An encore
Friday September 29th 2006, 9:24 pm
Filed under: Knit,Knitting a Gift,To dye for

I had knitted everything I was going to knit from that mothy box of yellow angora. I thought. I only had a few rolled-up balls left that had anything more than just a yard or two, and why bother with the stuff anymore, when knitting it had been so demanding: it was like a two-year-old. I couldn’t take my eyes off it for a second, or a broken ply would sail through my fingers. I should just toss the leftovers, quick, before anything hatches from it and infests my stash, I was thinking.

But today was a day where I came home from the doctor, eyed that yarn, and needed to create something positive out of–everything. The yarn, the day, everything. The doctor had been warm and kind, for which I am very grateful. Time to go make something warm for the sake of kindness myself.

It wasn’t much, it wasn’t big, it wasn’t the right color–but it’s the right color now. Boiled. Bugfree. Exquisitely soft. And tomorrow it will be ready to go make somebody happy. I look forward to finding out who.

Thursday September 28th 2006, 10:14 pm
Filed under: Knit

Technical info: I knitted this scarf and then added Jacquard Acid Dye in Pink. It’s a vivid dye, so it didn’t tone down the brightness of the original yellow as much as the other colors did. As usual, I threw in a small ball of extra yarn so I’d have some for any future hole repairs in a matching dye lot. (This is a hint to my sisters: hold onto that ball when you get your scarf! The way to mothproof your woolens is to have angora nearby; the moths will go after the angora first every time.)

I took the pile of scarves to my knitting group tonight. I can show off all the pictures I want here, but there’s nothing quite like having a room full of knitters swooning over the feel of the things.

Your Purple Wore Army Boots
Wednesday September 27th 2006, 9:11 pm
Filed under: Knit,To dye for

Didn’t turn out too camo-green in the end, I’d say.

Wednesday September 27th 2006, 4:57 pm
Filed under: Amaryllis,Knit

Emma and a friend of hers stopped by for a visit today; the friend brought me red dinnerplate dahlias from her garden, absolutely gorgeous, just because. She likes to give flowers like I like to give knitting, which is why she owns a silk scarf from me done in Barbara Walker’s Dayflowers pattern; it was such a perfect match.

I was all ready. Emma’s granddaughter had brought her that soft Suri Dream baby alpaca scarf, so, now I had the second one all finished for Emma to give one back to the kid. They could be twins. Emma thought it was a total hoot. Grandmas are cool.

I had a quick errand to run at the post office today. I didn’t think to bring my camera, this blog being such a new thing. I wish I had: the road runs quietly alongside the marshes at the edge of the San Francisco Bay, and there was a small flock of pelicans, a number of egrets, and a few mallards keeping them company. Paddling in the water, diving for a fish, circling around each other a bit. Absolutely beautiful. God’s knitting: in, around, out and up, repeat.

Pot o Gold
Tuesday September 26th 2006, 9:19 pm
Filed under: To dye for

First, the technical info: this is the Four Sisters-patterned angora scarf before dyeing or blocking. I soaked the scarf in hot water in the sink after taking this photo, added water to the pot, brought it to a simmer, and added my dye.

Purple. I thought it would make a somewhat earthy purple. Um… The way to tell God a joke is to tell him your plans, right? Especially when overdyeing fiber, although, serendipity is part of the fun. But when the camouflage green started coming up, I was pretty horrified. If it had been wool, I could have lifted it out into another dyepot, added more of another color, or simply moved it to clear water to simmer some of that reversible dye back out. But this was angora, and very old and fragile angora at that. What I did was to take some Jacquard Fire Engine Red, add it to a paper cup full of hot water so as to get it in solution, hold the scarf to the side of the pot with my wooden spoon, and pour it in at the other side and then stir gently. I’ll show you the results tomorrow when it’s done drying and blocking, but it’s definitely not wearing Army boots anymore.

You know, that yellow is the color of my teenage rebellion. I vividly remember my mother buying a dress for me when I was in junior high school. It had been at the very edge of her budget; she had splurged to buy me something nice. It was to be my best dress, for church and the like. The color was very much in style–these were in the days of shag carpets and refrigerators in harvest gold and avocado green–so Mom thought she was being hip in picking that one out for me. I could go fit in with the crowd like all kids aspire to.

Except, there’s not a young teenager on the planet who likes what their mommies choose for them to wear. Not at that particular age. It was doubleknit and synthetic (maybe that’s when my natural-fibers fanaticism started.) Right in style (as were polyester suits for men; the horror, the horror.) Guilt over the price I knew she must have paid only added to the fire–I was NOT going to wear that! No way!

I did, once, actually, and vividly recall my shame walking through Cabin John Junior High’s library, sure that everybody was looking up from their books to stare at The Dress. All by myself, I managed to be utterly humiliated. I never wore it again.

I thought of that when, not long ago, a friend rolled his eyes over his 13-year-old niece’s being dramatic. I laughed: “ALL 13-year-old girls are dramatic!”

I should know. And hey: you see that scarf up there? It’s actually brighter and a little more orange than in that photo. And, like the four previous ones, it ended up the color it wanted to be when it grew up.

Because I never, ever wore that shade of yellow again. (Sorry, Mom.)

Rhapsody in Blue
Monday September 25th 2006, 6:19 pm
Filed under: Knit

The yellow scarf ended up in the pot with Sapphire dye, no teal added this time. It’s still a bit on the teal side of blue, indicative of how saturated that yellow dye was. Yellow, by the way, is the easiest of all colors to overdye and obliterate, red is the hardest.

Meantime, yesterday I picked up the angora to start the next scarf, and–it just wasn’t coming to me. Fifteen stitches, I’m not sure why they all have to be exactly 15 stitches; but then, my dad tells me that, as the fourth of six kids, I was the one always getting on the parents’ case, demanding that things be fair. (Pardon me while I apologize to them.) I can only laugh now, thinking of all the times I’ve looked my own kids dead in the eye and declared, Life ain’t fair. It all evens out over time, just not right this moment, and that’s just the way it is. Deal. And now here I am, knitting for my siblings, trying to make everything come out, well, not all the same–there’s no way I’d knit a slew of identical projects in a row; using the same yarn over and over is enough–but at least all to the same length, with the same number of stitches. I guess I’m still a kid at heart.

So. Having failed yesterday, today I picked up my trusty Barbara Walkers, looking for inspiration. And there it was jumping off the page and onto my needles, ooh, ooh, me, me, pick me!: an old Shetland pattern, not the simplest, but definitely one that fits here. Fifteen stitches. The name? The Four Sisters. Well YEAH I have to make that pattern next! 

A back-handed compliment to one’s stash
Saturday September 23rd 2006, 1:58 pm
Filed under: Knit

Everybody needs one of these. You don’t even have to be a knitter: yesterday a hornet flew in the door, it and I played tennis for a moment, and the score was quickly 15-love. Sorry, bee, I hope it didn’t sting.

Don’t know what you call these. Don’t know the brand name. Made in China, looks cheap. The hubby found it at the hardware store for two bucks, and anyone who’s ever chased a moth within range of their stash needs to be able to zap where you can’t reach to slap, to be able to swing your arm wildly when you can’t even see the silly thing anymore–and then suddenly, you know you got it. Snap sizzle. No having to touch it; you just tap the side over the trash, the great outdoors, whatever. Gone.

And note that shade of yellow. Here, buggy buggy! Flowers! Yum.

I give you an update on the angora. Knitting and dyeing the stuff continues; I’ve got enough yarn for two more scarves, hoping for a minimum of holes in the rest of the balls. Let’s see, sisters, Mom, sisters-in-law… One other reason for dyeing it is that you know those bug eggs are definitely dead when you’re done. A shout-out to my sisters-in-law: if you want that yellow color, tell me quick. I’ll still throw it in the dyepot and simmer it a moment, I just won’t add any dye. That particular one shown, though, is about to turn blue.

Technical stuff: each one is 15 stitches, knitted with my 48-year-old Boule de Neige, on size 6.5mm needles. The dark green, yellow, and red are all variants on the theme of taking a right-slanting decrease, a left-slanting one, topped by a pointed-arrow-style double decrease. The only change from pattern to pattern is where I put the matching yarnovers. See what a difference such a simple change makes! As for colors, the light green is with a small amount of teal dye added, the darker one teal+sapphire, the red one vermillion dye. Jacquard Acid dyes, simmered a half hour in a stainless-steel for-dyeing-only pot, with very minimal stirring with a for-dyeing-only wooden spoon.

Holey moley
Thursday September 21st 2006, 4:46 pm
Filed under: To dye for

Angora scarf #2 was in the dyepot turning a gorgeous shade of red, and I was winding up the next yellow ball, checking for moth damage, wondering what color scarf #3 should become. Uh, oh–this one had a lot of moth holes. It was the worst one I’d seen yet.

And then it hit me. Thumper’s Admonition: if you can’t dye anything nice, don’t dye anything at all.

On to the next one!

gnat now
Wednesday September 20th 2006, 10:53 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",To dye for

Our front door was painted yellow. The former owner thought it would be cheerful.

Over a dozen years ago, there was a whitefly explosion in northern California, an invasive species from I forget where with no natural local predators. Gnats, you’d think something would eat a gnat, but white gnats seemed to be off the birds’ gourmet foods list–cauliflower au soleil!–and they multiplied quickly into great swirling clouds, like white dust devils twirling in a column in the sunshine. Our ash trees were emphatically not happy with them.

Which is how I came to find out that yellow is a color that is naturally attractive to insects: they’re programmed to see it as meaning “Flower. Yum.” Which meant that, until California started releasing large batches of counter-attack tiny nonstinging wasps that only ate whitefly larvae, every time we walked through our front door, we had to run a gauntlet of the little icky things en masse. One time, I got out there with a wet rag and mowed them down in strokes running down the door, just to see if I could have a clear door for even a moment. But there was no end to them. I gave up. Those wasps eventually did the job, though, and you almost never see a whitefly now.

I did get that first angora scarf overdyed green today; I’ll post a picture when it’s dry, and tomorrow the second scarf goes in the dyepot. While I was knitting it a little earlier tonight, a black gnat flew into it and got caught in the fuzz, making it an easy target to squash. Awhile earlier, I had seen another crawling up to a broken-off piece of yarn that I’d separated from the ball due to moth damage; I thought, boy, those hatched fast after I took that out of the freezer!

When that angora had shown up in the mail, the first thing I had done was to put the box in a heavy sweater-size ziploc bag and put it in the freezer to immediately kill any possible moths, before I even knew there had been any. Just as a precaution. It’s a pesticide-free way to kill them, alternating between warmth and freezing: kill the adults and larvae, then warm it up so the eggs think it’s spring, throw it back in the freezer again. I never have been quite sure how long the interludes between should be, though.

Two gnats in the angora in one evening, and I was sitting there wondering, since when do gnats eat yarn? Do I have to worry about everything biting it now? Is angora that much of a dessert in the bug world?

And then it hit me. Yellow. The yarn was bright yellow. Flowers. Yum. And I felt a whole lot better.

Pictures tomorrow when the first scarf is dry and there’s more to show off. Oh, and–our front door is white these days. But the ash trees, I’m afraid, are gone.

old angora
Tuesday September 19th 2006, 8:08 pm
Filed under: Knit,To dye for

I once won a small cone of 100% angora yarn off Ebay for ten bucks, in a perfect shade of green. It was something I could never normally afford, given that 100% angora usually sells for about a dollar a gram in these tiny 27-yard balls, and yet–something more than just a chance at a good bargain called to me, on more levels than I quite understood, when it first popped up on my screen. All that softness, and no repeating yarn ends to have to work in, I was thinking.

When my mom had me on the way, in 1958, she and Dad went on a trip to France. France at the time was the worldwide center of angora yarn production, and Mom was a knitter, so she bought two boxes as a souvenir of the trip. It had been fairly inexpensive; had she had any idea what it was going for in the States, she later said more than once, she’d have bought more. She had two daughters at that point, and bought 20 10g balls of soft green and 20 of a rather bright sunflower yellow. She may have been thinking baby blankets or sweaters and had someone later talk her out of knitting angora for babies; I don’t know. What I do know, is, ten years later, Mom finally knit the green up into a sweater for my oldest sister, who had started high school. At ten, I was a brand new knitter, but Mom made it clear that that yellow had been bought for my other sister, it had been promised to her, and not to even think about it. Sorry there wasn’t a stockpile set aside for me, too, I hadn’t been born yet.

Well darn.

But my oldest sister was allergic to that sweater, it turned out, and couldn’t stand the itchy eyes and running nose; it stayed in a drawer for a few years till I hit high school, at which point I begged for it–and they gave it to me! AlRIGHT! I looked like a walking furball, with a massive floating halo around me as I walked, but there I was with something so cool and so soft and so unique and so handknit and nobody else had one like it. Nobody else could tell the story of their mother knitting in the round a la Elizabeth Zimmerman, and then finding they’d been knitting a mobius strip in unfroggable angora. Part of the mystique. (But then Mom, being Mom, had managed to frog it anyway and reknit it right. They let you be Mom when they know you can fix anything and take care of everything, right?)

That sweater came in handy the winter the school district decided to save money for a few weeks by turning off the heat to the buildings. Despite the snow. Other people wore jackets all day; I couldn’t, not with that sweater on, too, that was just way too much.

By high school, I should add, I was knitting passionately myself. I came across that yellow angora in the box inside another box in the basement. Put that back! It was just waiting for the right project for my next big sister. Still.

Well darn.

The unfortunate green sweater died of a massive moth attack one summer while I was in college; it’s been how many years, and I still wince at it. Although, it did serve the purpose of teaching me to guard handknits with a vengeance. Guilt does that.

Green angora via ebay–not the same shade of green, no subdued quietness, rather, a more vibrant color of living and growing leaves. Nobody bid against me. It was mine. And so it became a lace stole in a leaf pattern for the mother of a friend, at a time of unfathomable grief; a hope of sharing what comfort I knew how to offer, to wrap around her when things just felt too hard. I was told she loved it, that I’d somehow picked just her favorite color, and I’ve forever since been grateful for that.

My parents just finished boxing up their 6-bedroom house, giving away tons of stuff accumulated over 44 years of raising six kids and living in one place, downsizing, down down down. I couldn’t quite believe it though I knew it, being 3000 miles away and unable to come help pack up. The photos of the moving van helped make it seem a little more real; one of the movers was a woman, and, I was later told, she was a knitter! Somehow, in a way that knitters everywhere can relate to, somehow…that made having the homebase of my life be gone feel a little better. A little. There are worse things to go through, certainly.

A box arrived in the mail. Barbara Walker’s stitch treasuries, the Schoolhouse Press editions that I’d given Mom for Christmas when they’d come back in print. Mom was letting go of her knitting now, mentioning her arthritis only enough to explain why; at least, though, she had quilting as her creative passion now. She’d hung on to her yarn stash for years, but she’d finally given it over to a neighbor who’d really wanted it. My daughters might want copies of those treasuries, though; so, here they were back, with thanks for the years they’d been useful.

I can’t imagine not knitting. And with all my jokes about my stash being at STABLE levels: Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy. But I was glad to have those books come back here; my oldest has started knitting a little, and those books are the knitters’ bible of stitch patterns.

And then, to my complete surprise, last week another box showed up. A very thin, very old one, with the lid secured to the bottom and a completely unfamiliar address handwritten at the top left; the bottom was punched in and taped back together by the post office.

With yellow fluff on the tape and trying to break through the sides as well, like chicks pecking out of their eggshells, curious to see the world.

Of all the things I never ever ever expected in my life to be given.

It took me way more hours than it should have; there were bug bites and partial holes and complete holes and places where I had to spit splice (note to my sisters: yes, that is exactly what you think that means) just about every row till I finally frogged that part and searched for a more whole segment of the ball and reknit it. That yarn had waited too long, I wasn’t about to let an insect defeat me now. And I can frog angora. I’m a Mom. I finally realized the only thing to be done was to pick up a ball, put it on the floor, and wind it up into a new ball, so that the weight of the thing would help pull apart any weak points in that 48-year-old yarn and make them obvious to my eyes.

But I did it. My second-older sister has a lace scarf coming. I did it! I’m taking a break from the hassle of working with the stuff to go write this. Tomorrow I’ll start another scarf–for my little sister. Then one for Mom. Then maybe one for me. Four balls down, sixteen to go.

But that bright yellow is just really not the color I think any of us would ever wear. Maybe that’s part of the reason Mom’s second angora sweater project never came to be–that, plus, I think Mom was always wishing she could divide it evenly somehow among her four daughters, or at least the three that could wear it. Or the two who hadn’t ever gotten anything. Well hey. With something as warm as angora, a lace scarf is just the thing: warmth where you want warmth, decoration where you want decoration, without its being a snowsuit unto itself.

First, though, that scarf I just finished has got a dyepot session ahead of it. I think I’ll dye this one green.

Suri Dream scarf
Monday September 18th 2006, 8:10 pm
Filed under: Knit

Plymouth’s Brushed Baby Alpaca and’s Suri Dream are two yarns I find useful for when I want to knit up a soft scarf in a small amount of time for somebody, as they take no more than a couple of hours: the fluff fills up some of the yarnover space, so you use a bigger needle than you otherwise would. And they are so very soft. Think close to angora, without the allergens or the high cost. The Plymouth has a shorter, denser fluff and a steadier spinning to it.

So: when Knitpicks came out with their new line of multicolored Suri Dream, I decided to try a ball in a couple of colors; I figured, at $5 each, even if I don’t like them, I can always find someone who does, and I haven’t lost much. And baby alpaca at what some pay for acrylics, well, hey.

Sunrise Suri Dream looks a lovely medium blue on my screen, almost uniform. What I got, though, was repeating streaks of very grayish light blue, darker grayish blue, and light mauve. Huh. The problem with finding just the right recipient, when you don’t care for the colorway to begin with, is, you still have to look at that yarn for the time spent working on it. Well, surely there had to be someone somewhere… And then I found my someone. Mary came to church happily wearing a new outfit, and one look at her and I knew exactly where that yarn was going. Anticipating seeing her reaction, both to the scarf and to being noticed that she had had on something new, made it worth working with, most definitely.

That’s the thing, isn’t it? Going from trying to please oneself to knowing you’ll be pleasing someone else. It takes all the chore out of the job.

Mary is the kind of sweet old lady I aspire to be someday, someone who never complains and who always has a nice word to say about anybody. Which is rather amazing, when I think about it: I have no idea what it was like to grow up a black woman in the South under Jim Crow, but one of these days I’d like to sit her down, tape recorder in hand, and ask away so that another generation can learn from the wisdom of her compassion.

I finished the scarf, went to church last week, but, no Mary. Went to church this past Sunday, again, didn’t see her. But her 12-year-old great-granddaughter was there. So I gave her the scarf, looking at her and thinking, and it would look nice on you, too. I told her it was for her grandma and the look in that granddaughter’s expression was sheer wonderment as she held it and then started stroking the thing. Feel this! And you’re just giving it to us? Why! Wow! Being an adolescent, she didn’t say all that, not quite out loud; having been busy raising adolescents the last dozen years, I understood all that, loud and clear.

That one little $5 ball is stretching a long way. I weighed the leftover from her scarf, done in a simple trellis lace, and found I had enough to make a second scarf, albeit narrower and shorter. This time, I don’t have to wonder who it’s for. Any teenage daughter and mom, I know better than to make match each other. But to match with her grandma? Rock on, dudes, Grandma’s cool.

I can’t help but wonder if that child will look back someday as Sunday having been the moment she knew she wanted to learn to knit.

Stephanie aka Yarnharlot
Saturday September 16th 2006, 10:20 pm
Filed under: Knit

Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, aka Yarnharlot, when she came to Los Altos, California, on September 9, standing on the right. Stephanie is the author of At Knits End: meditations for women who knit too much, Yarnharlot, Knitting Rules, and a fourth book coming out next March, and is one of the finest, funniest human beings I have ever had the good fortune to meet. She is the kind of person who makes everyone she meets instantly feel they are in the presence of a friend.

It was wonderful to see her again and to see a good person being so successful at what she loves to do. My husband looked at her pictures of the three hundred+ knitters who’d signed in at the shop and then walked to the back to the block-long parking lot that the city had roped off for the event, and commented that the next time, they’ll have to rent the Coliseum for her.

I gave her a pair of cobalt blue handflamed pyrex glass circular knitting needles, the handiwork of Sheila Ernst.

Saturday September 16th 2006, 9:45 pm
Filed under: Non-Knitting

So, how many people by now have wondered how to start a blog? I spent too much time typing and deleting, till my husband armwrestled the keyboard away and started going, “This is a lame…” and I wrestled it back and wrote this instead. I think we’re tied.