Published on Wednesday January 16th, 2013

My dear friend Mia produced a lovely baby at the end of December. This was a second baby, and it’s my personal feeling that little siblings born into a life of hand-me-downs deserve something special on the knitterly front—something created just for them. And I was feeling creative, so I thought I’d cook up a spanking new cardigan for this wee person. I wanted to nod to the season without going Full Reindeer Jumper, so I began to think about festive garlands of greenery, spiced cider, and the fragrant pomanders we used to make by spiking oranges with cloves. I swatched a sort of coin motif filled with seed stitch, imagined it swagged around the yoke, and a Pomander cardigan was quickly and pleasurably born. The chart is giving me fits and rendering me totally daft—making charts with changing stitch counts always does that to me—but as soon as I’ve wrestled it into submission the pattern will be ready for testing.

I used Oceanwind Knits BFL Fingering, remnants from my Pas de Valse. I love this yarn. It is much more softly spun than almost kinky BFL fingering weight you’ve probably seen indie dyers offering as sock yarn. (I love that stuff, too, as it happens, but think Oceanwind’s base makes a nicer sweater if you don’t need it to wear like iron.) Blue Moon Fiber Arts’ BFL Sport would be a good alternative, although it’s a bit heavier and you might need to knit a size down on a larger needle. I think Pomander would be glorious in The Fibre Company’s Canopy, too… I might take the chance to finally try knitting that stuff after years of fondling it in yarn shops. A more tightly spun sock yarn would yield a different look—less halo, more pop to the yoke motif—that could be very pleasing, too.

Mia didn’t know what flavor of baby she’d be having, so I tried for Generally Cute rather than Gendered Cute. As it happens, wee Margaret is a girl, but I think her sweater looks pretty great on my own strapping lad, too. (You’ll notice I went with girl-wise buttons, but honestly I think gendered button placement is silly for anyone these days, especially babies. I’m told the left vs. right conventions originate with gentlemen buttoning themselves vs. ladies being buttoned by maids. But no six-month-old gentleman is going to be buttoning himself, and it’s only easier to fasten someone else’s buttons when they’re placed on the right side of the cardigan if the buttoner is right handed, anyway. I say put the buttons wherever you like.)

Jolyon can’t sit reliably without a spotter yet, so I tried to get his sister to prop him up for some clear shots of the front. Here’s the best photograph that approach yielded:

To be fair, she only has ten pounds’ advantage. And he’s kind of a flailing handful when he’s excited. The cardigan is a bit snug on my big boy, you’ll notice. But this is the 3-6-month size he’s wearing, his 6-month birthday was on the winter solstice, and he’s a large specimen, so don’t judge the fit by these pictures. I was kind of amazed it fit as well as it did… three cheers for stretchy knitting!

We four say welcome, Baby Margaret! You landed a fine family and a knitting mama (I happen to know there’s a super cute pair of owl mittens waiting for you in a couple of years)… and that’s a fair start in this world.


Published on Wednesday January 9th, 2013

The new year opened with a sparkling clear day, which I like to think is a good omen. I have some dreams for this year, although I’m still raking them out of the clouds and seeing what kind of a pile I might be jumping into. More on that to come. 2012 was a year of hard swimming for our family—with a favorable current, happily, but it’s been breathless effort at times, especially for my husband as he steers his start-up through a rapid expansion. I’ll be the first to say it’s a good problem to have, and I’m terribly proud of the way he has handled the incredible demands of his work without giving up family time, but I truly hope 2013 will be a year to settle and breathe just a little bit more.

January 2 brought us a rare snow flurry, and this time I was quick enough to bundle the bairns out of doors before the tiny flakes had vanished entirely. We tried to catch them on our tongues. (You’ll have to take my word for it that there actually were snowflakes, as the photographic evidence would suggest otherwise.)

One of my hopes for this winter is to get up to the mountain at least once so Ada can taste the joys of snowballs and -men and -angels. (Also I suspect I’d be missing out on a rite of parenting passage if I didn’t have to whip a toddler back out of her cold-weather gear in time for a dash to the potty.) It’s one of my only regrets about our temperate, sea-level home, that there isn’t a real winter. My New England blood makes me pine for ice skating and skiing and snow shoeing. (I’ve never even been snow shoeing, but I’m convinced I’d love it.) On this day, it was excitement enough to scamper about our bare yard with tongues—two human, one canine—lolling. Baby Jolly, hastily swaddled in several layers of wool, took it all in and didn’t judge.

(Pikku-Pete cap still fits! Mama will be so sad when it doesn’t.)


Published on Monday December 31st, 2012

The lost and found cowl made it to New York in time for Christmas. I snapped a few camera phone pictures before it went, I’m proud to say. (Proud that I remembered before I taped up the box, not proud of the quality of my photography.) And it is an extremely cozy cowl. It was a little bit hard to send it away (I do own matching gloves, after all!) but Marika needed the cozy more than I did.

It is, more or less, Tiny Owl Knits’s ships & seaside cowl. I went my own way with the stripe sequence, though, changing background colors at random and throwing in little bundles of stripes, some narrower and some wider, wherever I pleased. All the yarn is from the stash. The lavender is some Rowan Kid Classic that’s been in the stash since time immemorial; the neutral is Kimmet Croft Fairy Hare (oh my, this is scrumptious stuff) I got the year I went to Meg Swansen’s Knitting Camp in Wisconsin held together with an even more ancient ball of Kidsilk Haze. The purple and fox red stripes are Felted Tweed. And since this cowl is a tube cast on provisionally and then grafted closed (yes, that was a loooong graft), it is very warm indeed. The wind can really bite on the west side of Manhattan, I have cause to know. I hope this double layer of wool and angora and mohair will keep my dear sister-in-law all toasty as she commutes to the hospital. And since this project had attained some seniority in the workbasket, it feels good to send it out into the world at last!

Saving Christmas

Published on Wednesday December 12th, 2012

I had this plan about Christmas crafting this year. I was pretty pleased with it. The plan was rather revolutionary, really: Take it easy. Admit you have a not-quite-six-month-old and a not-quite-two-and-a-half-year-old, one of whom has had a tummy bug for the past ten days, and also a job. No full-size sweaters. (Well, except for the Annual Christmas Exchange Sweater, which is the Rocky Coast Cardigan this year… but that’s on US10.5 needles, so it hardly counts.) No fine-gauge colorwork jumpers with intricate dressmaker’s details. A couple of pairs of trousers sewn for the kids were my main goal. (Progress: about 35%. I’d make more headway if the sewing machine and the baby didn’t sleep in the same room.) Finish the sleeve of Mum’s Eala Bhan and maybe even start the second one. (Progress: negatory. I am chagrined to say that I ripped out a perfectly good sleeve cap, thinking I’d made an error I hadn’t. I swear I have learned this lesson before: don’t rip anything after 9pm! If it still looks wrong in the morning, rip it then.) Also, there’s a cowl that got within a few inches of completion before last Christmas. Shouldn’t take more than a couple of evenings to finish that… if I can find it. Is it possible that my house has eaten more than half a meter of fluffy dense wool fabric?  So yes, I’m feeling extremely laid back about the crafting this year.

Then a lovely knitter named Janet emailed me. She, being more ambitious, is trying to knit a pair of opera gloves I designed about five years ago. They’re supposed to be a Christmas gift. She is a lifelong knitter who knows her way around the craft blindfolded, but the gloves are black wool and the stitches are very tiny and the sadistic designer concocted this unnecessarily difficult stitch motif (my words; Janet is far too genteel to say any such thing, however true) and then asked her to keep the pattern correct between paired decreases, and she simply cannot see what she is knitting well enough to comply. I never even thought of that difficulty, callow twenty-something that I was when I dreamed these monsters up. Instead of doing what many of us would do, which is to curse said designer and said black wool and said 2mm needles and chuck the whole thing in favor of some cozy and quick-knitting worsted mitts, Janet politely called for aid. And aid she shall have, by gum.

I happen to have cast on a glove in this pattern myself after finishing the samples. It has languished in the wool cabinet for at least four years. Long ago I pirated its needles for something more pressing. But unlike that !@#$ing cowl, the glove presented itself immediately. It was worked to within half a round of the very point I needed to examine. It docilely clambered back onto the 2mm dpns. I set out to make Janet a chart. I have now made Janet SIX charts, because I keep screwing up some little element here or there. I love working from charts and can’t really comprehend why some knitters flee them in terror, but they are surprisingly tough little boogers to make when they involve changing stitch counts and moving stitches. I think I have wrestled that decrease chart to the ground and tied its legs together at last. But there is a bigger and badder chart I need to make to show what happens on the back of the hand. I’m trying not to bog down in self-flagellation as I work back through my original notes and find all the things I should have done better in writing this pattern. Not to mention the things I now want to change in the design itself. It struck me somewhere between Chart Iterations 4 and 5 that what this motif actually wanted to be was colorwork, not texture. This made me rather excited, imagining the new and superior gloves I might knit in two colors. They will be glorious! Might I knit them with something rather fluffy to give them a beautiful halo? Oooh, there’s angora blend in some promising colors in the stash… maybe an ice blue with a hot red? Or that cinnamon brown? Will I opt for intarsia at the end or add some kind of all-over design on the palms? But no, I must focus! Janet needs her charts and I don’t even know how fast she knits!

So family, if you don’t get anything handmade this season, it isn’t because I’ve stopped loving you. It’s because I had Wrongs to Right. I am saving another knitter’s Christmas program. I am rising to a technical challenge and using a part of my brain that’s gotten really soft. I am calling a do-over on work I’m not happy with. It feels good. And if one of you gets a pair of long gloves, you’d better thank Janet.