Raven and Cat’s Paw

Published on Saturday January 27th, 2007

Sun! Glorious winter sun. High clouds of carded wool. And wind, bird-buffeting, window-whistling wind. A lovely day to knit in the south window seat, in short. And to post pictures of the finished raven mittens, at last:



I give you the Raven and Cat’s Paw Mittens, designed by yours truly.

Yarn: Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift, 1 skein each of mooskit, port wine, and black

Needles: US#3 dpns

Pattern notes: The Cat’s Paw motif on the backs and the Fly motif on the palms are traditional Estonian, taken from charts in Nancy Bush’s Folk Knitting in Estonia. Likewise the vikkel braid. The vision, the raven cuffs, and the thumb design are my own. And here lies the quandary: Can I offer the pattern here? Nancy presents the Estonian motifs as traditional, but certainly the charts are hers, and the vikkel braids were worked according to her information. In none of the original patterns in the book does she use the Cat’s Paw, but she does use stripey fingers in one glove pattern that probably inspired the striped thumbs of the Raven Mitts. In short, my mittens have their genesis in Folk Knitting in Estonia, but I think they have sufficient elements of originality for me to call them my own.

It begs the question: What does any of our knitting do but stand on the innovations, research, and teaching of those who came before us? It’s a well-known adage that there’s nothing new in knitting. At what point do we get to take credit for our ideas and demand some form of tribute from others who want to use them?

These little fellows, at least, are all my own doing:


And my neighbor declared them one of the coolest presents she’s ever received. That she loves them and that they warm her hands is what makes knitting its own reward, in the end.

At the drawing board

Published on Monday October 30th, 2006

I promised you pictures of my ugly swatches, and I wouldn’t want to deny you all that kind of pleasure. Keep in mind that I snatched up some leftover scraps of Yorkshire Tweed 4-Ply to stand in–with only moderate accuracy–for colors I was imagining. You’ll have to a) overlook the lack of decent illumination when I took the pictures at midnight; b) imagine the blackish-blue is a nice dark indigo; c)pretend the off-white is a sort of apricot buff.  On the other hand, it would have been ugly anyway, so you might as well save yourself the effort. Enough stalling already, Madam Garter:


I had to give up this color scheme entirely, although I love the indigo, the orange and the red separately. (The good news is that I love knitting with this yarn. It’s buttery soft 100% merino Kona from Henry’s Attic.) So on Sunday I went to class without a plan. Browsing the store quickly for inspiration, I spied a copy of the new Holiday Vogue. Inside was this:


Hubba hubba! I don’t know how practical I’d find this sweater for everyday wear, but I sure do love the colors. (And how badly do I want a pair of those silky aubergine pantaloons?) So this is what I set out to emulate in my dyeing. No pictures yet, as I left my skeins in the workshop to dry, but I got fairly close to that loden color by using osage orange and then indigo, and then overdyeing with a quick dip in a particularly orange madder bath. It’s not very even — more blue in some spots and yellower in others — but it’s hand-dipped in natural dyes, so I don’t mind if it looks less than commercial. I also got a wasabi color I’m happy with, although it’s a little softer and less yellow than in the Vogue sweater, and a nice red. My highly potent logwood purple vat went straight past aubergine to deepest pansy blue-violet; I’ll decide next week if I think it will work or if I’ll try to get a shade that’s more burgundy. I also made another attempt at orange with the madder, which resulted in a richer shade than last week’s ill-fated bisque. The Elizabeth Zimmermann Fair Isle Yoke sweater (the blue swatch above is part of that pattern) needs a fifth color, and I was trying to decide what might work with the greens and purple and red.

Oh, and the 40-foot sock yarn skein? I gave up pretty quickly on the idea of trying to dip it in indigo.  It would have taken a team of helpers and it might still have been a disaster.  So I thought I’d go for peachy-orange and burgundy.  It’s 100% merino, just like the Kona, and yet the best I could get was orange and raspberry sherbet colors. Puke. It must not have taken the mordant properly.  I’ll try to overdye the washed-out raspberry next week.


Published on Saturday October 28th, 2006

What a week. It began with a midterm exam in art history, for which I studied in between freelance jobs and my school job. Once the test was behind me, I started outlining my English paper. Wednesday I had to devote entirely to a proofreading job. The poor characters in this sorry text have only three gestures between them: furrowing their brows in concern, dropping their jaws, and running frustrated hands [sic] through their hair. The author is also laboring under the delusion that “glimpse” is an intransitive verb synonymous with “glance”. Proofreading this manuscript felt like touching up the gingerbread work on a bicycle shed.

So when I woke up Thursday feeling like a hangover victim, I was mildly intrigued at this empirical evidence that bad prose has lasting physical consequences. Alas, further study will be necessary to settle that hypothesis: it turned out I was getting a cold. I took the bus into town for my afternoon class, but the professor to whom the English paper is due failed to appear for the second class in a row. Peevish at this waste of energy and proofreading time, I trundled home and just managed to get the manuscript to the post office on time. I spent the evening writing an article for the school newsletter.

Friday I dragged myself out of bed and in to school, feeling as though I ought to have a company of dwarves named Sneezy, Snotty, Slimy, Drippy, Teary, Throbby, and Mucus to sing my theme song: Sniffle While You Work. By the time the last of the parents had inched through traffic to collect their children, I was fit for an evening of nothing but nursing my box of Kleenex and my mug of tea and watching Anne of Green Gables. This was bad for my English paper, but good for the Fishtrap Aran. I’ve made up the ground I lost in ripping plus another half a chart repetition.

Today I felt better enough to accompany my cousins to a performance of The Witches, by Roald Dahl. It was a delightful adaptation of the book, with some wonderful acting. It was pretty scary for kids, but deliciously so for six-year-old Sam, who loves that sort of thing. The best part was listening to him comforting his slightly younger cousin Adrian, pointing out that the Formula 86 Delayed-Action Mouse-Maker was only food coloring.

I also felt better enough to put some more thought into the yarn I’ll be dyeing tomorrow. Option B, the blue sweater, has the lead in the polls over Option A, the orangey-terracotta version, so I did a little swatching to see what I’d be getting into either way. TGIS can stand for Thank Goodness It’s Saturday, but Chez Blue Garter it has another meaning: Thank Goodness I Swatched! I’ll show you pictures of the sorry results tomorrow.

Orange, it turns out, does not play well with the other children. So it’s back to the drawing board for the Fair Isle Yoke sweater. In the meantime, I thought I’d measure out some sock yarn to see if I can dye it self striping. Grumperina’s latest caught my eye, and I thought it would be nifty if I could do two shades of green and have them alternate in synch with the cables. I knit up the first eight rounds of Hello Yarn’s pattern modified ala Grumperina, then ripped them out to see how long my color repetitions would need to be. Um…really long. I had to use most of the furniture in my living room as a niddy noddy. You should have seen me circling around the back of the couch, around the marimba stool, past the coffee table, over the rocker, and around the purple chair, paying out yarn as I went. I felt like a medieval penitent making the equivalent of the pilgrimage to Jerusalem in laps around a garden maze. 400 yards of sock yarn, my friends — that’s a lot of trips around the living room. And it may all be for naught if I can’t keep the resulting enormous skein from tangling hopelessly in the dye vat. Putting it in indigo will probably be a two- or three-person job. Let’s hope some of my classmates are up for the experiment.

Color studies III

Published on Monday October 23rd, 2006


Sunday was the first day of my plant-dyeing course at Abundant Yarn. These skeinlets (prickly buckeye fruits for scale) were dyed with cochineal (ground up cactus-eating scale insects, yum yum), osage orange, chamomile, indigo and logwood. This first day was just an introduction to the natural dyes, a chance to practice mixing them and experimenting with color combinations. Over the next two Sundays we’ll each dye about two pounds of yarn – enough for two sweaters – so I’ve been experimenting with the different possibilities. I pulled out these five…


… because they reminded me of the colors Elizabeth Zimmermann describes using for her Chainmail Sweater in the Knitter’s Almanac. I have such tiny quantities of each that I can’t do much more than make a wee swatch for fun, but I’m hoping there’s enough to knit a little pair of wristers using one Chainmail pattern repetition. I’ll let you know how it goes.

I think I’ll do a bunch of the terracotta with different shades of indigo (I should be able to get a very dark blue by handpainting with a thicker indigo mixture), cutch (a mellow creamy buff, like a cocker spaniel), and maybe a little madder/cochineal true red with an eye to a Fair Isle yoke sweater. So can I get you to vote?

Option A: Terracotta body; indigo yoke patterning with red/buff accents.

Option B: Indigo body (perhaps a slightly greener-turquoise shade, if I pre-dye the yarn with pale-yellow myrobalan before it goes in the indigo vat); terracotta/red/buff yoke.

Option C: Suggest your own combination – I’ll have two sweaters’ worth of yarn, after all. I’m open to suggestions for pattern #2 as well.

On your mark, get set, vote!