When I am an old woman

Published on Tuesday May 3rd, 2011

I shall wear a pullover of the darkest shadows in the fir forest, a green so earthy it is almost brown, with the most exquisite florescence of color ever designed at the yoke.

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It shall be softer than a mole’s armpit, as my grandfather would have said, half of its fiber being angora, and it shall have been knit with the smallest needles I own. This is why I shall be very old indeed before I can wear it, but it shall be Worth It. (In fact, I have taken care that the colors will also suit my daughter, because this pullover shall be an Heirloom, dammit.)

Yes, I have spent nine months regularly peeping the SOLsilke website and trying to choose among the many beauteous Bohus sweater kits, and I have finally screwed both my courage and several years’ birthday money to the sticking place and ordered The Wild Apple. I have lusted for these sweaters since I first learned of their existence about five years ago. I have lovingly petted several gorgeous examples that once belonged to Elizabeth Zimmermann, which felt a little like being allowed to leaf through the Book of Kells. A year ago at the Madrona retreat I was spurred to the action of buying a kit by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, who pointed out that master dyer Solveig Gustafsson, recreator and sole purveyor of the materials and designs originally developed by the Bohus Stickning couture knitters in the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, is in her eighties and won’t live forever. Much of what I like to knit and design draws on history for inspiration but veers off in a more modern direction, but occasionally it’s invigorating to go straight to the source and knit exactly as the ancestors did. (The lovely book Poems in Color thoroughly describes the Bohus history and offers patterns for many of the designs — hooray! — but presumes that modern knitters will not wish to tackle an entire sweater at 9 stitches per inch. The results are beautiful, but the sport-weight gauge means you lose a touch of the intricacy of the authentic Swedish sweaters.)

But which to choose? I dithered and dithered. Forest Darkness, with its oceanic color shifts? Guld, with its striking golden collar? Blue Shimmer’s pleasing, classic blues and browns? The subtle beauty of Gothic Window? Or the eye-catching Egg? (Here’s a link to the Kerstin Olsson page on Ravelry so you can drool over all of them at once. Follow the SOLsilke link above and click “Bohus Stickning” if you’re not a Raveler.)

Finally, I decided the choice was simple. The Wild Apple was the first Bohus design to make my heart beat faster, and it still does. It’s the most riotous of the color schemes, but I had no idea how raucous some of those oranges and greens actually were until I breathlessly tore open the package from Sweden that arrived on my doorstep this week. I would never have had the guts to combine these colors. The Bohus addition of purl stitches to the motifs allows the designer to integrate colors to an unusual degree, to bring them into conversation rather than just contrast, but still… mint and olive greens? Paprika and cherry reds? That Kerstin Olsson knew the rules well enough to break them and wasn’t afraid to be loud. I’ll bet my grandmother would have liked her. Because those yoke colors remind me more than a little of this:

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detail from my grandmother’s castle tapestry

Here’s a glass raised to old women with sure minds and sharp needles. That’s what I want to be when I grow up.

The Squint Eye triumphs again

Published on Thursday April 15th, 2010

I’ve lost my heart to a new sock pattern and a new sock yarn. I ran across christhalinette’s take on Beate Zäch’s charming Bluemchen pattern on Ravelry and thought, “How whimsical!” Then I looked more closely. How exactly were those flowers constructed? Wait, are those decreases between the petals? Am I seeing little gussets in unusual places?

Bluemchen_toe

Sure enough, the pattern begins with a little stranded hexagon… and then another coupled to it, and then some funny little earflap pieces… and pretty soon you have something that really does look like part of a sock foot. A sock foot with genius reinforcement in just the places a sock foot needs it. There is a lot more sewing involved than in a regular sock, but I found it so engaging to watch a sock form emerging that I hardly noticed the extra labor.

As you can see, I totally copied the color scheme from that first pair I fell for. I already knew I wanted to buy something with long color changes for the flowers; I went hunting in my stash for a solid, pale base yarn and came up with a nice gray ball of Satakieli the color of gull wings. I took it with me to the shop and began to fret when I couldn’t find just what I’d imagined — a floral colorway that wouldn’t look too juvenile or too Vegas. Finally I settled on a ball of Noro in the lyrically named S185 C colorway. I’d had my eye on this one as my favorite of their offerings anyway, and I figured the remnants could go toward the ducky vertical-striped garter baby sweaters in my queue. It looked okay with the gray Satakieli, but it didn’t really sing. So just for kicks I tried one of my favorite yarn-browsing techniques: the Squint Eye. I held up the Noro at arm’s length, squinted one eye at it like a nearsighted pirate ogling a buxom barmaid, and slowly passed it in front of the wall of sock yarn to see if anything hanging there would give it that razzle dazzle that happens when two colors were meant to be together. (I imagine the performance of the Squint Eye looks mighty peculiar except to veteran yarn-buyers. Go on, I’ll bet you use it too.)

And there it was. The magic glow. And it was coming from something that looked suspiciously like plain, unbleached wool.

I quickly restored my face to its normal configuration so I could investigate. The magic was coming from the section of the wall housing the offerings from A Verb for Keeping Warm. No surprise there — Kristine Vejar is a visionary. I love her India-inflected color sense, and also her commitment to natural dyes and to farmers and mills in the U.S. and Canada. But what was this peculiar magic skein of Creating that didn’t look like it had been dyed at all? The color was called “citron.” I carried it over to the window to see it in what was left of the natural light. It still just looked like cream, but the Noro was crazy about it, practically slavering around its skirts. So I shrugged and had them put it on the swift for me.

The next morning I kept giving that unassuming ball little sideways glances as I cast on and began my first hexagon. Wait, was that a blush of pink grapefruit I spied? A hint of lemongrass? It was! This yarn may not perform to strangers the way its AVFKW brethren do, but Kristine really is a genius. It’s as if she stirred a single one of these into that pot of fresh cream:

pinktulip

(Just the tulip. Not the invasive wild geranium I need to rip out of every corner in the garden… again.) And not that you can really see it when I take photographs at 6pm after work. You’ll have to take my word for it until I can get proper pictures in proper daylight.

Bluemchen_foot

The first sock is finished, and so is the first hexagon of the second sock. Can I somehow have both socks blocked by Monday? My birthday girl may have to open a gift containing just one sock, with the second to follow later in the week. Gifting one dry sock would be better than two damp ones, right? Wet socks, even handknit ones with really pretty flowers, don’t exactly say I love you and I’m going to miss you so much when you move to Maine.

Island style

Published on Tuesday October 13th, 2009

Fall has come—whump!—to the Northwest. The maples and walnuts are at their showiest and our big sweetgums (still with a stubborn cloak of summer green) are flinging their branches about in the easterlies that bring us our cold fronts. The rain is forecast to begin tonight and continue until… no one knows. My weather calendar shows nothing but drear droplets, on and on. We have knuckled under and turned on the heat, and the vent that is pleasantly blowing warmth up my trouser cuffs is also blowing cat hair into my glass of cider. Yes, the Knitting Weather has arrived again.

It is October, so I am knitting socks (for Socktoberfest, ye muggles, a knitter’s official license to knit as many socks as she pleases, not that she wouldn’t be knitting them anyway, which I suspect is thoroughly equivalent to the situation of the Germans and their merry beer-drinking). I am knitting extraordinarily glorious socks of Teeswater wool. I had to look up the Teeswater sheep, never having heard of it. I discovered that a Teeswater ewe was the founding mother of the Wensleydale breed, of which I have heard (and knit, with excellent results). That Teeswater mama passed on her lustrous locks, which are durable, sleek, and soft. These socks will have their own post soon, as will the Arch-Shaped/Lenore socks I just finished and mailed to Marika. Today I want to tell you instead about some schemes for the future.

IslandFibers

These lovelies are precious cargo from my trip up to the islands. They come from Lopez Island sheep via Island Fibers studio, the work of two women with an enviable workshop nestled at the edge of the woods. A big garage is loaded with bags of fleece waiting to be washed and primped and sent away for spinning. They have a dyeworks where Debbie works her magic on the natural white and gray heathered wool, producing a luscious range of come-hither colors. Maxine gave us a tour of the weaving room, where Debbie was at work on a big rug, and introduced us to the end products you see above and all their beautiful cousins. The plump white fluffy one on top is a woolen-spun Rambouillet, light as a soufflé and soft as a mole’s armpit (my grandfather’s saying, which I must remember to use more often). The blue one is a sport-weight 2-ply, dyed on the natural gray of the sheep from local farmer Sally Bill’s flock. Maxine explained that this flock began as a Romney-Lincoln cross, but has since had visiting rams of many backgrounds, always with an eye to improving the fleece. She calls them Sally Bill sheep. The gray skein is Sally Bill wool blended with 30% alpaca; I can feel just a little more weight to it and suspect it will drape a tiny bit more. The rusty red skein is a worsted-spun 3-ply wool prepared at a mill in New Mexico. It looks ready to shout a stitch pattern from the rooftops and I can’t wait to give it a whirl.

In these little skeins are the kernels of a grand idea. Formulating a grand idea is something like poaching an egg; I know that once I break it into the simmering water the exterior will go all to a wispy mess if I don’t very intently spoon it back around the yolk, and it takes composure and deftness to bring it off. The yolk is this: a design collection for hand-knitting inspired by my home islands. The wispy mess? Just how many and which designs it’s feasible to include; the possibility of writing some vignettes (EZ would call them digressions), some personal geography; a timeline; tackling the book design myself. I know I’d like to feature local yarns, though probably not exclusively. Keeping the whole thing digital, at least for now, seems prudent, as does releasing the patterns for individual sale. A couple of patterns I haven’t released yet might be included (Mr. G’s new gansey, the Islander baby sweater), and I’ve got sketches for a number of others. I’m fairly sure that skein of Rambouillet wants to become a squooshy, cozy shawl-let; I’m excited to swatch the alpaca blend and the 3-ply as contenders for a long vest with twisted stitch motifs.

More to come… I’ll be working on some swatches in the coming weeks!

Still Life with Wensleydale

Published on Friday September 26th, 2008

Large cat included for scale. Want to take bets on how long I can go without casting on for a sweater? We’re planning a camping trip this weekend – only the fact that one of these skeins is about half the size of my sleeping bag in its compression sack may prevent me from bringing along a nacent sleeve-swatch. Don’t put it past me to leave my backpack zipper ajar so I can nestle a center-pull ball in the opening and knit on the trail with the yarn coming over my shoulder. (My husband is going to howl when he reads this idea.)


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