Ba-baaai, summer! Bwah!

Published on Tuesday September 27th, 2011

Time to say goodbye, Ada style, with a vigorous kiss blown at the end, to the briefest summer in my memory. All night, dozing lightly with one ear cocked upstairs for baby sounds — the only way I seem to know how to sleep anymore — I heard rain on the pavement. This morning I put on a wool sweater (Pas de Valse), a wool hat (“Mama HA’!” exclaims my small one, reaching to pull it off my head and flop it over her face for peekaboo), and wool socks. (Darned if those aren’t still the best-looking socks in the drawer, despite having been knit in 2005. My admiration for Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock grows annually.) Ada is in her reversible brioche cardigan (blue side out today) and her new boots. The boot leather squeaks and she steps tentatively in them, unaccustomed to the stiff soles.

We replenished the bird feeders this morning and discovered a mouse had moved into the seed bin on the back porch. I spotted the evidence right away, but didn’t expect to see Mouse herself peeping up at me from a hole in the bag, all sleek fur, bright eyes, and quivery whiskers. Ada, having been recently enchanted by a pet rat at the tea shop, thought we should pick her up and get to know her properly, but we didn’t. I am tenderhearted about mice, although I sincerely hope this one’s family isn’t expecting to move in with us for the winter. (The cat should be an effective deterrent. For all his faults, he’s a competent hunter and also pulls his weight when it comes to chores like dispatching house centipedes with alarming legs. (Don’t google them. If you don’t know what they look like from personal experience, thank the appropriate deity and go on your blissfully ignorant way.) And while the dog is useless against the creepy crawlies, she’d be thrilled to go all buddy-cop with Mingus on a mouse if he wouldn’t end her for cramping his style. So I’m not too worried about a rodent invasion.) But I’ll be devising a way to lock down the bin lid more securely. In the mean time, the finches seem untroubled to have shared some of their sunflower seeds. I’ve never seen a handful of birds tuck in with more vigor. They must realize summer is fading, too.

While the featheries are plumping up for winter, I’m feeling ready to turn my attention back to the thickest and warmest projects in my knitting basket. If you’re a knitter, there’s an excellent chance you already know what this is…

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… but don’t tell, okay? Here be secret knitting. And speaking of miters, I’ve nearly finished my Mitered Cardigan: a seam to graft, buttons to attach, ends to weave, and then I cross my fingers and block this sweater like the dickens and, if all else fails, maybe take up running in case there’s a spare inch or so that could come off my middle.

When I am an old woman

Published on Tuesday May 3rd, 2011

I shall wear a pullover of the darkest shadows in the fir forest, a green so earthy it is almost brown, with the most exquisite florescence of color ever designed at the yoke.

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It shall be softer than a mole’s armpit, as my grandfather would have said, half of its fiber being angora, and it shall have been knit with the smallest needles I own. This is why I shall be very old indeed before I can wear it, but it shall be Worth It. (In fact, I have taken care that the colors will also suit my daughter, because this pullover shall be an Heirloom, dammit.)

Yes, I have spent nine months regularly peeping the SOLsilke website and trying to choose among the many beauteous Bohus sweater kits, and I have finally screwed both my courage and several years’ birthday money to the sticking place and ordered The Wild Apple. I have lusted for these sweaters since I first learned of their existence about five years ago. I have lovingly petted several gorgeous examples that once belonged to Elizabeth Zimmermann, which felt a little like being allowed to leaf through the Book of Kells. A year ago at the Madrona retreat I was spurred to the action of buying a kit by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, who pointed out that master dyer Solveig Gustafsson, recreator and sole purveyor of the materials and designs originally developed by the Bohus Stickning couture knitters in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, is in her eighties and won’t live forever. Much of what I like to knit and design draws on history for inspiration but veers off in a more modern direction, but occasionally it’s invigorating to go straight to the source and knit exactly as the ancestors did. (The lovely book Poems in Color thoroughly describes the Bohus history and offers patterns for many of the designs — hooray! — but presumes that modern knitters will not wish to tackle an entire sweater at 9 stitches per inch. The results are beautiful, but the sport-weight gauge means you lose a touch of the intricacy of the authentic Swedish sweaters.)

But which to choose? I dithered and dithered. Forest Darkness, with its oceanic color shifts? Guld, with its striking golden collar? Blue Shimmer’s pleasing, classic blues and browns? The subtle beauty of Gothic Window? Or the eye-catching Egg? (Here’s a link to the Kerstin Olsson page on Ravelry so you can drool over all of them at once. Follow the SOLsilke link above and click “Bohus Stickning” if you’re not a Raveler.)

Finally, I decided the choice was simple. The Wild Apple was the first Bohus design to make my heart beat faster, and it still does. It’s the most riotous of the color schemes, but I had no idea how raucous some of those oranges and greens actually were until I breathlessly tore open the package from Sweden that arrived on my doorstep this week. I would never have had the guts to combine these colors. The Bohus addition of purl stitches to the motifs allows the designer to integrate colors to an unusual degree, to bring them into conversation rather than just contrast, but still… mint and olive greens? Paprika and cherry reds? That Kerstin Olsson knew the rules well enough to break them and wasn’t afraid to be loud. I’ll bet my grandmother would have liked her. Because those yoke colors remind me more than a little of this:

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detail from my grandmother’s castle tapestry

Here’s a glass raised to old women with sure minds and sharp needles. That’s what I want to be when I grow up.

Pas de Valse

Published on Monday June 21st, 2010

Friday was our fifth wedding anniversary.  It’s ten years since I first knew I’d marry Mr. G and next year will mark half my lifetime that we’ve been friends, so I’d say we dance pretty well together by now. Not that we don’t tread on each other’s toes now and then or misinterpret the lead, but swing dancers who have come to learn and have a good time like to say a universal “I’m sorry” before the dance begins so they can jump in with good intentions and humor, and this kind of understanding works well in marriage, too. This is a busy time for us and we had my family in town for a weekend of  baby showers, birthday parties, and general merrymaking, but we slipped away to have breakfast together and luckily I had just the thing to wear to look nice for my beloved.




Pas de Valse! It was almost dry. And I’ve already worn it three more times — this one definitely goes on my list of knitting successes, and that’s a relief. For one, I started it last November, before I knew I was pregnant. I didn’t knit a gauge swatch, which is not behavior I’d recommend for a project like this. Once I got a few inches in and did bother to check, my row gauge was way off. I compensated by throwing in extra rows between the decreases. It still looked awfully short when I reached the armholes, given that it’s supposed to fall gracefully to the hips, but I just crossed my fingers that the blocking gods would accept my offerings. By this time all those extra rows had blown the stitch count to smithereens; I’m not even sure I could tell you what I did with the front extensions except that I tried to make shaping decisions that would keep them looking proportional to the rest of the cardigan.



Somehow, it all worked. The length is perfect. The sleeves are perfect (and this hardly ever happens for me). I want to marry this yarn and have its woolly BFL babies. (A note on the yarn: it’s Oceanwind Knits BFL Fingering, for which the pattern is written and on which I decided to splurge as a 30th birthday present to myself. Four 400-meter skeins were recommended for the 39″ size; I’ve got a full skein untouched and a good chunk of the third remaining, and lucky me because I’ll totally use it for something else, but keep that in mind if you’re thinking three skeins might be more within the reach of your budget. My colorway is Seabreeze, but I was sorely tempted by the Cranberry as well.) It’s soft enough not to itch my neck at all, even with sensitive pregnancy skin, yet it’s lustrous and far stronger than merino — breaking the strand will leave a mark and a sting on your fingers. Marnie MacLean’s pattern is one of the most thorough I’ve ever worked from — so thorough that you have to keep your wits about you and read ahead of yourself repeatedly to make sure you’re proceeding correctly — but it’s worth the effort for a beautiful result.

Tomorrow I have to drive to the coast, which really would have been the ideal location for a Pas de Valse photoshoot… barefoot in the sand against the plunging rocks and pounding sea… but alas, I can’t take my photographer with me. I’m totally wearing the cardigan, though. You’ll just have to imagine it. In the mean time, my husband likes this silly contrast shot to end on:


Look, our deck is now a construction area with a workbench!

(My parents never just come for a visit. They can’t stand to loll about and actually be on vacation, so they do projects and build me things — on this occasion, custom shelves for a closet so it could become a linen closet and clear a bureau for Minnow’s gear. Oh, and they painted a bookcase, too. They might come back next month to rebuild the rotten deck. Yes, they are exceptional parents.)

Three and One

Published on Tuesday January 19th, 2010

When my mother asked for a new sweater to replace one she’d lost, this wasn’t what either of us imagined. The sweater that went missing was a patchwork of pictorial intarsia and textural panels in earthy colors. I wasn’t going to try to recreate that, but it was difficult to work out an alternative that suited my vision and my mother’s. She’d mention a feature of one or another of my sweaters that she liked, but bringing them together was a challenge. So I did what any sensible knitter would do: I spread out my Elizabeth Zimmermann library and together we pored over the many wonderful designs involving colorwork. Three & One caught her fancy, and I could see ways to add the waist shaping and shawl collar Mum had requested, so we were off to the races. We chose the yarn: Cascade Eco Wool for the base and Cascade Rustic for the accent colors. Ten months later, the sweater is finished.


At some point (well into the knitting, mind you) it occurred to me that I was trying to make a fitted cardigan by stranding a bulky wool with an Aran-weight wool/linen blend. How was this sweater not going to be Michelin-Man bulky and far too warm? But my parents are active folk; when they are not working on their new house they are usually to be found outside doing all the chores that come with living in the woods. And the chilly damp of the Pacific Northwest guarantees this sweater can stand in for a jacket in fall and spring as well as winter.

I thought I’d give it a test run yesterday just to make sure. I had a little vacation in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the weather was unexpectedly fair, so we took the dog for a special outing to the Sandy River delta, where she can run full tilt for as long as her mighty heart and skinny legs desire (which is a very long time… owners of other energetic dogs always thank us for bringing “the rabbit”). There is often strong wind at the delta, and yesterday was no exception. My fingers were quickly raw and I wished I’d worn a warmer hat, but the Three & One was perfectly cozy. (It was even cozier after the walk when we retired to Bakery Bar for coffee and fried egg sandwiches on homemade biscuits. The day was warm enough for sitting outside in the sun, and there was no wind in town.)



It wasn’t until I saw these photos that I realized all was not quite right. Look again… I’ll bet you can spot it, if you haven’t already.


Yeah. I don’t know how I did it, but I sewed all the buttons on half an inch low, and as a result the pattern doesn’t match up across the fronts. I’m sure Mum would wear the sweater and love it anyway, the way Dad wears his gansey with the too-tight hem (my first bout with the tubular cast on wasn’t a resounding victory), but this is not something I can live with. Snip, snip, snip. Off came the buttons and their backing buttons, and up they all moved. Problem solved.