Handmade matching shawl ties
Wednesday January 31st 2007, 6:25 pm
Filed under: Knit

I was asked the other day about ways to pin a triangle shawl together in front. I haven’t knit one that shape in ages; I personally much prefer the front-and-back arc of my top-down circular ones, and how well they stay on the shoulders on their own, enough to write the book on the subject. But. Back in the Dark Ages, before I sat down with my copies of the newly-republished Barbara Walker books and struggled to teach myself how to knit lace (thank you, Barbara!), I used to knit the very simplest triangle shawls: fine yarn with large needles to make it look open and meshy. Cast on 3, knit into the front and back of the last stitch in each row, stockinette stitch, keep on doing that till you have the size you want and you’re done. Voila. Let the yarn itself be the showpiece.

I made dozens of those. And a dozen or two more. If you use a soft, natural fiber (my biases are showing), and beautiful yarn, what’s not to like. Except for me, as a knitter, after whipping those out one after another for eighteen months. I got screamingly bored, but I’m glad I got so bored: it propelled me to go sweat it through those Stitch Treasury instructions the second I got the chance, and lacework for me took off from there.

Meantime, though. What I gave people with those triangles was a way to hold them together in front so they wouldn’t fall off. I took small, cheap hair elastics–you know, the kind that rip your hair to shreds if you use them very much–and crocheted around them with the leftover yarn until you could no longer see the elastic beneath. At the beginning, I made them very fancy/artsy; since the triangle pattern was so plain, I had to have some fun somewhere, at least! But they got plainer and simpler till all that was left was something like this one here.

Which is an idea that’s useful enough that it occurred to me I ought to share it.

(For me, personally, though, these days I have my treble clef shawl pin, custom-designed by designsbyromi.com to connect my music with my knitting.)

Knitting is divine
Tuesday January 30th 2007, 2:08 pm
Filed under: Knit

My older brother is going to go “Wha.a..a…t?!” when he reads this. But I have a confession to make: there is a beautiful piece of music that is sometimes sung as a solo at church, I believe by Schubert, called “Oh Divine Redeemer.” And I do not overly love it.

Oh, the music is gorgeous. But I’ve heard it sung in a style of chest-beating, loud, wailing, “I’m so humble, LOOK AT ME being HUMBLE!! Man, I’m so much better than anyone else because I know I’m so baaaaadddd so I’m humble (lookitmelookitme).”

Can you tell that style kind of rubs me the wrong way? I know it’s absolutely silly, and usually after the first note or two I can settle myself in, thinking, just enjoy the singing, you know not everybody can pull off that tune, c’mon, grow up, kid.

The first time I ever posted to the knitlist about a project I’d made to surprise someone with, I wondered and held my fingers off for awhile before typing about it. I did not want to be beating my chest about how wonderful I was for making this. I dearly wanted, however, to share how good it feels to reach out to others like that, to tell them they are worth that effort of our time and our talents, to write a post that would encourage other people to go do likewise for the people around them.

I still struggle with that, still keep an eagle eye on the sources of my motivation. But, if I say that out loud, am I wailing on about how humble I am?

Okay, I’ll shut up now. You guys just go make someone else feel important today, that’s all I’m asking.

(Edited to add: One guess as to what I just caught myself singing as I walked away from the computer.)

Friday January 26th 2007, 11:36 pm
Filed under: Knit

(Edited: Snapped a picture Saturday morning before I ran the ends in, after it was dry.)
I finished it! I can stop knitting. I finished the project I had to have done tomorrow, and it is lying blocking; I can’t get a good photo at dark o’clock of something that hasn’t dried yet, so imagine electric blue and purple with a touch of turquoisey teal thrown in, Cazadero Mist yarn from Royale Hare in Santa Rosa, CA. Gorgeous.

So now I can finally sit down and write about what happened yesterday. I haven’t driven for six months, but by now I’d been doing well enough long enough that it just felt like the right day to give it a cautious start. The Target store is maybe a mile and a half from home. Solo flight.

I can’t tell you how good it felt to be able to GO somewhere and still be alone, minding my own business. Much though I love my family, I was absolutely revelling in the freedom. You never thought buying a huge pack of bathroom tissue could be so much fun.

Going out to my car, I passed a young woman, maybe 18, sitting on the curb smoking, with a very sour look on her face. As I was reaching my car, a mom with two young girls looked at that pack of TP, me with my cane, and asked if she could help? I smiled, “Thank you; I think I can handle it,” feeling quite grateful that she’d been kind and had offered. A good example to her girls. Good for her!

I pulled out of that spot, thinking… Maybe… Pulled the car around so that I was coming back so as to be on the opposite side of the curb from the girl with the cigarette. No traffic to block; oh why not. I rolled the window down, and said to the girl, with an apology and a smile, that I had once been put on oxygen, when I was 27 (trying to make it sound like something she could relate to better than a gray-haired 48-year-old), and had been tethered to the hospital wall. Every time I see a kid smoking, I explained, it reminds me of that–I hope she didn’t mind my butting in…

Somehow in that instant she saw that I was saying this because how she did and how she felt were important to me. Her face became warm and kind, she thanked me for caring, and she put the cigarette down. I waved, and we parted friends.

What I never, ever, ever would have expected as a reaction!

The power of speaking to the truth of our experiences while feeling great love. At a time I was loving all the world because I was so thrilled with my freedom. And great credit to her for being not only receptive to that, but able to offer it back as well; she’s a good one.

I wonder now if she will think of that exchange every time the temptation to light up hits her, and if it will help. I very much think so. I very much think that’s why I felt I had to go drive somewhere yesterday. By myself.

And I never could have known, 21 years ago, that being hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning along with my family from a faulty stove, when I was four and a half months pregnant with my daughter who’s now in college, despite how traumatic it all was at the time, could, all these years later, turn around and help someone else’s daughter.

Paintings and Pendants
Thursday January 25th 2007, 12:34 pm
Filed under: Knit

My father is a modern art dealer. Nat Leeb was one of the artists he represented for many years. I remember Monsieur Leeb, when I was 16, trying to give me an impromptu drawing lesson: you observe for ten minutes, he said, then draw for one.

This was always my favorite Leeb painting, all my growing up. My father told me that Leeb had been one of the last proteges of Claude Monet, when Monet was an old man and Leeb a young one. Leeb became, not an Impressionist, but a Colorist: see, Dad said, in this painting, there is a house at the top of the cliff, with the ocean below, see how the light interacts with them.

Echoes from what Leeb had said to me: observe for ten minutes. Then draw conclusions as to what you’re seeing for one.

I have not succeeded yet in getting a good picture of my necklace, with its leaves and fine curls of silver across the top of the leaves. It wasn’t till after I’d finished that shawl, which stretches easily to 20″ wide and went down to my knees, that I saw: it looks like two women, each dressed with a shawl wrapped around them, reaching across the expanse of earth, the distance of the turquoise stone, to embrace each other above it.

The silversmiths make a cast and then create a number of pieces from that cast. I am quite pleased that a twin to my necklace is now up for sale on dineh’s ebay site–and that the starting price is higher than mine was two weeks ago. Very good.

Good medicine
Tuesday January 23rd 2007, 12:05 pm
Filed under: Knit

There have been a few times, writing this blog, where I feel like, there. I’ve said it. There is no more I could add that might not somehow detract by distracting from that, I should just flip off the light and hang the “Closed” sign on the door: I’m done. That last post was one of those for me. As were the posts in mid-October about Robert’s medicine blanket (which is another emotional link to Native Americans for me) and about seeing Noel at Stanford Hospital again.

But life has a habit of simply continuing, and of being perfectly ordinary most of the time. Thank goodness for that, too.

That tall skinny kid of mine whose picture I posted recently? I just booked his plane ticket home from the university for his pre-op. They think the tumor is benign, but the sooner it’s out of there and biopsied, the happier we’ll all be.

Robert, when you read this, please know that I am wrapping your blanket around that boy of mine the second he walks in the door Saturday.

And he’ll be fine.

A fifty-cent piece
Saturday January 20th 2007, 4:10 pm
Filed under: Knit

Most of the story this shawl is about hasn’t happened yet, and most of it I likely never will know. And that’s fine.

Elsie. That’s my Grandmother Jeppson’s name. The grandmother whose husband was Agriculture Commissioner for the state of Nevada and a horticulture professor at the University there, the man who once drove into the southern part of the state onto a reservation, picked out a stone for his dear wife, picked a setting style he liked, and watched the ring coming to be for her. My father cannot remember when his mother didn’t have rheumatoid arthritis, which quickly deforms the joints of the fingers–so that a big ring like that would have been painfully heavy, not to mention she would have found it very difficult simply to get it on over her swollen joints. So I’m guessing my grandparents were a rather young couple at the time the ring came to be, and they were born in the late 1890’s. My inherited ring is an old ring–and it connects me to a time and place far from where and how I grew up.

Last week, I had a pendant that had long since lost its sterling chain–I probably gave it to one of my daughters, I have no idea–and I looked at it and thought, you know, I’d like to wear that again. I really ought to replace that chain. So I went looking for one, and found a competitive price. No big deal.

But before I ordered it, as long as I was clicking around, I thought, hmm, and looked around some more. I stumbled across a beautiful handmade turquoise pendant, complete with sterling chain, offered by a cooperative of the Navajo Nation representing the particular craftswoman who had created it, on Ebay. She was proud enough of the piece that she had signed her name on the back. There was a Buy It Now price, or a much lower one where one could start the bidding at. On impulse, I bid rather than bought.

And instantly regretted it. The price was far too unfair. I hoped someone would bid it up, but by the next day I admitted to myself the feeling I was having that nobody would. The picture had not shown the piece as well as it could have, and it was a bit of a guess what the top of it would look like. Even my bid-up-to-here price wouldn’t come to be. It was just me and that opening price.

I thought of my grandfather, face to face with the craftsman, admiring his skill in person, and wished for that chance to have seen this necklace coming to be, too. I wondered if this woman’s older family members might possibly ever have met Grandfather in his travels around the area. And I wondered how I could face paying in a few days for a beautiful rendition of this Navajo woman’s talent for which, after the markup up to Target or Walmart’s price on that sterling silver chain, what would be left to cover the cost of the stone, the silver, the skills and the years of expertise, the time, and the artistic vision that went into creating that piece, something she was proud enough of to have signed her name to it, all of the percentage of that bid price to cover her work and her materials, was…

Fifty. Cents. Fifty. Stinking. Cents. That’s it.

I could not bear it. I absolutely could not bear it. I don’t think I could have faced my grandfather nor Elsie in the hereafter had I left it at that. It was just so wrong.

You know my reaction to just about all human problems is to go knit something for someone; it’s what I know how to do. And so I found myself thinking, people like handmade things because they like the personal touch, and yet, it’s not quite truly that personal touch unless the experience is somehow shared both ways, a connection made between maker and receiver. Whether that means admiring the work in person, or through a letter of appreciation afterwards–but for me, I felt her necklace was simply an outright gift to me, when you come down to it, and I wanted to give back.

But how do you pick out what to make for a complete stranger? It stopped me a moment. I did a mental inventory of my stash, and when I thought of the green I had, something in me cried out, That’s IT!

I had ordered some green baby alpaca yarn. When it had come, it had arrived the color of new plants just coming up out of the soil, bright and vigorous and beginning, but without the time and experience in the sun that gives them their color depth. It didn’t quite please me. I let it sit for some months, and finally one day wound it up into a one-pound hank, scoured it in preparation, added just a bit of blue to my dyepot–the color of the sky to go with the grass–and let the yarn simmer away there.

I have this pattern that didn’t make the final cut in my book. I’m glad; it had not felt quite finished. I had been wanting lately to redo the edges, and now the old rendition of it wouldn’t be set in stone with my name attached to it. I could still go tweak it.

And that is the pattern I knitted up, with those changes, for this woman in this green plants-and-sky-colored yarn. I live near the redwoods, with one bordering my property; I knitted a tall redwood growing to either side of the shawl. I knitted the wind blowing the water of the San Francisco Bay in the center, and at times having it remind me instead of the leaves of the trees hanging over Cabin John Creek in Maryland, deep in the woods, where I grew up. This shawl showed me what this pattern had been meant to be all along. And I accidentally twisted a stitch in the wrong direction, and then left it that way, a tiny flaw nobody will ever see, but one that, in the Navajo tradition, at least as I understand it, should be there to offer reverence to God by acknowledging the humbleness of our being imperfect and human.

Monday it goes in the mail. I do not expect to hear anything back, nor do I ask to. I did this for the woman who creates with silver and stone like I create with yarn, but also, I did it for me. I could not rest until I had done a good enough job of expressing my thanks.

A simple Sea Silk shawl
Friday January 19th 2007, 1:07 pm
Filed under: Knit

This is the single skein of Seashore Sea Silk, knitted up now, that I got for my birthday. Like the amaryllis bulb, it arrived full of expectations and promise on Dec. 13th, and had to wait to see what it would gradually grow to be: a dolphin-safe fisherman’s net. Diamond Mesh lace on size 7 (4.5mm) needles, with one plain stitch added each side.

Not bad, for only 400 yards’ worth.

Red amaryllis
Thursday January 18th 2007, 12:34 pm
Filed under: Amaryllis

We interrupt this frigid January to haul my birthday present, a red amaryllis bulb, outside for a photo session. Add a little water and window time to that dead-looking brown clumpy thing in the dirt and see what you get. It’s that simple.

It came!!!
Tuesday January 16th 2007, 1:17 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort"

My doorbell just rang. Ever gotten a yarn where you just want to pet it for awhile before actually diving in and knitting it up? I know the deadlines, I know I need to go through every line and every comma, and I’ll get right into that. But first, I need to get my mind bent around the fact that I actually did write an actual book. That it actually has pictures, that they’re glorious (here, can I tug at that edge on the cover, just a smidge, there you go, thanks), that Martingale did a great job, and that this really all is happening and it’s actually right here in front of me. And then I get to pick up my author’s proofs and go, Wow! LOOK AT THIS!!!!

(oh, right, um, yeah, I know, I can’t show it to you yet. details.)

No loose ends
Sunday January 14th 2007, 1:48 pm
Filed under: Knit

I meant to get a picture. But I blocked it last night, ran the last end in this morning (I had a sudden moment of, aagh! I forgot the end!) while standing at the front door waiting for my husband to come dashing through late, and the camera just didn’t make it into the picture. But I got it done.

I knitted shawls and scarves for a number of friends in my congregation at church. It, um, kind of snowballed, till finally I decided I couldn’t leave anybody out, I was simply going to have to knit a scarf for every woman there who hadn’t gotten something yet. A large lace shawl, no, but a scarf apiece, 3-6 hours worth of knitting, that, I could manage. I’ve been at it for months now.

Back when we lived in New Hampshire as a young couple, 20 years ago, there was a family we knew well; Dora, the mom, was the Relief Society president, ie, the head of the women’s organization there. Two of their three sons were still in high school. Then we moved here, and their middle son eventually met and married Jenni, whose family lives here. Small world. Cool.

Now Dora has started commuting coast to coast, and we get to see her at church when she’s in town. So I asked her what color scarf she would like. Black, she said, emphatically. I don’t love trying to see black stitches on the needles, so I asked her if she was sure, or would she…

Black. She’d really like one in black. Okay, I thought, so, black it would be. Except, I had a harder time than I wanted making myself get around to it. I found a skein of Frog Tree black sportweight alpaca in the stash, and knew Dora would love that it had come from a women’s cooperative in South America. That was just the right yarn. So why did I keep putting it off, fer cryin’ out loud?

This past week, three weeks after I’d asked her, I finally sat myself down, and went, look. Just knit it till it’s done. Don’t go to bed, don’t let it hang over you another day, Just. Get. It. Done. And of course, as soon as I started knitting, the softness of the yarn running through my hands called out to me, making up for any color quibbling; ooh, this is so soft. This is so nice. I love this. Perfect.

It was 10:45 when I looked at the clock, then down at the work in my hands, thinking of Dora. Her son, who had been one of those who had come and visited and been there for me when I was in critical condition in the hospital three and a half years ago. Jenni, due to have a baby any moment. I don’t remember for absolute sure if that was the moment I finished binding off or not, but I do know I felt this intense sense of connection with them right at that moment.

We got an email from the proud new dad the next morning. A baby boy! Born at 10:45 pm, 9 lbs, 3 oz.

Black is not the traditional color for welcoming new life into the world, but it was definitely the right color to welcome the new grandma into knowing she was celebrated and loved. She loved it. Perfect.

Birki time?
Friday January 12th 2007, 12:03 pm
Filed under: Knit

When I was in college, we used to tease the kids from California who wore Birkenstocks in the snow; c’mon, guys, get a clue!

Now we live in California ourselves, and right now, we’re having quite the cold snap. The Red Cross called my husband last night: they were discussing opening an emergency shelter, since he’s helped run one before for them.

We got up this morning to find our pipes frozen. Such a Birkenstockian installation up there on our roof–I guess the pipes needed some long handknit tube socks?

Mind boggling
Thursday January 11th 2007, 11:57 am
Filed under: Knit

If you haven’t seen Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s post at yarnharlot.ca, I recommend you go read the details of what prompted this picture. The big blue sock to the left is of a pair I knit; the rest are each from a pair that someone else knit for me, out of the goodness of their needles: Kathleen, Bonnie, Judy, Kristine. Except for Bonnie’s white ones, they are all from hand-painted yarns. Yes, Bank Whatever Wherever you may be that declared Blue Moon’s “Socks That Rock” club as being clearly a scam, that shut down the credit card processing for it, that refunded customers their money they didn’t want back, that wreaked havoc on a small business that didn’t see this coming, and all because you think nobody is interested in knitting socks, Knitters. DO. Knit. Socks. Especially from handpaint yarns, where you get to finish discovering what they’ll look like only when you’re done.

Honestly, how much effort would it have taken to google Socks That Rock Club and discover it gets you 2.4 million hits.

And kudos to Blue Moon for handling it all with class. They deserve every bit of the good karma pouring in right now.

The Wolf-bitten
Wednesday January 10th 2007, 7:55 pm
Filed under: Knit

I’ve gone to lupus support group meetings for nearly 17 years now. At first, it was because I was newly diagnosed with a disease that scared the bejabors out of me; gradually, it became because I wanted to comfort the newly diagnosed who were having the bejabors scared out of them, and to help them find the information they needed that I’d already sought out. You can handle anything if you know what it is, if you know others who have already dealt with it, and if they’re willing to be there for you. If you know you’re not alone.

Over the years, the membership has been fairly fluid, with a few old hands like me that keep coming. A number of others–well, it’s not very supportive to die off on us, you know? Stop it! And then there was the woman who came to one meeting (and thankfully one only) armed with glossy brochures with herbal remedies to sell us that she guaranteed would cure us. Cure us! She had lupus, so she knew what we were going through, she said. But if we placed sprigs of this particular expensively concocted green leafy thing with its pretty picture on this page, right between this particular toe and that toe for so many days, just so…

It was all I could do not to guffaw out loud, “And how many times has it cured *you*, lady!?” When the sales pitch got high pressured–where none of us had expected to be subjected to one at all in the first place–I simply changed the subject on her and told her that I cope with my illness by spinning and knitting for others. I quoted Norman Cousins about needing a creative outlet. There’s nothing like anticipating making someone happy, followed by the absolute high when they’re thrilled at finding out that you thought they were worth that effort of your time and thoughts and skills. And wow, look at this! (Scarf, sweater, hat, etc.) Cool!

Today’s was the first regular meeting I’d gotten to go to since my hospitalization in October. The tales I had to tell, to an audience that would appreciate it! The one young doctor who had decided I didn’t have lupus, that that part was all in my head. What the–Goodness, sir! Here, (I thought but didn’t say), let me teach you how to boot up a computer so you can access my longstanding records on the subject. There is a standard set of 11 criteria, of which having four can land you a positive diagnosis; I’ve had nine, ten depending on how you count it. After all these years, to still have a doctor doubt not only me but every doctor who’s seen me these last 17 years…

So. The meeting was about to start, and someone I didn’t quite recognize walked in and exclaimed, “Hi, Alison!” Pam?!! Her face changed by steroids, I hadn’t recognized my former neighbor.

We listened to a dentist who’d volunteered his time to talk to the group on dental issues. A good man. He finished, he left, and it was time for each of us to tell how we’d been doing. My chance was coming.

Pam had a lot to talk about; her lupus was new and a very raw experience in her life. She reminded us old hands of ourselves, back in the day; I do think we were able to help her a lot. Good. Then an Asian woman talked about her reliance on Chinese medicine and how important her herbs were to her…and yet I felt strongly that she was really asking permission or even for pressure to try Western medicine now, maybe to counteract pressure she was feeling from her family to keep with what they knew. Afterwards, out of her earshot, two of us were shaking our heads, with me going, that sounds like me when I had congestive heart failure! The friend I was talking to said, She sounded like me when I had kidney failure! We worried about her. We hoped she’d felt a good enough sense of connection to feel comfortable calling for support. I do believe we need to learn more about what her culture has to offer; I also believe in the Scientific Method, in studying and tracking results, and that when you need a doctor, go to the doctor!

I never did get my time to kvetch. I’m so glad; what earthly good would it have done? I’d arrived forgetting the whole point of my being there: to listen. To comfort. Not to badmouth overworked residents. To help and hope others get the care they need, without making them feel they’d failed along the way. (So, no, I didn’t criticize those Chinese herbs.)

I cast on this scarf at the beginning of the meeting, and got this far along before it ended. As most knitters will relate to, I kept up the eye contact with the speakers, asked more pertinent questions, stayed more engaged, as my hands kept busy instead of my getting antsy sitting there so long…

As for the glossy-brochure lady: after that one meeting, she learned how to spin and she joined my old spinning guild. Not only that, but she immediately ran for president of the guild, which nobody else wanted to be, so, hey! Be our guest, the members told her. While I was going, she took my advice about taking up a creative hobby? Really?!? MY hobby??!!!

Totally nonpsychodegradeable. Good for her. I still ain’t buyin’ no stinkin’ green sprigs for my toes.

Most oddball use of a sock needle
Monday January 08th 2007, 3:21 pm
Filed under: Knit

It was impossible to shine the silver rope around the stones, till I thought of using a size 1 dpn to push the silver cloth down in there on my Zuni ring. Anybody got any other weird uses for their needles?

The handoff
Saturday January 06th 2007, 10:18 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

This needs a soundtrack: cue Sandra Boynton’s DogTrain album, the very funny Penguin’s Lament track. “We’re all a little too cute…”