Merino gastropod
Thursday November 15th 2007, 11:35 pm
Filed under: Knit

They’re huge. They’re yellow. They live among the redwoods. And they are the unlikely mascot for the university a bit south of here.

A northern-Californian in-joke: at knitting group at Purlescence tonight, as someone was showing off their project, we envisioned the perfect piece of handknit clothing for UC Santa Cruz women to show their spirit for their school.

The banana shrug.

This one’s for Kristine
Wednesday November 14th 2007, 11:34 am
Filed under: Knit,Life

Kristine at says that she doesn’t want to hear anything more about nesting. (Her first baby is due next month.) Ah, well. Here’s her thousand words’ worth, with photo by permission of Jens Birch of Sweden. (It’s on page two of the birds gallery.)knitter’s knesting instinct

On timeout
Tuesday November 13th 2007, 1:14 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Knit,Life

I want to thank each one of you who has left a comment on Marguerite’s post; there is great comfort in reading those messages. Thank you to each person who simply Thought Good Thoughts, too; caring matters. The immense message of illness is that we’re all in this life thing together, looking out for each other.

And I want to thank each person who ordered a pattern from Lynda at and She had a problem with IE with her computer for awhile there, and Karin’s comment gave her the heads-up she needed; it’s fixed now.

Meantime, Toni has a kiwi-faced clock on her blog to show which time zone she’s in. I got a good chuckle out of it, and told her she’d just triggered my next blog post. Ergo.

Wanda’s shawl in “Wrapped in Comfort”It was back in the day before we were on the Do Not Call registry (which expires soon, by the way, just a heads-up that you need to renew your place on it.) Stephanie Pearl-McPhee was doing her first book tour to the Bay Area, and I bought some Blue Sky Alpacas AlpacaSilk at the yarn store she spoke at, Stash, in Berkeley. I found several balls on the shelf, and they assured me they had more in the back, but with the crowd that night there was just no way–would I mind if they found it later and mailed it to me?

Sure, no problem.

I got a very sheepish message later: they didn’t have more after all. They were very sorry, but there was nothing they could do.

I wasn’t about to drive the 45 or so miles through the worst traffic in northern California to return it; I just had to try to find more of that dyelot somewhere else, then. I started poking around on the web and made a few phone calls.

One place was happy to say they had it. Great! They mailed it–and it was a different one. I reported back, they checked, and went, oh no! The dyelot number stated on the outer bag was the one I’d wanted, but the actual balls inside didn’t match it. Okay, scratch that one. I mailed them back.

The next place took my email and phone number and promised to get back to me when they had a moment to go check. Fine. It didn’t occur to me to tell them where I was.

At the time, we were getting many a cold call from random hopeful newbie Wall Street stockbrokers and the like. Occasionally, you would get one that did not stop to think that there was more than one time zone in this country. Sir, what on earth makes you think I would ever be interested in your spiel about investing in your proferred company at 5 am!?

So. It was dark o’clock, and we were out cold. The phone rang–you know, it’s great to be deaf…and my husband, assuming it was a Red Cross dispatcher, woke up and grabbed it, trying not to drop the old heavy princess phone on my head as he fumbled around for it.

Then he thrust the receiver at me, grumbling sleepily, “It’s your boiler-room yarn pushers in New York City. They want you to know they don’t have your dye lot.” Busted!

At that, I finally appealed directly to Blue Sky for any help on where I might be able to find what I wanted. They had some themselves, it turned out. And not only did they send it to me, but they generously gifted me with it for my troubles.

And so I redesigned Wanda’s shawl to match their yarn as my way of thanking them, and the yarn they gave me is there in that particular shawl that is pictured in my book. And here in this post.

Sunday November 11th 2007, 2:30 pm
Filed under: Knit,Life

Written Saturday, waiting to be able to deliver it.

So much to say on this one, as I wait for it to dry.Marguerite’s shawl

The first day I was at Stitches East last month, we got to the end of the first row of booths, something soft-looking caught my eye and I went, “Ooh, I need to touch that.”

Karen and Amy wheeled me instantly over to it. I was just going to stroke it and be satisfied with that and go on; to me, it is a given that you never ever buy the first yarn that catches your attention at a Stitches event. It’s Disneyland for knitters with major sensory overload and you have to kind of scope out the place before you can make any decisions with any kind of sense, even if that means you miss out on a few things that other people snatch up before you can get back to them.

But it was their first time going. Cashmere? It was exquisitely soft, some of the best I had ever felt. I liked it? A good price? They weren’t letting me leave till I got it.

There were three to choose from. The dove gray was emphatically not my color. That shade of vivid orangey red is exactly what makes my balance go bonkers. No way. There were only two skeins left of the white, so I thought I was safe–no luck here, okay, let’s move on.

But no, they were telling me I would find just the right person and I would be disappointed later if I didn’t get it and I had to buy it and that was that. I argued and we went the rounds for several minutes.

Now, that’s unusual enough, coming out of those two, that when my inner feeling was, okay, just go with the flow here, I finally counted up how many balls I would need, took a deep breath, and bought a half a pound in that red. One or two for a scarf didn’t seem to cut it: I needed enough for a shawl. But I wondered why; I kept picturing a particular friend it would look great on, but hey, I had other yarns already in my stash I could knit up for her (part of why I kept trying to put Karen and Amy off). How many ages was that red going to languish in the back of my stash, I wondered, as I signed that credit card slip. It was so much not my color.

Fast forward.

My friend of twenty years, Marguerite, let it be known at church last Sunday that she’d been diagnosed three weeks before with breast cancer.

But. But. She’s too young! She… Her kids…

I wondered whether I should knit an afghan for her teenage children and husband to wrap themselves up in when things got just too hard, or whether I should knit her a shawl, or maybe eventually both. Knowing what I know and what my own family has gone through, I truly felt for them. I had to knit–something!

I walked over to the bag of yarns I’d bought at Stitches and thought at it, If I’m supposed to knit her a shawl, tell me which of you it’s supposed to be out of. Just, please, tell me, and I sent up a prayer to that effect. I opened the bag, poked around–

–and that red cashmere leaped into my hands the instant I saw it. I held it in front of me, going, Of course! Nothing else could possibly do–this was it! This was why! YES! I did a mental count: it had been three weeks since I’d bought that cashmere. And she was exactly the person I was thinking of as I did so. The only person. Even though I know plenty of other people with her coloring, certainly. But she was the one that I’d argued with myself over. It all made perfect sense now. And that red! For someone of Chinese ancestry! It was perfect, and Karen had been right, if I hadn’t bought that I would have been sorely disappointed now.

Marguerite and her husband used to live in Ann Arbor. I started with my Nina’s Ann Arbor shawl pattern, scaling it down in size to fit Marguerite better, and, because I only had so much yardage. As I wrote a few days ago here, I began, but then I frogged that first yoke. It wasn’t right this time. Not with this yarn. I replaced it with fern lace. Ferns are soft and airy looking, but they have the strength of ancient wisdom: there were ferns on this planet in the days of the dinosaurs. They seemed to convey longevity to me. Cheerful survival. And they are lovely to look at.

Marguerite and her mother are master gardeners, and her mother often shares her floral arrangements with the church. Bougainvillea, I thought, as I knit those red arbors. Or brilliant autumn leaves for Marguerite to enjoy, fall after fall. It was my speaking to her of autumns to come, my inner feeling, wrought in cashmere, that she would go into remission–for how long, I do not know, but she will go into remission. I feel that. I strongly do. And I knitted those feelings into life with this shawl.

Karen and Amy were thrilled to find out what an essential part they’d played. They live 3000 miles away and have never met Marguerite, but now how she does is important to them, and their prayers are added in with mine, befriending her from afar, whoever she may be, no more strangers but fellow travellers in this life. They had intervened for her sake without even knowing it, and now they do because they know it.


I wrote this last night. I held off posting it; I wanted Marguerite to have her shawl first, and I wanted her permission.

We compared notes today: it was October 9th that she was given her diagnosis. It was October 12th that Karen and Amy talked me into buying that cashmere. Marguerite said, “I hadn’t told anybody yet. Not anybody.” And yet there I was, thinking about her, thinking about how good that color would look on her and letting myself be talked into buying that yarn.

And after I knew, nothing else could possibly do.

Marguerite’s shawl, finished

Sweatshirt spotted
Saturday November 10th 2007, 8:26 pm
Filed under: Life

“Lost in thought.

Send search party.”

What I mint to say
Friday November 09th 2007, 12:06 pm
Filed under: Knit

My old friend Lynda at has some darling patterns, from felted baby booties and hobo bags to a “Big Top” multicolor hat that makes me think of the day when…

We were in Washington, DC ten years ago, visiting my folks and my husband’s and showing the kids the sights we’d grown up with. Our kids were 9, 11, 13, and 15. It was July, but it was rainy and chilly most of the time we were there. Good. Show those kids what a real storm is supposed to be like, a good Eastern thundershower.

So. We were standing in line to do the tour of the US Mint, and it started to drizzle on us. Where we live in northern California, it rains from October to March or so and then stops till the next October. We hadn’t packed raingear. We simply hadn’t thought of it. Dumb, I know; my husband and I were just plain out of practice.

There was a street vendor right there hawking his wares to the captive crowd: he had the ubiquitous DC tourist t-shirts, and–umbrella hats!

Picture a half a vivid beach ball, connected to a cheap, rickety umbrella apparatus with an elastic band at the bottom. (I’d photograph it for you, but it has come up missing in my searches for it the last few Halloweens.) Open it up, put on that headband, and you are ready to be the talk of the town or audition for a Frank Baum book.

And they were two bucks.

And I wear hearing aids that I can’t let get wet.

“MOM! TELL me you’re NOT going to buy THAT!” Even my husband didn’t want to be seen with me if I had that on my head. Heh. It was mine. It was later that I found the delightful Elizabeth Zimmerman quote that people will put anything on their heads, and hey, why not? Besides, it was useful. Think of it not as spending two bucks, dears: think of it as saving several thousand in necessary electronics. Besides, it’s my job as a parent to mortify my teenagers and teach them not to sweat stuff that doesn’t matter, but to have a sense of humor about it.

My friend Lynda has that Big Top hat pattern, and yesterday I bought it. Her colors were subdued and lovely, but I pictured it in vivid red and blue and yellow, with a circus animal or two added on, maybe a fingerpuppet ready to be taken off and handed to a small child bored in a line somewhere. There was no way I was going past that pattern without buying it. You, too? Go have fun.

(p.s. Lynda’s husband just got laid off. Humor me. Go help her out a bit here, if you would.  Thanks.)

Thursday November 08th 2007, 2:39 pm
Filed under: Knit

When life gives you neps, make slippers.

Rambouillet fleece combed into rovingI once bought a Rambouillet fleece from a New Mexican rancher who bred her animals for the fineness of their fleeces, trying to create the softest of the softest; she sold them by micron count. Oooh. Nice.

But I made the mistake of shipping it off to a mill that did not, at the time, have the equipment to deal with so fine a fiber, which I did not know, and they cleaned it and combed it into roving that was full of neps. My fleece! Working at my wheel with it was like spinning rubber bands with chicken pox. It wanted to sproing back into its pre-stretched state, with those little nubbly bits peppered here and there.

My daughter had a high school biology teacher at the time who so inspired her that she wanted to go into the field, and is now working on a microbiology PhD herself. At the end of that school year, I took that fleece, spun a bit of it up the best I could, gave up hope of knitting socks out of it (see, I did knit socks, once upon a time) and instead gave in to the thickness it wanted to be spun up at and knitted that teacher a pair of cozy slippers.

I told her, as she opened the package, that I wanted to thank her for inspiring my daughter to want to walk in her shoes.

Sockweight or not, you certainly couldn’t ask for anything softer, and I wanted them to be handspun: biologists live with a love of the workings of the life of this planet, and I wanted something as close as possible to the animal that got the haircut. I actually had a picture of that individual sheep, too, courtesy of the rancher, with the lovingly poetic name of #1235, or some such number. (Ah, well.)

The teacher was thrilled, which thrilled me. I did not know that day that she was going back to Stanford after that school year at the high school ended, so I’m glad I didn’t put it off till my next kid got to that grade level.

Meantime, someone on the Knitlist casually mentioned awhile back that wool roving is great for stuffing around your feet inside your shoes when you’re doing long hikes; it keeps blisters from forming. Hey! The local Boy Scouts were about to do their annual 50-mile hike! So some of the fleece went to that good cause.

Still. That sheep produced a fair-size ball of wool. I have this really soft, really long white rubber band, and occasionally it asks me what I’m going to do with it. For now, I’m ignoring it–again–and going back to that red shawl.

Wednesday November 07th 2007, 1:20 pm
Filed under: Knit

It didn’t matter how much I wanted that to be right. It wasn’t. And if I’m going to spring for pure cashmere, and if I’m going to knit it for that friend, I am going to do it right. End of subject.

That and the fact that I was having a hard time making myself go back to it and keep knitting it–that was message enough to myself that I would never be satisfied with it the way it was. Stop. Out!

So Monday’s work got thrown out and it felt awful but awfully wonderful and freeing to be done with the dilemma and doing it right. A knit/purl combination at the yoke in pure cashmere just didn’t do it for me: I wanted her husband to be able to stroke her shoulders without the speed bumps of the purls. The lacy stockinette side of the reknitted yoke just plain feels better for running your hands across. It matches the yarn better.

The full story later–I have to It’s a startfinish this first.

Blocking the Backstabber shawl
Tuesday November 06th 2007, 12:42 pm
Filed under: "Wrapped in Comfort",Knit

Blue Moon Geisha in Backstabber, blockingI rinsed this in tepid water and laid it out flat, and I could have left it at that, but I wanted crisper points at the edges to match the name of the colorway. I don’t have any rustproof pins, but I pulled out my blocking wires and used one per three points. This being my second shawl out of Blue Moon’s Geisha yarn, I’d learned that it has a mind and sproing of its own, and I carefully smoothed down the stitches at the increase row between the yoke and the main body, knowing they had the energy of toddlers bouncing around after snacktime. Shhh, children, lay down now, time to relax. And so they did.

To answer Tammy’s question, yes, I knitted this in eight days, mostly during the evenings. Actually, I was thinking it should have been finished in four or five days, max, so your comment made me laugh and put the timing in perspective–thank you for that. I used size nine (5.5 mm) needles, and it worked up very quickly.

One of my goals in using the fingering weight yarns that I mostly used in my “Wrapped in Comfort” book was to make laceknitting accessible to people who don’t have a lot of time, but who still want to make something unusual and beautiful. This Geisha is somewhat in between laceweight and fingering weight.

Monday November 05th 2007, 4:18 pm
Filed under: Knit

Blue Moon Fiber Arts’ handdyed Geisha kid mohair/silk/ nylon yarn, Backstabber colorway. Ready for blocking.  Kinda looks like a psychedelic octopus sketch from the ’60s.Blue Moon Fiber Arts “Geisha” in “Backstabber”

Perfect little ones
Sunday November 04th 2007, 3:02 pm
Filed under: Life

Back on July 12th, I wrote about the shawl I gifted to the woman at UCSF who was six months along after having had a late miscarriage. Having miscarried my first and worried about my second the same way, it felt imperative to me that I wish her and her baby well with the efforts of my hands. To wrap her in comfort, in my publisher’s phrase.

I’d been wondering the last few weeks… She was due in October sometime…

I got the most wonderful message yesterday. She sent me photos of her new son, just the most exquisite pictures of great happiness of her and her husband and their little one. It completely, totally made my day, and it was so kind of her to think of me, and at the most sleepless time of new parenthood, I’m sure; I remember the days. My husband and son looked at the screen, too, and cooed, “Oh, cuuuuute!”

So then I went off to Trader Joe’s feeling absolutely on top of the world for a quick grocery run, you know, just mundane little stuff on the side. I’d run out of Valrhona chocolate. This wouldn’t do.

There was a young mom there with a small baby in a stroller that she was trying to maneuver through the aisles and between people, carefully. There was a pretty good crowd for a Saturday night. I thought, oh cool, another baby, and let her pass as one of the employees watched the baby go by, blinking cheerfully up at him. He caught my eye a moment later and told me that he was in awe of women who were moms. They had so much to do and to deal with; he was one of four kids himself, and he didn’t know if he could ever manage what his mom had. He hoped someday, when he had kids…

Now, I’ve seen this guy many a time and I’ve never seen him open up like that. He was glowing, just radiant in appreciation, towards his mom, towards every mom, completely different from the busy no-nonsense at-work persona he usually gave off. It surprised me, and I came away with a new appreciation for him.

A few moments later, that mom passed by me again a few aisles down; her baby was about four months, just old enough to be constantly looking for faces, and then smiling in great delight when she found one. And the face smiled back at her! And that one too! Yay! There is nothing quite as powerful as the goodness in a tiny child to light up a place. The whole store got happy. And, having been in the young mom’s shoes, I know how much it means to have strangers respond like that; it helps one cope with the colicky moments that come, too.

At the checkout line, there was a young couple behind me, and she stepped away for a moment to get one last thing. He’d smiled at the baby, too, and he, too, was still smiling. He struck up a conversation with me, and when his girlfriend came back, I ratted him out: “He’s been bragging on you.” He blushed; she was pleased.

There were three 71% Valrhona bars left, and they had all gone into my cart. The girlfriend saw them, and I told her, “Best chocolate on the planet.” She looked on the shelf–but there were no more. I handed her one of mine. She wanted to know how long it took me to eat one, and I answered, “I open the bar and nibble a bit every now and then as I go by; it’ll last me about five days.”

“Yeah, me too!” While her boyfriend was shaking his head with a grin, declaring that he just snarfs the whole bar at one sitting. I told him my hubby would, too. (Although, to be fair, nowadays he’s cut back.)

I was thinking at them, it’s comforting, when you’re new at this relationship stuff and it’s still in the baby stages, to know that other couples approach things differently from each other too but in the same ways as the two of you. It’s just part and parcel of life, and you grow on from there.

Two babies. Two brand new people, and all the grownups whom they made into instant friends yesterday. They’ll never remember. But we can.

Where’d this come from?
Saturday November 03rd 2007, 12:14 pm
Filed under: Knit

One of the amazing things about going off on a trip is how everything seems different when you get home. Wasn’t the counter an inch higher than that in that bathroom? Was the kitchen really quite that size? You see old things with new eyes. Hence, major housecleaning has ensued, stuff I hadn’t had the energy nor the breath to tackle for so long and now I both do and want to. And so:

heavyweight Aran vest-to-beI found a UFO so old I struggled to find any memory of knitting it. Now, I have wanted, ever since I was ten years old and watching my mother knitting my older sister and then my dad a complicated Aran pattern, to knit me one of them thar things. I knit Lynda one, a friend who later died of postpolio syndrome, who’d never had a sweater that fit her odd-sized body in her life; that, at least, I could do for her, and did. I made one for my husband, as close as I could remember to what my mom had made. Same yarn. Basically the same pattern. He was twenty-four inches taller than Lynda, and I always wanted to get a picture of the two of them side-by-side in their matching sweaters, saying, And this is why we do gauge swatches!

And apparently I started to make a matching one for me. I didn’t remember it. I didn’t know why I’d stopped. Probably for Lynda’s sake–she probably asked for a warm sweater when I had already started mine, and after I finished hers I probably didn’t want to look at that yarn again for awhile.  By that point I’d knitted a lot of it. And then I so much didn’t remember mine that I actually eventually gave most of the yarn away to my mom, not realizing what that meant, who later gave it away to a neighbor when she and Dad downsized and sold the house.

But look what I found. The back, and another bag of yarn. Seven balls, 63 yards each. Huh. Enough there to finish it into a vest, definitely, and at least one sleeve, although it’s definitely an outdoor-weight sweater. Not two, though, even if I have short arms. It’s not exactly how I’d design it if I were starting from the beginning now, but it is what it is and I quite like it.

I’ll get right to it, as soon as I finish my present project, my sister’s Christmas present, the one for… Oh. Right. And that must be why it never got finished.

Raising cane
Thursday November 01st 2007, 12:25 pm
Filed under: Life

cane you handle it?

Today is the seventh anniversary. The officer looked in my window and whistled, “Boy. He hit you HARD.”

The schoolbuses stopped running after Proposition 13 in the 70’s in California. Many of the kids are now driven by their parents, and 2000 students converge on one square block here every day.

One of our children had a serious bike accident on the way to school at 13: she flipped at high speed, landed head first, broke her helmet, and rolled with enough force still to break her shoulder. I will never forget the sight of her lying in the road–the neighbor down a ways got her phone number out of her while she was still lucid enough to give it. The school later put her helmet on permanent display, to show This Is Why We Wear These; I’d never been so grateful to a kid for obeying even when out of my sight. She remembered our driving to Oakland every week, back when she’d been in first grade, to visit my friend’s son at Children’s recovering from a head injury from being hit by a drunk driver; she wore that helmet. Thank goodness.

So I went back to driving everybody. (I often carpooled.) I couldn’t bike with the kids with my lupus; I make antibodies to my DNA in reaction to UV light. I needed that windshield between the sun and me.

There was another parent we frequently saw as I drove the youngest to his middle school: he was ADD on wheels, and scary. We saw him pulling illegal U-turns immediately in front of oncoming cars as they slammed their brakes, and all kinds of stunts as if he were the only car on the road. I remember exclaiming, “That guy’s an accident waiting to happen!”

A few days later, my light turned green; I turned left, and I was coming up to the usual logjam and slowing to a stop. John and I were relaxed, laughing, when suddenly there was one of the loudest sounds I’d ever heard. My vision was as scrambled as a kaleidoscope and we seemed airborne. I have no memory of hitting the car ahead, and about twenty minutes there are lost to me.

It was that dad behind me.

Thus the canes. (And the wall a tad scratched from all the times I’ve dropped them there.) My balance is random: if there’s too much visual stimulation, my left side gives way. I need the muscle feedback to negotiate my way through things.

I’ve come to learn a few things over the years. That first cane on the left is annoying: if you put it over your arm, leaning on the conveyor belt to write out your check at Safeway, it clatters to the floor and just misses the next person in line. It’s in permanent time-out.

The leopardwood one on the right is my favorite. Karen bought it in Williamsburg, Virginia, and called me in great excitement on her cell, saying, “I found the perfect cane for you!” She was absolutely right. The Africana one in the middle is her latest gift, and after we whack a couple of inches off the bottom, it’ll get a lot of use, too; it’s like my own personal in-joke towards a doctor or two I have known: “If you hear hoofbeats, think zebras…”

But the point I’m slowly getting to is this: yes, like anybody else who’s gone through something like this, I could certainly have done without this in my life. And yet, and yet… I’ve had experiences that never would have happened otherwise…

John had a doctor’s appointment a few years ago, and I took him to Jamba Juice afterwards. I was exhausted, the line was long, and there was one high barstool left in the crowded place to sit at. I told him what I wanted to order, since there was no way I could hear the clerk over the noise level anyway, and I went to that stool and sat down. (Up, actually.)

The guy who’d been in front of us in that line seemed agitated the whole time. He finally got up to the front of the lunchtime crowd, placed the order for his smoothie, and turned sharply to the side to go sit down while they filled it–and saw me sitting there, where he’d expected to go. Darn! I caught his eye just as he was turning back away, clearly disappointed, and asked him, with a smile, “Would you like this seat?”

He stopped. He took a long look first at the cane dangling from my arm. He glanced up to my eyes. He saw that I meant it. He saw that I wanted him to be having a better day than he was having. He melted on the spot, and said, “No. No, I guess I’ve sat enough.” And then he told me a little about his day, about his frustrations he’d had at work that morning that had left him feeling that what he’d had to contribute hadn’t been listened to or appreciated. He was clearly relieved at having someone, anyone, to unload it to. Someone who actually cared.

They called his name just then, he gathered up his smoothie, turned back to me, bowed his head deeply for just a moment, and said, warmly, “Have a GOOD day!” And he was gone.

It was just a blink in a life. But it had such an impact that, whoever he was, I know I will never forget, and I doubt he will either. I came away marvelling at the power of a simple gesture of thinking of the well-being of another person, shared both ways.

And I knew, I knew, that that cane had been a trigger, a visual symbol to him that something–he didn’t know what, but something, I wasn’t some old person for whom it was just the natural order of things as you age, I was someone he could better relate to than that, more his age–something had happened to me. Which meant I could understand when things happened to him. Because I had a smile on my face, and I was willing to share it with him.

That was just the first of quite a few experiences, but one of the most intense. I would never wish my car accident on anyone. And yet, I’m glad for the good that has come from it. Somehow, it all balances out. And it’s okay.