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

Tag: knitting

noho . . .

zinnias from the farmers' market in noho . . .

zinnias from the farmers’ market in noho . . .

“Noho” is an affectionate nickname for Northampton, a college town in western Massachusetts. It also happens to be where one of the state’s largest yarn/knitting outlets called WEBS is located. Every Tuesday between April and November, there’s also a farmers market that opens at 1:30 – 5 pm in a courtyard in the center of town.

At Webs, I find a lichen colored tweed yarn that I exchange for some yarn that I had tried knitting with last week. It was too stark for my eye and required smaller needles (and more time) than I wanted to give to a project. Pleased with this lovely new yarn, I drive to the center of town, looking for a shady parking space and buy myself an hour and a half more time to wander about.

While waiting for the market to open, I do some window shopping and then treat myself to a light sushi lunch at the Osaka, just up the hill from the farmers market. The softshell crab tempura appetizer is a specialty there: plump, tender and crispy, dipped in a clear light broth.

Although the restaurant serves Japanese food, I’m amused to hear Mandarin spoken by the sushi chefs and by Johnny, the maitre d’ who says he remembers me from ten years ago when he was working as one of the waiters. It’s a special place that I feel most at home even though it’s located over an hour’s drive from where I live.

The vegetable sellers were setting up their tables as I passed them to do some window-shopping in Thorne’s. This is an indoor marketplace with a bookshop featuring unusual greeting cards, a shoe shop with interesting clogs, boots and heather merino knee socks and other commissaries of boutique clothing, vintage jewelry and flowers.

The second-hand bookshop on the side street around the corner featured a small outdoor display of five different volumes by the author, Henning Mankell, who died this past week. He was the mystery writer who created the Swedish series, “Wallander.” I’m a huge fan of the “Wallander” Swedish films featuring Krister Henriksson, much preferring them over the UK-produced series with Kenneth Branagh. For $3.50, I purchased a hardback (Knopf Borzoi edition) of “The Troubled Man,” Mankell’s most famous novel.

It was a dry, sunny day just on the edge of being warm and my sojourn to Noho was an enjoyable respite from my usual routine. Tomorrow, I’ll be taking another jaunt, this time to New Hampshire to visit an antique dealer friend and to have lunch together near her group shop outside of Concord, New Hampshire.

These soft days of late summer weather in the beginning of October with vibrant morning glories still in bloom on our 2nd floor landing are a gift of Mother Nature.

Soon, it will begin to chill with the first frost and we’ll batten down the hatches in preparation for colder weather. But today has been a halcyon day and fruitful besides, coming home with yarn, a book and some greeting cards with hand-painted birds decked out in finery that will come in handy when celebrating some family birthdays this weekend.

A perfect day in a perfect New England autumn.



knitting . . .

sweater 1

I taught myself how to knit when I was ten years old, sitting in my bedroom, following a Vogue knitting pattern and emerging triumphantly with a white bed jacket, of all things.  It had a seed stitch border on it and ever since that first project, it’s been my favorite go-to pattern for most of my knitting projects including this one.

Knitting serves to while away time that one might be spending idly by and also as an outlet for one’s ideas. I challenge myself by knitting from scratch – that is, without a pattern which usually entails numerous do-overs until the sweater is finished to my satisfaction. And truth be told, I almost gave up on this one and put it away without sewing it up!

But, listening to “Bluebloods” seasons 3 & 4 on my laptop to keep me company, I decided to take it on, revamping the sleeves so that they morphed into a dropped shoulder dolman sleeve that was just the right length to the wrist after retrofitting the armhole opening once the fronts and back were sewn together. See what I mean?

It always amazes me how much time and steps are still required even though you think you’re done after the main pieces are knitted (fronts, back and sleeves.) For example, this neckline was finished with knitted ribbing first, then attached to the cabled ribbed collar (that started out as a bottom cuff) so that it would stand up properly.

The pockets were knitted in a moss stitch (double seed stitch) to contrast with the allover seed stitch pattern of the sweater. The front ribbing for buttons and buttonholes were knitted during this phase also and sewn edge to edge with the fronts so that they would lie flat. I’m waiting for the buttons to arrive (olive green tortoise shell with a raised edge) and will sew them on next week.

Knitting is sometimes carried out as a waiting game. I wouldn’t say that I was fatalistic while knitting this sweater, but I had a hunch it would provide many challenges before it was completed.

But it was the beauty of the yarn itself, a soft wool, silk and cashmere blend in a moss green tweed color that kept me going. I used to have a brown cable knit sweater that I wore while the girls were growing up and we lived in Lexington. Long gone, I’ve tried to replicate it a few times either by finding one used or knitting another one.sweater 2

But today, I have decided that this will represent that sweater to me during this next phase of my life. Good to change colors and to wear something a little different, just as it will be to refresh my outlook with a sweater knitted from this beautiful yarn called “Wintergrass”.


a “yarn” . . .

Noro Yarn, "Cyochin"

Noro Yarn, “Cyochin”

Remember when the “New Age” was upon us? Around the time of the millenium or some years back before that? When did the new “Age of Aquarius” really begin anyhow (in the 1960’s and 70’s?)  And is it still going on? Some of my favorite CDs to play in the car are piano compositions recorded by Windham Hill, a label that epitomized new age music for me with work by composers like Liz Story, William Ackermann and Michael Jones. The music itself brings back memories of an easier time in the world, if not in my own at the time. Maybe that’s why I enjoy listening to it now: things are so much better in my life compared to then.

Outside, things feel bleak due to the frustratingly protracted political gridlock in Washington, D.C.; to the shock waves due to mass shootings, global spying, hacking, identity-theft, you name it: everyday it hits us on the news, in the newspapers and on the radio while driving around doing errands. The age we live in now is also pre-empted by an ever increasing social media frenzy whipped up by the press along with random ads that pop up everywhere you look on the internet: a dizzying melange of unasked-for opinions and cyberspace junk mail.

In quieter times past, I, for one, used to rely on “signs”, reading the Tarot spreads on occasion, writing down intentions, visualizing goals and so on. Lately, not so much.

Even so, I was thinking the other day about certain events that have occurred in our little world that have made a big difference, a turn of events outside of our own control. I recognized that almost everything important in my life has unfolded that way: moving down here for a new job over twenty years ago, and meeting my second husband (a piano tuner) because the movers didn’t put the lyre back on my Steinway properly.

You can call it synchronicity or serendipity. Or we could just acknowledge that the Universe, and God, have plans for us that we know nothing about until it is revealed to us. It almost makes me think that we should just live and let live, and mostly get out of our own way so that the Universe can do its thing more easily than having us try to fix things ourselves. Do you ever find that to be true in your life too?

I am writing about this nebulous topic today because of what happened to me this weekend. I had been unsuccessful in three attempts to order yarn online from WEBS, a yarn warehouse about an hour’s drive away from me in Northampton. The appearance of the three lots of yarn in my hands was very different in gauge, weight and color from what I had seen (or imagined) on my computer screen.

instead of mailing it back a third time, I got in the car and decided the only way that I might find yarn I wanted to make something for myself with, was to go and take a look in person.

I was right because there was only one yarn in the entire warehouse that drew me in, a gorgeous new Noro yarn.

yarn 5It was multi-colored and a swatch had been knitted up that hung beside the yarn on the shelves so that you could see what the colors looked like knitted up. I’ve worked with many multi-colored yarns before this, most of which surprised in a negative way, the colors not blending or looking right, which can result in omitting some colors and being surrounded by lots of little balls of various color lots to choose from when finishing a garment. I’ve been there lots of times, so I was glad to see the swatch that showed the beauty of how the colors played out together.

It was very expensive, but with the credit of the returned yarn, and a discount based on the dollar amount of the yarn, I could almost justify going for it. I thought maybe I could afford just six skeins and knit a vest with a kimono look. At the last minute, I asked for four additional skeins which brought the discount up to 25% off. With ten skeins of this unusually beautiful yarn tucked safely in my car, I found a parking place in town after a few tries and had a quick lunch at Osaka, my favorite Japanese restaurant. Over soft-shell crab tempura, I sketched out designs on index cards while I ate to see how the ten skeins of yarn could be used in an unconventional manner but didn’t come up with anything novel or exciting.

On the way home, as I was thirsty from the saltiness of my lunch, I decided to swing by Barnes and Noble to have an iced tea and look at their yarn books, not having found anything earlier in Northampton. The book section didn’t yield anything, but then, my eye fell on a magazine by Noro, the manufacturer of the yarn I had just bought with a patchwork sweater on the cover made out of the same exact colorway of the new Noro yarn that was sitting in my car.Yarn 2

The pattern was perfect: a loose-fitting tunic with dolman sleeves and interesting patches knitted in various cable designs on the asymmetric tunic front. I couldn’t believe it. It was as though I led myself (or was led) to look for and find the yarn in one place, and then find the pattern in a second, three hours later, a third of the state of Massachusetts apart.

Noro pattern of a tunic sweater with patchwork

Noro pattern of a tunic sweater with patchwork

Oh, and that’s not even to mention that while I was browsing in one of my favorite stores called “Irrisistibles” in Hamp that has books and household whimseys, I saw a display of metal hanging placards, one of which said, “Everything Will Be All Right.” It was $30 and I thought, I can just print that out myself when I get home and put it on the fridge. It was definitely the right message for me at the right time. New age or not, that familiar twinge of recognition, seeing a message meant for me was unmistakeable. I was buoyed up by it on the way home having forgotten that maybe I wasn’t struggling along alone after all.

So, how “new age” is that for a day filled with coincidences? You’ve heard of the phrase, “there are no accidents,” right? Well, what I take away from this little yarn saga is that the Helpers are definitely out and about and that even when I don’t think I need help, their generous handiwork is very apparent. They must be laughing their heads off up there!

I hadn’t wanted to make the drive out to return the yarn, and when I did, the only yarn I liked appeared to be prohibitively expensive. With the credit and an additional discount, I unwittingly purchased ten skeins, the exact amount of yarn required by the pattern on the cover of Noro magazine to make an unusual patchwork tunic sweater.

Plus, the real gift of the day was coming across and being reassured by the comforting admonition that “everything will be all right.” If you believe it, maybe it will happen.


so far, so good. . .

so far, so good. . .

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!

‘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.

the saori in life . . .

I’ve been interested in saori weaving for a long time, having seen it at a shop that taught this kind of Japanese weaving in my town years ago. The irregularity of the weaving and use of color appealed to someone like me who eschews structure when I can manage it and who also likes to be intuitive and observe as life unfolds.

A Japanese woman named Misao Jo invented/created this kind of weaving when she was fifty-seven years old and wanted to weave herself an obi sash. Her husband and sons built her a loom and she learned two things: a commercial tradesman pooh-poohed it as not being “flawless;” and an Obi merchant sold hers right away. Thus was born saori weaving. Read the rest of this entry »

birds of a feather . . .

Yesterday, I went on a bus filled with women (and two men, one was the bus driver) to the Rhinebeck, New York sheep and wool show. It turned out to be a gorgeous Fall day with leaf color ablaze on the Dutchess County (NY) Fairgrounds. Honestly, I’ve never seen so many women in my life and was also surprised to see how many men there were; children in strollers and babies slung in body carriers.

There were live sheep, border collies herding sheep, live llamas, rabbits, guinea pigs. Hundreds of vendor booths with yarn, roving, sheepskins housed in building after building that I could make my way through the people with strollers, shopping carts and walkers. I spent plenty of time sitting around in the shade and on benches to bide the time. I can usually only take about two hours in a venue with this many people and it’s not a problem when I drive because I can just decide to leave when I’m done. Since I took the Peter Pan bus conveniently provided by WEBS, (leaving at 5:30 in the morning to make it to Northampton, MA by 7 a.m.) we arrived at 9:20 a.m. and left at 4 p.m. That turned out to be a generous amount of time for me but I did hear from a woman at lunch that she drove ten hours with five others from Maryland, taking hotel rooms for three nights to be at this fair.

I found a couple of interesting things but there were no particular yarns that spoke to me. I did come across something adorable for my granddaughter for Christmas and bought some hand blocked linen goods for myself from India in one of the booths. With these finds, I was happy to pace myself through the rest of the day.

The reason I’m writing this post, though, is to tell you about what happened in the last two minutes of this dawn-to-dusk experience. The bus returned to Northampton in the dark around 7 p.m. and as we stood up to disembark, the woman across the aisle from me sighed and said something like, “here we’ve gone halfway across the world to go and buy some yarn.” When I asked her where she lived, thinking it was somewhere in the Berkshires, Vermont or New Hampshire, she said, “Worcester.” I laughed out loud because I’m from Worcester too and we had just spent about 6 hours across from each other without being aware of it. She and her two other Worcester knitting friends introduced themselves and said they’ve been knitting together for a long time. And that they knit together every Wednesday evening at a local place where the Tatnuck bookseller used to be. There’s a cafe and a new yarn shop just opened, they told me as they kindly invited me to join them.

Up to these moments riding on the bus, I had been feeling bad, remembering how awkward a fit it had been with the folks in the last post, “My favorite day” –There seemed to be a true generation gap between me and others, who texted, emailed and did everything on their cell phones, communicating via Facebook, etc. I use my cell phone mostly to let my husband know I’m on the way home.

With the sudden introduction of three knitters from my home town, I no longer felt so isolated. I laughed to myself in the car driving home about how the Universe flips things around when you least expect it.

Today, I think it’s time for me to stop resisting a birthday that is coming around the corner and to relax and enjoy my life instead. . . like getting to know nice people who knit on Wednesday nights.

simple pleasures . . .

Here are some simple pleasures that I thought about this morning:

a. getting a good night’s sleep in spite of the current heat wave

b. listening to my canary sing while I am checking email

c. making a breakfast smoothie that tastes like a milk shake because of the frozen fruit: fresh banana, frozen peaches, frozen blueberries, almond-coconut milk, pure synergy powder, handfuls of fresh spinach

d. reading the New York Times newspaper

e. knitting a sweater for myself from sumptuous Noro Hitsuji multicolored yarn emulating the design of a sweater I could have purchased but decided to knit instead.

f. coming upon a deep brown Lopi pullover vest that I had knit and forgotten about while I was looking for larger size needles to make the sweater described above.

g. cooking rose-colored chioggi beets that I bought at the farmers market in Northampton yesterday which are hard to find with their striated pink flesh and delicious sweet flavor

h. making an open-faced fresh peach pie, gathering up the sides of the pastry like an European tart and sprinkling with cinnamon, nutmeg and coarse sugar

i. looking for a red agate canary to join the part goldfinch canary and finding a few possibilities within an hour’s drive from where we live

j. taking a whiff of the blooming gardenias on the small tree that is flourishing despite the heat

k. watering the gigantic “money plant” that is pushing up against the ceiling and now has decided to thicken its trunk and limbs instead

l. brushing my hair, liking the color and being glad I am growing it out (the length, not the color!)

m. watering the garden

n. looking forward to talking with my daughter to see how she did on her chemistry test

o. wondering how my other daughter is doing with my granddaughter on their daytrip to Versailles

p. glad that Jeremy Lin is going to Texas where he’ll get a shot at realizing his destiny rather than being put on an expensive shelf with the Knicks who treated him badly last season

q. making Lapsang Souchang tea in the morning so it’ll be iced for dinner

r. finding a patchwork design jacket on Etsy for little money that reminds me of my youth that I can wear next week to have sushi on Newbury Street with a new acquaintance

s. a perfectly cooked soft shell crab tempura at the Osaka Restaurant in Northampton yesterday

t. corn on the cob from the farmstand for dinner last night that had good flavor and was also tender

u. yellow-red rainier cherries in season and available at $3.99 a pound at Market Basket in Oxford

v. finding a Shell station in Northampton and getting 30 cents a gallon off gas by using my Stop and Shop card

w. watching reruns of “House” on TV in the middle of the afternoon while I knit

x. glad the power is still on and the air conditioning works

y. picking flowers from the garden and enjoying them indoors as well as out

z. knowing that I am in the right place at the right time.