Behold, the power of the blankie!

I've finished the first square of Becca and Logan's wedding present afghan. I'm slightly amazed by how challenging this was for me, considering I had assumed it would be the easiest square in the blanket. I had to knit the center part twice before figuring out how to create a perfect seed stitch, when the area and perimeter keeps changing; I kept winding up with double seed stitch on some rows and regular seed on the others. Eventually, I learned to focus on the pattern inside the heart, then count to the right; this means that sometimes you will knit a "knit stitch" even if it's counted as within the area of the seed stitch pattern. (That doesn't make sense, does it? Well, thanks for humoring me.) There were also some classic issues with following directions, due to post-work exhaustion....and being me.
Speaking of work, my first week back at school went smoothly. The kids are really neat, and I've made some major strides in my plan to go mostly paperless (the education world has a major paper waste problem). The knitter in me, however, was particularly struck by a phenomenon that emerged during my annual show-and-tell activity.
I always read this heart-rending story on the first day of school. It's about a young boy who helps his friend Miss Nancy, a nursing home resident, find her memories. First, he goes around asking all his other friends in the nursing home what memories are, getting answers like, "something from long ago," or "something that makes you laugh." Then little Wilfrid gathers precious belongings of his own that meet these descriptions and brings them to her. As she picks through the bizarre collection of trinkets, her own memories begin to emerge, and the resulting stories delight them both. After reading the picture book, I ask the kids to go home and do in kind: gather five tangible objects which represent their own memories and experiences.

  1. something that makes you laugh
  2. something that makes you cry
  3. something from long ago
  4. something as precious as gold
  5. something that keeps you warm
The sharing activity lays a rich foundation of oral histories and common struggles and victories, a deep well of possible writing topics from which we draw throughout the year. So, so many of these wealthy, hip, well-dressed kids brought "blankies," usually to represent "long ago," but also "precious" and "warm." There were handknit afghans, and quilts bought on impulse at the grocery store. There were blankets carefully pulled out of plastic which they had to beg mom to lend, and blankets which had been loved and loved until it was just a pathetic, matted pile of string. One big jock shared a pink blanket of his sister's, because he was afraid to bring his own important blanket to school. One sweet girl demonstrated that her knitted blanket had been cuddled and washed for so many years, she can now stick her head through one of the bigger holes and wear it as a poncho.

All those dear blankets, all that sacred fiber, whether woven by hand or machine, clawed at my heart. I thought about the blanket I made for Jake's grandad, a wise and generous man who has been beaten about by several cancers over the last decade--knowing that when he's home, watching television or reading, he likes to drape the apricot-colored cable blanket about his brittle shoulders. I thought of Temple and Dustin, the latest recipients of my handknits, snuggling under that cotton quilt while watching movies on the couch, their legs and hands happily intertwined the way newlyweds' are apt to do. I thought of the square-a-month blanket I'm knitting for North Dallas Shared Ministries, wondering who would eventually receive the brightly colored bundle and whether it would lift their spirits to know that someone in their own community knotted every stitch out of compassion for them, that they might be warm and comforted and relieved. I thought of Becca and Logan spreading my next afghan across the floor and stretching out on their bellies as a little cherub, my future niece or nephew, delights them with gurgles and mischievous grins. I wondered about the baby I'm longing for now. What would I make for her? Could enough focused devotion ensure its future as a cherished companion?

About now, I can't imagine doing anything more meaningful than making someone a blanket.


Extend an Olive Branch...or a Lacey Branch

Pattern: "Branching Out," by Susan Lawrence, available free here
Yarn: NaturallyCaron.com Spa (Soft Sunshine)
Needles: US8 straight
Size: 36 repeats

Plus: Great pattern! She has a written out notation AND charted version of the 10-row repeat, making it great for either type of knitter. It was wonderfully empowering for a new lace knitter. The hardest stitch is a k3tog, which became a cinch after a few repeats. Just use a lifeline! I did have to rely on it about three times.
Delta: My sole complaint about the pattern is that it was impossible to memorize. I had to stare at the pattern for every. single. inch. Bamboo/acrylic blend, to no surprise whatsoever, doesn't block so well. Luckily, it looked decent right off the needles. I should also note that the yarn is extraordinarily splitty and prone to snags. Amber requested machine washable and dry-able yarn in pale yellow, and the pattern uses a DK weight; its flaws were worth balancing against the rare combination of characteristics.

Good times. Can't wait to tackle more lace! My next one with be this Diamonds and Pearls Shawl in some yummy Lorna's Laces Lion and Lamb.


It Almost Killed Me

I have dreamed of the day I would post this finished object. All 1728 square inches contain my deep devotion and respect for Temple and Dustin, and commemorates their beautiful wedding this past July. I know it is perhaps arrogant to desire, but I hope it will remain a keepsake treasure in their family for many, many happy years to come.

Pattern: "Buncha Squares Blanket," by Kay Gardiner and Anne Shayne, available free here
Yarn: Lion Brand Cotton-ease (almond, taupe, terracotta, maize, lime, and azalea)
Needles: US8 straight for blanket, US6 circular for border (all worked flat)
Mods: only worked 12 squares total, instead of 16

Plus: I love the modern look of this "quilt." I was looking to blend Temple's eclectic, often feminine style, with Dustin's love of the modern and clean; as soon as I saw this pattern, I gasped and knew it was "the one." Since it was knit in 12 inch squares of garter stitch, there is no better "take-along" project, anywhere, in all the land. Most of the inner squares were completed at traffic stops and in take-out restaurants, while I banged out the outer cream borders during marathon viewings of every House episode ever made. (I rented two discs a day, every day for a while there, and I'm sure the Blockbuster people thought I had no life.....which was true) I have also become VERY comfortable with picking up stitches through the completion of this project. I've figured out what looks beautiful, what creates big-honkin' holes, and what a miracle "twisted" stitches are to fix unavoidable gaps.
Delta: CARPAL TUNNEL CITY. I have heard people claim that cotton can hurt your hands and wrists, but I thought they were just sissies, or referring to the fact that the fiber itself is not especially silky. NO! No, believe the rumors and FLEE, like a fire's at your heels, from any large-scale cotton project. The total lack of inelasticity makes for a rough job, like riding in a car which the suspension is totally shot---you feel every single jarring bump in your bones. I'm also pretty disappointed with my finishing work. This is still an area for major personal growth. I feel like I should have ignored the suggestion to use a whipstich to join the squares and gone with backstitch instead. I also know now that absolutely NO knots are acceptable as an alternative to sewing in a loose end. After the wear and tear of finishing and washing, the few I cheated on are all poking out and waving their frayed, ugly arms at me, threatening to unravel. Oh, the horror.

Temple and Dustin have a solid foundation of love and faith on which to build a life. They do such a great job of balancing and inspiring each other. I have been quite close to Temple for over a decade now, and I've never seen her glow like this; the vitality and health and thankfulness simply flow from her. Though I'm only beginning to know Dustin as a dear friend, I see the spark and admiration in his eyes as he watches her, and I know she gives him just as much joy. I could not have hand-picked a more perfect partner for either. I feel blessed to have witnessed the growth of their love and the celebration of their union.

It's done! Woot!


Baby got Back

This is part 1 of 2 for my mother-in-law's birthday. She's receiving an "earth-friendly" bundle because she desperately wants to become a hippie again.

Pattern: "Knit Coffee Sleeve" by MissKnittyPants, available free here
Yarn: Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran (turquoise) - leftover from Hannah's "Fetching" mitts
Needles: US6 circular, worked flat
Plus: What's cozier than your favorite latte? Cashmere.

Delta: The backside, like my own, is not so attractive.
Eww. See how it puckers sideways in the middle because of the cable pattern? See how it splays out to be taller in this part because the cable pattern bunches vertically, while the seam flattens it out? Now, there are two ways this could have been avoided. One, I could have cast-on provisionally and then grafted the end stitches to the live beginning ones with Kitchner. Two, you could ditch the pretty horizontal cable and cast-on the correct amount of width stitches to be worked on dpns, knitting in vertical ribs and cables to keep the sleeve snug.

Ah well. It's still a big step up from cardboard.


Got to Get Back to the Sugar Shack

Pattern: "Fingerless Garter Mitts," by Leigh Radford, available in One Skein
Yarn: Queensland Collection Sugar Rush (2)
Needles: US2 dpns (worked flat)
Materials: Beader's Paradise size 6 Czech glass beads (Sea Green Luster Mix)

Plus: The yarn feels like silk and is 100% SUGAR CANE!!!! How awesome to hand someone a beautiful gift, and after they try it on, you say, "It's made of pure sugar!" Overall, this is a very simple pattern with a truly elegant result. I had never worked beads into my knitting before, but it was not difficult at all. The book doesn't give much advice for stringing the beads on the yarn, but I found a great tutorial at Knitty. After that, easy peasy.
Delta: Like most cellulose yarns, it splits like mad, making for very careful knitting. I'm also concerned that it won't provide much warmth, but I totally knew that was a risk going in--probably a better choice for summer weight garments and accessories. I guess I was going for cool-to-the-touch summer knitting, stubbornly ignoring the gloves' eventual purpose. As for the pattern, the gloves turned out way bigger than expected, even after achieving gauge. In my case, it was no big deal; I'm just gifting them to someone with bigger hands. However, if you have hands that are small to average, just knock off some of the final garter rows at the end. Finally, I was slightly baffled by the fact that the pattern says to use sport weight yarn, but the suggested yarn was a fingering weight, Koigu PPM. It made me wonder which weight was truly intended or ideal. I eventually settled on sport and got gauge by moving up one needle size. Go figure.

More importantly, I love my new knitting group! We're meeting tomorrow night, and I think it's one of the best parts of my week. Knitting can be such a solitary, almost lonely, activity. Most of my friends kind of roll their eyes or wink at me condescendingly when I talk about my knitting. With these women, nobody looks shocked when one of us nearly falls out of our seat, dramatically espousing the merits of alpaca. Everybody cheers on each other's projects with genuine admiration and pride. We grin encouragingly at one another's natural mistakes when learning a new technique. Few social events leave me more refreshed and relaxed. The only thing we've lacked so far....is brownies. Tomorrow night, that oversight shall be rectified.


Here Comes the Sun

Pattern: "Star Crossed Slouchy Beret," by Natalie Larson, available free on Ravelry
Yarn: Malabrigo Merino Worsted (Sunset)
Needles: US11 circular and US10 dpns (worked in the round)

Plus: I want to make love to this hat. The yarn, the pattern, the color....well, this comes to mind.
Delta: It does not belong to me. Cry.

Believe it or not, the gorgeous creature on the left is my sister, 22 years old today. There is no one kinder, more generous, or more beautiful--inside and out--than this child. Don't let the sexy smirk and high-fashion look intimidate you; behind those gentle blue eyes dwells a soul as pure and honest as one may ever imagine. I am honored to know her and awed by her ferocious drive to change the world for the better. It blows my mind that she is quite suddenly a woman. This January she will marry an amazing man, and, shortly thereafter, graduate from Abilene Christian University with a degree in communications. One of her many dreams for the future includes founding a non-profit organization to help families with autistic children cope with the challenges and obstacles of raising a special needs child. How cool is that? The hat above was knit lovingly for her. She rocks the slouchy-hat-look better than most. I love you, Becca-boo!


Knit Your Scraps--They're Good for You!!!

Pattern: "Cowgirl Butterfly Astronaut Vest," by Fawn Pea, available free here
Size: girls' 2
Yarn: Berroco Comfort (Pot-Au-Feu and Adirondack); Berroco Touche (Yucca); Debbie Bliss Pure Cotton (06) - All yarns leftovers from mittens, poncho, baby booties, and cowl, respectively
Needles: US7 and US5 circulars (worked flat)
Mods: several adjustments to make this a tad smaller than the 27" chest minimum; gauged at 5 sts per inch instead of 4; reduced skirt length by 1"; reduced top length by 1/2"
Plus: What a cute and flirty little garment! I can't wait to see this on the recipient. I really lucked out that all these random, machine-washable scraps work together so well. This is the second Fawn Pea design I've worked, and it probably won't be the last, since her designs for babies and kids always catch my eye. I'm also proud to report that I learned some new skills with this piece: three-needle bind-0ff and the "wrap and turn" method for short rows. Additionally, this piece had quite a bit of sophisticated garment construction compared to my previous sweaters, so it was good practice for the more complicated adult-sized sweaters to come.
Delta: I shouldn't complain, seeing that it's a free pattern and all, but the pattern had a few mistakes AND was rather unclear in several places. It's totally workable for an intermediate knitter or beyond (just think it through and the solution will come), but I think a beginner would find this pretty frustrating.

Pattern: "'The Republic' Hat-Toddler Edition," by Nicole Reeves, available free here
Yarn: Red Heart Ltd. Soft Yarn Solids (Brown) - leftover from baby blanket
Needles: US8 Circular and dps (workled flat AND in the round)
Mods: none
Plus: Yes, those are bear buttons, for my favorite little bear. This pattern is soooo easy. I whipped it up in one evening, riveted 100% to the television. No purling required! I think this would be a great beginner project, especially for someone trying double pointed needles the first time (cough-Hannah-cough)
Delta: 100% acrylic is a bummer to work with. No soul.

New on the needles: Stephanie Japel's Split-Neckline Cap Sleeve Tee from Fitted Knits. This will be my 2nd me-sized sweater. Cross your fingers that I luck out again! The last attempt was very encouraging, even if it was just a fluke. Also, I've completely lost my marbles and agreed to knit 7...SEVEN!!!! shawls for Becca's bridesmaids, due by January 2nd. I've tried to reduce the insanity by holding three thick strands together and working on US17 needles, but the pressure is still giving me heart palpitations. Before this agreement, I had pledged to make an afghan as a wedding gift, and I still want to, but it's taking a back seat for a while. Still working on Temple's wedding blanket, Amber's scarf, and Jake's sweater.

My grandmother in-law just lost her husband. They married less than a month before Jake and me, not even two years ago. He was healthy and active and jolly, until one day he obtained an ordinary case of bronchitis. His doctor, forgetting that Jim was diabetic, prescribed steroids, a mistake which triggered three heart attacks in quick succession. Ma (everyone call Jake's maternal grandmother "Ma") lost her first husband to cancer over a decade ago, and I cannot wrap my brain around the frustration and loneliness she must be feeling right now. My thoughts are with her tonight, wishing her peace and restful sleep.


In a Tizzy

Lots to be excited about right now in the world of knitters! First of all, one of my favorite designers, Jared Flood of Brooklyn Tweed, has released his very first full pamphlet through Classic Elite Yarns! 13 original patterns, all in natural fibers, all demonstrating the fabulous eye he has for blending classic with modern. At first glance, it all looked much more old-fashioned than I had hoped for, but a closer look revealed the urban sensibility I've grown to love in him...I mean...his designs. Ahem.
Take "Stilwell," for example (all patterns are named after streets in Brooklyn). The stranded Fair Isle pattern strikes one immediately as vintage snowflake ski sweater. However, upon further examination of the stranded design, you see X's and windows and Morrocan inspired arches. The garment styling is very trim and modern with three-quarter sleeves, a henley neckline, and a flipped collar. Flood signs everything off with his signature garter stitch cuffs and hemlines. I adore him...I mean...the sweater.

Ravelry, Blue Moon Fiber Arts, and a million prestigious bloggers including the hilarious Yarn Harlot are organizing a "Sock Summit" in Portland. Since I don't live anywhere near Portland and have only knit one miserably pathetic sock, this shouldn't really concern me, except that a major component of the summit includes a yarn-dying contest, and all the cool kids in the hand-dying world are playing along. You can only vote if you're a member of Ravelry (and why wouldn't you be?) but you can check out some of the submissions on the dyer's blogs. For instance, Lorna's Laces entered nine different categories and designed each yarn around a theme of monster social gatherings, with clever names like "Hydra Pool Party" and "Frankenstein's Cotillion." In keeping with my usual prejudices, my favorites were dominated by Three Irish Girls' colorways. Not only are the color-combos delicious and inventive, I appreciated that the Yarnista devoted herself entirely to the constraints and advantages of each category, rather than entering a "Kettle-dyed" that looks exactly like a hand-painted or a "Watercolor" that looks like it was dipped. She's truly gifted. Don't you just want to take a bite out of this one???
In my own, modest little knitting world, I've finished a glove, which was meant for Becca's birthday, but may have to go to mom because it's a bit large on even me. Mom's got big, muscular hands from years of painting and gardening. This means two things: 1) Mom may not receive the "Fetching" mitts that she requested and 2) I need to figure out something for Becca's birthday fast, since it's up in about a week.
Steady progress on everything else, including my second lace attempt: "Branching Out." I'm only doing 10-20 rows a day, maximum, so I can always give it a fresh brain and total concentration. I've also been smart, moving my life-line up every 20 rows, although I've only had to rely on it once. It's nice to know mommy's there to catch you if you fall.
In the world of self-pity, school starts in about two weeks, and I don't wanna. If that wasn't even to invoke a temper-tantrum, I've been experiencing a little more pain lately. I wake up with that feeling...like someone had been punching my lower back all night so it's now swollen and tender. I was making dinner two nights ago and was starting to fight back the old nausea that made me want to curl up and do nothing. I practically broke the dishwasher in a fit of frustration. Jake rushed in and held onto me until I stopped fighting and heaving. I forget how vulnerable and scared he must feel whenever experiencing even a whiff of depression. Of course, he understands. Of course, he won't let me suffer interminably. Of course, I have to be patient.