Spring socks in fall

There’s no denying that winter is on its way here.  Fortunately, the first frost has been late, and I was able to scatter crocus bulbs around in our front and back gardens, late last month.  This is our first fall in a house and it’s been exciting for us to go through all the rituals of the seasons in our first real family home.

I’ve never planted bulbs before, but there’s something about this fall ritual that feels wildly optimistic.  As the leaves tumble around you, and the garden falls into its long, slow, autumn decay, you are already thinking of spring, picturing these brave little stems poking through the last of the winter snow.  I was so inspired by the thought of these brave little purple flowers, that I cast on Wendy Johnson’s crocus socks from Toe-up Socks for Everybody to take my mind of the grey November weather.

My crocus socks in Cascade Heritage Silks

My crocus socks in Cascade Heritage Silks

I knit them in a very spring-y green Cascade Yarns Heritage Silk.  I’m not usually a fan of colours this solid, but the pattern and yarn were a perfect fit.  The silky yarn is a slippery pleasure to knit, I just hope they stand up to frequent wear. The yarn can allegedly be machine washed and tumble dried, but our hand knit socks get washed in Soak and line dried.

The lace pattern here got a little tedious, it was the first pattern I’ve ever knit where I couldn’t memorize the chart, but I think the end result was worth it. The lace is beautiful and intricate, and like most lace patterns, it’s not difficult; the chart simply has the be tackled line by line.

I’ll be approaching the grey weather in the same way, day by day, until those crocuses come up.

 

Attaching my hexipuffs

When I brought my latest batch of hexipuffs up to the attic, I realized that there were 100 in the bottom drawer of our cedar chest.  While that’s only a quarter of the quilt complete, it was already an intimidating pile. How would I ever find the patience to sit there and attach 400?

The puffs I've attached so far

The puffs I’ve attached so far

I decided a gradual plan of attack was best, and started attaching the puffs 2 or 3 at a day, in a few stolen, wonderfully quiet moments in the attic.  I tried the quilt tie method recommended in the pattern, but it left major gaps that I thought would be an issue if you were actually sleeping and moving beneath it.  I think that something more substantial is required.

I did a little bit of research into alternative methods for attaching the puffs, and really liked the method demonstrated in this video:

After attaching the two hexipuffs at their corners, I used modified matress stitch, running the yarn under 2 bars of stitches along the edge on the pink one, then doing the same on the yellow

After attaching the two hexipuffs at their corners, I used modified matress stitch, running the yarn under 2 bars of stitches along the edge on the pink one, then doing the same on the yellow

I used the corner method described, but adapted it slightly, using a modified mattress stitch along the sides of the hexipuffs.  After pulling the yarn through the corner, as shown in the video, I pulled the yarn under 2 bars of stitches (along the edge of the hexipuff, as you can see in the picture).  I then ran the yarn under 2 bars of stitches on the other hexipuff. After repeating 3 times, you should have reached the next corner.

Have you discovered any other/better ways of attaching your hexipuffs?

 

 

The yarn (bright yellow) pulled through the edge of the pink hexipuff

The yarn (bright yellow) pulled through the edge of the pink hexipuff

Fixing the fit: my cable back shell

Cable back shell in Dream in Color Baby (Ruby River)

Cable back shell in Dream in Color Baby (Ruby River)

I’ve been knitting more sweaters and tops than usual lately, but have often found myself a little disappointed with the finished product.  This is most often an issue of fit, so I’m really happy to show off my latest finished top: the Purl Bee’s Cable Back Shell.

I was reluctant to shell out (no pun intended) for the recommended cashmere, but fortunately, I had this lovely Dream in Color Baby from a long frogged pullover.  I like the yarn even better for this top, since the slight varigation in the colour works really well given how basic the front is.  What drew me to this top was the cabled back, that almost looks like a spine and gives a very subtle, almost sexy tension to the back.

The simple but interesting cable back

The simple but interesting cable back

A top like this needs to fit perfectly, so I was really happy to try on the sample at Purl Soho in August.  Like the other Laura’s Loop pattern I knit, this one fits a bit short and boxy.  To add to the confusion, the pattern calls for 2 inches of positive ease (it should be 2 inches bigger than your body), but the photo clearly shows a sweater with negative ease. It’s a perfect illustraion of how even with careful gauge and measuring, fit can be an issue  To achieve the look I wanted, I knit the extra small (about 0.5 inches negative ease) and added 2 repeats (or 5 inches) to the length.

I didn’t pick up and cast off at the armholes (yet).  Doing so will stop the armholes from stretching and rolling, but I’m still considering adding elbow length sleeves, so I’ll hold onto a little scrap, while I wear it a couple of times and consider my options…. What do you think, would it look better with little sleeves?

Not-so-controlled chaos: my Noro mitts

Elizabeth Zimmerman's mitered mitts in Noro Kureyon 326

Elizabeth Zimmerman’s mitered mitts in Noro Kureyon 326

Regular readers may have noticed that I took some time of knitting and blogging at the end of the summer, and as things geared up in September.  However, the colder weather here turned my mind back to cozy warm knits.  These mittens felt like the perfect project to get my knitting groove back with.  I love this pattern from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s classic Almanac.  It’s beautiful and simple, and with Kathryn Ivy’s excellent modifications, it can be completed without steeking.

This yarn, a new colourway from Noro, called to me the moment I saw. I have a bad habit of accumulating beautiful yarn, without a specific project in mind, but this yarn basically screamed, “Make mitered mitts out of me!”  After completing the first mitt (on the left), I felt like a yarn genius; the yarn and pattern seemed like a perfect fit.  However, when I picked up the second ball, I noticed something, this ball was nothing like the other: the blue, which was barely present in the first ball took up most of the second.  When I finished, my second mitt was blue and brown, while my first was pink and purple.  While I ordinarily love the controlled chaos of Noro colourways, this was too much, they looked like a completely mismatched pair.  (and the blue and brown, with a hint of orange was pretty awful to be absolutely truthful.) Fortunately, I had a fair amount of purple and pink in the scraps, so I cut off the tip of the right hand mitt (ironically, I had used Kathryn Ivy’s directions to avoid cutting into a finished project, but no matter).

While messing with a Noro colourway feels a bit like cheating, I’m very happy with the finished look.  They look great on my growing pile of Christmas gifts.  My only concern? I have two more balls of manlier coloured Noro Kureyon waiting to be made into mitered mitts for my husband…

Three days in Curacao

During the final days of summer, my husband and I got away from it all for an all too short stay in Curacao, in the Netherlands Antilles.  Every year, we make it a priority to share a few days alone, just the two of us.  The demands of parenting, working and urban living can make it difficult to really spend time together as a couple.  Both of us cherish the oppurtunity to share long rambling conversations, quiet, unhurried meals, and the new experiences that travel brings

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Neither of us can remember where the inspiration for this trip came from (although we both agree it was my idea).  Either way, I’m so glad I did.  Curacao was an ideal place to escape to.  We stayed in gorgeous Willemstad.  It was a pleasure to walk it’s gorgeous, historic streets, visit its numerous museums, and sample the live music, that floats out of nearly every restaurant and bar, in the city’s core.

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Willemstad's floating market

Willemstad’s floating market

On our second day in Curacao, we booked a tour and spent the day out on a catamaran, sailing to the beautiful and unihabited Klein Curacao.  I literally gasped at the sight of this beach, and even a mild sunburn and case of seasickness cannot tarnish the memory of snorkeling with some majestic (and remarkably unconcerned) sea turtles.

The beach on Klein Curacao

The beach on Klein Curacao

Abandoned lighthouse on Klein Curacao

Abandoned lighthouse on Klein Curacao

Shipwreck on Klein Curacao

Shipwreck on Klein Curacao

Our third day in Curacao involved hiding from future sun damage in the lovely Hato caves, and taking a road trip to along Curacao’s coast.  Now that summer’s waning, I’ll be carrying the memory of the warm Carribean breezes with me back to work. While September may mean a return to reality, it also means the beginning of my favourite season, and a chance to curl up and make some progress knitting the cozy fall sweaters I couldn’t fit in my carry-on luggage.

Learning to parent with patience, one stitch at a time

The only surprise is that it didn’t happen sooner. In nearly three years, my son has never touched my knitting, until last night. Around bedtime last night, I walked into the living room to see my son, in his pajamas, with two empty needles in one hand and a very long strand of lace weight yarn being pulled on in the other.

I’m not proud of my reaction, but all I could utter was a a single no, equal parts exasperated and mournful.  In his little hands, I saw hours of careful work, dissolving into a mess of tangled, pink yarn.

He took one look at the expression on my face and began to cry.

My husband, obviously approaching sainthood with each passing day, assessed the situation swiftly and scooped him up for a calm, quiet chat in his room. Silently and resentfully, I tried to rescue as much of my knitting as I could. I looked at the back of my cable back shell, scanning for dropped stitches and trying to figure out where the cable belonged, and on which row. I started to despair at being able to save any of it.  Then I heard the tiny voice upstairs, “I wanted to make a sweater for Mommy so she could wear it right away. I was helping.”

My resurrected cable back shell in Dream in Color Baby

My resurrected cable back shell in Dream in Color Baby in Ruby River

I took a deep breath and considered things anew. Knitting, like parenting, is the accumulation of countless tiny actions, frequently repetitive, sometimes requiring extreme patience, almost always accomplished for love.  I went upstairs, and gave my son a hug, and told him that I love him.  Later, I began to pick through the mess, and resolved that the next time, I wouldn’t need a swooping partner or a poignant word from my son. With a little patience, I rescued about half of my work.  Today, with a little patience, I was a better parent.

I’m not the parent I want to be yet, but I’m working on it. And next time he gets into my knitting, I’ll be more patient, or maybe I’ll just start leaving it out of reach.

Visiting Purl Soho

Purl Soho

Purl Soho

Visiting New York City can be a surreal experience.  At least for North Americans, it is the setting for so many of our most beloved movies, tv shows and novels. It can feel like you are visiting a (very crowded) theme park filled with the stores Carrie shops at, the builiding where Liz Lemon works, that toy store from Big, and, of course, Holly Golightly’s most famous breakfast spot. If you’re younger than me, those cultural references may shift to Brooklyn, but either way – New York is a city that feels disconcertingly familiar, even on your first visit.

That surreal familiarity definitely extended to the only place in New York City that I was determined to shop at: Purl Soho. I’ve been to New York a number of times over the years, and I live in a big city, so the shopping in Manhattan never really calls to me.  But that was before I starting following the Purl Bee.  Their beautifully photographed patterns and designs continue to inspire.  We have many fantastic yarn stores at home, but the Purl Bee suggested that this was going to be something really special. I spent a perfect afternoon in Soho with my girlfriends, eating at the L’Ecole (a fantastic restaurant where staff are all being trained in the art of French food), and shopping for yarn.

From the moment I stepped in, I’m pretty sure that the staff knew they were dealing with an unabashed fan girl. I picked through their selection of books, looked at the fabric and wished I could sew or quilt, saving the yarn for last.  It certainly isn’t a place to hunt for bargains, but they have a gorgeous and carefully chosen selection of silks, linens and cashmeres.  I have admired the sweaters and accessories on their blog for years, and then there they were hanging on a rack where you could touch them and try them on.  Like so many other spots in New York, there was that strange feeling of familiarity and admiration. I’ve seen this so many times, but here it is and it’s real.  Trying the sweaters on had a practical purpose too.  I was able to see exactly how they fit, much more clearly than you can from measurements on a pattern.  I could see that the cable back shell I’ve been working on is very short, while the silken tee shirt I bought yarn for is already the perfect length. For anyone else using their patterns from a far, despite what you may have heard about New Yorkers, the sweaters actually fit on the big side.

Silken Straw in Husk on the left and Euroflax Linen in Caribou

Silken Straw in Husk on the left and Euroflax Linen in Caribou

The service was helpful, knowledgable and friendly; they answered questions, printed patterns and wound my yarn, while we shopped across the street.  I cannot wait to cast on with the yarn that I bought: Alchemy Silken Straw is Husk (for the t-shirt) and Euroflax Linen in Caribou (for their raglan).

How yarn used to be made

Life on the (1860's) farm

Life on the (1860’s) farm

On our family vacation last week, we spent a fantastic day together at Upper Canada Village, in Eastern Ontario.  While my son is a little young to grasp much history, he loved the farm animals, train ride, and especially milking a cow (ok, he “helped” me milk a cow, but still!).

I was able to take in some history, when I wasn’t chasing him around the Confederation era farm.  As a knitter, it was the wool factory that really captured my attention.  I didn’t associate Upper Canada in the mid-nineteenth century with the Industrial Revolution, nor do I tend to think of yarn as a factory made commodity, but the woolen factory certainly proved me wrong. The Asselstine Woolen Factory was originally built in 1828.  Between 1828 and the 1930’s, it employed mostly women who carded, spun and wove sheep’s wool into roving, yarn and blankets.  The water powered factory has been restored to working order, using almost exclusively technology from the 1860’s.

The wool, outside the factory, waiting to be carded

The wool, outside the factory, waiting to be carded

Carding machines, where the wool is turned into a thin soft fleecy tape

Carding machines, where the wool is turned into a thin soft fleecy tape

 

Spinning

Spinning

The water turbine, which still powers the factory

The water turbine, which still powers the factory

Large machines carded the wool and spun it into 1-ply for weaving. Some of the 1-ply was then doubled, tripled or quadrupled for knitters to purchase at general stores.  A recreated sign reminded factory workers that while fashionable, hoops and crinolines are unsuitable for work around the large powerful machines.

Today water still runs through the turbines, and the huge nineteenth century machines still turn the wool into 1-ply for weaving into blankets and 2-ply for purchase in the Village Store.  I bought a few skeins of the wool in black and soft pink.  It’s much thicker than the 2-ply you would buy at most yarn stores, and is much closer to worsted weight.  I can’t wait to turn it into some classic mitts to remind everyone of our family vacation – any thoughts on a pattern?

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This year’s first Christmas present

Lots of blue: my blue lemonade cardigan, the picnic cedar table my dad made for us, and some flowers from my mother-in-laws garden

Lots of blue: my blue lemonade cardigan, the cedar picnic table my dad made for us, and some flowers from my in-laws garden

I know what you’re thinking, but after trying to finish 7 pairs of socks in as many weeks last year, I’ve decided to space this year’s presents out a little bit.  I just finished blocking this Vodka Lemonade cardigan in Cascade Ultra Pima for my mother-in-law.  She loves bright saturated colours, and spends her winters in Florida, so this light cotton cardie seemed like a great idea (hopefully she thinks so too!). I love Thea Coleman’s designs, this one has just enough lace to be unique, without sacrificing wearability.  So lovely!

The clever lace motif and seed stitch border at the bottom of the cardiga

The clever lace motif and seed stitch border at the bottom of the cardiga

While the fraught relationship between a woman and her partner’s mother has become a tired cliche, it definitely doesn’t apply here. I am lucky to have such a strong and caring woman in my family. I’ve been pretty blessed in the role model department, and she’s one that I’m grateful for everyday (and it’s not just for the free babysitting – I swear).

The pattern was a pleasure to knit, and the recipient a pleasure to knit for. I’ll make sure to include a picture of it on in my holiday round-up this winter.

 

Opening what was closed: my weekend of yoga

My friend and her much more confident arm balances

My friend and her much more confident (than me) arm balances

I just got back from a yoga retreat this weekend, and I feel like I’m just beginning to appreciate everything I took home with me.  On our last morning, our instructor suggested that one of the take homes they wanted to leave us with was “opening what was closed.” Which I think perfectly summarizes for me the weekend’s most important lesson.

Yoga on the dock

Yoga on the dock

In the car, on our way home, my friend and I discussed the weekend’s highlights, of which there were many. I asked myself what was the most significant thing I would be taking home from this weekend; was it finding a comfortable seat for meditation? The stretches of lakeside quiet time? Time spent catching up with a good friend? A refined downward dog and some solid arm balances and inversions? The inspiring conversations with a diverse group of successful women (and a even couple men)? A new appreciation for vegan food and paleo-baking? Any and all of those experiences were well worth the time, and effort, but it is the subtle change in my approach to daily life that I hope sticks with me long after the pressures and demands of home close back in.

One night in yoga nidra, I think that I was finally able to let go of some of the baggage the recent years have piled on. Which begs the question, what will I let take its place? All weekend, I worked on being present, strong and patient; three qualities I’d like to carry around with me instead.

Knitting after morning meditation

Knitting and coffee after morning meditation

I tend to express love by doing: doing laundry, scheduling playdates, swimming lessons and dinner parties, knitting socks, cleaning the house, organizing family photos, buying tricycles, shoes and groceries.  Certainly, all of those things are important, but they can distract from the most important way to express love: by being with the people you love.  If you let them, they can crowd out the spontaneous kitchen dance parties, long phone conversations with distant friends and family, quiet chats on the front porch, and noisy afternoons at the park. That is the biggest take away from my weekend of yoga by the lake: to be present with those I love. At first, I felt a little guilty about taking this time from myself, and leaving my husband and son to cope together at home, but now I think that I may be able to give them more, because I went. And now comes the hard part, keeping those lakeside lessons with me all year.