Getting stranded: Practice runs

I’ve been trying to get my stranded-knitting skills in swing.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the Little Scallops hat pattern, and knew I had to try it. It’s a solid stranded-knitting starter. Just 5 rows of stranded colour work join the hat’s 2 colours – a veritable hands-tied-behind-your-back cakewalk for experienced stranded knitters, but a good introduction for newbies like me.

scallop hat

See those tiny bumps in the green scallop section? This is showing me that my tension is still a tad too tight, and is causing some puckering in the fabric. I need to work on loosening things up – stranded stitches need more room to ‘breathe’ than regular ones.

There are some relatively long (7-stitch) strands, or floats, in this pattern. I got to practice some float-catching, or weaving the longer strands back into the work…All in all, I’m happy with the hat and have been wearing it out on colder days.

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Happy little floats, all woven in.

For some reason, my first stranding project ever fared slightly better than this hat. It was an attempt, in Winter 2016, at knitting the houndstooth textile pattern. I think the more pucker-less appearance of this knit is due to some steam-blocking with the iron which relaxed the tenser stitches a bit.

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I learned how to catch floats late in the project. The first half has no float-catching (left). The second half, I finally got the idea (right). Float-catching builds little “hugs” into the work to prevent long, snag-able strands. They are a strand-saver!

On both practice runs above, I used a two-handed yarn-hold. It felt the most natural to me.

When I first taught myself to knit at 16, I ‘threw’ the yarn from my right hand – ‘throwing’ was the bold gesture I liked. It was what knitting was all about! When I re-started knitting in 2016, I learned Continental left-handed knitting. It felt a little faster to me, and I also liked engaging my usually dormant left-hand a bit more in my daily life. It’s been a bit of a circuitous path where yarn-holds are concerned, but this indecision turned out to be very good for easing into stranded colour work: I had a new-found left-handed ease, and re-learning a right-handed ‘throw’ brought back memories of those very first, very earnest, adolescent acrylic knits. 🙂

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Past and present meet again.

That’s all on the stranded-knitting front for now. I’m keeping my eye on the prize: an Icelandic lopapeysa-inspired pullover.

Ok, time for more practice!

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Maria Luck-Szanto’s “Jane” dress

This week, I’ve been heavily leafing through Sandy Black’s Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft (2012), Black’s collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum. I’ve been reveling in the book’s archival colour photos. Lots of little learnings, here: like, that the first European evidence of knit upper-body garments arrives in the 16th century, and that, in the Middle Ages, knitting guilds were male-dominated domains. But also that knitting has long been connected to locality and livelihood, providing extra income for families, and was performed very much on the move by all members of the household. Knitting-belts and skeins-pinned-to-skirts allowed socks to be stitched during field work and market-runs (I’ll remember this the next time I get impatient with my DPNs on a sock-knit). I’ve enjoyed reading, too, about specific knitting traditions: the X O pattern of Fair Isle sweaters (a tradition synonymous with stranded knitting), and traditions of knitting fisher ganseys and Aran sweaters. The Aran’s lanolin-rich fibres made them warm and water-proof, true to their maritime purposes, and their unique patterns purportedly revealed a wearer’s local origins. It was a discovery, too, to read about strange fibres, like the rare byssus, or ‘sea silk.’ Byssus is harvested and spun from gleaming deep golden-fibres made by little mollusks off the coast of Sardinia. How amazing is that?

I came across one garment, though, which I keep returning to in the book: the Jane dress.

The Jane dress is a feat of lacework. Designed by Maria Luck-Szanto and hand-knit in Britain by one Peggy Cole in 1956, the dress is knit in worsted wool worked in a single piece, from the top down. Dress-shaping is incorporated right into the lacework pattern (wow). The entire garment, back zipper included, weighs in at only 6.5 ounces. It’s as though Mrs. Cole had, at her disposal, a troop of nimble-legged lace-making spiders, all spinning away. From the high neckline and radial scallops around the shoulders, to the final scalloped hemline (edged in crochet for reinforcement and definition), this dress is marvelous; the clean, simple contours of the dress are the perfect showcase for its handmade lace wizardry. All I can say is whoa (knitting whoas are far better than knitting woes).

jane Dress

Trained in tailoring, design and handcrafts, Hungarian-born Maria Luck-Szanto is known for being among the post-war UK designers who brought knitwear design into the world of high fashion with Szanto Models Ltd. in London. Rather than treating knit fabric like any other fabric (to be cut, tailored, seamed, etc.), Luck-Szanto saw the special qualities of knitting as an opportunity to rethink traditional clothing design. Her garments could, very often, not be made with woven fabric; fabric-shaping happened entirely on the needles with minimal or no seams, resulting in complex, sculpture-like garments.

Luck-Szanto kept a remote circle of hand-knitters across Britain who, working from home, were able to earn supplementary income by producing her designs. The completed pieces were sent in to be washed, blocked, and finished. A combination of several knitters’ work, the dresses combined warmth, elegance, and durability. “Completely uncrushable and the pleated skirts stay pleated”, one advert reads of the designer’s pleated “Barbara” dress (cited in Black 2012: 92). I’m absolutely crushing on Luck-Szanto’s uncrushable dresses! I’m inspired by the way her designs highlight and develop the unique qualities of knitting to make pieces that were seamless, comfortable, and stunning.

I’m not sure what I’d do with a garment like the Jane dress. My lifestyle seems completely at odds with wearing or owning something like this. I’d probably just hang it by an open window and let the breeze play on the lacework’s magnificent drape.

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Jane bodice

All images © Victoria and Albert Museum, 2017

More on the Jane dress and other Szanto Models designs can be found on Maria Luck-Szanto’s V&A collections page.

 

Starting small: the parts of a top-down sweater

Lately, my sweater-knitting reservations have been less about whether I am capable of knitting myself a sweater, but are more about scale – how to manage and complete all the parts of a big, human-sized project. It occurred to me that if I scaled down and knit a small human sized project, the task of knitting a big one, and learning about its make-up, could become more approachable. And, it did. Small is beautiful.

I decided to knit a baby sweater, My gift to you, by Taiga Hilliard Designs. I liked the pattern’s raglan construction, and I thought that the off-set buttoned front-closure was fun and unique. Also, the sweater is worked top-down – a method of sweater-knitting I’d eventually like to try on a sweater for myself.

I started this project knowing very little about top-down sweater construction. To consolidate what I learn, it helps me to document the process in pictures so as not to forget the next time ’round.

The top-down cardigan knit-cycle

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1. This cardigan starts with the collar (on smaller needles) and the yoke, worked back and forth. A series of increases create raglan ‘seams’ across the shoulders, and an 8-stitch section creates a button-band at the front of the cardigan. I like to think of the garment as in its ‘caterpillar’ stage.

2. I think of the next step as similar to biological cell differentiation: stitches are differentiated into types. Some stitches will grow into functional sleeves, others will constitute the body of the sweater. Sleeve-stitches are held on waste yarn and asked to sit tight.

3. Working and casting off the body is the next stage. The project is now looking very much like a garment. I kept my double-pointed needles close at hand for the next step…

4. After completing the body, the sleeves are taken off the waste yarn and are worked individually on double-pointed needles. The sweater grows its wings, er, I mean, sleeves!

Without knowing what to expect, I watched the project transform in my hands into a full garment with shape, texture, depth and dimension. This was amazing. Getting to watch these kinds of slow transformations on the needles is why I come back to knitting again and again (I feel similarly about knitting cables).

A-blockin’ we will go…

I am reforming my habit of neglecting blocking. After weaving in the sweater’s ends and sewing up the gaps which had formed under the arm-holes, I knew it was time to buckle down, soak the knit, grab those pins and….let time work its magic. It was worth it. Blocking is like hitting the reset button; the wonky neckline and bottom-edge curling on the unblocked sweater (top) were smoothed out by being pinned into shape (below).

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The gloomy blue lighting of the ‘before’ shot was entirely unintentional; consider it part of the before/after effect.

Finishing touches

I decided to wait until after blocking to add the buttons. I spent quite a while in the button aisle of Jo-Ann Fabrics. A set of pink, pearlescent square buttons popped into view and spoke to me. A little embroidery floss helped secure them…

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…and this wee garment was ready to go. A sweater is born!

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To Learn: Next steps

On the next project, I’d like to learn a little more about how to get more polished button-holes, and also how to avoid the underarm-gaps which occur when switching from the body to the sleeves. Sewing up these gaps is a fine tactic, but I’m aware that there are ways to pick up stitches to avoid those holes. Even farther on the horizon would be to get my colour work skills in shape and try a top-down Icelandic lopapeysa pullover with a stranded yoke (swoon). I tell myself I’ll hazard a colour work project when I improve my skills, but of course, stranded knitting is as stranded knitting does. One doesn’t improve without the hands-on practice. All in due time, dear lopapeysa.

Until then, to tiny sweaters.

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Source: facebook.com/sunflowerfarmcreamery/

Do you remember your first sweater?  What moved you to choose that pattern or design? 

This week’s reads: Some theory, more practice

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Having recently enjoyed Ann Hood’s Knitting Yarns (2014), I was on the hunt for more knit-reads. Actually, when my hands aren’t on the needles, more than likely, my nose is in a book. This week’s nose-worthy reads:

1. In my quest for a starter sweater pattern, I’ve been feeling Kristina McGowan’s More modern top-down knitting. Inspired by Barbara G. Walker’s top-down technical work, the book has some really interesting top down spins on recent trends (top down yoga pants, hm). This is a “try-on-as-you-go” and often seamless knitting approach that sounds good to me (a beginner made anxious by the prospect of too-short sleeves). I would love to delve more into the theory of top-down garment work. My next step would be to go to the source and look up Barbara G. Walker’s Knitting from the Top (1996). Check out that cover!

2. I hope also to spend more time with Joanne Turney’s The Culture of knitting. A textile and design historian, Turney explores ‘knitting culture’ from a mostly cultural studies point of view. She tackles a lot of terrain, discussing the art and craft of knitting in relation to feminism, femininity/masculinity, identity, nostalgia, catharsis, narrative, politics and social movements, and the globalization of the garment industry. My only thought here is to ask why ‘culture’ is in the singular. Aren’t there multiple knitting cultures, or ways of engaging in knitting practices? This book deserves a good sit down – the kind of reading enhanced by ample cups of tea and positioning oneself by the window, slightly ajar, on a rainy day. I know so little about the wild world of knitting, and look forward to digging in.

3. In my quest to improve my colour work skills, I’m enjoying leafing through Nguyen Le’s Color Knitting with Confidence. The tagline reads “Unlock the Secrets of Fair Isle, Intarsia, and More.” Yes, please.

4. Finally, Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How artists work has been my bedtime read. The book is split up into dozens of short, 2-3 page vignettes, with details about the daily work routines of well-known composers, poets, novelists, painters, philosophers, and scientists. I’m struck by the sheer diversity of ways to live. But what the creators shared: they did not wait for the muse. Rather, they scheduled time to work, creating everyday opportunities for new ideas to flourish. Regularity, dedication, and dogged effort – in some biographies, to the point of self-imposed exile – filled in the blanks of capricious inspiration. Routinizing my work isn’t my forte, so I’m fascinated by those who can.

I also thought that Currey’s Daily Rituals could help artists along the way by including a quiz at the end, like the quizzes in teen magazines (“What your crush says about you,”  “Who’s your One Direction match?” etc.). With the help of a few multiple choice questions, readers could do the quiz “Which Artist are You?” and maybe gain some insight into how to design a creativity-enhancing lifestyle. 😉 Habit-wise, I suspect I bear some kinship with Samuel Beckett, as described in the book: at his best in the afternoons, he liked scrambled eggs, red wine, and writing in his workroom “for as many  hours as he could bear” (p.90).

Do you have a daily work routine? Things you must do to get into the zone? What practices allow your creativity to flourish?

The itch to stitch: Top Gun Embroidered caps

top-gun-movie-posterI don’t often see the words “Top Gun” and “embroidered” in the same sentence. The combination brings to mind a cut-throat needlework academy – a place where high-flying crafting hopefuls train their way to the top, and break all the rules doing it. But, I digress. This week, I finished the embroidered knit project I had been working on for February.

The Task

The beau’s cousin, J, recently asked if I could knit him and his best friend a pair of matching caps. Children of the 80s, J and his pal are both big fans of the 1986 film Top Gun. I admit: what I know about the plot comes very second-hand. I haven’t redressed my lack of knowledge by watching it, but in the film “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) and “Maverick” (Tom Cruise) are fierce aviation-school rivals who develop a loyal wingmen friendship by the end. They also happen to be J and his pal’s favourite on-screen buddies. The knitting request was simple: could I knit 2 caps – an “Iceman” and “Maverick” hat for J and his pal, respectively? Knowing little about Top Gun fandom myself, I liked the idea of making something in the name of friendship while trying some new knitting techniques.

The Caps 

I chose to knit the Scraptastic hat pattern, using size 3 needles and two strands of fingering weight held together. At my gauge (slightly looser than the pattern), Medium turned out good, though a tad roomier than I expected. I knit the subsequent hat in Small for a closer fit.

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The Graph

Given full creative hat-design leeway, I thought that using the movie logo would be 80s nostalgic while channeling a little bit of the irony of a knit-embroidery tribute to a movie about tough-guy fighter pilots. On the gender politics front, I see no necessary contradiction between ‘masculinity’ and needlework (ah, this is a big topic, with distinctions between men’s and women’s work, and their value, at the heart of debates about gender in the US. I’ll point out the inadequacy of my treatment here, and save that for another time. The gender of knitting is something I think a lot about, as a knitter…).

I used Stitch Fiddle to graph my design out. It allows you to enter your gauge (over 4″/10 cm) to render a grid that reflects your particular tension for making colour work charts. Stockinette stitches tend to be a little wider than they are tall. Because of this, using square-box graph paper to plan a design may result in a slightly skewed final project. Programs like Stitch Fiddle allow for a better idea of what the finished design will actually look like. It’s simple to use; rows and columns are added and deleted with a mouse click. It’s like Excel for your DIY colourwork, embroidery, and cross-stitch projects. All I have to say is “yes!” to this indispensable online tool, and others like it.

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maverick-chart

The Embroidery

Just a single strand of fingering weight and some duplicate stitching was enough to do the trick. I eased into embroidering slowly, working on the hats during free moments during the day. I tend to find my stitching stride best at night, after dinner. The fluid motions of embroidery, and the vigilance to tension, develop a finger-tip attentiveness to the materials quite different from knitting. In contrast to the hardy, elastic, and structured fabric of knitting, embroidered things feel a bit more fragile and precarious to me – until they’re done, my m.o. is to handle with care.

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Less exciting was weaving in all the ends. I learned late in the game to use a single long strand to embroider multiple letters, rather than cutting my strand after each character.

Also, I personally find it best to work the duplicate stitch from the bottom to top, starting at the base of a letter, then working up and across. It’s just a little neater that way, I find.

Finally, the Top Gun hats

On the way…

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And done.

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All in all, this was a fun project. It’s hard not to see blank stockinette surfaces as a canvas for some stitchery waiting to happen. It was a surprise for the knitting to unexpectedly serve as a gateway to embroidery.

To embroidering, and matching hats…and friends!

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Ann Hood’s “Knitting Yarns”

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Why do we create or turn to craft?  What does it provide? And what do our reasons reveal about… well, what it means to live – and thrive – in the unique way that humans do?

My love of knitting is paralleled by my love of thinking and reading about knitting (and crafting of all stripes, for that matter). It’s both exciting and valuable, to me, to be able to peer into others’ creative processes and motivations (thanks for continuing to share, bloggers!). I want to understand how different makers relate to their materials, and I’m intensely interested in the meaning we give to the things we choose to make. As a maker-in-training, I am trying to better understand my own motivations in order to live them out more deeply. Sometimes, a book (yay!) comes along that helps me to do this.

Ann Hood’s Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting (2014, W.W. Norton & Co.) is an edited volume that takes an honest look at knitting’s relationship to the stuff of life: love, loss, grief, solitude, work, gender/inequality, family, generational continuity, interdependence and the natural world… the list goes on). I really enjoyed this read – the personal accounts make for lots of food for knitting thought.

Ann Hood’s “Ten Things I learned from Knitting,” for example, links knitting techniques (“casting on,” “cable stitch,” “unknitting”) to lessons in living well. She explores the process of grieving through the stages of the craft, and finds in “casting off” an art of letting go – not only of those we love, but of letting go of love itself, of loving others more freely. Bernadette Murphy’s “Failing Better” explores something I have been thinking a lot about: our capacity to transcend perfectionism and ‘fail’ more productively, discovering resilience in the process (this is a tough one, for me). For Murphy, this skill relies on a radical acceptance of error. This view paves the way for her understanding that “all of life becomes a place to learn.” More important than perfection is “knowing that you can build a life that uniquely fits, that you can stumble, make uninformed choices, and still learn and grow.” Simple but powerful reminders that issue from her (unsuccessful) attempt to teach a group of women at a bachelorette party how to knit.

My favourite contribution to the volume is Barbara Kingsolver’s “Where to Begin,” a dream-scene, Whitman-like reflection on where (and why) knitting starts. Kingsolver describes the varied, and often vulnerable, “beginnings” of the craft. Knitting, for instance, starts with:

the passage of time (“whole wide days of watching winter drag her skirts across the mud-yard from east to west, going nowhere”); the desire to forget (“nothing can stop the words so well as the mute alphabet of knit and purl. The curl of your cupped hand scoops up long drinks of calm); the desire to remember (“a mitten lost in childhood, returned to you in a dream”); the desire to heal and to commune (“laughter makes dropped stitches”); and the simple love of a colour (“every eye has hungers all its own”) or a texture.

From these experiences (exigencies?), Kingsolver brings the reader back to still earlier beginnings – the barn on shearing day (fleece, “the universal currency of a planet where people grow cold”), the sheep, and the grass. From this beginning, she reveals knitting as an artful human expression of our unique place and position in the matrix of life. Knitting is our participation in, but also reliance on, larger continuities and cycles.

I’ll end with my favourite passage:

It starts where everything starts, with the weather. The muffleblind snows, the dingle springs, the singular pursuit of cud, the fibrous alchemy of the herd spinning grass into wool. This is all your business. Hands plunged into a froth of yarn are as helpless as hands thrust into a lover’s hair, for they are divining the grass-pelt life of everything: the world. The sunshine, heavenly photosynthetic host, sweet leaves of grass all singing the fingers electric that tingle to brace the coming winter, charged by the plied double helices of all creatures that have prepared and justly survived on the firmament of patience and swaddled children.

It’s all of a piece, knitting. All one thing.

I recommend this read but, you don’t have to take my word for it!

Happy knitting to you.

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Perler pixel necklaces

While working on a longer-term knitting project, I will sometimes manage the urge to cast-on something new (no harm in that, though!) by doing smaller-scale handmade projects.

I enjoy the things that perler beads – in their near infinite versatility – can do. I’ve just discovered perler jewelry-making: fuse some beads, add a chain here, a connector ring there, a clasp, and you have yourself some nifty new pixel-y things to wear.

Here’s a perler necklace picture-DIY for the curious (the patterns are not original).

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Jump rings: the knees and elbows of jewelry. 7 mm rings are big enough for perler beads.

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…and some BB-8 Star Wars love:

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Greetings from the messy work table…

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WIP: Embroidered hats

I hope you are having a great week.

I received a request, a while ago, for a knitting commission of sorts: a request for 2 personalized ‘name’ hats, due at the end of February. I said yes (always excited to take on a new creative challenge).

But, readers, I have never knit such a thing – I have never put text on a garment. As I watched tutorial after tutorial for intarsia and stranded knitting over the last few days, I wondered if I could deliver the promised goods. Beyond mastering stranded/intarsia techniques (no simple feat), there was the question of designing a colour chart, finding a way to work it into a hat pattern that didn’t initially include one, while making sure to observe the proportions of the letters, the positioning of the name on the hat, etc. I couldn’t conceive of how to pull this off.. I was all question marks – a big long “uhhhhh……??”

Eureka!: Embroidery

A ray of light came through the clouds. I discovered the Duplicate stitch (a.k.a. Swiss darning). Often used on knits for lettering and monograms, the duplicate stitch is a nifty over-embroidery technique. One simply follows ‘on top’ and around each v-shaped stockinette stitch with a contrast strand, as below.

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Embroidery must have been invented so that human beings could cultivate awe and develop their powers of contemplation. That’s my theory, at least. I love embroidery – looking at it, following out the details with my eye, running my fingers over the stitches. It’s just delightful. When it comes to doing the actual embroidering, however, I’m an absolute newbie.

After some experimenting with different fibers and thicknesses for this project, I decided to embroider the names on the hats using a single strand of fingering weight (as above). This does not offer perfect stitch coverage, but neither does it bend the knitting out of shape the way doubled thread did (making the stitches look tense and stressed). I was on my way.

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Another use for gauge swatches: home for letter-y experiments.

The Hats

The 2 requested hats are for a ski trip. I chose Jane Tanner’s Scraptastic Hat – a simple, close-fitting beanie that hopefully won’t fly off on the slopes. Meant to be worked using sock yarn remnants, the pattern specifies US 2 needles, at a gauge of 7 sts to the inch. Using two strands of superfine/fingering yarn held together, I used my US 3 needles (6 sts/inch). I sized down in the pattern (Large to Medium, for ex.) to compensate for producing a slightly bigger garment than the gauge intends. The finished hat did end up on the roomier side, but is still wearable.

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One hat done, one to go.

I look forward to posting the hats as I continue to work on them. I can only hope the embroidery muses will help get my skills up to snuff in time. I’ve got my needles crossed. More on this project soon.

Happy weekend, friends.

A hat for Dr. C

Dr. C has the sort of bedside manner that helps to put you at ease.

Despite the high volume of folks that come from far and wide to see Dr. C, the consultations are never rushed or hurried. One feels in the presence of a good friend. There’s an equality and capaciousness in Dr. C’s style of care: there’s space to speak, to be heard, space for different approaches and alternatives to be weighed.

Dr. C is often found at the clinic after hours, long past closing time, in order to make sure each person is attended to. Dr. C comes out of the office to greet people individually by name in the waiting room. Dr. C will offer a warm hello or an apology for the wait.

When the weather is perilous, or a patient is too ill to come in, it is not unknown for Dr. C to drive cross-city to make house-calls – a practice known in the heyday of doctoring, but uncommon these days in the places I’ve lived (even more so considering that the house-visits might be made off-hours, at the end of Dr. C’s already full workday).

Where other doctors maybe can’t help but treat patients, symptoms, and illnesses, Dr. C is conscious about treating people. Simply put, Care is Dr. C’s career and calling.

I made Dr. C a hat as a way to say thank you for the many hours of mindful care. This knit is a 2nd go at Melissa LaBarre’s Icehouse hat. Knitting it for the second time, it was easier to anticipate and get around the crown decreases (my new strategy was to position the markers, where the decreases occur, roughly in the center of each DPN rather than at the edges as I’d done before).

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During one consultation, Dr. C shared 2 things:

First, he imparted a few proverbs from Buddhist/Chinese philosophy. At first, I found this sudden and unsolicited turn to ethics a bit odd. He wrote these principles down in Chinese, translated each one, then handed me the paper – a kind of prescription for the soul. I think the principles are at the heart of Dr. C’s own medical and ethical practice, and bear repeating.

Second, Dr. C. reminded me of a Chinese poem that I hadn’t heard since I was a child: “Quiet Night Thoughts” by Tang Dynasty poet, Li Bai. Taught to school children in China, and widely recited, the poem expresses the homesickness of a scholar who has to leave his hometown (back in Chicago, I suppose I relate). 🙂

Both “Quiet Night Thoughts” and Dr. C’s prescription are below.

To your health.


Quiet Night Thoughts, Li Bai

床前明月光

疑是地上霜

舉頭望明月

低頭思故鄉

Before my bed
There is bright-lit moonlight
So that it seems
Like frost on the ground:

Lifting my head
I watch the bright moon
Lowering my head
I dream that I’m home.

(translation by Arthur Cooper. 1973. Li Po and Tu Fu: Poems Selected and Translated. London: Penguin Books).

 

Dr. C’s Prescription

To understand and to forgive is great wisdom.

To accommodate others is great wisdom.  (in the doctor’s explanation: to approach differences not with the will to quarrel, but to pave the way for understanding. One accommodates not to submit, but “to be able to educate”)

The greatest value is to remember those who have helped you.

Contentment is the greatest wealth. (“This one’s the most important,” Dr. C explained).

Cables

I have always loved cables.

In 5th grade, my favourite outfit consisted of my mother’s oversized magenta sweater – with its bold and vertical rows of cables – worn with my kid-sized, red Lee jeans (the jeans had a button fly rather than a zipper fly. I hope you’ll understand. It was the 90s). The combo of the oversized pink acrylic sweater, red jeans, and my lanky frame, I’m sure, made me look like an unfortunate Valentine’s Day mascot, but I couldn’t resist the sweater’s twirling texture.

Later on, as I began knitting, I saw cables as an unattainable and esoteric form of knitting know-how. When, a few years ago, a friend at school told me she hand-knit the cream-coloured cable hat that she was wearing that day, I couldn’t help but think she was knitting royalty – a member of the select few who could create such beautiful handmade helices.

Fast forward 6 odd years, and I’m sorry I didn’t try cables sooner. Basic cables, though fiddly at first, are approachable and forgiving. Working them feels like a slow process of revelation. One must set up the cable row – this takes time and, at this point, the cables themselves are not yet discernible. One is, in a sense, sowing seeds, knitting on hope. As I continue to work in stockinette past this initial row, the twist and texture come to life in slow, almost botanical bloom. The process was a very big wow for me, as a first time cable-knitter.

Last week, I gathered some cable-knitting courage, my royal blue skeins of Estelle Chunky purchased at Yarns Untangled, and took to Ravelry where I found a Bernat pattern for a cable hat (#4481).

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The hat requires 2 basic cable techniques: Cable 8 Front (C8F) and Cable 8 Back (C8B). In both of these, one is holding 4 stitches in either the front or in the back of the work (on a cable- or spare needle), working 4 stitches on the row, and then going back to work those 4 held stitches. I don’t own a cable needle, so I used a spare straight one. Here’s the ‘starting position’ for C8B (with my memory as it is, my future self will need the reminder):

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C8B is an 8-stitch maneuver. I start by placing 4 stitches on a spare/cable needle (point facing my right), leaving these stitches at the back of the work (I like to think that the 4 stitches are sitting in a waiting room).

I work the next 4 stitches as usual (stitches 1-4 above). I then go back to the spare needle, using it to knit the 4 stitches at the back of the work (stitches 5-8). This is the fiddly part, friends. As in all good things, there’s a struggle. The knitting seems to resist my attempts to work those last 4 stitches. Also, the resulting cable row is ultra-tight on the needle. I have a feeling I may be knitting with too much tension.

After continuing on my way for a bit, I like what’s developing, even though I’m not exactly sure what’s happening. I stick doggedly to the pattern:

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I eventually finish the hat, and enjoy having introduced this new technique into my little knitting repertoire. The Bernat hat is for the daughter of my dear friend and all-time Toronto bestie ♥. The floral embellishment (below) was taken from the magical jar of buttons ‘n things that I inherited from my sewing grandma (I still remember her at her Singer machine, listening to the greatest hits of Julio Iglesias on tape).

I enjoyed making this hat so much that I make another one, the Patons Shetland Chunky striped cabled hat (minus the stripes). This second one’s for my mom, in homage to that magenta cable sweater of hers, long given-away, that I loved to wear.

Hats below. Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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Yarns Untangled (86 Nassau St.)

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Continuing my unofficial yarn shop tour of Toronto, I had the chance, last Friday, to visit Yarns Untangled (86 Nassau St., between Bathurst and Spadina). Located in the heart of Toronto’s Kensington Market, I was sold from the moment I stepped into the shop.

The store features a great selection of yarns by Canadian hand-dyers, and also offers ongoing workshops in knitting, crochet, spinning, and needle felting (!). Needless (and needles) to say, this local yarn store stole my heart – from the little sheep hanging from the ceiling, the bundles of gorgeously dyed fibre on the shelves, to the cozy, brightly afghaned grey couch by the window that invites you to knit and stay awhile, I felt as though owners Amelia Lyon and Brenna MacDonald managed to create a cozy home-away-from-home for lovers of all things fibre. I couldn’t resist, and purchased a size 6 circular needle and some Estelle Super Chunky in royal blue for a hat that I’ve been thinking of making. I will let the pictures do the rest of the talking.

More info on the store can be found at yarnsuntangled.com.

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Angora!

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Happy Monday, and greetings from Kensington Market!

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First finished objects of 2017

It always feels great to come to the end of a knitting project. That feeling is amplified when completing coincides with the new year – it sets the year off on the right foot and is a sign of more knits to come, I think. In that spirit, two recent FOs:

Cartridge belt ribbed scarf

I completed the purple cartridge-belt ribbed scarf and shipped it to its new home. It was happily received in the first week of January. I declare it my first finished object of 2017!

At 60” in length, it is the longest scarf I’ve ever knit. The worsted Paton’s Classic wool was a joy to work with, yielding lustrous, light-catching bright purple fabric with nice stitch definition.

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Before sending it off, I couldn’t resist attaching a handmade materials- and care-label. Adding a little drawing to my knit is the veritable cherry on top of the knitting sundae – a continuation of the handmade love in another form (also, the thought of yarn made from purple sheep was too delightful to pass up).

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Knit Helmet

My second finished object of the new year is a ‘knit helmet’a gift for my father completed on January 9th. With Canadian winters being what they are, knitting something like this for him has long been on my bucket-list. Worked in the round in 2 x 2 rib, this project knit up quicker than I expected as I took to my size 7 circulars on streetcar and subway commutes across the city. The ‘slit’ for the face is worked by casting off a number of stitches mid-round, completing the round, then using the backwards loop cast on to work a new set of stitches directly above the ones that were cast off, introducing a gap. The new stitches are then worked in-pattern.

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January 5th: starting off
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January 9th: wrapping up the crown decreases

The yarn – Cascade 220 Heathers – was purchased at the The Purple Purl (1162 Queen St. E) in Toronto’s Leslieville neighbourhood. I still remember my first visit to the store two Thursdays ago. With that night’s temperatures dipping down to -16 C, I bundled up, took the eastbound 501 streetcar to Queen and Jones, and walked into this small, purple-painted yarn shop. Stepping in, I was immediately flooded by fields of colour and softness which worked an instant thawing effect.  A knitting table sat in the center of the space where the shop’s knitting and crochet workshops are also held. While perusing some superwash merino hanks, I overheard a seasoned knitter speaking heatedly with staff about finding the absolute right yarn for the sweater she was planning while another employee, donning a baby blue hand-knit cap, wound hanks into cakes on a wooden umbrella swift. Another shopper soon entered the store and said that, while her stash was already voluminous, she couldn’t resist coming in “just to look. I always need to have a look.” The man standing at the register carefully worked a fine, marled grey sock on DPNs, and I was comforted by hearing the question come up repeatedly in the surrounding chit chat: What are you making? – that earnest invitation to some knitter’s shop-talk. With the temperatures steadily dropping outside, I was thoroughly warmed by this cozy yarn haven in Toronto’s east end.

But I digress. Back to the helmet. I chose this pattern for its versatility. The helmet is wonderfully dual purpose and incredibly practical: it can be worn as is, as a balaclava, or can be conveniently rolled up into a beanie. This flexibility makes this knit ideal for multi-weather wear. I just love this thing.

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This pattern is taken from The Seamen’s Church Institute (SCI) website (but is also on Ravelry) as part of the SCI’s Christmas at Sea program. A New York-based organization for maritime workers – “North America’s largest mariners’ service agency” – the SCI makes available a list of maritime garment knitting projects which interested knitters can donate, along with a personal holiday greeting. Donated garments and greetings are collected year round, and are sent to maritime workers stationed away from their families during the holidays. For more maritime patterns, or to donate to the Christmas at Sea program, visit here.

My wi-fi access has been spotty as of late, but I look forward to catching up and reading (with relish!) about your wonderful comings and goings, dear bloggers. In the meantime, wishing you a very happy Monday from Toronto’s Harbourfront.

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Super Easy Crib blanket

I hope you are having a splendid week, and are finding some restful down-time.

Last year, I completed my first ‘big’ knit for a friend who is expecting a baby girl this year – the Super Easy Crib Blanket by the folks at Purl Soho. I simply adored these blankets the moment I saw them – so many whimsical and fun colour combos. I decided to try my hand at colour-coordinating and knitting one myself. I can think of nothing nicer than being wrapped up in something warm and bright on a cold winter day – Purl Soho’s creative intuition in designing this simple but lively nursery staple is spot on.

I wanted the crib/stroller blanket to measure around 30″ square. With some garter stitch swatching, I found that, using a 29″ size 11 (US) circular needle and a super bulky wool-blend, I could produce a blanket width of 30″ by casting on 72 stitches. Each of the 7 bands of colour is 4.5″ high, yielding a final length of 31.5″.

With these magic numbers, I took to my needles last October. I wanted to do a jazzy .GIF for you of the blanket growing larger with each stripe, but I lack the technical skills. 🙂 You can watch it grow below.

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Early October 2016: starting out

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On the home-stretch, with unwoven ends. Those last 3 bands are channeling my love of neapolitan ice cream. Sock monkey has been my cheerleader and knitting muse throughout.
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Very last stitch cast off…

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Blanket statements (a.k.a. Learnings)

1) It was interesting to discover that circular needles have non-circular uses. Not having to carry the weight of a large project on straight needles (letting the project lie in your lap) = an easier time on wrists and shoulders. I pretty much knit all things on circulars these days – they are incredibly portable.

2) Pattern-wise, this was a straightforward garter-stitch knit all the way through. Being loosed from a complicated pattern meant that I paid more attention to the qualities of the yarn. Yarn weight and composition aside, I found that different colours produce different knit-feel – white strangely felt the ‘softest’; pink activated my taste receptors (it reminded me of bubble gum and cotton candy); and the energizing red seemed to jet-propel my fingers right across the stitches. I can’t wait to make the next blanket and experiment with more colours.

Wishing you happy trails on your creative projects this week, big and small.

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Wordless comic

The comic below is in the Wordless Wednesday spirit, but I felt compelled to add just a few words. With 2017 just 4 days old, I’m finding myself at an odd loss for resolutions – there are, of course, a few things I’d like to do and some dreams on the horizon, but I’m very struck, this year, by an odd sense of familiarity in place of the New Year feeling of rupture and newness.

I’m coming to realize that the past few months of cultivating a craft practice – while a new adventure – has felt more like a long-overdue homecoming. By homecoming, I mean rediscovering a space of comfort, belonging, care, renewal, flourishing, and kinship. I don’t think of this kind of home as a perfect or uncomplicated place, but as the place  I choose to dwell in and come back to; it’s not only where life unfolds and is lived, but where I feel most able to make a livable life. In these ways, the decision to start cultivating creativity again has felt like a slow, months-long process of making a travelling nest for myself – a home on-the-go that isn’t limited by the vagaries of place, chance, and circumstance.

In this vein, here’s a graphic love-letter to the place where I actually grew up – East York, a borough of Toronto. It includes some of my favourite/familiar haunts from back in the day.

To finding (and making) (and making pictures of) home.

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New Year and the Noro scarf

Some garments stick with you. For a while.

I call this the Nine-year scarf – it’s one of those rare pieces of clothing that has seen me through nearly a decade of my life. I knit it before moving to the U.S. for graduate school years ago. I wore it to my very first school orientation meeting in Chicago. And, I was sure to bring it in the suitcase when I finally decided to take the leap and re-locate, never failing to wear it every Fall and Winter. Other scarves have come and gone, but this one has stayed. I think of the scarf the way I think of an old, loyal friend (one whom I’ve worn so long that it’s starting to felt itself).

The scarf is knit with Noro yarn, produced in the Japanese province of Aichi. I lost the label, but I suspect it is the 100% wool Noro Kureyon. This hand-dyed, variegated, worsted weight yarn was designed in the 1990s, and its 2-ply structure creates rich and unexpected ‘colour blurs’ when knit up. It shows that Eisaku Noro first trained as a painter before turning his eye to spinning and dyeing.

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Image source: Designer Yarns UK

When I first saw Noro yarn years ago, the colours made wonderful sense to me; they stood out in the way that extraordinary and beautiful things do. Noro grows gardens of colour into each skein. I bought the yarn at a Toronto thrift shop in the early 2000s where 2 completely new and unopened skeins were being sold for a whopping $2. Only now do I realize that I had stumbled upon buried treasure.

9 years later, the scarf’s colours are still vibrant and vivid, and the fabric has taken on new dimension.

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With a new year just ahead, I consider the scarf an example of how to age well and get on with time with a little bit of playfulness and grace. I like to think that, with the passing years, the scarf became more of itself – it has taken a lot of wear and tear but has also grown, in my eyes, more alive, its colours deepening. For the next year, I’m resolving to follow this trusty scarf’s example and do the same: to deepen my commitments to my new found and familiar creative loves. It’s helpful to have reminders of what longevity looks like (especially when those reminders also keep you warm in winter).*


I make my yearly Northern migration (Canada!) today to spend some time with relatives and friends, but I hope to stay plugged into blog-land. Perhaps it’s the mark of a burgeoning craft-love that I spent last night’s packing session thinking more about what knitting and craft supplies were coming with me, what knit-gifts need to be packed (and how), and then casting on a new WIP for the flight, than about clothes and such. I have a few faithful and favourite wears – like the Noro scarf –  and that’s all I need. I plan to do a lot of knitting in Canada.

I have really been enjoying being a blogging person, again, and am grateful for – and absolutely delighted by – your will to share the wonderful and fascinating things that you have all been making and doing. A big high five to you for another year, and a big thanks for the inspiration.

Hoping 2017 finds you enjoying and discovering lots of creative pleasures – old and new.

Happy New Yarn!

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* I think 9 scarf-years has to be at least 45 human years, all things considered.