. But my husband pushed me to go, knowing that time there would be good for me. And it so was.

It was a kind of time-out-of-time for me. Surrounded by strong, creative, amazing women, curled up in our cozy house with knitting, coffee, snacks, and music, I discovered a renewed energy in myself, and a renewed connection with myself. In fact, the four days I spent there were the longest I’ve gone so far without breaking down into tears at some point. My heart was full of something like joy.

our backyard

our backyard

the view of our house from our backyard

the view of our house from our backyard

It’s hard to be down when surrounded by the delights of a fall weekend in New York with fabulous females (and their fabulous footwear).

boot game on point

boot game on point

The time at the festival itself was, of course, magical. But the best part was being with friends.

in our matching Shameless hats

in our matching Shameless hats

with my gal Heather

with my gal Heather

with my gal Jessie

with my gal Jessie

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Blair+Elspeth (Look at Blair’s handknit cabled dress!)

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Ann+Gwen

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Curly girls in cabled hats

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Are we cold or happy? (answer: both!)

And then, of course, there were the handknits. Most of the people in our house had made a Pi Shawl within the last several months. We arranged them into a pie, because we like puns, and also pies, and also pi.

We called this a Zimmermann of Pi Shawls

We called this a Zimmermann of Pi Shawls

And then we all had to photodocument:
And while I spent the vast majority of my time with women, which I found very nurturing and healing and all things good, one of my favorite things I saw at Rhinebeck was this:

An all-male team in the Spin-to-Shawl competition - they called themselves "Men at Work"

An all-male team in the Spin-to-Shawl competition – they called themselves “Men at Work”

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Another favorite part of the festival was the Breed Barn:

I think she wants to come home with me (or am I projecting?)

I think she wants to come home with me (or am I projecting?)

Jessie made a new friend

Jessie made a new friend

I made a new friend, too!

I made a new friend, too!

It was over far too soon, and then we had to say goodbye.

Farewell at Newark International

Farewell at Newark International

But the memories of my time there have sustained and fortified me. I feel like I spent the weekend being knit back together, at least a little bit, and it was good.

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Crackerjack :: A Conceptual Knitting Project (any baseball fans want to join me?)

I know that most sports fans right now have their minds on basketball, but not me. It’s officially spring now (WOOHOO!) and I can’t help it – I am leaning towards baseball season, hard. Please tell me I have some fellow baseball fans out there, yes?

I grew up as an Atlanta Braves fan, like my mama and my grandmother, and it took me more than a decade of living in Michigan to finally open my heart to the Tigers – I had a hard time making the switch from National League to American League love (thanks to that pesky designated hitter rule). But once I did, I became a fully committed fan. Now, I am ALL IN.

Comerica Park

Comerica Park

All my fellas are all in, too. It’s been great fun for My Old Man (a lifelong Cardinals fan) and me to introduce our kids to the love of baseball.

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Miguel Cabrera Bobblehead day at Comerica Park, 2013

What does any of this have to do with knitting? A lot, actually, but I will have to save most of my musings for another day. For now, I just want to talk a little about a conceptual knitting project I have in mind, and to see if anyone else might want to join me.

Are you familiar with conceptual knitting? The first conceptual knitting project I’m aware of was the Sky Scarf, by Lea Redmond. The idea is to knit a scarf that matched the sky – a different garter stripe each day based on the weather: rainy, cloudy, sunny. It’s a very cool concept, and it makes each project unique to the knitter, based on when and where s/he knits the scarf. A similar concept really took off last year, with the My Year in Temperatures scarf, each stripe representing the actual temperature of the day. I’m captivated by the idea of conceptual knitting not only because of the uniqueness of the finished project, but also because it’s a long-term idea executed in very small increments – if you keep up with it, you only need to knit a little each day, and at the end you have a kind of living document of that year or season.

I was thinking about conceptual knitting last fall, as I was eagerly cheering my team on in the postseason as well as wishing for a Tigers-colored handknit to keep me warm in October. The idea for Crackerjack took hold of me and wouldn’t let go. Now that this year’s regular season is about to begin, I am ready to make it happen.

The plan is to create an infinity cowl that I start on the first day of the regular season and finish on the last day of the regular season, with the hope of getting to wear it during the postseason while cheering my team on to the World Series (a girl can dream!). Here’s how it’s going to work. Detroit Tigers colors are navy blue, white, and orange. Since they wear grey uniforms for away games (as all teams do), I’m going to throw grey into the mix as well. So I’m going to work this project in those four colors – blue, white, orange, and grey – and I’m going to assign each color to a home win, a home loss, a win away, and a loss away. I’m going with white for home and grey for away since those correspond with the uniforms for those games. So here’s what I came up with:

Crackerjack stripe colors

Crackerjack stripe colors

Please to be ignoring my terrible writing.

And here’s how a portion of it would have looked if I had done at the beginning of last season:

colored pencil rendering of  a Detroit Tigers Crackerjack, 2013

colored pencil rendering of a Detroit Tigers Crackerjack, 2013

I think it’s going to be super-fun to see how the colors stripe and block, based on how the season goes. I hope there will be a LOT of blue and grey!

And here are my yarns:

Stonehedge Fiber Mill Shepherd Worsted

Stonehedge Fiber Mill Shepherd Worsted

The blue I’m going with is actually not a navy – I bought some navy last fall and it was so dark it looked black. Paired with the orange, it looked like I was getting ready for Halloween. I don’t want actual tiger stripes in this project, just Tigers stripes. But the blue I’ve got is not quite as royal as it looks in this picture (nor is the orange as neon as it might seem here). Stonehedge Fiber Mills is one of my favorite yarns, and it’s Michigan-made, which is a bonus.

I’m wondering if anyone else out there might want to try this with me? I would suggest going with white for a home game (either win or loss) and grey for away (either win or loss). If your team only has one additional color (like the New York Yankees, for instance, whose colors are navy blue, white, and grey), then I would suggest picking whichever color you like the best and assign that one to all wins, whether at home or on the road. So taking the Yanks as an example, you might do blue for wins both at home and on the road, white for home losses, and grey for road losses. Assuming a lot of wins, you would have a scarf with a lot of blue, interspersed with lines and blocks of white and grey.

Personally, I think this will be a fun way to chart the 2014 season for myself, not to mention that, by late September I will have a Detroit Tigers infinity cowl to wear while I watch the postseason.

I’ve created a pattern page on Ravelry.  It has the most rudimentary instructions there (essentially what I’ve already said here), but I will be updating it in time for Opening Day, with an actual (free) download – it will be more of a recipe than a full-on pattern, so that you can use whatever yarn you’d like at whatever gauge that works for you. I just thought I’d go ahead and post all of this now, in case anyone would like to join me – so that you have a little time to gather your yarn.

See you on Opening Day! RAWR!

See you on Opening Day! RAWR!

 

 

In Memory of Tink

On Tuesday night, we began decorating our Christmas tree, and I hung up some of my most special, most prized ornaments:

little crocheted angel

little crocheted angel

I have ten of these incredibly intricate crocheted angels. They are so precious to me not just because they are handmade, but because they were made by someone very dear to me. Leila Claire “Tink” DuVall was a founding member of my first congregation (I am a church pastor) in rural southwest Georgia. It was a small church in a small town, and we were a close-knit little group. Tink lived down the street from our church building, in the nursing home, where she had lived for decades; she was physically-disabled and was in a wheelchair. Every Sunday, she would come down the road in her wheelchair for church.

Tink was a crocheter and a knitter, and I believe she did other handicrafts as well. As you can see, she excelled at the very tiny detail work. She gave these angels to me my last Christmas in Georgia, a week before I moved up here to Ann Arbor. I adore them, and look forward to hanging them on my tree each year. As I hung them up this past Tuesday night, I thought of Tink with gratitude and admiration. I always treasured these angels, but it was only once I learned how to knit and crochet that I truly understood the skill, the work, the time, and the patience involved in making these. There is no way I could ever make one of these angels, let alone ten, let alone the many I know she has made over the years and given away. It truly staggers me to consider.

Last night I got a phone call from Tink’s brother, another person very dear to me. He called to tell me that Tink died on Tuesday, killed when an ambulance that was transporting her to the hospital (due to illness) had a wreck. It is such a shock, and such a loss, and it has weighed on me all day. At the same time, I feel a sense of awe and connection, knowing that on the same day she died, I was thinking of her, touching gifts she had made with her own hands for me years ago, being touched by her life and by her generosity and by the many gifts she gave me and others. I am so grateful to have her legacy gracing our tree, and to have had her life touch mine.

tension v. tangling :: a colorwork conundrum

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The Deuce boy’s sweater, in progress

So the thing about colorwork is that, with the way I knit, I basically have a choice between wonky tension or tangled yarn.

If I knit with one color in each hand, which I like doing, my tension ends up on the tight side. Much tighter than the non-colorwork section. But if I hold both yarns in my left hand (I knit continental), the yarns get all tangled. I’ve tried one of those strickfingerhut things and had no real success with it.

For now I’m going to keep muddling along with two colors in one hand, stopping every few rounds to untangle. But it would sure be great to come up with a more efficient style. What are your tips for working with two colors or more?

a thing I love about knitting :: the fix

No matter what you mess up with knitting, you can almost always fix it. I know there are times when things seem too far gone for a fix, and sometimes you could fix it but the knit just doesn’t seem worth the time and effort involved. But if you have enough patience, enough motivation, enough stubbornness, and enough yarn – you can fix almost any problem.

With my current pair of handspun Cut & Paste Socks, I started the contrast cuff with Louet Gems Fingering held double. I liked the color but didn’t like the feel of how it was knitting up when held double. So I ordered some Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Solid in “Blackberry,” which I overdyed with Dharma Acid Dye in “Deep Maroon.” I am very, very happy with how the overdyeing turned out. So when it was time to knit the second cuff, I happily finished off the tube with that yarn.

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(old yarn in top cuff, new yarn in bottom cuff)

So what to do about the original cuff?

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Cut it, baby!

Wooo! It’s so gratifying to snip into my kniting.

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A few snips later, and I’m ready to unravel the little bit of purple yarn left, put the exposed stitches back on needles, and then knit with the new yarn.

If only problems in regular life could be unraveled and redone so easily!

things in progress :: Sunday afternoon

I haven’t had a huge amount of downtime this weekend, but here’s what I’m up to in my spare moments.

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I’ve started the colorwork portion of Tiny Dancer’s sweater.

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I’ve made a little headway on my end of a barter.

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I finished the tube for my Cut & Paste Socks – the cuff on the left is the one I cast on and the one on the right is the one I ended with (the Lotna’s Laces Shepherd Sport I dyed). I’ll be cutting off the first cuff and reknitting it with the new yarn.

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I’ve been reading a book Little Buddha asked me to read – one of his favorites. I’ve never read it before. It’s fantastic!!

What have you been up to in your quiet moments?

Every now and then things turn out just the way you want (dyeing :: Lorna’s Laces, from Blackberry to Plum)

It’s rare that I’m totally satisfied with how one of my projects turns out – my vision usually outruns my abilities. I fully expected that to be the case this time, too. Especially since I’d never tried dyeing before.

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Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sport, “Blackberry”

But I was determined to give it a go, because this just wasn’t the contrast I was looking for:

Lorna's Laces Shepherd Sport with my handspun Pigeonroof Fiber Studios BFL in Cut & Paste Socks

Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sport with my handspun Pigeonroof Fiber Studios BFL in Cut & Paste Socks

I did some testing to see which dye I wanted to use to overdye. I had initially assumed I would go with the “Plum Dandy,” but I am so glad I did a test first, because it turned out that the Deep Maroon actually achieved the color I was looking for.

Having figured out which dye to use, I got to work. Bye-bye beautiful purple “Blackberry”:

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(I do love the original color, it just wasn’t what I wanted for this project)

Even though I had done some sampling, I still wasn’t prepared for how completely perfect the yarn was going to turn out for me.

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I mean, seriously. This is exactly what I wanted.

A deep, semi-solid, plummy purple. It practically glows.

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It provides a perfect contrast for my handspun.

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(the dark spots were actually already in the yarn before I overdyed)

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There are only two problems now.
1 – It seems a shame to use such a pretty yarn for contrast cuffs, heels, and toes for socks – it’s going to be covered up most of the time!
2 – I really do feel like I have possibly fallen down the rabbit hole of a new hobby….

 

for comparison: original on left overdye on right

for comparison:
original on left
overdye on right

Dyeing shenanigans (or, how to play a cruel trick on an innocent child)

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When the boys came home from school yesterday, Little Buddha thought the mixing bowl of purple goodness on the counter was cake icing. Even after he realized it was yarn, he still thought it looked good enough to eat – I think most yarn-lovers know that feeling, am I right? Boy, was he surprised at the vinegar taste!

(It was just soaking in vinegar and water. And I did tell him it was yarn. I truly didn’t expect him to actually taste it. But you didn’t expect me not to photo document the moment, did you?)

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Plum Dandy, Teddy Bear Brown, Deep Maroon. I’m going with the maroon.

Feeling sort of Breaking Bad over here

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So this is happening right now. I created three wee skeins of Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sport for sampling, mixed my three dyes, and am now steaming the yarn. I only used a little dye mix for each color, but it still all looks really dark:

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(Plum Dandy, Teddy Bear Brown, Deep Maroon)

I poured a tiny amount onto each of my vinegar-soaked mini-skeins and put them into small jars for steaming. They’re on a wire rack inside a large canning pot that I’ve dedicated just for dyeing. As per the research I’ve done, all the equipment I’m using is only for dyeing, and I’m wearing gloves and a mask. It’s actually flipping me out a little bit to be working with chemicals, but it’s a chance to unleash for inner Jesse Pinkman, so there’s that.

I’ll let you know how it goes!

(Fashion Friday will be back next week – hey, maybe even on Monday, who knows)