Tie Off and Tune Out

The Olympics have been very fun to watch this year. Whether early in the morning or late at night, with a few catch-up sessions in the afternoon, I caught a little bit of every sport, all the figure skating, and a whole lot of Canadian happiness. I also, incidentally, finished N’s duffel socks.

So happy for the Shibutanis! They made me squee with delight every time they skated as well. Oh dear me, Ice Dancing is the best!

I did decide to cut new legs to go with the new feet, and so made two pairs of aliqsiik in the time allotted to one. But they will be warm, they are constructed properly, and they should last a nice long time. Easy does it.

N was the one who decided she wanted grey, when we had to return to the store for more duffel wool. I had my doubts about the color, but the final result was gorgeous. She picked all the yarn colors as well.

I doubled the embroidery around the hem to make sure it stood out enough, blue-on-grey. And after playing with several types of flowers to give N a choice of style, she said “I want the same kind as Martha’s.” Well fine. I made a different leaf at least.

I stayed up way too late on the last night of Olympic coverage to embroider all the flowers from start to finish. This is why I wanted to do these aliqsiik right after M’s; it was still familiar enough that I could do it almost on autopilot, drifting to sleep during those last french knots and bobsled runs.

This is all the sewing I completed during the 2018 Olympics. Layer 1 complete, Layer 2 assembled but not embroidered (I will have to resize the openings). The blue slippers are an additional unplanned inner layer that N can use this spring so these duffel socks are not too big, and she should be able to take them out and still wear them next winter. See? Strategy! I cut out Jared’s layer 2 and started sewing it together, but didn’t get far. I didn’t start on anyone’s layer 3.

But this is close enough that I am content. It’s a good stopping point. I can come back to layer 3 later. (Who knows; it might not fit!) If I go get myself the right help in time, I can go ahead and start on the layer 4 next – the most difficult, outside layer – for myself and N. That’s what I really want to get done in the next 6-7 weeks.

Speaking of the next 6-7 weeks, that’s how long I have to wait for baby #3 to arrive. (Though if her temperament is anything like her sisters’, it’ll be closer to 8 weeks.) Before she comes, I wanted her to have something of her very own.

#3’s Tomten jacket, an Elizabeth Zimmerman classic pattern, was made entirely from scraps from my ample worsted-weight scrap bin. I had lots of fun playing with simple slip stitch patterning in garter stitch, watching how the dots of color interacted together when I did different things in the color changes.

In The Opinionated Knitter, the inset page – you know, the paper that attaches the pages to the book cover; I used to know what that was called – pictures a pile of Tomten sweaters. The one that inspired me from p. 44 is conveniently central, and gave me a really good view of the sleeve. This was important, because the sleeve shaping starts right away on this infant version, to fit stubby infant arms, and to prevent me running out of yarn at the shoulder. It was worth the annoyance of ripping out half a sleeve to make these proper, smaller ones.

Inspired by this sweater, every time I started a new color, I did either sl 1, k 1, or sl 1, k 3, then knit all the way back. Sometimes I threw in an extra stripe of the previous color. I didn’t run out of permutations before the sweater was finished, though I did run out of yarn. But my scrap bin didn’t fail me, and I rather like the big eggplant-colored cuffs.

After staying up too late on the last night of the Olympics, I got up too early on the last morning of the Olympics. The finish line was at 9:59 a.m. our time, so I got up early, watched the closing ceremonies, and powered through the last couple inches of sleeves. The above is what the sweater looked like as the torch was extinguished: a mess of ends, sleeve seams yet to sew, but bound off. I neatened it up a good bit after church (below), though I still haven’t even purchased a zipper yet.

I earned my gold medal from Bobicus Maximus, and had such a nice time that I cast on a new Tomten sweater the same day. This one is for N, and the main color will be this fractal handspun that I don’t think I ever got around to blogging about. N has gotten very attached to these colors, and I shall not complain, because I do not think there is any way I could get them to suit me.

I did enjoy watching the Olympics, though as usual it involved watching a lot more TV than is normal or healthy for our family. There was one massive standout moment, though. I watched over a hundred ice skating programs, and though the competition was excellent, most of the actual skating went in my eyeballs and fell out my ears. But skate one stuck with me.

Image source: Getty / Maddie Meyer. Click for link to article from which this was borrowed.

If you haven’t seen Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s gold medal ice dance skate, go watch it. Their skate was everything that I have ever loved about figure skating. It was every bit of passion and expression in the music (the way they landed their twizzles on that gutteral “Roxanne…” I squee every time). When I watched it live, I cried when it was over. I cried the next day when I watched the replay.

It’s so much more than beautiful figure skating. It’s performance art. The absolute best of it. And the way Tessa and Scott make it possible is the incredible intimacy they obviously share, after 21 years of working together, and express to the edge of the audience – even around the world to lil’ old me. Other nights that I watched figure skating, I went to bed dreaming about what-ifs of my past: what if I had had the emotional maturity to pursue more figure skating excellence when I was a tween? When I watch Tessa and Scott, it makes me want to go work on my marriage in the present. I’ve been married to my husband for nearly ten years, and if it takes another eleven years of hard work to be an image of love that shows the world what is possible in a committed relationship, it will be completely worth it. They reminded me of that in a way that nothing has in a while.

The Olympics were fun, and I’m pleased with what I accomplished with my hands. But that was a lot of TV, during a time of transition for our family. I had fun, but I will be happy to hand back the cable receiver, turn off the screens, and devote myself not so much to crafting, but more to love. That’s what I want to do with these years. That is worth disciplining my flesh like an Olympic athlete disciplines their body.

Important Little Kamiik

This week, I finished my first pair of kamiik: Inuit sealskin boots, made for two-and-a-half-year-old M. Today I’d like to share with you a few slices of that journey.

But I want to preface with this: I say I made these. And I did most of the actual stitches. But as I tell you how these little boots came to be,  you’ll see just how many hands touched these boots.

If you take that to its logical conclusion, that started long before I even got the materials. Hunters harvested three different seals whose skins contributed to these boots. Then three different women prepared the skins. The skin with hair was home-tanned and stretched on a frame; the black skin from a bearded seal had to also be dehaired; the white skin had also to be dehaired and bleached perfectly in the sun for months.

Of course, this is always the case in our crafts. Knitting doesn’t start at the yarn store. It starts with sheep and farmers and goes through mills and any other number of hands before it arrives in our hands. In some ways the industry is becoming more transparent as knitters and spinners become more interested in those processes. But here, it’s so much more immediate. With some of these materials, you can’t just go to a store and buy them. You have to at least make contact with someone who worked on that skin when it was still fresh off a living animal. Suddenly, sustainable harvesting and fair wages become very important; you’re talking to someone who gave their time or risked their lives to prepare this materials. Thankfully, in Nunavut we can be confident that good practices are the norm.

During the first stages of preparing the skins, I had my hand held very closely. An elder, Seepa, at the Monday night women’s group, contributed her time to make the patterns I would need, to lend me a large tool for softening the skins, and to show me how to cut the pieces with an ulu.

An ulu is a traditional Inuit women’s knife. Thanks entirely to the generosity of others, my collection is getting out of hand. These are also all handmade, by the way.

Seepa even gave me the white pieces I would need for the boots from her own collection of skins, cut them out for me, and sewed the first seam, down the legs. When she returned them to me, she’d made me a little kit with sinew, two kinds of needles, a wee handmade needle keeper, and other little useful goodies.

As for me, the first seam I did, I messed up. I was running off my assumption that you can pretty much whipstitch everything, so I just sewed the front piece to the legs. You can just see it on the left below, and the stitches are quite visible, so it wasn’t even good whipstitch! Mercifully, one chorus of this project was, “Well, it’s ok. It’s for a little kid.” Turns out I was supposed to use a special waterproof stitch I hadn’t even learned yet.

I got as far as softening the soles before the Christmas crazies hit. This was a laborious process involving a lot of chewing, and a tool made from pieces of metal stair and two-by-fours. I didn’t take any pictures of this; who knows why. You know I’m always very careful about publicizing traditional Inuit techniques, and I have also learned to be careful about sharing things without explanation that might be perceived by outsiders as strange or unpleasant. I have so much respect for the people who invented and preserve these skills, and I want to engender that in my sharing about it. So I’ll save talking about that process for another time.

Then Christmas happened, I had to give the pieces back to Seepa for fine cutting, and totally failed to reconnect with her over the holidays. By the time she gave me the pieces back, softened in salt water and ready to be sewn on, I got the distinct impression she was a little bit frustrated with me. Quite frankly, I’m glad she expressed that, because I realized I was not taking this project seriously enough. At this point, I had invested a lot of time into the process already, and so had Seepa. To say nothing of the money I’d spent on the materials, which was very significant. If I wanted to finish this ever, I had to get serious, and I had to get more help.

It was then that I took advantage of an offer I’d received, which was to come to the drop-in sewing class at Tukisigiarvik Centre. At one level, this place is a drop-in center for many of the poor and homeless in Iqaluit. But they’re so much more than that, as they share traditional foods whenever available, and teach a host of cultural skills to anyone who wants to learn. M and I got to taste polar bear meat there for the first time one afternoon!

I had wanted to go for a long time, but just couldn’t figure out how afternoons were going to work for me. But suddenly, in January, the timing was right for me to cut my office hours down and then out. M wasn’t taking naps anymore, and they didn’t mind if I brought her along. (One of my favorite things about Inuit culture is how normal the presence is of babies and small children.) Suddenly I was there for a couple hours every day that N was in school. That was where I met my second teacher, Maggie, who walked me through the rest of this process and was so encouraging. There were other ladies in and out through the few weeks I was there, working on their own projects, and they all pitched in with their trips and tips as I needed help. Sarah, Elisapee, Eva – they could all spare a moment to show me something.

After a few days of attaching smaller pieces, I was ready to learn that special waterproof stitch. I had been so intimidated by this stage, but when the time came around, Maggie said, “this is the fun part!” Then when I was going at it, Eva walked in and said, “ooh, that’s the fun part!” They were right.

This was around the time that I remembered to start taking pictures.

I was so excited that first Saturday night to have a quiet evening of sewing. I had attached the first sole at Tukisigiarvik, and I was determined to do the other myself. Jared was out, I put the kids to bed, set myself up with a comfortable pillow on the dining room table and Rachel’s podcast to watch, lit the qulliq, and had a lovely time. I was so pleased with the above picture: such a typical combination of the super-modern and super-ancient! Until I looked at the second sole, and something wasn’t quite right.

The kamik on the left I sewed the sole on with help; the kamik on the right by myself. Does the toe look a little funny? That’s because I managed to sew the entire sole on, very carefully, backwards. Yup. Back to front. 

It was Saturday night, and if I have internalized one thing from hanging around a lot of older Inuit Christians, it’s that you don’t sew on Sunday. Okay, no one would really die on that hill anymore, but that’s certainly how everyone grew up! So even though I’m not sewing to survive, I take Sundays off too. Besides, I knew it’d be a lot easier to redo this seam if I did it right away. So I pulled out my handy Inuit seam ripper, a finely crafted tiny ulu that was a special gift from a dear elder friend Uliipika, who did not live to see me finish this process. I took out my previous work, and redid it. A little faster the second time, thankfully. By 11:30 when I tied off, the qulliq was burning pretty low.

The next week back at Tukisigiarvik, it was time to turn these puppies inside out. Maggie and Sarah gave the soles their final shape, and then showed me the inside part of that special waterproof stitch.

Seeing the inside of these skins gives me another chance to talk about these amazing materials. It makes sense, when you think about it, that if you’re going to survive in a harsh environment, the materials to do so will come from animals who have their skin as protection. The black sole comes from a bearded seal, and when we purchased it, it was about as hard as a thin piece of wood, and would bend only reluctantly, like a thick piece of plastic. It took a lot of force just to cut it. The reason all that chewing and sewing had to happen was to soften it enough that it could be sewn by hand. By the time it was finally soaked with salt water and a healthy quantity of spit, it was as supple as a shirt. Sewing with it was incredible. I couldn’t believe it, but it was actually in the sort of shape that I could make it into tiny gathers, and shape the inside edge of the thick skin into a smooth slanting ridge, and sew right through the middle of it to guide the shaping. In order to keep it that soft, I had to keep it in the freezer when I wasn’t working on it, and take it out exactly enough time in advance that it’d be thawed enough to work on again. As it went through subsequent stages, it had to get a little dryer every time. When they are finished and fully dried, they will be back to that incredibly sturdy state, which is only necessary for being a long-lasting outdoor boot. I cannot imagine how any of these techniques were discovered or invented, literally before recorded history, while surviving on the land. You may not want to try this yourself, but you have to respect it.

There were some more final steps, to flatten the gathers around the toe and make the heel stand up straight. There’s a large tool used for stretching the still-damp soles into their final shape, and I’ll have to go on using it to continue stretching and shaping them when they get damp. This is a living material, and it will go on being so while it’s being used.

The moment of completion, at Tukisigiarvik one Thursday afternoon.

But I wasn’t done. This isn’t the only layer of traditional kamiik, and I hadn’t made any of the inner layers yet.

Thankfully, wool duffel is much simpler to work with. Seepa had already given me most of the pattern, and my neighbor Meena taught me how to measure to make a pattern for the leg. I sewed them with the wrong thread to start; I found out from Facebook friends Jane and Annie that you should use at least waxed thread instead of regular sewing thread. But this whole project has been a story of me just trying something, and then being corrected, because I know that if I just wait for every step until I can ask a question, I’ll never get around to it. I’ve learned that if I try something on my own, then show up and say “what did I do wrong?” then I’ll actually make progress, and I’ll really learn that skill when I do it right.

The duffel socks above had to be almost entirely re-sewn – not just because I used the wrong thread, but because they were too big to fit inside the kamiik. And I changed my mind about turning the tops down. It turns out that, in the four months since I asked for the patterns, M’s feet have grown enough that they only just fit in them. Normally there would be two additional layers, two pairs of slippers just on the feet, but I’ll only be able to fit this one layer in now. At this point, I’m glad to save a few steps, have more to learn next time, and after all, she’s just two. Strategically, I’m having another baby girl, so at least I know these will get used again if she doesn’t fit them in the fall! Yep, that’s definitely why we’re having another kid…

You can pay someone else to do the embroidery on your duffel socks, but I have spent months now staring at the tops of everyone’s boots, and I very much wanted to give it a go. Jane is generously letting me use her remarkable collection of Patons Silk Bamboo. Another Monday night friend, Annie, walked me through the different kinds of decorative stitch I could use over the seams (the red part above), and gave me some ideas for petals I could achieve. That night turned into one of the most lovely Monday nights yet, with us all huddled around watching Meena demonstrate how to embroider roses, trading stories. The next day, the practice piece above saw me refine the petals to a pattern I could repeat. And I finally figured out the french knot, after watching Maggie do like twenty of them. I’ve seriously always wanted to know how to do a french knot!

One more Monday saw Ruth and others teaching me how to make the round cord used for tying the kamiik on. Youtube tutorials were not cutting it for me, but a few quick tricks and a demonstration from Ruth had me set. I then made the cord so humorously long that, as Seepa’s daughter Elisapee pointed out on Facebook, it was long enough to make both cords. That just about made my day. Inuit from pre-recorded history to present-day Facebook, helping me out.

They were finally officially finished yesterday.

The eye is drawn to the color at the top, with which I am genuinely pleased. But by now you know that the real action is down here.

Material sturdy enough to be an outdoor boot, in 1 mm gathers. You could not make this up.

I was pretty careful about how I introduced these to M – I’m no idiot, and I know that getting super emotionally invested in an heirloom handcraft for a two-year-old is not a great idea. With some coaching from my friend Andrea, I said, “Martha, do you want to try on your kamiik, or should we save them for the baby?” She wore them for a whole hour.

Maatakulu. She was named for someone we loved very much, with no thought to how unusual a name it is in America. We had no idea that we’d move to a place where it’s one of the most popular names. Seriously, there is enough personality in this tiny package to power a small town.

When it was time to pick up her sister from school today, she said “I want my kamiik!” Oh, what music to Mama’s ears!

I make things for a lot of reasons, though it gets more meaningful and intentional and less compulsive as time goes by. Still, it’s pretty rare that I make something that feels important. It was important to me to complete these kamiik and pick up the skills I would need to keep going. I’ve purchased the materials I’ll need to make kamit for N, Jared, and myself, and my goal is to make the pairs for N and me before this baby is born.

The Olympics start tomorrow at 6 a.m. EST. Usually I have a major knitting project I try to complete during the two and a half weeks of the Olympics. It’s one of my favorite things to do. But for the first time, my main project for the Olympics is not going to be knitting. I’m going to sew.

Another friend, Mary, mentioned how her mom used to do them all at once, doing the same stages of several pairs at once. I’ll follow Mary’s mom’s example and make N’s duffel socks while I’m on a roll. My goal will be to make all the inner layers of N’s kamiik: duffel socks, slippers, and embroidery. Another friend, Karen, quite a while ago gave me duffel socks and one pair of slippers for myself; I’ll do the second pair of my slippers (made of sealskin) when I do N’s second pair. If I can get through those, and get the pieces cut out for the outer boots of both of our boots, by the end of the Olympics, hopefully I’ll be well positioned to make both of our pairs before the looming ides of April.

N picked her colors yesterday, and I did the first braid today.

When you make something, you take a certain pride in it. But it’s funny: even though so many people helped me, and I made so many mistakes, I’m more proud of these than of most things I’ve made by myself. And thankful even more than proud. I say “I made these,” and it’s true enough. But I made them, and lots of other friends made them, and hunters made them, and precious beautiful animals made them, and a unique, ancient, living culture made them. It’s a gift to be a part of that. That’s why it feels important: I’m not just making something. When I do, I’m trying to honor that gift.

One Way to Say I Love You

It’s no secret that we’re big Daniel Tiger fans in our house. Recently, N has glommed on to an episode on the holiday DVD whose key song says, “Making something is one way to say ‘I love you’!”

For N, this means cards. This is easily the most rewarding result of our hobbyist homeschooling. She’s a nice clear hint-dropper too. “You know, Mom,” she said one day, “making something is one way to say I love you.” I agreed, and started talking about how I liked to knit things for the people I love most. She listened for a while, then said, “Actually, you should make me a card.”

Her idea was quicker.

When I started Jared’s Noro coat back in October, it was largely a matter of convenience. I needed a knitting project that was brainless, long, and monochromatic. This is back when certain colors were making me sick, and I was honestly too sick to spin. Jared had bought this yarn back when we were first married, when he bought yarn to make pretty much every item in Michael de Veccio’s Knitting with Balls. Since he knits through an average of half a skein a year at this point, I had talked him into letting me make it for him sometime.

It quickly became a labor of love. Not because it was laborious – indeed, it was so easy that the pieces seemed to fall off the needles of their own accord. Gotta love a bulky sweater. But I put a lot of thought into every stage.

I didn’t mean to knit it on the sly; it just seemed to happen by itself once I got going. This is the only picture I took of the thing while it was in progress.

See, I’ve knit my husband a goodly number of sweaters over the years. The first was given to him on the day he gave me a diamond ring. I’ve made him at least half a dozen pullovers and cardigans, and every one of them has ended up too big. The arms would be too long, or the shoulders would fit funny, or the arms would look like bat wings. Bat wing sweaters never having made it over to the male side of the fashion show, he has never worn any of my handknit sweaters for him more than a couple times after they were finished.

So I quizzed him thoroughly about this pattern, even as I went along. He had picked the yarn and the pattern, with a knitter’s knowledge, and was quite sure he wanted this sweater in this yarn. But I kept quizzing. “What sweater do you have whose sleeves you like? How do you feel about shawl collars? Are you really sure you want it to be this long?”

He insisted that he did.

Mercifully, careful swatching resulted in a sturdy enough fabric and a gauge match, so I could just follow the pattern for most of the sweater. But I made plenty of adjustments:

  • I could not handle the way the bottom of the sweater and the sleeves ended abruptly in cable pattern, giving it a ruffly sort of raw edge. And I could not believe that it wouldn’t roll. I replaced the last two inches of sleeves and body with honest, trustworthy 2×2 ribbing.

No rolling here.

  • I have perennially weird row gauge, which mattered most of all at the sleeve caps. I rejiggered the decreases so that my actual knitting resulted in the actual correct shape. And lo, set-in sleeves that fit my husband perfectly!
  • I made him try it on a few of times. This meant I had to reknit a sleeve cap when the first sleeve was too long, and had to knit four or five button bands between pattern and user errors.

  • The last major change I made was the collar. I’m not quite sure with the designer was going for, but there were some strange goings-on with three separate pieces only partially joined. As far as I can tell, that would mean sticky upper corners at the back of the neck. There are no pictures in the book or on ravelry that show what the sides of the collar actually look like. I decided to scrap it and just make a shawl collar that continued the button bands as written all the way across the back. As there’s no way to disguise the off-set join in grafting 1×1 rib, I did a garter stitch graft so it just looks like a neat seam.

I’m going to give you a clear view of the collar. And oh, that beautiful sleeve cap!

Overall, this design (“Knee-Length Coat” by Michael del Veccio) is very metropolitan, but the details make for a more casual, trendy look. For the more conservative dresser, those little details might make a big difference in the maturity of the design and its wearability for someone like my spouse. The yarn, a sadly discontinued bulky called “Big Kureyon” by Noro, will be judged over time. It’s lovely, and that colorway lives on in many other yarn lines. But I am worried about wear. Thankfully the local sewing/craft/hardware store always has elbow patches on hand, and I have plenty of leftover yarn.

We’re going through some transitions in our family. For a long time, we were sharing one position, assistant priests together at our parish. That worked well for a lot of reasons, for quite a long time. Now I’m staying at home full time, and Jared is in charge of the cathedral as an interim for a while. Suddenly we are much more focused on our respective areas, which are in the process of becoming much more intense for both of us.

Very sportingly spent a few minutes hatless in -30 C for a few pictures. In the winter, it’s hard to find a few quiet minutes together when it’s also light outside. 

Even though our tasks are much different now, I think that because we spent the last two and a half years part time in each others’ spheres, so to speak, we have a much better understanding of the demands we each face. Having worked as a priest, I understand much more what he’s carrying, and I’m much more invested in what he deals with every day. I’m also much more thankful for the opportunity to stay at home, while he’s thankful for the freedom to focus on work.

We’ve been married for almost ten years now, and we’re still learning how to say “I love you” in everyday meaningful ways. The details mean so much: coming home a few minutes early, asking thoughtful questions. Attending. I was so pleased this morning when I found his new sweater rumpled up in a pile at the foot of the bed. Why did this make me glad? Because that’s where all of our most-used garments live. Rumpled where we dump them, ready to pick up in the morning. I hope that more attention to detail, and to understanding his needs, have resulted in an “I love you” that isn’t just a thing, an idea, or a sentiment, but something that he reaches for that reminds him. It’s one thing to hear that you are loved. It’s another thing to know that you are heard and feel that you are understood.

Made of Blendlings and Learnings

Have you ever noticed that big projects tend to wrap up around the same time? In that vein, I finished a sweater last week.


Remember the Blendlings? My blazing re-entry into the spinning world in January and February of this year? (First post here, last post here) These wee skeins mean a lot to me, hand and heart, and they deserved to be used.

This was a leisurely project. It seems odd to me now, in my present state of urgency and indecision, but this was a project where I took my time, followed my gut, and persisted until I got it right.

My basic plan was to make Elizabeth Zimmerman’s “Scandinavian Ski Sweater” from a very early issue of Wool Gatherings. I was inspired by this sample sweater from The Opinionated Knitter, a book which fills me with nostalgia for a mid-century midwest I never remotely knew:

I considered my contrast yarn very carefully. I went with Imperial Stock Ranch Columbia 2-ply, because it was one of a very few 2-ply worsted yarns I could find. It’s woolen spun, so it’s a lot lighter than the dense worsted-spun Blendlings, but in the end that meant the sweater is a lot lighter than it could have been, and it was very adaptable to the varying gauges.

I knit a swatch in which I measured each yard used in different rows of fair isle, so I could estimate the yardage of a given band of stitch patterning, and choose a Blendling with sufficient yardage. These estimates were very successful.

It traveled with me at first- even to the dentist.

I kept hearing that the best way to learn from your handspun is to use it – in my case, to knit with it. Boy was that true.

This project could even be decent company for a card game – if the stitch pattern was simple enough.

The Blendlings are all 2-ply, some kind of nondescript British wool (likely BFL), and somewhere in the remote vicinity of worsted weight, but that’s about all they have in common. Some were underspun and overplied; some looked dull but were soft and balanced; some were tightly spun and plied into a plump, colorful rope. Some were noticeably thicker than the contrast yarn; others were so thin that I had to double them. I got to see them all knit up, and how they each acted in a fair isle pattern with woolen-spun yarn.

Gotta love the wrong side of a piece of fair isle.

The long and the short of it is that handspun is very forgiving. My least favorites were the ones that were so ropey that the stitches looked like jagged teeth, or so underspun and overplied that you could see a visible lean in the band of patterning (see the sage green S pattern below). But honestly, both of these came out fine in the wash. Colorwise, I learned that the yarns with the highest amount of color contrast within themselves (see the Xs below, and the flowers below that) were the most ungraceful in a fair isle pattern. But these complaints were exceptions. Overall, I was happy with how the yarns performed, independently and together.

Pre-steeking. I briefly considered leaving it as a tube top…

Now, the really great thing about Elizabeth Zimmermann is that she encourages the knitter to be an independent thinker. She gently chides those who ask for very specific directions by addressing them to “mindless followers.” I was looking forward to trying one of her sweater patterns and embracing the spirit of her work by putting my own spin on it.

However, I overdid it a bit. I got so excited about being an independent, knowledgeable knitter… that after a certain point, I didn’t actually read or follow any of her directions. (So much for my caution of the early stages.)

I thought to myself, “I know how to make a hemmed collar.” So I did. Then I thought, “I know how to do a steek.” So I did one. Then I thought, “I know how a sleeve is shaped.” So knit two of them. Without reading a word of what the actual pattern said about them.

Apparently, I know none of those things. Hold your breath, then look below at the horrible tragedy that was the initial steeking attempt.

I have steeked before, but apparently it was so long ago that I quite forgot how to do it. My crochet chains were too loose and too close together, but my really big mistake was that I picked up stitches (thinking to knit the sleeves top-down, since I’m oh-so-independent) right next to the crochet chain. That pulled the short cut floats right through the crochet chain and turned my neat cut into a gaping wound.

I did recover, but only after hours of delicate work that could have been avoided. EZ, it turns out, sewed down her steeks three times with a sewing machine before taking scissors to her work. Good grief.

The sleeves were… well.

I wanted to knit the sleeves top down, so I could use up the largest amounts of yarn on larger stitch patterns near the top. Fair enough. And I thought, reasonably, that I knew what a sleeve should be shaped like; I have enough sweaters and have knit (and designed!) enough of them myself. Well, first off, I did not have an accurate idea of my row gauge, so I was not decreasing fast enough. Second, I know how a sleeve is shaped on a fitted sweater… but this is a bag sweater. My mom is a bag-sweater master, so I grew up in and around the things, but it never occurred to me: have never made a bag sweater before. In a bag sweater, the top of the sleeve has to be enormous to be comfortable.

As a result, after two weeks of careful two-at-a-time work, I had two perfectly matched sleeves which squeezed awkwardly on my upper arm, and flapped stupidly around the wrist, while bunching up from being four inches too long.

I took my medicine. I ripped one out entirely (except for the cuff, which I had forcibly decreased down to the correct size), and followed directions this time, knitting from the bottom up. Increasing every four rows still sounded drastic, but I complied, and barely came up to the correct number of stitches at the top! What do I know, indeed.

It went very quickly, though. It turns out knitting one sleeve goes much faster than knitting two. I left the other sleeve intact while I was knitting the first over again, and used it as a pattern. It helped a great deal that I had already made my decisions about what patterns and colors to use, and so wasn’t stopping every half-dozen rows to dig through my bag of Blendlings and leaf through the pattern book.

Old sleeve on the left, new on the right. I also got the chance to flip those blue birds around which I had inadvertently knit upside-down.

The second sleeve was re-knit in a trice. A hearty blocking evened everything out, though it took a full four days to dry through all those layers. I had to deepen the steeks for the wider sleeves, but a couple evenings of careful work had it all put together.

This sweater is so… wearable. I don’t wear handknit pullovers much because I get sweaty, then the thing has to be handwashed, which means it never gets worn again. But I threw this on over a long sleeved shirt on a mild arctic August day, and wore it comfortably all day. There isn’t a gram of acrylic in this thing, and with all that woolen yarn mixed in, it’s so light.

About the hem collar – I didn’t follow those directions either, and made the hem all the way around the top, rather than just around the collar (which is what EZ actually describes). As a result I have a much thicker area at the shoulders where the doubled portions were sewn together. It creates a very shoulderpad-like effect. But I think I can live with it, as a reminder to pay at least some attention next time.

I love it. Both because it works, and because it is doubly made of learning experiences. I hope I wear it to bits.

Reflections in the Mirror of Galadriel

On a mid-December day in 2002, a few friends and I went to an opening-day showing of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. But we didn’t just go: we really went. We’d spent the previous several months deciding on characters, making costumes, buying accessories.

It was the first and almost-only time I cosplayed. We were homeschooled, we were nerds, we were glorious. And we were by no means the only ones who went all-out. I’ll never forget a middle-aged paunchy fellow who I think was supposed to be Aragorn, who approached me to show me his Nenya ring. I was mostly terrified of him; I don’t even remember if I said anything.

Illustration by Fabio Leone. Click for link to page.

For reasons I forget, I dressed up as Galadriel. Probably because the other two girls in our group wanted to be Arwen and Eowyn, and that was the extent of the female cast. One of them was the sort of ridiculously talented person who could measure me, freehand a dress pattern on some butcher paper, and produce something that would fit. Her mother donated lace she had used to make her wedding dress. The rest was down to me: I bought liner fabric, sewed the thing together, even hand-beaded the belt.

I had a really good go at unearthing the incriminating picture. I’m almost sad I failed.

2002 was the year I got into the Lord of the Rings. I saw the first film and read all the books before the second came out. As I’ve gotten deeper and deeper into the books, I can appreciate their maturity more and more, and the ways that the films’ attempts to make the characters more relatable made them profoundly less mature. But the experience of the books and the movies remains intertwined in my mind, and I will always look back at that December day as the moment when my devotion went over the top and never looked back.

Image from Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Rings. Copyright New Line Cinema. Image taken from Lotr Wikia. Click for link.

Galadriel’s Mirror” is the penultimate pattern in my knit-through of Susan Pandorf’s Fellowship of the Ring series. I confess, I’ve really struggled with some of these knits. Usually because of my choices, many of them have come out wonky or unusable, and all of the best ones I’ve given away to some special people. I was determined that Galadriel’s Mirror would be different. It would be a wearable piece, and it would be for me.

I started it back at the beginning of Lent, in the fool’s dream of completing it by Easter. After a few weeks I realized I would not be able to continue knitting it at all. There is just no time in my life for this kind of intensely intricate knitting, requiring a chart and a couple hours of time to make any appreciable progress. I set it aside, and committed it to be my vacation knitting.

That was definitely the right decision. On vacation, I have one thing that I never have in the arctic: lots of time in the car. In airplanes and automobiles, I clocked in hour after hour of knitting time. On my solo trip to Yellowknife, I even had time in airplanes that didn’t involve entertaining a small person! I haven’t had that since 2009!

Just for this project, I developed the unusual habit of marking off my rows with a different color every time I sat down to work on it. You can see the sessions getting shorter and shorter as the shawl grew, then really take off again on Chart 3. That’s when vacation started! The really good day from Charts 3-4 was, I think, our five-hour drive to Pittsburgh. The last several rows are all different colors, because that was after we got home.

On the last flight, from Rankin Inlet to Iqaluit. Around 700 stitches per row.

By the time I landed back in Iqaluit, I had maybe a dozen rows left. That meant a dozen hours, but I was determined to fit that in. I even overcame running out of yarn twice, contacting Ravelers who had used the same yarn, and who sent me their leftovers for the cost of shipping.

On a chilly August day, probably not much warmer than that first day in December, I used nearly every straight pin I own (I had six left) so she could reach her final shape. It blocked to about six feet wide, though I didn’t measure.

Little pin-removing helpers. They haven’t graduated to putting the pins in yet, of course.

This is one of the most beautiful and taxing patterns I have ever tackled. Susan’s patterns are always lavish, intricate, original, and tasteful, and often quite hard. This one, with its combination of twisted stitches, bobbles (how I dreaded the bobble rows!), odd wrong-side things going on, wrapped stitches, and complex increasing areas, was intense. It wasn’t difficult to execute, per se, but it demanded attention. It took ’till chart 3 for me to even sort of memorize the main motif, and I was still checking the chart every row.

If this sounds like a criticism, it isn’t. Someone should be making things this amazing. I just have to accept that it isn’t usually going to be me anymore.

Water is everywhere in these stitch patterns. The main motif, in the sharp relief of twisted stitches, looks like sinuous ripples interrupting each other at the wrapped points. There are droplet bobbles.

The ripples eventually branch out and join together as the energy disperses.

Towards the border, the ripples deconstruct and re-form into leaves, maybe mallorn leaves that have fallen on the mirror’s edge.

And finally, additional in-repeat increases and merciless twisted-stitch openwork create dramatic undulations along the edge.

The way these complex patterns emerge from the center in a large triangle remind me of the endless complexity that can be created by a single disturbance at the edge of a quiet pool.

There is sharpness there, too – a reminder of the hidden strength Galadriel represents, and the fall that could have been if she had taken the ring.

The yarn I used was Araucania Huasco, also known as Botany Lace. Mum had bought it for me when I specifically asked for a blue fingering weight for Christmas, maybe four years ago, hoping for something to make this very shawl.

What made this yarn an excellent choice was its roundness. It’s a superfine Merino, spun into a three-ply light fingering, and it’s very bouncy. This would normally be a terrible choice for lace, as it would erase most of the openwork. But for this pattern, I was more interested in a round yarn that would make the texture stand out than a flat two-ply that would open up the yarn overs. I may even get the best of both worlds, as the yarn overs are quite visible after my severe blocking.

Naomi took this picture for me. I couldn’t wait for her daddy to get home. She always wants to play with my DSLR, and managed at least one with me in the frame! (I cropped it.)

Dressing up as Galadriel felt impossibly pretentious fifteen years ago. I was an insecure high school student pretending to be the last representative of the Noldor race of the Eldar on the eastern side of the sundering seas. One who had lived in the undying lands. I went with it, but I in no way inhabited that character.

In the intervening years I’ve read the books another half dozen times. I’ve tried to understand the Eldar as Tolkein wrote them. I’ve become convinced that their ancient mystery, which seems so glamorous onscreen, is not more important than their inherent playfulness. They were sometimes quite serious, but only the worst of them took themselves very seriously, and they don’t desire power like men do. As for Galadriel, what her agelessness gives her is an unconscious inner strength, a perspective and presence bordering on timelessness. What outsiders call “magic” is just the inherent power of her integrity.

I still can’t pretend to inhabit that kind of character. But wrapped up in intricate merino, which seems now too intricate to even be something I made myself, who knows. Maybe I will remember to lay aside the insecure sixteen-year-old, and inhabit instead the ageless future I look forward to in undying lands.

A Priest Crafts: Episode 4, How TDF Went

Slightly belatedly, here are my reflections on Tour de Fleece 2017 – my first time participating. I focused on one big (for me) spin, which challenged me in a couple of ways. I’m happy about how it went, and hope you’ll check out my thoughts about it, and that you share your thoughts as well!

Show Notes

These original three braids are all one-of-a-kind braids from Woolgatherings. For easy reference I call them “blue,” “orange,” and “pink.” They were purchased in May 2010, at the Cloverhill Yarn Shop booth at the Maryland Sheep & Wool festival. (OK true confessions: I think they were actually purchased at the shop, before the festival, when the box arrived and we started unpacking it.) I had actually always envisioned putting them together in some kind of massively multicolor gradient.

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Spreading out the top. Isn’t that floofy BFL crimp just gorgeous? I was actually surprised at the amount of VM still present. This was quite comforting; I hope this means it was processed in a relatively low-impact manner. The silk was, for the most part, well-blended in, though there were cut bits of silk I had to pull out at times. There were some nepps as well, but I blame that on how long I left these poor dears in my stash. Two thumbs up; I would definitely recommend woolgatherings! They’re still doing handpainted tops, but have branched out into some interesting color blends and breed specific rovings.

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Stripping away on a hot June day in Maryland, while getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.

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Top left: Ply #1: 4 bumps blue, 3 orange, 2 pink.
Top right: Ply #2: 3 blue, 3 orange, 3 pink.
Bottom: Ply #3: 2 blue, 3 orange, 4 pink.

I absolutely filled my instagram and ravelry accounts with bobbin shots of this spin, so I will not re-post them here. If you’re interested in more details, here’s the ravelry page for this spin.

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The Nerd Numbers:

  • Total yardage: 884 yards
  • Total weight: 11.7 oz
  • Grist: 1208 YPP
  • Finished by soaking and snapping
  • WPI (finished): 12 WPI, or about DK-weight
  • TPI (plied & finished): 3.5
  • Twist angle: ~35 degrees

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Thanks so much for watching and reading.