Thursday, November 13, 2014

Prayer, Work, Knits (and "Deep Thoughts"): Nearly Winter

November has been a "wrapping things up" and "kicking things off" month. A writing assignment I'd been offered over the summer came due in November, and the old "pressure-prompted" way of functioning that got me semi-successfully through high school, college, and seminary was a serious temptation. But now that I'm older and mature(er), I didn't put ALL of it off 'til the last minute; I'm wiser now, so I actually paced myself and managed to finish it without needing even a single all-nighter. Which is good, because these days a "late night" for me is anything after 9:30 p.m.

I wish I could say that my newfound proactivity eliminated the anxiety that comes with the need to put words on paper. While writing four weeks of Sunday School curriculum, I learned more about myself than I did about the Bible chapters I'd been assigned. I learned about my grown-up work habits, but also about my interests and irritations, and about my desire to write vs. my desire to get paid to write. I learned that along the way when frustrations and apathy hit, I needed to find a new motivation, and I remembered the ancient monastic phrase Ora et Labora: "Prayer and Work." It hangs now on my office/craft room door, a reminder that not only Bible study but also poems and blog posts and yarn and paper and fabric can be works of prayer.

November is also the month when these become relevant again:

Hooray! Here is the coastal South we're dipping in and out of legit fall weather, so a sweater inventory was due. Obviously, I have enough handmades to change sweaters as often as a diva at an awards ceremony changes gowns. I tried on every one of them, and forced myself to be honest about whether I would be likely to wear them. Did they fit? Where they flattering? Were they itchy? Were there mistakes I couldn't live with? In the end, two lovely sweaters landed in the Frog Pond ("rippit, rippit").

DEEP THOUGHT #1: Sometimes you have to admit that things aren't going to work, and reimagine the raw materials as something new that you will love.

This fall I got brave and pushed myself to learn a new skill, and I knitted a cardigan in pieces instead of as an all-in-one-seamless-garment. Each step along the way demanded care: each piece of the sweater had to be attended to as carefully as the others. Each piece had issues (notice the line where the upper back of the cardi is lighter than the rest) to take into account. Each piece forced me to evaluate and think ahead.

DEEP THOUGHT #2: Sometimes you can't see the Whole; the best you can do is treat the Parts as thoughtfully as possible, and trust that it will come together. And add a hood to disguise anything less-than-perfect. :)

I also finished a very soft cabled pullover in a very pink colorway (though I prefer to think of it as a fabulous lipsticky magenta color; it is Miss Babs Yowza, in a color called "Smooch" :) ). This is actually my second time making this pattern; the first was one of my very early sweaters, before I learned that you (or at least I) don't want your sweater measurements and your body measurements to be exactly the same... can you say muffin top?? A little positive ease can be your friend.

DEEP THOUGHT #3: When things feel snug, give yourself a bit more space.

Making two such different sweaters back-to-back (Opulent was actually finished first) has made me reconsider my pattern-selecting inclinations. Though the Jackson Creek cardi was much more work, I love the way it turned out. It fits better and feels more stable than the in-the-round, seamless Opulent. It feels better on, which is ultimately the whole point of knitting your own sweaters. The memory of these two projects is very likely to affect my future choices.

I've also made a few accessories over the past month or so. My September Yarnbox aligned perfectly with an early project in Ysolda Teague's Knitworthy releases. Delicious Yarns Sweets Sport in Red Velvet, and Frosting Sport in Cherry teamed beautifully for this cabled and garter-stitch shawl. The only danger is that I fear I'm becoming addicted to subscriptions; surprise yarn arriving monthly + and a surprise Ysolda pattern every other week = LOVE.

Another Knitworthy pattern was a stashbuster. I learned to knit colorwork at a Yarnivore class a couple of Christmases ago, and it's one of my favorite knitting skills (along with cabling... not that you could tell that from the three projects above). Stranded colorwork shows up in traditional Scandinavian knitting, as well as in native Cowichan work (one of these days I would love to knit The Dude Sweater...). Ysolda, being from Scotland, designed this cowl using some traditional Fair Isle patterns.

The only problem (okay, it's not a problem, just a reality) with stranded colorwork is this:

Sixty thousand yarn ends to weave in. And the more fabulous colors you use, the more tails you have to deal with. But when I flipped the cowl inside out to begin the arduous task of sewing in all those ends, the first thing that struck me was how beautiful it was--all those colors, the cascade of fiber, and even the amazing pattern of floats on the wrong side of the fabric.

DEEP THOUGHT #4: Beauty is everywhere.

Maybe it's my Mary Poppins romanticism in effect, but this "spoonful of sugar" did seem to make the job more fun. Sewing in all those loose ends turned out to be a surprisingly satisfying task. (DEEP THOUGHT #4.5)

After Pyukkleen I got on a colorwork kick, so I went stash diving and came up with some leftover red, cream, and deep brown in the softest alpaca and llama/merino/angora. Instead of following a prescribed pattern I cast on 96 stitches in the round and began knitting patterns that caught my eye from Mary Jane Mucklestone's book 150 Scandinavian Motifs. This short cowl is now drying and waiting to be grafted end-to-end:

I learned (and love) to knit colorwork with two hands: English style with one color in my right hand, and Continental style with one color in my left hand. I am normally an English-style knitter; I've tried Continental (which is supposedly faster and smoother) on its own but I've always struggled with it... hand cramps and terrible fabric tension. Today, though, I'm experimenting again. When I knit stranded colorwork, I knit the Continental side easily; but when I'm just knitting plain, and missing the yarn from my English-style right hand, suddenly my left hand can't work Continentally anymore. I'm sure there is some neurological reason for this!! So I'm trying out a trick on my neuro pathways (pathologies), and wrapping a bit of scrap yarn around my English-style fingers while I knit Continental with the left hand.  This little pointless loop of yarn is allowing me to practice my Continental knitting on a very simple ribbed cowl!!

DEEP THOUGHT #5: Something about fooling the right hand out of knowing what the left hand is doing?? No... wait: Sometimes our emotional memory, just like muscle memory, needs a little encouragement (even, perhaps, a crutch) to allow us to move ahead with something new.

So November is a month of "wrapping things up" and "kicking things off." I've wrapped up projects large (and very large) and small. We've kicked off Christmas shopping (and knitting), and a full calendar of events and parties and performances and celebrations. From now until the New Year our family life will be full-to-bursting with Things To Do. But what is kicking off for me, personally, vocationally? If I let it, knitting may yet teach me that I need to let go of some things... to attend to the pieces in front of me... to allow myself some space... to pay attention for unexpected beauties... to tie up loose ends... and to find help and encouragement to move forward.

Very soon, I think, it will be time to Cast On.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Knits: Late summer.

I have to confess: I am tired of living places where autumn doesn't begin until October (or November... or sometimes December). In San Antonio, leaf-raking was a Christmastime activity----that is just wrong. Still, "home is where the Navy sends us" (at least, that's what all the cutesy hand-painted signs say) so we do what we must... and once school starts, I must believe that Fall has arrived. Ninety-degree temperatures be darned. We may keep the a/c cranked up, the kids may wear sunscreen out to recess, and we may not put away our cutoffs for months yet... but knitting waits for no (wo)man.

Now we're on the cusp of October and finally, FINALLY the nineties are gone (*fingers crossed*). Yes, it's still nice enough to go to the beach, but our swimming days are numbered. In the past month I've completed two big knitting projects during these late-summer days, and I have two other WIPs (Works-in-Progress) on the needles for early fall.

First, I used yarn from our visit to Tennessee in June to knit a short-sleeved version of Traveler's End, by Carol Feller.

I have a real "thing" for cables, and Carol has a whole wonderful gallery full of Celtic-y cabled sweaters. My yarn was dense and rustic (read: scratchy). I decided to alter the pattern sleeves because I have loved the short-sleeved Heathered Hoodie Vest I made in 2013. It may not (ever) get warm enough where we live to necessitate long-sleeved, chunky-yarn sweaters... but I get a lot of mileage out of these layerable short-sleeved cardis. (Note to self: I absolutely must MUST purchase some new tops to wear under sweaters this year!! This same striped 3/4-sleeved LOFT tee appears in practically every one of my Ravelry sweater photos...! Clearly it is The Perfect Layering Top, but I think it's time to expand my wardrobe a bit.)

My second completed project is part of my ongoing birthday celebration. I used gift money to purchase a subscription to Yarnbox, a monthly "surprise" club. August was my first box, which was actually a bag because the yarn was so huge; and for my birthday month, it just happened to be crammed full with some of my favorite type of yarn, three big skeins of a fat, soft, sheepy yarn in three shades of gray. (Well, really, two shades of gray + a creamy natural.) The yarn just called out to become a blanket, but I have made a commitment to myself not to spend more than the price of the subscription each month---so no adding skeins. Those three big skeins weren't enough to make a full throw blanket, but they were just enough (barely) for this huge shawl, which now lives in "my spot" on the sofa.

It's a relief now to feel that fall is well and truly here---or at least coming near. That red-wine-y ball of yarn on the sofa is now the better part of a cabled pullover. Another Yarnbox project (with cables---do you sense a theme?) is nearing the halfway point. After that, I have yarn waiting to become a beautiful lightweight gray cardigan, a much-needed wardrobe item---because the other thing I wear far too often is a ratty gray hooded sweatshirt! Will the new sweater have cables too? Perhaps...

Friday, September 5, 2014

Ten books.

I dislike jumping on bandwagons, but a books bandwagon is pretty hard to resist. A week or so ago, someone shared a simple challenge on Facebook: List 10 books that have "stuck with you." They don't have to be high literature (a.k.a. in my family as "smart-people books"), just books that have been influential or memorable or personal to you. I've been thinking about this challenge since then; in fact, in the past months I've been pondering quite a bit about the books that I've loved, the ones that have influenced me, the stories that seem to bubble up again and again in my everydays. It has occurred to me that perhaps these books might have something to do with my sense of call... not only in that they have (obviously) shaped me, but in that they show me where my heart is. They take me back to the girl, the teen, the young woman I was when I first got lost in them; and every time I read or even just remember them, they show me the way once again. These books are still challenging me with questions and still comforting me with answers.

Even as I type up these titles, I feel guilty for certain omissions. There are books that both break my heart and buoy my spirit (To Kill a Mockingbird, The Color Purple). There are books that drop me in a place and time and make me connect with characters far outside my own experience (The Shipping News). There are books I simply couldn't put down, and it's lucky I read them as as adult because I'd have gotten grounded for staying up all night reading them by flashlight (Harry Potter).

But they can't all be the top, so here's my list of the ten books that are, simply, home to me. It hardly seems necessary to say (but I will) that this is not exclusive; I could make a "top ten" list of books for any given feeling, situation, day. I'm also following my Facebook-sharing friend's example and putting the Bible in its own category (thereby freeing up a spot on this list! haha!). Finally, I am barely resisting the urge to add my reasoning to each of these choices, but I've been thinking of sharing book reviews (or, more accurately, book reflections or book responses) on this blog... so... watch this space.

These, then, are my "desert island" books, in no particular order:

1. My Name is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok
2. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
3. Traveling Mercies, by Anne Lamott
4. The Trixie Belden series, by Julie Campbell (and other authors under the pseudonym Kathryn Kenny)
5. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
6. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle
7. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith
8. The Shepherd of the Hills, by Harold Bell Wright
9. The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley
10. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving

What are yours?