Tuesday September 30th 2008, 10:38 pm
Filed under: Friends,Life

During part of my growing up just outside Washington, DC, we had a family next door where the father (later Ambassador Cleveland) had worked in Indonesia for the State Department; their youngest child, at three, didn’t even speak English when they transferred to DC because his parents figured he’d pick it up fast enough once they moved back to the States.  He did.

One of the children was a girl slightly older than me, and she told me a few stories on what it was like to live in a place that seemed perfectly normal to her, quite enjoying the fact that in her telling it, it was anything but, to me–having to wait for a hot bath till the elephants delivered the logs for the fire to go under the tub was just not quite in my daily experience.  Not to mention that the tub was on the outside of their house, I guess because, well, you don’t let the elephants tromp around inside, right?  But hey!  She could top that!  And she told me of the soldiers coming up the hill toward their home with their guns and how scary it was.  She reiterated the point: there was the government. And there were people fighting the government, and they all had guns and sometimes there was actually shooting going on.

I had a very hard time wrapping my mind around all that at seven or eight years old.

Now, one of the sayings around DC is that the definition of a diplomat is someone who can tell you to go to hell in such a way that you look forward to the trip.  And what I saw of the mom next door, looking back now as a mother myself, I imagine she could probably have dealt with those soldiers just fine by herself, though I don’t know if she ever had to or not.  She was a strong woman.  But I imagine that strength had to have been blended with a whole lot of that kind of diplomacy, on both her part and her husband’s, given where they’d been living; and so, her children turned out to be safe.

It’s a scorcher
Tuesday September 30th 2008, 12:16 pm
Filed under: Life

Feel the burnWe bought a new washer/dryer set 13 years ago.  Kitchenaid.  The washer went through every kind of problem from year one and finally kicked the bucket last month.  No-Blog-Rachel to the rescue!  How many friends have a spare three-year-old washer to sell you?

So I have a question to put out there.  Is my dryer mourning its mate and refusing to play nice with that hussy Whirlpool?  Do I need to replace the thing?  My dryer has never been a really hot one, and it has a brand new hose, so that’s not it.  This blouse was not caught in the door, and it’s definitely not the first one, just the most agonizing to me.  It’s just the no-iron cotton shirts that do this: they come out of the dryer with little burn spots. This was very dark, and the picture here is after much scrubbing of the scorched collar.  Is it the coating they put on those shirts? Would another dryer just do the same thing?  Has anybody else had this?Geisha in Potomac from Blue Moon

Some of the no-iron cotton shirts are terrible–they cling like clumped-up plastic wrap.  This one had it exactly right: it was a cotton shirt, by golly, the fabric relaxed and smooth as if it had been pre-ironed for me, but first and foremost for this natural-fibers fanatic, it was emphatically cotton.Great Falls at the canal

So I showed that dryer who’s boss.  I spent yesterday afternoon working out a new lace pattern, grabbed my Potomac colorway Geisha that Tina dyed for me, and cast on to knit the C&O Canal and the towpath alongside it in the fall back home where she and I grew up.  Dancing in the leaves and seeing them flurry up from our feet.  Storebought can be replaced.  Our time and our knitting can never be.  Onward.

C&O Canal in Oct 07

(Note: I will be at Green Planet Yarn in Campbell tomorrow night at 6:30 for a booksigning. Not sure what I’ll wear, but we’ll have fun. See you there!)

Another Michelle shawl
Monday September 29th 2008, 11:22 am
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Knit

hunka hunka blob of loveI finished it!  Maybe.

Sometimes you just go back to old favorites: this is the Michelle shawl from “Wrapped in Comfort.” Curious–I did one fewer half-repeat in the main body than in the one in the book, and the effect with the edging came out completely different.  In the book, the edging and the triangles above it form a perfect diamond and the lines are flowing in a connected continuation.  Here, the edging is set apart, more distinct from the body.  Such a small change, and yet it’s so different, and it totally fascinates me.

Here’s what the shawl looked like last night and this morning. I’m debating re-blocking it with my wires to sharpen the points or to rinse it down again and round it out instead.  Haven’t decided.  Baby alpaca is drapy by nature, silk tends to sag…but I do like points.


A wedding present
Saturday September 27th 2008, 7:30 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

hummingbird Peruvian fingerpuppetWe were at the Mormon Temple in Oakland this morning, and as we stepped out the door, there was a wedding party gathering in the garden with parents shepherding their little ones forward for the family photos.  We passed a young dad with an adorable toddler, I’d say two years old if that, in a stroller.  She was perfectly well-behaved, but such events have a tendency to require little ones to be perfectly well-behaved for a bit longer than the child is made for; I reached into my purse and gave the dad a smile and a back-up plan.  He was blown away and then delighted.

You all have heard of the handknitted finger puppets from Peru before.

The grounds are built into the Oakland hillside, and there were steps going up from one section of flowers to the next; it’s perfectly designed for people to line up in rows and be seen by the camera, surrounded by gorgeousness, which is what those two families were doing.

And oh did it bring back memories.

Four years ago, when our oldest got married there and we took family photos in the same spot, our new son-in-law had a toddler niece with Down’s syndrome.  And clearly and cheerfully, strong ideas of her own.  Her mother tried really hard to hold her still for the pictures.  The photographer got our two families scrunched in together, okay you, step forward a bit, you, you, go here, you, lean a bit to the right, right there, okay, got it, SMILE!

At that the niece, who was a good size for her age, broke clean away from her mommy and ran straight to the photographer, arms outstretched, and launched into him with a bowl-him-over bear hug.  He had smiled at her! He loved her!  YAY!!!

He thought it was great, and hugged her back with a chuckle and scooted her back towards her mom.

Her mother was flustered that her daughter had ruined the picture, but no, no, not at all: she had perfected it. She had captured exactly what the whole day had been about to the two families coming together:  I do not know you well yet. But you are part of my family and therefore part of me as of this day, and we are going to celebrate!  That little girl had it exactly right.  She knew joy when she saw it.

And I thought of her as the happy groom and his beautiful bride in her long white dress swished past us on their way.  Whoever they were.  I reached blindly into the bottom of my purse, my fingers closing on what turned out to be one of the most colorful, bright fingerpuppet birds you could ask for, and I gave it to that young dad today.

I wanted that couple’s day to be a celebration of joy like that, too.

As we got in our car, I saw a very small arm waving her hummingbird hi, high in the air, at the happy couple her daddy was taking her towards.

Diamonds are forever
Thursday September 25th 2008, 12:39 pm
Filed under: Family,Knit

Gram\'s old upright Kimball

Barbara-Kay’s comment sparked this one.  Growing up, I took piano lessons from Louise Kupelian, who required I come in twice a week, once with a piano partner and once to meet with a group, teaching under the Robert Pace method. (That last little bit in case any old students of hers come googling so I can wave hi to old friends.)  My mom used to do some grocery shopping at the nearby Safeway in Chevy Chase while she waited, or she would sit there and knit till I got out.  (Usually, anyway–one year, it was a needlepoint bench cover for my grandmother’s Steinway Grand.)  The lessons were far enough away that for her to go home in between meant she’d have to turn around the second she got there.  No point.  So.

Her father was a US Senator.  She wanted to knit him a sweater.  My grandfather did not dress casually, and his reaction was that a bit of warmth would be nice, but it couldn’t be anything outdoorsy; it needed to be very formal-looking, something he could wear in the hallways of Congress and that he could throw his suitcoat over as needed.

A few years ago, I was mentioning that project to her: with her busy household and six children, it had taken her a year to finish.  I remember those size 2 needles and the needlepoint yarn she’d had to buy 30+ skeins’ worth to get a fine enough yarn to work with.

What surprised me was Mom exclaiming, all those years later, with me remembering and her not, “Size two needles?! I must have been out of my mind!”  And maybe that’s why I remember the details; she wasn’t so sure she wasn’t out of her mind back then, either, and carefully explained to me at the time why she was using the needles and yarn she was and why it would mean so much to her dad.  And it did.

She knitted Grampa an all-over single-stitch-wide Aran diamond pattern, a monochrome argyle effect in a subdued sage green.

And all that time and all those piano lessons and all those evenings I saw her working on that gorgeous pattern, allowing love to become visible and tangible, I very much wanted a sweater like that too.  The great act of maternal love beyond my understanding at the time was that, with a heavy sigh, she actually did.  She knitted me one too when she got done with his. After having plugged steadily away at that same pattern for a YEAR.  She let me pick out the color and then made it in worsted-weight acrylic so it would go much faster and, I was in heaven, she put a zipper in the front so I could be in style just to top it all off.  With a big brassy triangle zipper pull, not just some plain old thing. I loved it.

Grampa took care of and wore his wool diamond sweater for the rest of his life.  He retired from his seat in his 70’s and died at 95. And that’s one of the reasons I love working with animal fibers: no cotton sweater is going to look great 30 years out, but wool can.

Mine, I wore until the sleeves barely covered my elbows and Mom was embarrassed to let me be seen in public with it.  That was MINE.  *I’d* picked out the pattern, *I’d* picked the color, my MOM made it just for ME, that was MINE.

She finally hid it, to my distress.   So.  We were doing this reminiscing a few years ago, and I asked her whatever had happened to it; it would have been nice to somehow be able to show it to my own kids.  She didn’t remember.  She assured me, “I would only have given it to someone who appreciated what went into it.”  True, but… I don’t think anyone could quite love it as dearly as I did back in the day.  My mom made me that and nobody else had one but me.  And Grampa.

Of my parents’ six children and their four daughters, I’m the only one who knits.  I wonder now if how thrilled I was at Mom’s unselfishness, eagerly watching Grampa’s sweater and then mine coming slowly to be, helped nudge me in that direction.  I quite think so.

Wednesday September 24th 2008, 7:39 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Knit,Politics

Stray thought: I never thought I’d see the day when I would totally agree with–Newt Gingrich. Wow. Thank you, Suburbancorrespondent, for the link re the $700 billion bailout idea: I do like my radio in closed captions.

The silk that Claudia dyedMichelle shawl in Misti and Claudia Silk that Sandi gave is turning into a Michelle shawl; the second strand is Misti Alpaca laceweight from my stash and my dyepot.  The knitting started off a bit slowly, till my husband told me I was going to have to get me a ghostknitter.  I don’t *think* so!  Back to work!

I’m suddenly picturing Wall Street multimillionaire welfare kings being handed some needles and some Red Heart (got to be frugal, you know, yes, it has its uses, and no, guys, you don’t get qiviut this time) and told to chill awhile till something intelligent gets worked out.

Booksignings and Stitches East
Tuesday September 23rd 2008, 9:53 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort"

I will be signing books at Green Planet Yarn in Campbell, CA on Wednesday, Oct. 1, from 6:30-8 pm.

As always, you can order a copy from Purlescence in Sunnyvale, CA (not the yarn store by that name in England) and I will gladly come in and inscribe it during Thursday Knit Night.

I will be signing books at Stitches East at 2:00 at Lisa Souza’s booth on Saturday, Nov 8, in Baltimore, MD, and plan to be there at Stitches pretty much all day Friday and Saturday.

I will be in Burlington, VT the following week…and we shall see.

If anybody wants to come early, I’ll be at Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s booksigning next week in Santa Rosa, CA on Saturday, Oct 4th. That’s Stephanie’s show, not mine, but hey, I’ll be there; I’m afraid I can’t promise how long my carpool will stick around afterwards.

And oh my goodness–Stephanie at Copperfield in Petaluma last yearlooking at my picture files, I find that the shawl that I was working on while waiting for Stephanie to speak last year was the one I surprised Tina at Blue Moon Fibers with. I had totally forgotten it was that one!

September morning
Tuesday September 23rd 2008, 10:54 am
Filed under: Wildlife

California bluejay

I’ve been trying for days, and this is as close as I’ve gotten so far.  This jay was particularly bright and blue in the morning sun, and it let me open the sliding glass door, slowly, slowly.  One unsteady click of the camera, though, and it was ducking into the shelter of the larger trees and away.

It’s beautiful out there.

(Edited to add: Knitpicks just put “Wrapped in Comfort” at 40% off! Just in case, you know, anybody besides me might be jumping up and down over that.)

September morning

It was driving me nuts
Monday September 22nd 2008, 12:50 pm
Filed under: Knit

A well-red, bookedI have a list of projects I want done and a general timeline in mind for most of them.  But all of them were calling out to me at once, and it was driving me nuts: one at a time, children!  And the one I’d planned to do next, when I swatched it last week, it just went, nahhhhh, and told me I hadn’t quite gotten the right idea for it down yet. I dithered.

It’s a relief to finally be going, okay, you, you–out of the bag. Onto the needles.  Pronto.  Let’s get you dressed and ready for school and out of here.

Meantime, over the last week I made five of these for various goings-on.  This isn’t the best-looking one of them at all–it’s one of the early efforts–but it’s the one that got its class picture taken.

I used to be on the PTA. This is to show that I, too, know how to dress a mousse.

bouche de Noel

The glasses are half falling
Sunday September 21st 2008, 9:55 am
Filed under: Life

The woman looking at the package next to us at Costco yesterday had her glasses on but they were dangling down around her chin as she was trying to read the fine print on the ingredients list. She looked vaguely like someone I knew, and although she wasn’t that someone, that probably helped me to respond as if she were, and she was frowning.  Costco on a Saturday is a crowded hassle, so that was certainly understandable.

I laughed, “I thought I was the only one who did that.”  I tend to hang my glasses by one ear dangling downwards when I want to see way up close myself.

I startled her out of her reverie, and she chuckled that she gets strangers telling her, Hey, lady, did you know your glasses were about to fall off your face?  But she’d never had anyone else say they do the same thing.

About ten minutes later, I bumped into her again and went, “There you go again.”  She burst out laughing.

I never did see her frown again after any of that.

Blocked and shipped
Saturday September 20th 2008, 1:42 pm
Filed under: Family,Knitting a Gift

Camelspin, shown here in Berry, is one of the softest yarns I have ever had the great good fortune to have running through my hands for hours on end.  Drapey and shimmery.  Gorgeous.  Lisa Souza‘s Merino/silk is right up there with it, but hers is a slightly heavier weight.

shawl in Camelspin in Berry colorway

I originally blocked this with crisp points along the bottom edge, but the silk gradually sagged them out. I finally reblocked it in the round.  I sent a picture to my son and new daughter-in-law.

Remember this post?  I had Kim in mind when I knitted it, but then I dithered and didn’t mention that part on the blog: color is such a personal thing.  She loved it (yay!), and yesterday I finally popped it in the mail.  I just wish I could show more than the color here for right now. (The yarn I dyed to match it is still waiting its fit of inspiration.)

There’s a Peninsula to Pier Shop Hop going on this weekend, and there was an ongoing stream of carpooling knitters yesterday at Purlescence; one woman remarked to me how very different all these different yarn stores were, how fascinating it was to see what different things they offered and what they looked like.  I wanted to tell her, well, this is the best one of all.  It carries Blue Moon. It has Handmaiden.  It has Claudia.  (Plus a few others I really like, but throw in some Lisa Souza on the side, and I’m set for life.)  It has Nathania, Chloe, Sandi, and Kay.  There are other good stores too, but I have to say, it just doesn’t get better than this.

Knit like a pirate
Friday September 19th 2008, 5:54 pm
Filed under: Friends,LYS

Nathania in her Concert shawl

You know I had to go back over to Purlescence today.  Nathania happened to be just inside the door, ready for a hug.

I explained “Talk like a pirate” day to a customer who was wondering what was going on. There was a tv set up with Errol Flyn swashbuckling his way around, while the Purlescence-errrrrs were dressed the part: all the fun of Halloween and of welcoming the fall, without the sugar overload.  Perfect.

Kay’s holding Ellie, whose outfit says “Shiver me timbers;” Ellie got a few good “Arrrrgh!”s in for good measure as she slowly woke up.

And a very good day was had by arrrrrrgh.

Ellie waking up

Geisha girl
Thursday September 18th 2008, 10:34 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Friends,Knitting a Gift,LYS

Geisha in Oma DesalaI wrote this draft and expected to be able to come home from knit night and gleefully hit Post!, and I’m going to anyway, but it was Nathania’s night off and she wasn’t there.  Kay called her at home saying I had something there at the shop for her; Nathania put it to a family vote, and not surprisingly, the whatever nebulous thing it might be got voted down.  Mom time is not to be tampered with.

I said to Kay a moment later, we should have told them there was homemade chocolate mousse cake waiting here for all of them.  Kay asked if I wanted to bring the shawl back tomorrow?  No?  It’s burning a hole through your pocket?

Oh, you betcha.  So I left it there for discovery in the morning, and since I took a wrong-time-of-day bad-lighting picture before I left, I’ve got one for this post, and Nathania will probably find out the details here first.  Here goes.

Nathania (scroll down to the second to last picture) went to go visit her friend Tina at Blue Moon Fiber Arts in Oregon recently and came back exclaiming over some of the new colorways Tina was about to put out, wishing she’d been able to bring some of them home.

Which led to some behind-the-scenes emailing and scheming.  I thought I’d given it away when I mentioned this Geisha yarn in Oma Desala had arrived, along with the Potomac colorway Tina had concocted for me to play with in memory of our childhood homes near each other’s on the Maryland side of the river.  But no.

At knit night last week, I pulled two shawls out of my bag to show Nathania: one was the gray, not yet gone to its recipient, the other, my Geisha yarn shawl from awhile ago, where I’d used the full skein to see how much length I could get out of it. It totally swamps me, but then, I’m a fairly small person.

Both of those were in a particular pattern, I told her, that I needed to test on various body sizes–would she be willing to try this one on for me?  Sure.

She dutifully went over to the mirror with the Geisha; yes, it’s long enough, yes, it’s wide enough. Very nice.  She handed it back to me and the old pang hit me hard that I had knit a shawl for Sandi, I had knit one for Chloe, the other two owners of Purlescence, but I had not knit one yet for her.  And she would have loved it if I had, but instead, here she was, handing the shawl back.  Ouch.

I had wanted to for quite some time, badly, but what to make and what to make it of just hadn’t come to me at all.  I had to wait to see and I didn’t know why and it bothered me.  I had been looking for a yarn for over a year that would speak to me–and all I could come up with is I just felt, no, it’s not time yet. Something’s missing.

Till she took that trip and Tina and I started talking behind her back.  What Nathania didn’t know was I was having her try on my shawl to know how long I should continue this one for her.

shawl for NathaniaAnd I knew now. This wasn’t just for me. This wasn’t just for her. This was to bring Tina into the circle of this shawl, too, in happy anticipation and love in together creating something to make our friend happy.

And all those times I’d wondered what pattern I would ever knit for her: as soon as I had the right yarn ready to go, I just knew.  She and her husband had met in a singing group.  They are musicians.  And so, to celebrate two people I adore having found each other and having chosen to live happily ever after,  I started with the Michelle shawl, named for my own daughter and knitted here in celebration of her daughters, to the end of the yoke; from there, I switched to the Concert Scarf pattern, repeat after extra repeat across, to make a one-of-a-kind shawl but at the same time one that anybody with a copy of “Wrapped in Comfort” can follow. The only change is that you’ll need one fewer stitch in the increase row before the main body, and there you go.

I don’t usually put busy colorways with busy patterns, but here, it’s perfect: how they met and their love of music blends into the background of the overall fabric of their lives.  I’m really pleased with how this came out. And very gratified that, at last, I got to knit this shawl: to celebrate Nathania, for her close friend Tina’s sake, and to honor as well, with the pattern, the man who loves Nathania best of all and whom she loves best of all.

Hey, you guys: there’s some leftover chocolate mousse wheat-free anniversary cake waiting for you.

So that was why
Wednesday September 17th 2008, 4:04 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Family,Friends

Mississippi-bound Michelle shawlI got a note today from my son John, who is in Mississippi at the moment.

A year ago, the John who is the owner of Village Spinning and Weaving was selling silk yarn at TKGA that had been dyed by his local weaving group for fun for him.  I exclaimed over the price, and he grinned that yes, he’d gotten a very good deal on it.

I knitted up the one hank I bought into a Michelle shawl.  Weighing how many grams the ball was shrinking per row, I was able to figure out how long I could make it before I had to start in on the bottom edging.  I ended up with a shawl that was good for someone about my size but not a whole lot bigger.  I had not a clue who I was knitting it for; it was more like, well, silk is like type O negative blood: pretty universally give-able, allergies-wise.

The finished shawl has been sitting there quietly off in a corner for months, patiently waiting its turn. I’ve wondered who on earth it was for.  I had to wait for the moment that would tell me.

Our youngest headed off on a mission for the Mormon Church in December. They could have called him to anywhere in the world; they sent him to the one headquartered in Mississippi. (He came out okay in the hurricanes; thanks.)

I got a note from him today, telling me about a woman he’d met who has MS and whose husband is dying.  I can only imagine what she’s going through.  He told me he’d felt prompted to say something to her that had brought her great comfort, and he wanted me to know that it was all my fault: he reminded me of something I’d once said to him that I don’t even remember saying, that he’d passed on to her, about not being in fear and about the power of love and faith in our lives.  It had made all the difference.  He told me he felt that that moment was why he’d been supposed to come to Mississippi.

And then he just happened to mention that oh, by the way, Mom, she’s not a very big person, she’s about your size, and her favorite color is bright royal blue, and, like, maybe, you wouldn’t mind knitting a shawl for her, would you? She could really use to have something comforting like that to wrap around her right now.

I think this one will do.  And I think other-John’s weaving group would like to know what one of their hanks of yarn is going to, so I’m linking to his shop so the word gets around.

(Edited to add: here’s a better picture of it, though it’s a bit darker here than in real life. I beat the post office closing time by ten minutes.  It is on its way, and I hope it helps in the small way I can from way over here.)

Feed the birds, tuppence a bag
Tuesday September 16th 2008, 12:18 pm
Filed under: Wildlife

little birdI did not know a bird would be willing to do that.  It hopped over to about a foot away from me through the glass as if to say thank you, munching away happily.

I’d swept out some cobwebs, and being on rather unfriendly terms with spiders, had put the long-handled duster outside to shake it off (okay–picture it more like, I ran with it and dumped it fast after I’d cleaned some of the outside webs and slammed the door), and I’d left it out there; maybe the buggies would scurry away from it for me.  Well, turns out, one did, a good-sized one.imgp6421

I’ve been googling, trying to find the right combination of words to conjure up a picture and a name for the very small brown bird with the surprisingly long, sharp needle of a beak that this one had. No such luck.  The fuzziness of this shot doesn’t convey it well at all.  It did not have the short wide beak of, say, a chickadee, although the bird was about that small.  It saw that spider and whisked in to our back porch to snatch it up.

The spider was having none of it, and did the spidery thing of running into the dark, underneath a wooden box we have up on top of a few 2x4s.  And the bird followed it!  Spearing away at it and dragging it back to the light.  One leg crunched, and the spider scuttled off with the other seven.  Nuh, uh, dude, and the bird was right under there after it again and dragged it back out.  Totally harpooned the thing, and then ate one potato chip leg at a time, savoring dessert first, and then the main course of the body of the thing.imgp6419

I watched, fascinated; the beak was about as wide as the spider’s legs to begin with, how was it going to get that big thorax down?  But it did.  Then it looked at me like, Got seconds?  No?  And flew around the patio, looking for more.

I needed motivation to clean off that duster and sweep the rest of the cobwebs. I think I just got it.