"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Category: Knitting

knitting . . .

finished sweater in "steamers" yarn

finished sweater in “steamers” yarn

I’ve been knitting a sweater for my daughter, C. for awhile and have been wanting to finish it so that she can wear it now that the cool weather of the Fall is upon us. Knitting is a good pastime for me because it keeps me busy while watching the Red Sox play or Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu on the show, “Elementary” trying to catch criminals on TV.

The desire to finish it, however, felt to me like the myth of Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, every day toiling to weave her tapestry and each night, that day’s work mysteriously unravelling. In her case, it served a good purpose because the completion of her weaving would have meant punishment meted out to the populace. So taking out what she had done during the day was a good thing and served a worthy moral purpose while ensuring the piece would not be finished until Odysseus showed up to rescue her and save his kingdom.

In my case, I’ve taken apart and started the cuffs a number of times, finally getting the gauge right by using much smaller needles, settling on a zigzag pattern for the cuffs that I’ve always imagined making for myself. I thought I was in the home stretch when I sewed up the sleeves and eased them into the armholes. As I sewed two rows of stitching to make sure they would not pull loose anywhere, I remember thinking to myself, “Boy, I hope I won’t have to take this apart,” (an oddly prescient thought in hindsight!) Sure enough, when I tried the sweater on myself, I noticed that the shoulder line of the back and fronts fell below my shoulder so that the sleeves were too long and the whole thing looked even bigger than I had feared it might be. Instead of stitching it together, I should have basted the sleeve into the armhole first. Although technically “finished,” I was not at all happy with the end result.

I decided to put it aside and drove to the grocery store to buy some fresh fish for dinner. Along the way, I briefly contemplated soaking the whole sweater in hot water to shrink it, but even I shrank from this crazy idea that might have ruined it forever. By the time I got home, I resolved to remove the sleeves, hem the shoulder edge to narrow the shoulders, then re-attach slightly shorter sleeves. Along with the prescient foreshadowing that I might have to take apart the double-stitching, a perfectly curved tiny snipping shears appeared out of nowhere while I was looking for some thread which made the undoing task feasible.

corrective surgery on shoulder/sleeve shape

corrective surgery on shoulder/sleeve shape

Although this sounds like a serious intervention, it was just the ticket to reshape the sweater!

When C. was here visiting last weekend, we took a look at some mother-of-pearl buttons I had in my stash. The flower-shaped buttons were too starkly, shiny white on the right side, but turning the button over to the raw underside–the side you weren’t supposed to look at– the mottled textured surface looked just like steamer shells incarnate. In fact, the buttons looked so much like the flecked, heathered yarn that they’re hard to see. A match made in heaven, if I do say so myself!

"steamers" yarn with shell buttons

“steamers” yarn with shell buttons

So, that seems to be it! After taking apart the fronts and re-knitting them because the neckline was too low for the collar (which turned out great!), redoing the cuffs numerous times to make them fit properly, and now taking apart the shoulder/armhole sewing; then radicalizing the shoulder line by hemming it in before re-inserting the re-knitted sleeves, you’d think I could have knitted the sweater twice! (which I did contemplate doing on smaller needles, two/thirds of the way through when I feared the sweater would be too roomy.) But all’s well that ends well, I think, and the shoulder/sleeve surgery was just what this piece needed in order to fall into place. I guess you can tell I knit from scratch without a pattern, and perhaps that’s why there is so much trial and error. Huge sigh of relief! I can’t tell why I’ve had to re-knit so much these days (maybe knitting on faith rather than measuring; or mis-estimating needle gauge to yarn?) But, it seems to be a part of my process, and like Penelope, keeps me busy, day and night. I feel good about solving vexing problems in fact. . . as long as I eventually reach a solution that I’m happy with in the end.

A knitting postscript: While I was sorting through my yarns to put them away in the closet with mothballs, I came across a thick deep red flecked yarn with an orange-red sister yarn which looks like just enough yarn to make companion vests for my granddaughter, Josie who is three and her friend, Annika who is closer to five. I’m thinking of making red fronts with orange backs, open armholes and empire length–sort of like a kid’s vest-let. It will go over their heads, and keep them warm without much weight and also last for awhile while they are growing so fast. I thought I’d knit a little heart in a contrasting color to sew on each one too. Since Annika is slightly older and bigger, her mother has been generously providing Annika’s outgrown clothes and toys for Josie since she was born–and what beautiful clothes they have been! It will be so much fun to knit these little pieces for them to wear as big and little sister. Let’s just hope I won’t have to re-do them too many times to get it right. I was thinking of a little seed stitch piece to hold them together on either side. Like a Japanese vest that I made for C. before.

yarn for josie and annika vest-lets!

yarn for josie and annika vest-lets!


“knitty kitty” . . .

Knitty Kitty post photoOkay, so maybe I overdid it. I started knitting a sweater for M. on Tuesday, this week. I started the back on size 4 needles for the ribbing and size 6 for the body of the sweater. I noticed that the knitting was rather stiff, the gauge being a little tight. So I started over after trying out size 8 needles for the main part of the sweater. Once I had the new gauge, I recalculated the stitches needed for the pattern of seed stitch, purl and staghorn cable. The larger needles gave the knitting more drape and felt softer. Perfect!

I knitted up the back to the armholes, skype-ing with M. to make sure we had accurate body measurements: edge to bottom of the armhole, armhole to shoulder, shoulder to wrist. She wants the sweater ribbing to hug at the waist rather than having an overly large fit. Last night, while watching a couple of TV shows, I cast off at the shoulder line, which finishes the back. I cast on fifty stitches to start the left front of the sweater.

This morning, I woke up with a sore right shoulder. I had also noticed a slight “click” in my shoulder when I rotated my arm, which became apparent when two-thirds of the back was finished. So this afternoon, I’m headed out to my chiropractor for some treatment to the shoulder and general straightening of my spine. I haven’t been there in awhile since I was doing shiatsu, but this is a good time to get back to realigning everything again.

M. wrote to me that “Knitty Kitty” ~ the name of a children’s book that she reads to Josie ~ needs to take a break. I guess you could say she’s right about that.

‘shabby chinese’ . . .

brown vest 2I laughed out loud today when reading an email message from a knitting friend of mine. I had just sent her photos of the free-form sweater vest that I knitted from lopi lite yarn called ‘black sheep.’

She wrote that her daughter had characterized her as being either a “princess” with lots of flowers and sparkle, or the other extreme of “refugee-immigrant” with stark neutral colors and a kind of shabby look.

I really identify with the “refugee-immigrant” look because (I guess I am one–the immigrant part, not the refugee part) and find myself dressing often in drab colors: my favorite color is taupe, believe it or not–a hard color to find when it’s just right. Anyhow, my brown vest is kind of along those lines and I especially like the way the armhole edging is raw seed stitch and that it curves in slightly. I am planning to knit more of these but am thinking of cropping the sweater slightly and knitting it in different gauges of yarn.

First, though, I’m waiting for some yarn to arrive from WEBS in a ‘peat’ color to knit a replica of a brown sweater for M. that I wore all the time when my kids were growing up. It is an iconic sweater memory for all of us. I’ve knitted a variation before in a heavier alpaca yarn along with a deconstructed meandering cable.
alpaca cable seed stitch sweater

All these knitting projects crowd in on me as I read weaving books about how to set up a warp. Honestly, it seems really tedious to me so maybe saori weaving will continue to be a fantasy in my mind’s eye, a romantic notion that I would be sitting erect with flowing long hair at a beautiful wooden floor loom, weaving my way into the sunset. Instead, the reality may be closer to my shabby chinese aesthetic, sitting on the worn butterscotch leather couch that I found on Craigslist, knitting taupe and warm brown sweaters in staghorn cable and seed stitch, growing my hair out and wearing it parted similar to when I was in my thirties, cooking macrobiotic asian dishes with brown rice and watching DVD dramas like “Homeland” at night with G.

“treasury lists” . . .

The world is teeming with artists and crafts persons who are expressing themselves and producing wonderful things, selling their wares themselves. For awhile, I have been meeting knitters, quilters and potters on Etsy, a website devoted to crafts available from their source. It has even, on occasion, been possible to have a collaboration with quilters and knitters to have things made, customized for fabric, yarn and color, for example.

Countries range from far and wide: Norway, Turkey, Israel, England and Australia to name a few. And there are also many regions in the good old U.S. of A. It is an astonishing gallery and marketplace for infinite (it seems) possibilities and inventiveness expressed with humor and amazing materials.

Because I want to support them in their endeavors–and the prices are almost always modest compared to the amount of labor and time it’s taken to make their scarves, quilts and bowls, I’d rather buy their wares than just about anywhere else for things that are mass-produced and the proceeds devoured by big corporations.

So, if you’re interested, here’s a link to my “treasury lists”–a very creative device that Etsy has introduced, whereby one makes up a gallery of sixteen windows that is then shared with those you are “friends” with or are linked to some of your “favorites.”

In any case, here they are: click “katherine’s treasury lists” on the Blogroll feature on the right hand column of my blog, then click on the title of each treasury list.

Or, you can paste this link into your browser.

It is like entering a world we experienced in the movie, the “Wizard of Oz” where black-and-white shopping turns to color! I hope you have as much fun with it and find wonderful things as much as I have!

Some of my Etsy friends have also subscribed to my blog! Thanks all!

P.S. Adding links to my blogspot for etsy sisters, mudheart pottery, elizabeth cadd and drusilla pettibone

knitting without a pattern. . .


knitting the past into the present. . . and then, letting it go free

I went to the fish market tonight to pick up some Nantucket Bay Scallops–the last of the season, it seems. They were tiny, succulent and briny. I dusted them with barely any flour, salt and coarse pepper. Melted a little unsalted butter in a skillet, threw in a couple of cloves of peeled and chopped garlic. Quickly cooked the scallops until they were barely cooked, light brown and only slightly crispy. I took them out of the skillet and plated them because they kept cooking after they were off the heat. Fresh Meyer lemon juice squeezed on top.

A few handfuls of farm fresh spinach–very young–from Verrill Farm, washed and cooked quickly in some olive oil. When it was just wilted, added a little light cream–the real thing and let it thicken. Scooped into a small bowl. Along with the Nantuckets, as they are called around here, the creamed spinach, we had a slice of pumpkin-apple bread.

For dessert tonight, I made some Sioux Indian Pudding that we serve heated up a little, then topped with Haagen Daz vanilla bean ice cream. The pumpkiny-pie flavor of the cornmeal with the smooth cold ice cream is one of our favorite desserts. G liked it from when he was young so I started making it when he told me about this favorite memory.

So far, this post has been about food.–so why is the title about knitting?  Because I knit the way that I cook. Find something fresh and appealing. Make it into something that suits your imagination. That’s how I knit without a pattern. I am writing about knitting because the lady at the counter at the fish store (see above) complimented me on the sweater I had on. Her name was Darlene. I thanked her for the compliment and told her that I used to have a sweater like it which I wore all the time when the kids were growing up. I wore it with a black and white feather patterned cotton skirt and a magenta V-neck t-shirt. They all said that they remembered that sweater. There’s a photo of me in that outfit with Jackie-O sunglasses on.

Alas, I had grown out of it and also lost track of it somehow. Then, about a year ago, I decided to knit myself a replica of the treasured sweater. I didn’t need a pattern because I had a picture of it in my mind that was more clear to me than if had been printed on paper. This 2nd generation version of the most treasured cardigan I had had early in my life turned out even better than the first. Which doesn’t always happen later in life when you try to recapture something you loved a long time ago. I used panels of seed stitch and cable stitch. Instead of an ordinary cable pattern, I made this one in the shape of a staghorn cable. The yarn was from Peru: a yummy taupe alpaca yarn. To finish it, I splurged on hand-carved deer antler buttons with brown scalloped edging. Darlene especially noticed the buttons. She said that when she travels, she picks up interesting buttons that she might use someday. She hasn’t knitted anything  since they bought the fish store, she said. But she can appreciate a nice handknit sweater. Her words were a nice surprise that lightened my day as I drove home.

I also knitted a scarf from the sweater’s leftover yarn that has a cable that wanders all over the place. I decided there were no rules to say that cables had to come back together symmetrically all the time. It was an interesting experiment where not only did I not use a pattern, but the knitting also took on a direction of its own. Go figure.