And more socks

Published on Thursday September 15th, 2011

We’re having the first little rain shower of the season, the setting sun gilding the mizzle and a delicate breeze ruffling the skirts of our big sweet gums. Dressing in haste this morning to get Ada to nursery school, I put on wool socks for the first time; they weren’t necessary, but they were at hand and didn’t seem like a terrible idea. Autumn isn’t here, but it’s imaginable. So here’s a teaser glimpse of a new design I’m hoping to finish up soon:

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Apparently I really am a tease, because the only detail in focus in this picture of my test sock is one I’ve subsequently decided to alter. I am fond of that little row of flowerets, but they’re too prim and static for the rest of the design. I’ll use them again on a plainer sock where they can hold the spotlight. There’s more work to be done on the cuff as well, so I’ll be casting on a mate that won’t quite match. I love both these yarns (although neither will feature in the real sample because this much contrast is difficult to photograph) — the moonlight neutral is Socks that Rock in an old colorway… Mica, I think? Remember when all the colors had rock names? And the espresso brown is Hazel Knits Artisan Sock in Chocolatier. Yum.

I tend to dash off on a whim when I’m designing and expect everything to fall together. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. This sock has been a doesn’t — apart from the change I’m making to the toe, I’ve tried several different cables and two other cuffs and I’m still fine tuning. But the original vision is still leading me on and I have the sense it’s worth pursuing. So watch for more this fall and kick me if it’s not forthcoming!

The Camel

Published on Wednesday August 17th, 2011

It’s quiet here because I am having a deep soak up at home with my family and friends and the golden perfection of August in the islands. Ada has toddled on the docks to peer at anemones and chitons and limpets (Mama had to restrain her from stepping right down into the sea, fearless, trusting tot); gorged on blueberries and mulberries in a friend’s garden; been sized up by newly caught mustangs; eaten pie at the County Fair; signed “milk” to me while watching a runty but enterprising piglet suckle one teat after the next as his brothers and sisters slept in an irresistible wriggly heap; dozed on long walks with her dad and grandfather; played the piano six exuberant times a day with both hands and her left foot; watched Mama and Granny pull thistles in the meadow; learned to say “oof” while pointing at a picture of a dog; and not least, but at last, has grown two comically crooked teeth. (Note to self: Stop buying so much wool so you can sock away the necessary funds for braces.)

To give you a midweek lift, I offer this edifying school report composed by my great-great-uncle Samuel Cauldwell in 1871, when he was nine years old:

The Camel.
To write anything about a Camel is very hard because he has such a long crooked neck. And he also has two humps except where he only has one, and they are to hang on by when you fall off. He has no stummick but only a pail of water inside of him, put so he can help himself easy. They fill it at the pump before he starts. His hair is bright red and blue and green; for Camel’s hair shawls have to be made of it. The Camel is very much like the monkey only he is made different. There is no more about the Camel.

(Ada has not yet met the resident island camel, so sadly I can’t close with an apt photo. Camels, like horses, are Extremely Large and probably therefore Just a Tad Bit Worrisome. Goats and sheep and pigs and calves are a better scale at the moment, but we’re working on the horses.)

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.

Happy Easter!

Published on Saturday April 23rd, 2011

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During the candlelight service tonight, waiting to sing William Byrd and Healy Willan and Eleanor Daley and trying not to drip wax on my music or my handbell or my neighboring sopranos, I was thinking how this ought to be the time we celebrate the new year. January’s being the first month seems so arbitrary, you know? It doesn’t mark a new season. The days are not appreciably longer; the weather hasn’t improved. No one feels reinvigorated on the heels of the winter holidays. It isn’t time to plow or plant crops or to do much of anything else significant but just keep hunkered down cooking soup and knitting as often as possible. But now the air is soft and warm, the trees are green and bronze and even auburn with new growth, the tulips are in full glory, Ada let me sleep five hours in a row last night… it feels like a time for new beginnings. I’m ready to come out of hibernation.

(And yes, that’s my daughter in a giant pot that looks like an egg.)