Knitting · Reading

Book Club: Knitlandia

cover art for Knitlandia by Clara Parkes

A retirement gift from my friend Amy, I re-read-Knitlandia:  A Knitter Sees the World by Clara Parkes for this month’s Knit Camp Reads book club.  This collection of travelogues necessitated a different type of discussion as we could not rely on old standby questions about character development, unexpected mystery twists, or conflict resolution.  Instead, we talked about which chapter or chapters resonated with each of us.  Mine were the chapters on New York and Iceland. 

My visits to New York have been limited but each trip holds a Cinderella moment – meandering slowly down the grand concourse of the Guggenheim all by myself at 16, the breathtaking view at a top floor reception in the World Trade Center, my first (and only) taste of caviar in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom.  As well as remembering that sense of relief when cresting the Hampton hills just north of Zumbrota on my homeward trek after a summer trip and seeing green which washed away the overwhelming vision of nothing by undulating yellow sheet metal racing and then screeching to red light stops. 

Unlike the New York chapter where I could draw upon memories of real sounds and smells, Parkes’s description of her Icelandic fiber tour moved into the realm of wishful thinking but Covid dashed hopes.  In 2019, I booked a Rowan Tree Travel tour to Copenhagen and the Faroe Islands but the 2020 and the 2021 September trips were canceled and I eventually opted out of the April 2022 rescheduled tour.  While I recognize Denmark and Iceland are distinct countries with unique cultural differences, they share a Nordic heritage and a deep appreciation of northern clime woolens.  I could easily imagine myself with Clara visiting an Icelandic sheep farm just as I had hoped to spend a day in the home of a Faroese fiber artist with Rowan Tree Travel guides Heather and Suzie.  I do have one tangible connection to Iceland in the form of four skeins of yarn purchased by Amy (the same person who gifted me this book) when she was in country for a destination wedding; yarn I later knit into a Solène Le Roux Cable Promenade Cowl.

As we slowly emerge from our Covid existence, I take to heart Clara’s advice: “There is a time for sitting at home in your pajamas, watching and clicking and quietly forming connections in your mind.  And, there’s a time for getting out and being with others, for reaching into the picture and becoming part of it.

Knitting

The Aquarelle Shawl

Reminiscent of a walk along the beach collecting shell treasures, Marie Greene describes her latest design as “watercolor-inspired waves opening into shells and scallops”. Using a lovely merino wool and silk blend, The Aquarelle Shawl is my most recent mystery knit along (KAL) project.

Trusting the designer, I cast on in real time with other Knit Campers on April 1 (no fooling) and watched my project evolve without benefit of knowing a final design other than its crescent shape. The pattern was released over two weeks in four mystery clues and revealed shells constructed with yarn drawn over rows of stitches and then mirrored in lace. The long rows of garter stitch, which anchor the decorative design elements, remind me of tides lines lightly scored in water packed sand.

In addition to the fluidity afforded by the silk, the contrasting colors of the two skeins ripple through the fabric alternating between a solid rich teal and a complimentary fingering with ivory, blue and green tones. The colors flow quite like John Lurie’s watercolors on HBO’s Painting with John proving that The Aquarelle Shawl is true to its painting namesake, aquarelle – a “technique of painting in transparent, rather than opaque, watercolours” as defined by Encyclopedia Britannica.

Knitting

Strategic Stasher

skeins of yarn in multiple colors

While the list of survey questions is not nearly as extensive as a Myers Briggs personality test, the Knit Camp Stash Sprint quiz does incorporate aspects of actual psychological analysis.  Of Marie Greene’s three basic yarn collector types, Fiber Sentimentalist, Optimistic Acquirer, and Strategic Stasher, my profile falls strongly into this last category.  Individual traits include:

  • Well organized stash.  (I pride myself on having every skein carefully cataloged on Ravelry with important details duly noted such as weight, color, dye lot, purchase price and date, including a photo for quick visual ID.)
  • Well planned projects and purchases.
  • Likely to use exactly-the right-yarn for the job which often necessitates purchasing new yarn rather than substituting.
  • Willing to relinquish yarn if a project changes direction.  (As proof, 14 skeins found their way to new homes as prizes for the Zumbro River Fiber Arts Guild: Knitting Group’s first ever annual Winter Finishing Fest.)

During my Stash Sprint class I handled every skein with a discerning eye.  While deciding what to keep and what to give, I made some discoveries.  Fingering weight comprises a third of my reserves but then many of Martina Behm’s designs require this weight and Hitchhiker is my favorite pattern.  DK makes up the next largest quantity but that makes sense as well as it is a great weight for sweaters and my first (and to date, only) dyeing project used this weight.  I have never knit anything in lace weight yarn and gave away two skeins but sentimentally kept two simply because of when and where I purchased them.  Since my access to the Knit Camp Stash Sprint class never expires, it will be interesting to see how my stashing patterns evolve and whether, after taking this online course, if I reframe my approach to yarn acquisition.

Happy knitting!

Knitting

Boost the FOF Tally

Just in time to tackle a spring mystery knit-along (MKAL) with Marie Greene and to learn brioche with members of the Zumbro River Fiber Artists Guild’s Knitting Group, my WIP (Work-in-Progress) count has been reduced by three on this Finished Object Friday (FOF).  The deep heather blue scarf and muted lavender shawelette have yet to find homes but the vibrant yellow sweater will be gifted to a great niece or nephew arriving in May.  (Shhhh!  It is still a secret for the mom and dad-to-be.)

The small Gansey sweater, designed by Marie Greene, incorporates a cabled yoke for bit of decoration on the practical pullover knit using an easy to care for cotton, nylon, rayon, and silk blend.  Knit in a size 2-4, my new great-great niece or nephew will have something to grow into and, hopefully, will have many days of warm wear.

The blue wool scarf is another of Marie’s designs.  Reminiscent of barrel staves and trellised grape plants, the French Oak pattern reveals off-center cables traveling the length of the scarf like grape vines.  And, I am starting out a new year with another Hitchhiker, perfect for a special person knit in 100% rustic silk with Czech glass beads decorating each tip.  This is Hitchhiker #23 in my collection of hand-knit gifts.

Knitting

Vivi Off the Needles

In keeping with the theme of #FOFriday – finished object Friday – I am showing off my finished Vivi from the January/February sweater knit-along (KAL) with Marie Greene.  Based on progress postings and Zoom meeting reports, hundreds of other knitters enjoyed this project as much as I did.

This January Workshop KAL is the fourth of Marie’s annual offerings – something new for the New Year.  Through her integrated curriculum, this community-based project allows knitters to explore the fiber arts from a faraway place; a virtual vacation each year.  During the two month KAL, Marie offered technical lessons on topics such as shoulder construction, provided historical background on Danish “night” sweaters, and even shared scrumptious traditional pastry recipes – Yumm!

The KAL officially launched January 1 although Knit Campers (that’s me) were awarded an early pattern release by a few days.  On December 30, I casted on 292 stitches of worsted Berroco Ultra Wool in Chili Red to start this bottom-up construction and I worked my last bind off cuff stitch on February 26.  Squishy soft after blocking and plenty warm for chilly spring days.

Happy knitting!

Knitting

Snuggly Warm

gray knit afgan on blue leather chair

I tend to be a monogamous knitter, that is one big project on the needles at a time, but this winter was different. As our world contended with yet another Covid variant and surging infection rates, I stayed home knitting and reading. (Are there any better cold weather tasks?) I alternated between my red Knit Camp knit-along (KAL) sweater, Vivi, and a gray gansey afghan.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines gansey as “a thick, knitted sweater made of yarn, of a type originally worn by fishermen; synonym – guernsey.”

Originating over 400 years ago on the Channel Islands, traditional ganseys were tightly knit for warmth and as a resistant barrier against cold sea winds and salty sprays. Stitch patterns were inspired by everyday objects aboard ship – lines (ropes), ladders, and nets. My afghan incorporates repeats of garter ribbing, double moss, and diamond brocade stitches on either side of a diagonal chevron zigzag pattern; when put together with Berroco Vintage Chunky (for ease of washing) the result is snuggly warm.

Happy knitting!

PS – If you are looking for a romantic, period piece with a good story which also depicts the isolation of island life, check out The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Knitting

Stash Sprint

Twice before I have started but not completed Stash Sprint with Marie Greene; described as:  “A 6-week stash discovery workshop – complete with stash management tools and resources for happier stash knitting.”  I am not sure what interfered with my intentions on previous enrollments but I hope this blog post will create a sense of responsibility to you, the reader, to make this third time the charm.

You don’t make art out of good intentions.

Gustave Flaubert
yarn stored in containers

An early workshop assignment asks for a stash picture so that workshop participants can cheer on individual progress as organization takes hold.  For purposes of this photo shoot and to honestly share what I have where with my fellow Stash Sprint specialists, I’ve pulled from two locations.  No craft room for me – our house is just too small.  The two 34 inch x 15 inch plastic bins on the left “hide” under the bed – yes, I know that is negative feng shui. Three containers (two woven wicker baskets and one hand thrown pottery pot) on the right are stashed (pun intended) behind my Ekornes Stressless recliner in the TV room where the majority of my knitting occurs.  Ravelry records my stash as 106 different yarns, mostly single skeins but some in quantities of two-s or three-s.  Enough of each for a hat or a cowl or hat & cowl set.  The division (right now) is by weight so I can find what I need based on a pattern’s recommended weight but we will see what changes with Stash Sprint.

Knitting

Vivi KAL 2022

ten laser cut knitting stitchmarkers and gold coil-less safety pins on linen background
Vivi custom stitch markers from Olive Knits

After a wardrobe review, I admit I do not need another sweater. Having knit two in 2021 that I wear infrequently due to our continued Covid stay at home-ness, I initially decided to pass on Marie Greene’s 4th annual January Workshop KAL (knit-along).  But then I was swept up in the enthusiasm of my fellow Knit Campers’ yarn selections and color choices, plus Marie’s newest design features (my favorite) cables!

Ironically, while my September trip to Copenhagen and the Faroe Islands was cancelled, I will enjoy Danish artistry virtually with Vivi. Pattern pictures reveal a lattice of cabled diamonds gracing the sweater’s front and Danish stars decorating the sides.  Unlike the intricate colorwork of Scandinavian cousins, these Danish designs rely on subtle stitch definition against a monochromatic backdrop.  And, as always, during the eight weeks of this annual workshop KAL, Marie will share historical background, new techniques via video tutorials, and ethnic recipes for culinary exploration, as well as a large dose of “hygge” – perfect for this lingering pandemic.

Happy knitting!

Photo credit: © Marie Greene

Knitting

Kool Way to Dye

multi-colored yarn on wooden bench
Top to bottom: Cranberry Chutney, Sage, Tutti Teal, Speckled Peach Melba & Grapefruit Sparkler

Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Throughout the week, we tackled a colorway a day.  My original plan was to set up a temporary dye studio in the garage with a borrowed Coleman camp stove as my heat source.  But that was me worrying unnecessarily about Kool-Aid spills and stains on the parquet floor.  Dyeing in the garage required far too much extra work to move cars, assemble a work surface, and collect tools and supplies each day since the Audi Q5 and VW GTI would need to be parked back under cover at night.  Our final production line was in the kitchen with water, heat, and tools all close at hand.

During Knit Camp at the Coast, Heather Best from sew happy jane promised to “turn some pretty skeins into some Pretty Amazing skeins.”  While we carefully mixed our Kool-Aid combos and watched the pot (to make sure it didn’t boil) our skeins of bare merino DK yarn artfully shifted from au naturel to subtle hues.  As a readily available foodstuff, in a multitude of flavors (which translated into colors) the Kool-Aid packets provided easy to mix, manageable quantities that already contained citric acid, thus they eliminated the need to add chemicals possibly less friendly to the environment.  One by one, each skein went through a multi-step immersion process:

  • Soak.
  • Simmer.
  • Steep.
  • (Speckle & steam – just sometimes.)
  • Rinse.
  • Dry.

Two days into our routine, with Kool-Aid Sage twisted into a loose hank and Speckled Peach Melba steeping, I made a discovery – dyeing would not become my new passion.  As the work continued, we had fun creating the lovely semi-solid fibers, as well as sprinkling contrasting specks.  By skein five, I even concocted my own colorway – Tutti Teal (a variation of Heather’s Tutti Fruiti).  But I am comfortable knowing my excitement comes from the craft of knitting – finding the perfect yarn, pairing it with the ideal pattern, and creating just the right gift while, hopefully, learning a new technique rather than playing with pigments.

When I first started buying yarn, facing a wall of color in different weights and textures was a bit overwhelming.  Now, I can easily spend an hour or more immersed in tactile and visual sensations enjoying whatever my local yarn store (LYS) has on display.  While, possessing only the most rudimentary understanding of yarn production, I already recognized that a lot of work went into each skein in my hand.  That appreciation has grown exponentially with this micro-dyeing project.  But hand dyeing, to paraphrase the witches in Macbeth, at least for me, is akin to “double, double toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble.”  Although, in the interest of full disclosure, my fire and cauldron consisted of a white LG glass top stove and a Marshall Field Marketplace stainless steel stock pot.  Then again, one does have to wonder what colors might emerge if, instead of Kool-Aid, the pot contained any of the natural ingredients from my high school drama role as Second Witch.

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the cauldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt and toe of frog,
Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg and owlet's wing,
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
     Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1
Knitting

Voilà! A Trip to the Coast

Last summer while slogging through Covid quarantine days, Marie Greene and her amazing Olive Knits team organized, on short notice, a fun-filled virtual retreat that was so successful so as to necessitate a sequel.  I count myself lucky to have landed a “seat” again this year for Knit Camp at the CoastFor three days, September 16-18, I will join 100s of knitting enthusiasts in 16 unique sessions where we will learn new techniques from a cadre of talented guest instructors.  The class itinerary offers an old nemesis – socks, but also an exclusive pattern with a newly designed stitch and yoga breaks to ease muscles feeling the strain of feverish knitting.  Plus, although well out of my comfort zone but intriguing will be the workshop offered by Heather Best from sew happy janeNot Your Average Kool-Aid Dye Party.  Who knew, all those decades ago when drinking that sugary summer staple (cherry was my favorite) or slurping ice cube popsicles, that the sweet food dye filling the glass would be perfect for “creating gorgeous custom colors for hand-dyed yarns.”  Happy Knitting!