Michelle’s Sea Silk shawl
Monday September 15th 2008, 10:27 am
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort"

Having a project I’ve been putting heart and soul into but I can’t quite blog yet, and feeling a bit antsy for a little more knitting around here, I thought I’d show off my daughter Michelle’s shawl.  I have most of the fullness arranged across the back in this picture, trying to show the pattern a bit better; it is wide and sweeping and drapey and gloriously shiny and soft.  It’s a simple pattern to work and took two skeins of Sea Silk.

When my tech editor for “Wrapped in Comfort” pulled this shawl out of its bag, she immediately emailed to ask if I’d be interested in selling it to her.  Given that she could certainly knit one, too, that was a huge compliment!  And one I’ve been grateful for ever since (not to mention, I’m claiming bragging rights on it for life. Thank you, Donna!)

Michelle\'s Sea Silk shawl

It’s the little things
Sunday September 14th 2008, 5:32 pm
Filed under: Family,Life

(Background: a brushed baby alpaca triangle shawl gifted to me by Laura in Alameda that I like to wrap around me when it gets cool in the eveningsbrushed baby alpaca shawl by Laura. Thank you, Laura.)

It was eight years ago that we got the call that woke us up on a chilly early Sunday morning, Thanksgiving week.  Long expected.  It had been eight years since my husband’s older sister had been told on her 40th birthday that she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and that it was metastasized.

The last time Cheryl had been well enough to run around and do errands like anybody else while we were visiting, and we then having teenage daughters, we stopped in at a little shop in some mall that sold all kinds of girly frills and hair doodads.  Where, among a few other things, I happened to buy a threesome of hairbands.

One went off to college with my girls.  One, nobody remembers just when it disappeared.  And the last, the plastic well aged by now but still holding up, in a color to go with the auburn my hair had mostly still been when I’d bought it, perfectly comfortable on my head and a remembrance of Cheryl that I wanted to keep close, I took careful care of, knowing I could never replace it.

But this summer it vanished anyway, and it bothered me more than I thought it should.  No little piece of plastic will ever make any real difference re my memories of Jessie‘s mom.  And yet.

So, go buy another one! Easier said than found. Why do so many of them try to be head tourniquets?  Part of me hung on to the instinctive response of a small child, of, But I want MY headband, not some other one.

Fast forward to two days ago.  It had been carefully wrapped and super-cushioned so as not to be broken by airport workers rifling through my luggage.  I was planning well ahead for my upcoming Stitches East trip, and there it was, safe and sound.  Next time, I’m going to wear it on my head on the plane: I found it! I found it!

Walk a mile in her shoes
Saturday September 13th 2008, 1:09 pm
Filed under: Friends

favorite old gray BirksI had an East Coast friend once beg me, “Please don’t tell me you wear socks with your Birkenstocks!”  I laughed and wrote back, “I live in California: *everybody* wears socks with their Birkenstocks!” And handknit socks especially, if they’re knitters.

When Mel and Kris came here, I meant to take a picture of our feet together, but I was having too good a time to remember to.

I have two pairs of these, one I keep for looking good, one that got messed up in some flooding, so you might as well wear them for splashing in the rain anyway.  Which is why I went back and bought a second pair while they still had them in stock–I was afraid the first was going to reek and split when they dried and that I was going to have to toss them, but no. They’re pretty indestructible.  When Kris exclaimed over how new these looked, I had to explain I was simply putting my best foot forward.

When I saw the two of them the week before at the art fair, I was surprised to see she was wearing my Birkenstocks.  But it gets funnier: she had bought the exact same shoe in the exact same color in the exact same size at the exact same store I’m sure the exact same summer, despite the fact that she lived three if not four hours north of here at the time.  She’d been in the area for a fair and had stopped by the Birkenstock outlet in Gilroy too.  And there you go. We artsy creative types, we all dress in uniform, huh?

They live in Oregon now, though, so I guess we’ll have to let them skip the socks.

Blueberries take the cake
Friday September 12th 2008, 11:32 am
Filed under: LYS

allergy-friendly cakeAwhile ago, I knew it was going to be Sandi’s birthday, and I baked a blueberry cake and brought it in to Purlescence for knit night.

The reaction I got was not quite what I’d expected: we had five people in that knitting group who were celiac or who actually risked anaphylactic shock if she ate wheat.  I’d had no idea.  The sentiment was appreciated, the expression, not so much.

The hubby and I were at Whole Foods a little while ago with our daughter, it being a good place to shop when you have an allergic child and she being very allergic to dairy.  There are some things that have ingredients snuck in such that the only safe version she can touch is the ones marked vegan.  So. We stumbled across a cake mix that proclaimed it was free of so many things that I had to read the ingredients just to see what it DID have.  I thought of Sandi, and I bought it.

But it needed to be a blueberry cake.  I owed her one. I had no idea what a brown rice/tapioca/arrowroot flour cake would turn out like, but I threw in two cups’ worth of not quite thawed berries.

Namaste cake leftovers

I am now under request to do that again.  And when I mentioned that lemon curd across the top would be good, too, Sandi swooned at the idea and held me to it.

I brought a little home to the hubby. He pronounced it weird and went for seconds.

We will never forget
Thursday September 11th 2008, 11:59 am
Filed under: Family,Knit

The doorbell rang the day after. It was our longtime UPS guy, holding the box in his hands, standing still on my doorstep, actually waiting for me to open the door so he could hand it to me in person.

It took a second for the concept to echo around my brain.  Doorbell.  The UPS guy? A box? Normal life?  Somehow, that all seemed so very far away, but there he was, needing the human contact of seeing me receiving it from him.  Making it personal.  He knew I’d be home; my car was in the driveway.  We both stood there in suspended animation for maybe two seconds, broken finally by my saying “Thank you,” as I received the box from him.

We’d both needed that moment.

There had been an online vendor selling merino lambswool/angora blended into an ultrathin yarn on a cone, very soft; as is, I’d probably never use it, but what I did was to wind half of it off, then two-ply it on my spinning wheel.  Two-ply the two-plies.  Wash the resulting four-ply yarn roughly in hot then cold water to felt the strands together, and knit it up into an afghan for a Christmas present.

For my brother and his wife, who taught high school in New Jersey.  Where a terrible number of the children had lost a parent in the Towers the day before John the UPS guy handed me that box, some of them both parents.  My brother himself had been on the subway: he’d called home to say, “Mom. Dad.  My subway was late.  I’m okay.”

The enormity of it all was not something to dissipate anytime soon, and I knew, as I picked up my needles once my yarn was spun, dried, and ready to go, that I needed to keep it very simple.  I needed comfort knitting. I needed it to be something I could knit without its requiring much attention out of me.

It wasn’t till I was very nearly done that I spread it out, with its 7×1 ribbing, and then it massively hit me: I’d been knitting a representation in yarn of one of the Towers, with not a clue I’d been doing so.  To wrap them and comfort them in softness and love from me.

Stalking the wild blockedapus
Wednesday September 10th 2008, 12:21 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knit,LYS

stalking the wild blocked-apusYou know, that header really needs a celery stick in the picture to finish it off, but we’re fresh out.  The charcoal shawl, she is finished.

I wrote a draft last night that I will finish when I finish the project it goes with.   A blog stash.  I can’t wait!

Last Thursday at Purlescence‘s knit night, I was feeling very broke, having just paid college tuition and college rent and the first half of my new hearing aids.  I took a good look around the shop, as I always do: looking at yarns is the best way to come up with new ideas.  Colors trigger memories, memories trigger patterns…

And so I noticed just the most drop-dead gorgeous new color ever over that-a-way, in a yarn from Claudia’s Handpaints that for right now was just plain out of my reach.  One look at it and I knew exactly whom it should be for.  Nothing else would do.  I hoped it wouldn’t sell out.  It was just so exquisitely THE color. (Okay, I’m suddenly stuck with Barbara Streisand singing “Misty watercolor memmmmmmoriesssss…” in my head. Shhh, stop, get out of my post!)

Sandi, one of the LYSOs, came over, checking up on me–I’d had a sudden severe bout with my dysautonomia two nights before, and I wasn’t going to mention it, but one look at my worried face and she’d decided to ask what was up.  Those bouts are when the brainstem and the blood pressure and the heart and lungs forget to all stay connected to each other for a little while there.  It had been rough.  I’d reacted to it with the thought, Tina Newton and Lisa Souza both just sent me yarn out of the goodness of their hearts and I am NOT going to die with it sitting in hanks in ziploc bags! Those are going to become LOVE first! BREATHE, you stupid body, BREATHE!!!

A little adrenalin goes a long way, and the body did this, Right-o, old chap, carry on.  And I was fine.  And that was that.

Sandi was hesitant to say it, so I did outright for her: knitting for others helps keep me alive.

And she handed me that Claudia silk I’d been admiring, and said, “Take it.”


And now I have a blog stash and I can’t say… yet. But Sandi–you’re a peach and I adore you.  Knit long and prosper well.

“We don’t need no stinkin’ badgers!”
Tuesday September 09th 2008, 11:22 am
Filed under: Non-Knitting

Barbara-Kay says she’s only ever met two truly ugly yarns. I’m curious to know what they looked like.  But now I’ve got to tell you about one someone once gave me: I’ve been looking for it, but I have some vague memory of passing it on to someone who saw it and really liked it.Fern-inand Magellan

Back at the height of the furry-feathery yarns craze, I got a visit from a friend from another state who happened to be coming to California anyway and wanted to stop by.  She was someone who knitted up samples for yarn companies and she had a leftover skein she wanted to share with me, partly because she thought the thing was just too funny.

We’re talking a very thin nylon strand connecting lots of soft puffs of white and brown, chenille-y and very touchable.  Scattered here and there was a small accent of bright red.  In just the right shade.

Which is why she giggled as she handed me the yarn, confessing she called it Roadkill.

On that note…  Lawdog kindly put together all the links to his serialized Ratel (an animal also called the Honey Badger) story, saving me the effort of hunting them down, talking about some of his experiences growing up in Nigeria as the son of an American oil-industry worker.  And then there’s the furious furry tennis ball attacking the python.  I love his dad’s calm words: “Boys? Try to stay away from anything with an appetite, mmm?” Maybe they needed some Roadkill to distract it.  Here you go.

Shawly you jest gotta knit more
Sunday September 07th 2008, 10:19 pm
Filed under: Knit

Lisa asked if I knit other things besides shawls.  I have, I did, I…

My Kaffe Fassett phase is described here.  Discovering his “Glorious Knits” helped really push me back into the world of knitting after a half dozen years’ absence.

I made a number of cabled sweaters, including a KF-inspired pullover with each half of each cable a different color.  It was a little like the time I made homemade tofu, just to say I had and could.  I knitted an aran for a friend’s son as a high school graduation gift, only, the knitting loosened up as I got more and more comfortable with the pattern and so I was unconsciously knitting faster and looser, and one sleeve, doing the same number of cable twists and the same number of rows as the other, came out, um… I cut the cuff and a bit above it off, reknit a new cuff downwards, and then turned the cut part into a small baby bonnet, chainstitching little ties on.  I took great delight in embarrassing the heck out of that then-18-year-old by telling him I was saving it for his first baby to wear someday to match its papa.

The kid is 27 now and got married this past May, a week after my son did.  I’m not sure if he remembers that bonnet.  (Although I’ll bet he does.)

I thought I didn’t want to learn how to do lace.  But it bugged me that here was a part of knitting that was beyond me, when I thought I was pretty skilled, overall.  I went looking for how-to materials, finding extremely slim offerings in the bookstores and finally driving way up to Lacis in Berkeley with specific ideas in mind.  The Barbara Walker stitch treasuries from 1970 or so finally got reprinted at about that time. They were hugely helpful.

When I started, I thought all lace had to be on size 3 needles or smaller by definition.  It took me awhile to let go of the idea that if it comes out all in a tight wad, that just means you didn’t block and stretch it hard enough. Not so.  It’s the universe saying, yo.  Use. Bigger. Needles.

So at first I made quite a few wedding-ring shawls, airy lacy rectangles that could slide through your ring.  They were and are glorious.  There were a few larger ones that, um, try to find a large male and borrow their ring for a moment if you want to slip your shawl through–and try not to flip the band across the room as the thing zips through.  Ask me how I know.

Little by little, bit by bit.  I got this little website going, in part because my younger daughter took a high school webpage design class. She put a few patterns up here. And then, after the Strawberry Pie shawl, I found myself wanting to improve on the design. I wanted something that would hang straight on both sides, which that one doesn’t–it’s more a boomerang shape.  I spent a summer working out some ideas and the basic template, knitting, not knowing how the crucial upper areas would look with the weight of the lower till they were done, and gradually I came up with the top-down circular shawls that became the basis for “Wrapped in Comfort.” The how-to-knit-lace instructions in there are exactly what I spent so much time trying to find, years ago.

I spent months and months knitting shawl after shawl: one for you, one for the book.  One for you, one for the book. No, not that color, knit another one for the book, no, that one.  In all, I mailed Martingale I think it was 29 projects and told them to pick out their favorites; each one I had knit at least twice if not four, five times, obsessed with accuracy.

After that, I was quite ready to go do something else for a little while.  I wanted instant gratification. I wanted people gratification rather than having to knit it and throw it in the closet like I’d been doing for two years.  I wanted to knit to give NOW.  I started doing a lace scarf here and another one there, and before you knew it, I was where I knew I had to knit one for every single woman at church so that nobody would feel left out.

And I did it. I knitted for every woman (except for the two who moved away in the middle before I got to them, and the blind woman who did not own nor want to own a scarf, to her seeing-eye dog’s intense disappointment as I took the proffered baby alpaca away from near its nose.) My favorite part of that 18-month-long marathon was Jo.  She’s a peach.  She’s still at about the same place as she was when I wrote that post.

I got awfully tired of those scarves. I know I need to knit more of them; we live in a university town and new people are coming in all the time, and who doesn’t need a welcome like that when you don’t know a soul? But for this particular moment, I’m back on a shawls binge and playing with new lace patterns. When you knit someone one of those, you’ve really knit them something. They are substantial.  They look wonderful. They pronounce of the wearer, “I am well loved.”  And I have to tell you, that never gets old.

Kris and Mel
Friday September 05th 2008, 10:08 pm
Filed under: Friends,Knitting a Gift

Kris and MelMel and Kris Kunihiro, my potter friends, stopped by here today on their way down the coast; art fair season isn’t quite over yet.  She got her pink shawl (which came out shorter than I’d expected; rather like the original Bigfoot in the book.)  And since upcoming surgery means sleeves will be an issue for her this winter, and my shawls seemed exactly the thing she needed, ie, they’ll keep her warm and they’ll stay on without effort, I had it all planned out and I gave her this blue one too; it ran longer on her.  Variety is a good thing.

They certainly didn’t need to, but they came bearing gifts: handmade soap, and a doorknob hanger of handfelted honeybees from Plum Blossom Farm’s sheep, with beads and a little bell at the end.

felted doorknob from plumblossomfarm.com

I rattled the bell and actually heard it–not very loud, but hey. I heard it!  They didn’t know I grew up on Honeybee Lane; and hey, wool taking over the house all the more, I love it.  I can’t wait to tease my kids.

The handmade soap was wrapped in felted Wensleydale wool.  Again, in the they-couldn’t-have-known department: the AP once ran a one-paragraph little filler story about a woman in the British Isles trying to keep the last herd of Wensleydale sheep in the world alive, and how glad she was to get a large Japanese order for fleeces: it gave her the financial wherewithal to keep going.felted soap

I spent ten years after that trying to track down a source of Wensleydale wool.  It has had a real resurgence since that article, helped by the handspinning market, and I did find and spin some for a coat.  And here there was not only someone with some actual Wensleydale sheep in the US now, but Kris and Mel actually know her and brought this to me from her!  Along with Wensleydaled honeybees! Life draws in in small circles that surprise sometimes. Totally delightful.

Before we let them go, I had to take them in my kitchen and open the cupboards and let them see my Kris and Mel collection.  I showed them how I take my tiny rice-type bowl, mix cocoa and suger in it every morning, zap some milk in my Mel and Kris mug, and make my morning hot cocoa.  Looking at the size of the cup I use for it–it was not their coffee cup-type cup, Kris laughed, “Yeah, I like lots of hot cocoa too!”

And I’m glad I live in a climate where it’s cool every morning, y’know?

And a very, very good day was had by all. It is amazing sometimes how much of a difference we make to each other even when we so rarely get to see much of each other in person.

Clicking the Ruby slippers: that’s no place like chrome
Thursday September 04th 2008, 5:59 pm
Filed under: Knit

Or rather, shawl–quick, go tell Dorothy she needs to accessorize.

I spent an hour today carefully tinking back to a mistake from last nightRuby Thursday–apparently, I can’t reliably count to three past 11 pm–and reknitting the gray, and after I got done, did something I almost never do: I started another project before finishing the previous one.  Lisa’s Ruby in baby alpaca/silk won the yarn toss.

I love how my shawl patterns, when you’re starting out, relax out on the circular needle in the shape of a resting cat, poised here to bat at the ball of yarn.  And now that the Ruby is ready for me to jump back to as a refuge from monochromatic vision the next time I might need it, I can get back to finishing the gray.

For a gray-ter good
Wednesday September 03rd 2008, 8:21 pm
Filed under: Knit

The first few rows, I was working on this to get it done and out of the way of the other, brighter yarns waiting next to me. But the more the pattern emerged, the more beautiful it became to me in its own right, and the more perfect it has felt for the recipient as I’ve been watching it coming to be.

This will be a quiet shawl.  It’s not flashy.  It doesn’t demand attention.  It doesn’t put itself first.  It plays well with all other colors that the recipient likes, as far as I know, and as I’ve been knitting it, I’ve been remembering the real reason I picked the yarn up in the first place: this is seriously nice stuff.  It offers warmth and and a superb softness for a woman who has touched many lives for good. I can’t wait to give it to her, even if that means I have to stop knitting it at that point.

gray-vy, man

Newtonian and gravitational pull
Tuesday September 02nd 2008, 8:51 pm
Filed under: Knit

Nope, I don\'t weave.

Newton’s at Stitches West last February was selling a 60/40 cashmere/merino blend that was really soft, and not all such blends are; this one lived up to its description, and to knit up a shawl in it was going to cost under fifteen bucks.   I carefully held the skeins up against each other in the light because the dyelots at that booth tend to be…random.   But not a problem with the ones I was looking at.Giverny from lisaknit.com

One was a charcoal gray.  It was clear to me that the cashmere used for it had been natural brown, and the result is slightly towards the earthy side.  Nothing particularly exciting, but I had had times the previous year where I’d needed guy colors in my stash and didn’t have them.

So.  Saturday I got a package from Lisa Souza with her Giverny colorway in baby alpaca laceweight and her Ruby, slightly subdued in how it came out in her baby alpaca/silk.  Gorgeous, both.  Today I got a package from Tina at Blue Moon Fiber Arts: Geisha in Oma Desala and Potomac.  I’m tempted to think of them as, Oma (doesn’t that mean Grandma?) Desala (of the–salad?  Of the salt?  Help me out here, Tina), and Makes-Me-Homesick for my beloved river.  Lovely, lovely colorways, and I’m dying to dive straight in to all four yarns at once.Geisha in Potomac and Oma Desala

Saturday I also happened to ask the next recipient on my list what colors she liked best.  It took her a moment to get what was coming next, and then I laughed at her hey, wait a minute! reaction.

Well, then.  Black.  She liked black.

I had that coming–I asked.  You over there with the bad eyes and the knitting needles, I hear you groaning too.

grayyyytI had this in my stash.  And you know it’s soft enough, definitely.  Can we call this light black?  But I also have black dye, and overdyeing charcoal to get black, if it doesn’t take totally evenly, who could tell or care?  I’ve been debating between going ahead with the Jacquard Acid or asking if she’d rather I left it as is.  I guess I’ll give her a call.   Communication is a good thing.  You know that what I should have done was to dye it before I started knitting away at it.

But darn, all those new colors are communicating, too, way too loud: knit ME!  No, ME!

Waitcher turn, kids.  All in good time. I’ll get you, my pretties, and your little dog-eared pattern scribblings too.

All washed up
Monday September 01st 2008, 10:01 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

Or at least I wish; we’re trying to figure out why the cold-water valve–the house’s, not the machine’s– suddenly started leaking.  I did do a few loads anyway before turning off the cold water, and after not having a washing machine for a week, what’s the first load you would throw in there?  Yeah, me too.

A quick glance inside beforehand hadn’t done the job.  An empty cycle-through just in case hadn’t done the job.  An extra rinse didn’t do the job.  Rachel: did you take Mr. Washie on vacation with you?  Or did he sneak off to Santa Cruz with his buds?  Did he enjoy the beach?  Next time, tell your machine he needs to rinse off his little feet in the Whirlpool or he Maytag you too with some of that sand when he gets back.  Kenmore and more of it come off if I keep running it through?

I think I’ll go rewash that underwear.  I tell you: Mr. Washie’s in hot water now.

The Lighthouse Cafe on Saturday
Monday September 01st 2008, 11:13 am
Filed under: Friends

Robin in her new Casbah shawlRobin wearing her new shawl–note to the women at Purlescence: I did find my Ocean Casbah yarn…

Nina’s hands at work as we waited for our lunch.

Nina\'s hands, always busy

Warren of Marin Fiber Arts checking with Frederikka Payne on the phone about the Whisper merino laceweight in his shop.  It will stay available?  Thanks!  Cast on!

Warren Agee of Marin Fiber Arts

In the it’s-a-small-blog-world department, there will be a Mr. Washie (yes, Dad, that’s an official knitter’s term) transplant team today operating between our house and No-Blog-Rachel’s.  No-Blog-Rachel has a blog now, although she will forever be known by her previous description given her by the Yarnharlot.

Rachel is from Vermont and now is a a member of my knitting group at Purlescence. Meantime, my daughter now lives in Vermont, and guess where I’m planning to visit?  Rachel, you want to hitch a ride in my luggage?  Just let me catch up on the laundry first, and I’m so glad the people you bought your house from left you with a superfluous washing machine.  Much appreciated.