Saturday, December 26, 2009

a Christmas walk

I fell asleep last night to the sound of softly falling rain. It was a peaceful end to a glorious Christmas day. We celebrated in Washington, D.C., which was still blanketed in snow from last week's blizzard. It made for a beautiful walk ....

And everyone was decked out in hand-knits! For my mother, I'd knitted a Shetland Triangle in the indigo-dyed silk/wool yarn that I bought in Taos this summer

For my father, I'd knitted a Cambridge Watchcap in a salt-and-pepper alpaca/.wool yarn. He also happened to be wearing the cabled tweed scarf that I knit for him a few years ago.

For my brother in law, I'd knitted a simple cap (based on the Turn a Square hat) in a soft wool/silk yarn. When I asked him what color he wanted, he'd told me that I could knit any color between dark gray and black, so I picked a matte black with charcoal flecks.

For my sister, I'd fashioned a dramatic flower pin: dyed with Kool-Aid, wet-felted, and beaded in the center. It was a little too wild, it turned out, so I was happy to be the one to wear it on the walk, along with my dependable Cambridge Watchcap and Storm Cloud Shawlette.

Mountain Man and my sister were along the walk, too, but since they were wearing hats that had been previously pictured on my blog, they were only too happy to escape the photoshoot. :)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Seacolors cardigan, nearly finished

This cardigan is not yet finished. I brought it to the canyon this weekend and furiously worked on the embroidery in between climbs. But when the day wrapped up, and the sun was about to dip behind the horizon, it was time to take pictures, dammit, finished or not. It's close enough that I call victory.

The story behind this sweater stretches back to two summers ago, when I visited Nan Kennedy at her glorious Maine farm. I bought two skeins of beautiful, pumpernickel-brown wool and one skein of gray/green/ochre dyed wool, intending to make small accessories.

But this is special yarn. Raised on Maine pastures. Solar-dyed with seawater and earthy pigments. Infused with the energy of an amazing woman. And so I decided I wanted to turn it into a garment that was just as substantial and artisanal.

Figuring out just what that would be, however, was a very winding, very non-linear process.

The reality of my yardage constraints led to certain design choices: the precise tailoring, deep square neck, and stockinette fabric were meant to economize on yarn, while the top-down construction meant that I could literally knit until the yarn ran out, and even decide mid-project whether it would turn into a vest or a cardigan.

The wilder design elements -- the asymmetry, the hidden hook-and-eye closures, the short-row sleeve caps, the embroidered fern -- emerged more organically, sometimes even unexpectedly. For example, I initially swatched a leaf pattern to run down the front. The asymmetry came in as a way to showcase that colorwork, but I liked it so much that I kept the asymmetry even after dropping the leaf colorwork section.

This kind of "emergent design" made space for beautiful serendipity. But it also had its troubles, most notoriously during my fitful attempts to figure out the shoulder (basically, the yoke didn't produce enough fabric to fully cover the shoulders, so I experimented until I was ready to scream with short rows, increases/decreases, needle size changes, etc to get that shoulder shaped in the right way).

I still have to finish the embroidery ... and I suspect I'm going to rip it all out and start it fresh, with a straighter fern ... but that may be left to another day.

P.S. The dress, if you're curious, is an organic cotton and hemp tube dress from gaiaconceptions. Eco chic for the urban nomad.

Monday, December 07, 2009


We've had a cold snap in Phoenix, bringing the first nighttime frost. I picked all the persimmons off the tree; there were only five of them, but it was the first year that the tree bore fruit, and I didn't want to lose a single one.

Persimmons with curious cat paws

As for me, it's time to hibernate and get to work, so that I can bear some fruit as well!

It's true in my "real" life as it is in my knitting life. The implication for the knitting is that I need to push through the wall with my Seacolors cardigan. Since I hit a point of frustration with the sleeves in late October, I've put it aside and knit two hats, a baby set, a scarf, and half a Christmas stocking. But it's time to resolve the big things. I picked up the cardigan again last night, and I think I finally figured things out. Hopefully will have a finished sweater by the weekend ....

Friday, December 04, 2009

a bright leaf in a dark puddle

A single bright leaf can be amazingly powerful in the midst of early winter grayness.

Most of the time I feel like I'm part of the puddle, but every once in a while I get to be that punch of color.

Cue: my Cedar Leaf Shawlette, knit over Thanksgiving in Fleece Artist Woolie Silk, color 'Aegean.'

This is a brilliant little pattern. You cast on lengthwise, create a curved scarf using simple short rows, and then finish it off with a border of knitted-on leaves. I went down a needle size to get gauge, but it blocked out quite a bit longer and narrower than the original one. I love it, though. It feels lush and lively. It lets me be that bit of color moving through the world.

Monday, November 30, 2009

star crossed cap

Yesterday I made a hat for my sister. The pattern is the Star-Crossed Slouchy Beret, although it turned out more like a sculptural, cabled cloche because of the texture of the yarn.

The yarn is a gorgeous soft, grey cormo from Elsa Wool, which I picked up at the Taos Wool Festival earlier this fall. It's the yummiest, bounciest, cushiest wool I've ever knit with. I had one skein of woolen-spun sportweight yarn, which I knit doubled on size 10.5 needles.

As I said, the pattern is meant to make a slouchy beret, but because this yarn is so elastic, the fabric really pulled inwards, and it came out more like a mushroom shape. When worn, it hugs the face and then curves out to add a little volume to the crown of the head. Personally, I think it's an amazing piece, and I think my sister looks fantastically stylish in it.

However, I did promise to knit her a hat of her choosing, so I'm just going to have to knit her another version now!

Friday, November 27, 2009

greenleaf baby set

In the midst of dealing with complicated projects, it's a pleasure to have something short and sweet grow from my needles.

This is a baby hat and mitten set for my cousin, composed of the lovely Greenleaf Hat and Xois Toddler Mittens in Swift superwash merino yarn. It was one of those perfect little projects that came together quickly and turned out just as I'd wanted.

My sister made the very cool cord for the mittens by twisting (actually, plying) together several strands of the yarn. It's more elegant than braiding or I-cord, and I love the marled look of the two greens.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

subtle beauty

I'm back east now, back to Connecticut for Thanksgiving, back to the nest of my family and my childhood home. I flew on Monday to avoid the freneticism of holiday travel. It was a peaceful trip, with books on tape and the comfort of knitting and soft, subtle light over clouds.

What a shock to the system, though, to arrive to the drabness of New England November! I've gotten so used to the technicolor of Arizona that it takes a while for my eyes to recalibrate to this flat palette: cold pale light, steely skies, skeletal trees, in a chilly late autumn rain

Dim, drizzly, drippy, dreary. All the descriptive words that come to mind start with a thud and taper off in a gray shiver.

And yet, once my eyes adjust, it's a pleasure to see the subtle beauty in it. The faintest of pink in a twilight cloud. The sculptural forms of the trees. The muted dignity of a hydrangea flower, holding on until frost.

Not to mention, it makes for blissful knitting, with a cup of steaming tea and my mother's fat gray cat by my side.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Rivendell among the rocks

Mountain Man I drove out to "Looner Land" this past Sunday for a stunningly beautiful day of rock climbing. It's an an amazing place, with clusters of rock pinnacles rising out of the desert floor. Here's me, rappelling off of our last climb in the late afternoon sun.

I thought such an unworldly landscape would be the perfect place to photograph my newest project: a Rivendell hat in a heavenly-soft alpaca. I also thought that it would be much chillier (like it was last weekend), but as you can see it was sunburn weather, not alpaca hat weather. Not that I'm complaining, though!

Knitting this hat was like visiting an old friend. Rivendell was the first pattern that I ever published. It came out in Magknits in May 2007, and when Magknits was abruptly taken down, the pattern went with it. I still have the pattern text, but no charts or diagrams or pretty formatting, and anyways the pattern needed some tweaking with gauge and sizing, since the original version was far too small and tight.

It's taken me a couple of years, but I've finally gotten myself around to re-knitting the hat and rewriting the pattern. This was a play on it to see how it would look with a different brim and a softer texture. I'm also working on a version that has the original flared seed-stitch brim, but I'm having some gauge issues. Hopefully it won't take me another two years :)

Monday, November 09, 2009

autumn colors

I got a precious dose of autumn this weekend on another visit to Lower Devil's Canyon. The seasonal changes in the desert proper are subtle, too subtle for a newcomer like me to appreciate. But the creek running through the canyon was another story.

Ok, it's still subtle by my Vermont standards, but out here it's nothing to sniff at! I practically jumped for joy when I crossed the creek and found a tangle of fiery Virginia Creeper on the rocks ...

And as my fellow climbers hiked up to the rock towers, I held back, skulking around the riparian zone, gazing at the Sycamore trees and wild grape leaves.

Back at home, I had another kind of autumnal color waiting for me in my dyeing pot. I've been hankering to get back to dyeing -- spurred by the Taos dye workshop and the recent snap of cooler evenings -- and I finally got out my dye pots over the weekend.

Left to right: pecan hulls, apricot leaves, persimmon leaves, peach leaves, and eucalyptus. The peach leaves are from a neighbor, but the pecan, apricot, persimmon, and eucalyptus are from trees in our own yard.

I've done a fair bit of experimenting the eucalyptus around here, trying a few different types of leaves and barks and trying different methods from long simmering to fermentation. I always have ended up with yellows. This time I just tried an unimpressive, scraggly eucalyptus shrub from our yard, and I was amazed to see the shocking orange it produced.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


My design process for the sweater has been following what you might call an "emergent design" method. I dove in headlong, ripping out what didn't work, and letting the design emerge from what I learned along the way. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. Lately it's the latter, so I've been driven to distraction ...

I've been playing with my spinning wheel

And experimenting with dyes from my backyard

And casting on for a new Rivendell hat

All of which has been reinvigorating but has not solved my problems with the sweater. I've knit the shoulders five ways already and found each to be unsatisfying. Maybe tonight I'll bit the bullet and go for lucky number six

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Spinning Witch

My friends and I did Halloween up in style this year. You have to understand -- our front door is set at the end of a covered patio, hidden from the street by a forest of banana trees. To get to it, you have to walk up our dark driveway and through a small opening in the banana trees.

To make it even creepier, we decorated with handmade bats, witches, ghosts, spiders, and graves. Taper candles flickered in the windows. Mozart's Requiem drifted into the cool night air. I sat by the door, shrouded by my long hair and witch hat, spinning dark fibers.

Would you be spooked by such a sight?

When one girl, full of bravado, marched up and asked what I was spinning, my friend cackled to her "We're making sweaters out of children! ha ha ha ha...." The girl whipped around and ran away as quick as her legs could carry her! Apparently, word traveled through the grapevine that we were the scariest house on the block.

I've also been celebrating the season by reading Casting Spells, which is a Barbara Bretton romance novel about a sorceress who owns a knitting store in Vermont. Witches, knitting, and Vermont? Perfect.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Lower Devils East

Yesterday was a phenomenal autumn day in Arizona. We left Phoenix in the morning, driving east past the old mining town of Superior and into the hills on rugged dirt roads. It was opening weekend for an amazing new climbing area on the east side of Lower Devil's Canyon.

We climbed a series of beautiful 5.9s and 5.10s, all on the cool, shady north sides of the rock towers. Coming out on the top, you have these amazing views of Lower Devil's Canyon.

The day flew by, and when we reached the top of the last climb, I suddenly realized that the sun was so low on the horizon that most of the canyon was already in shadow. I cried out to Mountain Man, "But I haven't taken my knitting pictures yet!!!"

In record time, we rappelled to the bottom, I bound off the button band I'd been working on, and we literally ran uphill to catch the last golden-rose rays of sun.

This is the latest progress on my cardigan, now re-knit without the colorwork leaves. I've finished the yoke, body, and front buttonband. Still left to do are the sleeves, the other buttonband, and the embroidered leaves. I'm hoping to have enough yarn to get elbow-length sleeves, although I must say that I'm kind of taken with it as a vest!

I loved how the colors of the Seacolors yarn blended in harmoniously with the green/gray/yellows of the jojoba bushes and the warm browns of the canyon rocks. It was the perfect place to be with this project.

On another note, I had one more fiber-related adventure to share with you -- a visit to the Southwest Fiber Festival -- but I'm afraid I forgot my camera. It was a sweet little festival, with spirited music, splendid animals, and lovely yarns and fibers. I hadn't planned to buy anything, but somehow my bag managed to fill itself with a skein of chocolate alpaca yarn, a ball of dark churro roving, and a batt of Corriedale/Targhee/Merino fiber ....

Friday, October 16, 2009

leafy cardigan decisions

It's Friday, end of the day, and I'm taking a few minutes to contemplate my weekend knitting. I've been working on a new project that, I'm afraid, needs some major re-working.

It started last weekend with a monstrously long swatch, trying everything from garter, stockinette, seed stitch, one- and two-color ribbing, three kinds of cables, colorwork ....

Of all of these, my favorite was the bit of leafy colorwork. I love how the variation in the green/ochre skein comes through.

I'd decided to try making an asymmetrical cardigan, with a square neck and a line of those leaves running vertically by the button band. It's top down so that I can stop anytime the yarn runs out. And I can decide as I go whether I want to spend yarn on sleeves or turn it into a longer vest.

The problem? After designing a whole garment around that bit of colorwork, I don't like how it's coming out! I don't like the textural change, and I'm afraid that my tension isn't so even. Now I'm considering whether to rip it out, knit it in brown, and just embroider the leaves on afterwards (like in my Contemplation Pouches).

Anyways, here's Isis wishing you a happy weekend!

She got so excited when I went out into the backyard to take photos that she threw herself on the ground, rolled on her back, and whined for a belly rub.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cloud Scarf

I've been paying more attention to clouds, sparked by an interview I heard with someone from the Cloud Appreciation Society. I especially love all the wispy high altitude clouds.

Last weekend, kind of on a lark, I decided to try to knit myself a scarf that captured some of their lightness and linearity. I had the perfect yarn in my stash: one ball of white and silvery Kidsilk Night, originally bought for my wedding shawl until I changed my dress choice.

I got out my needles and yarn and started to swatch:

The idea was to knit it lengthwise with floaty ruffles of lace, achieved by knitting a bit of stockinette, changing to a couple inches of lace, then picking up stitches just below the lace, and knitting another layer. Kind of a cool construction, I thought. I decided to use a simple biased lace, with two layers leaning in one direction and one layer leaning in the opposite direction.

It looked all fabulous and floaty on the needles, with the layers curling up prettily. Then I blocked it. And now it's absurdly long, with three flat layers that stick together. *Sigh* I could've done something so much better with this precious little ball of yarn.

It's still somewhat wearable, as a little accessory to wrap again and again 'round my neck.

And I guess it's still kind of floaty when you get up a good breeze ....

But it's not the wispy, etheral cloud that I'd envisioned. I guess there are times when blocking does not do a fabric any favors!

Monday, October 05, 2009

Taos Wool Festival

This Saturday, I woke up to a brilliant autumnal morning. Vivid blue skies. Strong, clear sunlight. I was staying with an artist friend in Taos, and after a cup of coffee brewed with lavender from her garden, we went for a walk with her trio of Shih Tzus.

The golden shrubs that you see on the side of the road are Chamisa, which is in the rabbitbrush family, and which we used in our natural dye workshop for a robust yellow. They were at the height of their bloom, as were the lovely purple asters. It made me think of how much I used to love this time in Vermont, when it was goldenrod that would light up the roadsides alongside asters.

The next stop in my morning itinerary was a visit with Frana at the Phi Beta Paca alpaca farm to see the newest cria, who was just a few days old, and as delicate and fine a creature as you could imagine. Her legs were still a little wobbly, but she had the loveliest, creamy curls and blue eyes.

Here's the baby alpaca hiding underneath her mama. She's still trying to figure out nursing a little bit.

And then it was on to the Wool Festival!! I made it in time for the midday meetup in the Ravelry tent. It was awesome. I had a yummy cupcake baked by deltafine. I got to chat with the warm and gracious Stefanie Japel and Ravelry's own Mary-Heather. I listened to Knitswithdogz singing along to Indigo Girls songs, and watched PinkPorcupine spin, and learned all about TARDIS-Tara's Dr. Who scarves, and met RedQueen of the Here's to Ewe podcast.

I was a little too shy to take pictures of people at the Ravelry tent, but here's what the festival looks like in general:

It's in Kit Carson park, with these perky white tents set up around the perimeter. Off to one side they have shearing demonstrations and a few different kinds of fiber animals to see and pet. This one (churro?) sheep was especially sociable

And who could resist a pair of baby angora goats? Very snuggly and friendly, and they even seemed to like being petted, since they'd come over if you put your hand in the enclosure.

I spent several hours there on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, slowly meandering through the vendors' tents, coming back to the Ravelry tent to hang out for a while, and then heading out for another lap around the festival. And here's what I brought home:

From my natural dyeing class with La Lana, I brought home six skeins of a wool/tussah silk blend (we also dyed straight wool, but I don't have much need for that here in Arizona) and some samples of dyed fibers.

Apparently, it was the rusty, autumnal colors that were speaking to me. I bought 3 skeins of handspun kota-dyed yarn from La Lana, a few ounces of solar-dyed mohair locks from Kai Ranch, and a skein of mohair/wool yarn.

And I also gravitated towards natural colors as well: super soft Cormo yarn in white and gray from Elsa Cormo and laceweight colorgrown organic cotton from Skaska.

All in all, it was a very full weekend! I met so many wonderful people from Ravelry (sorry I couldn't mention you all!), so maybe next year I won't have to go on my own :)