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.

Lenten

I have this habit of using the adjectival form of the season of Lent: “Lenten.” In Rebecca’s private language (my Inuit friends might call it uliipikatitut), “Lenten” means this: anything difficult or a with a sense of privation, with the result of causing reflection.

During Lent, suddenly anything even slightly less than awesome is “Lenten.” It’s not just lame, or underwhelming, or disappointing, or painful. It’s “Lenten.” Having oatmeal for breakfast every day is “Lenten.” Giving up chocolate is “Lenten.” There’s really no deprivation too small or petty for me to apply this adjective to it, nor any reflection too momentary. And believe me, Lent makes me pretty petty and slight.

There’s a converse adjective, too: “not very Lenten.” In uliipikatitut, “not very Lenten” means that it brings enjoyment or satisfaction, with the niggling sense that you shouldn’t be having this good of a time. You saw that in last week’s post: I attempted to do something “Lenten” by switching to vegetarian dinners, but then the dinners were awesome, so they were “not very Lenten.”

This all stems from a childhood steeped in Roman Catholic culture, where we all did our best to give up something small for Lent, then reflected on how our small deprivations were really nothing in comparison to Christ’s sacrifice. I do not mean to criticize this practice; obviously I still practice it. But I think we all had that sense of embarrassment, that we were giving up chocolate to try to be more like Jesus, who died and gruesome and horrible death for our sakes. If the priest played his homily right, it made us squirm just a little bit in the consumeristic religiosity of our materialistic lifestyles.

The point, I think, of my subconscious shift to the use of this adjective, is to try to reframe my complaints. The very ridiculousness of the adjective is self-referential: it points to how petty my wants are, to how small my sacrifices are, to how incredibly focused I get on my own comfort. It’s a way to laugh at myself.

But, tongue-in-cheek though it is, this silly little adjective can come full circle.

My Lenten KAL project is a case in point. I thought it would be “not very Lenten.” After all, it’s a project I’ve been looking forward to for years, with a beautiful pattern from a favorite designer, in a perfectly delicious yarn. (Araucania Huasco, if you want to know – 100% superfine merino, in a plump 3-ply fingering weight. Just perfect for all the texture in this shawl. The pattern is “Galadriel’s Mirror” by Susan Pandorf, and it’s part of her Lord of the Rings “Fellowship of the Rings” series that I am knitting through at a pace that makes a snail look like Speed Racer.)

On the one hand, no, it’s not a very “Lenten” project, objectively. But it’s become Lenten, because I really don’t want to work on it. I actually dread picking it up.

However, once I do pick it up, it’s really enjoyable. I’m into a nice rhythm, the chart is clear, and it’s got lots of nice benchmarks to feel like I’m progressing. The yarn is simply perfect for the pattern, and I’m working it at a good gauge for the needles. I really have no reason to complain.

I just don’t want to pick it up. There’s nothing compelling about it. It takes all my attention, and robs me of time I’d rather be spinning, or at least knitting something more insta-gratifying.

Halfway through Lent and I think I’m halfway through … the first ball of yarn. I’ve already accepted that this is going to be my vacation knitting.


That actually sounds a lot like my relationship with God.

Do you spend time with God every day? I try to. There’s even a Christian-ese (christusimiutitut?) word for this daily practice: growing up, we called it “quiet time.”

I have been reading the Bible all my life, but I still find a strong inner resistance to quiet time. Not when I’m doing it – when I actually connect with God through Bible reading, prayer, meditation, and reflection, it is life and peace and restoration. It is absolutely the fuel that powers me for the rest of my life. But when I’m not doing it, I don’t want to do it. And if I skip a day or two, the resistance becomes harder and harder to overcome. I resist it because there are other things, me-centered things, that I’d rather be doing. I resist it because it demands all of myself; it demands I come out of myself; it demands I be totally real and vulnerable with God. That’s hard. Sometimes I’d rather not face those deep parts of myself, even if it’s to take them to God for help.

So my Lenten KAL shawl is the embodiment of this inner struggle, a physical reminder of how something objectively good and beautiful can be repulsive to me just because it is demanding.

That is what something “Lenten” really is: it makes us face ourselves. It isn’t something that makes us feel good because we have successfully accomplished some feat of asceticism, of self-denial. It’s something that brings us face to face with our own failures, so we have no choice but to accept grace. We can set ourselves up for such encounters by denying ourselves of some comforts, because that tends to bring our failures to the surface. But it isn’t the denial that makes it Lenten: it’s the way God gracefully uses our slightest sufferings to point us to his greatest suffering on our behalf, which provided, once for all, all the grace we’ll ever need.

How about you? Have you had some nice failures with your Lenten disciplines yet? Share your stories in the comments!

Not Idly Do the Leaves of Lorien Fall

The last few inches of my handspun Lothlorien were completed while watching, for the third or fourth time, all the most obscure DVD extras on the LotR:FotR:EE. Not for the first time, I think to myself that the Lord of the Rings Films are, to a slice of my generation, our equivalent of Star Wars. Yes, The Books Are Better, but the movies were my way in, my imaginative catalyst. And they were made with such an absolute excess of love and detail that hyperbole is almost impossible. To take a profoundly worthy piece of subcreation, and from it craft a further subcreation, is a work worth savoring. So I do, right down to the last 45-minute documentary on prosthetics.

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All of this, which some might label “geekiness,” makes me feel right at home with this particular pile of wool. The pound or so of wool on my lap came to me as a mysterious pile of white roving. I weighed it, braided it, and shipped it off to my mother, who dyed it to my specifications. Black walnut, pokeberries, turmeric, and black bean, with some mordant, were the only substances to transform the white into a fall spectrum. Then three years of spinning turned roving into yarn, and after another year’s wait, three and a half months turned yarn into something special.

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Susan Pandorf’s Lothlorien Cape pattern is a thing of beauty and a joy forever. She has managed, in this and other patterns, to capture the architectural and organic fusion that so befits the elves. Knitting is so perfectly suited to this aesthetic. The tiny cable patterns at the top which expand to great cabled flying buttresses at the bottom are very anchoring.

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Actual picture of a

Actual picture of a “bigature” from the FotR film. Image from Lyn Bailey’s blog (click for link).

I made my own adaptations, as I’ve detailed before: I knit the whole thing top-down (so as to use all the green and adapt the pattern to my yarn quantity); I knit seven panels instead of eight (because my gauge was larger); and I bound off in i-cord (because all those cables were going to feel rather jagged if just bound off plain without a solid base). I also plan to crochet around the base of the neckband, to tighten it up, because it rather sagged with blocking. I am very happy with these adaptations, for the most part. Flipping the pattern worked just fine with cables, but not with the lace, so there were a few points where I seriously had to fudge. But I already don’t notice.

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As to my yarn’s performance: The 4-ply cabled handspun is definitely rustic. This would be a totally different piece with a smooth, soft, even yarn. But I am in love, because it so very in character. A building grown into shape out of living trees would not have perfect surfaces. The roughness makes it look stronger. As a matter of fact, it is stronger – I knit it on 6s, nearly sacrificing my wrists in the process. I regretted it at the time, but now that my wirsts have recovered, the look is worth it.

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Regarding length: I did get nearly to the bottom of the pattern; I ran out of even my extra ball of doubled sock yarn before I could totally finish. The I-cord makes it not matter, though, I think.

At this complete length, it reaches past my elbows, and as such makes it, believe it or not, a hypothetically useful garment! Hypothetical because, in real life, I don’t know that I’m really brave enough to wear something so bright. And this is so worth being rocked out, not just being a shoulder snuggle for the couch. But I don’t think I have to worry about it, because I’m not sure it belongs to me. I give you, Canada’s Next Top Knitwear Model.

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I told her she could wear it if she dresses as an elf for Halloween.

This was half worked in my homeland of encompassing trees, and completed as the fall colours have spread over the two-dimensional trees of these northern fairy forests. Having bound it off, in some small way, I feel I have integrated my loves for both the old and new. Even as I look forward to a heavenly forest where the leaves are always golden and never fall. To the place where subcreation might just take on a life of its own, and even if it doesn’t… we won’t mind.

Lothlorien by Greg and Tim Hildebrandt. Image from theonering.net.

Fall Colours

I do miss my trees, most of all during fall. The season of turning leaves reminds me, every year, that there is no way to freeze a moment of perfection, no ownership of beauty, and all things are passing away. But up here, the warm seasons are all so short that I still have seasonal access to that heartbreaking sensation of fleeting joy. For example, this week it’s fall.

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Fall (I can’t get it straight whether it’s aujaq or ukiuksaaq – those words might have more to do with the movement of animals than what the landscape looks like, so I’m just going to call it “fall” for now) seems really busy. The weather is cooling, but it’s not cold, the summer rains are still over and the October gloom hasn’t totally set in yet. So there’s lots of “one last” trips, boating or camping.

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Much to the delight of us not-yet-hunters, all the things that grow on the tundra are ready to be harvested now, too. Berry-picking expeditions are the best. The girls and I have been out a couple times, and when we went out last week, I remembered my camera.

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This time we mostly found cranberries (above), and a few blueberries (below). They are smaller than their southern counterparts, maxing out at 3-4 mm in diameter, but just as tasty. I made blueberry muffins last week, and this week the cranberries went into our baked oatmeal, which was perfect. There are also crowberries (seedy and a little weird; last year I used them instead of currents in a quiche), cloudberries (which I have yet to find), and bearberries (which it turns out you don’t eat, though evidently they don’t kill you).

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Reason #1 that I did not bring back many berries this time.

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And the fall colors? (Excuse me: colours.) They’re all there. You just have to zoom in. There are no trees, but walking over the reds and oranges and purples and yellows makes me feel like I’m walking over the forests of a million fairies.

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Life finds a way: every streamlet is full of mosses and algaes. And therefore looks just as if fairies are hiding everywhere.

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I’ve had to tweak these pictures significantly – partly because I have no idea what I’m doing with my SLR (still), so my pictures came out all washed out. But also, when you’re out there, so used to rocks and grey, the colors look so much brighter than an objective camera can record.

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Reason #2 I did not bring back many berries this time: Little Miss Intrepid left us berry-pickers behind and took off for the top of the mountain.

This was also a first outing for my mushroom bag. I finished it, what… two years ago? Searching for that link shows me it was almost three years ago. Wow. It was the first project in my knitted through Lord of the Rings via the patterns of Susan Pandorf, and it turned out rather skewed since I was not smart enough to felt my swatch. Most of my projects in this series have run into major problems: scarves too long or too short, yarn issues, etc. and the ones that have worked out are mostly too fancy to be practical or I’ve given them away. (Not a bad problem, that last.) It’s made me stop and think a lot more about my projects, take my time, think things through, rather than rushing through every experience so I can consume the next one. Life is like a box of chocolates, not a tube of Pringles. This is one of many experiences in the last several years that has massaged me in the direction of the former approach.

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Still, I hung onto that beautiful bag, slightly misshapen though it was, and last week it was just right to carry a camera case and berry containers. I’m so glad that I did. How little did I suspect, when I was blocking this piece, that its first outing would be on arctic tundra? That the little sample bags I knit to go with it would be adopted by the at-the-time baby, who would fill them with dried a’aasaaq flowers and arctic cotton?

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Life’s a funny old thing. I am impatient by nature, so I’m glad, in the end, when I’m forced to stop and pick the berries.

Dwarrowdelf

The first Lord of the Rings film came out fifteen years ago. Let that sink in. I saw it right around when I got my learner’s permit, and the film is now old enough to get a learner’s permit. Half my life ago. I read The Fellowship of the Rings right before the movie came out, too, and read the latter two volumes right after. These books – and the films that did so much to paint them in my imagination – have been a huge influence over my imagination for half my life. That just stopped sounding scary and started sounding cool.

I still remember sitting in the theatre during the fellowship’s trek through Moria, during that incredible moment when they step into the ancient hall of Dwarrowdelf. The massive pillars stretch off in every direction, flickering torchlight suggesting an infinite cavern. Looking back to that moment, I realize I was like Legolas many years later in Aglarond, raised in a forest, but shocked to find I was leaving a piece of my heart in a cave.

A production sketch by the incomparable Alan Lee. Click for a link to the blog whence this was slurped, and find a truly epic discussion of dwarven architecture.

When I first saw Susan Pandorf’s Dwarrowdelf pattern, I was brought right back to that moment. There’s nothing shocking or novel about chevron shapes, but Alan Lee’s designs were so perfectly echoed in those lace columns that I was sold instantly. That was the pattern I had to have, and one of the reasons I bought that first pattern series.

My Dwarrowdelf, in a picture imitating the picture Susan took of hers that stole my imagination.

A picture of my Dwarrowdelf, in imitation of the picture Susan took of hers that stole my imagination.

That was six years ago.

Soon after we first moved to Pittsburgh, we had family visiting for Thanksgiving, and for a touristy outing, decided to go to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. A few of us got distracted in the hall of gems, and one exhibit captured my attention completely. I’ve shared this picture before; I snapped it with for reference because the inspiration was that instantaneous. Pure white cloudy sparkling rock, with giant crystals of rose and sage rising out of it. A stone, dead as my fingernail shavings, but looking as alive as a flower.

I knew instantly that I wanted those colors for Dwarrowdelf, though conceptually, the stone is much more suggestive of the flowering caves of Aglarond, the Glittering Caves behind Helm’s Deep. From my first reading, I was moved by Gimli’s heart-bursting description of the beauties he found there. The vow he took with Legolas, that if they survived the war, they would take each other to Aglarond and Faragorn, and see them through each other’s eyes, is one of the most thorough moments of friendship I’ve ever read. To love and respect and trust someone, who is so different from you, so much that you will behold something that repels you through their eyes, and learn to love it too: I have had friendship like that. That moment, then, from a cave on the other end of the map of Middle Earth, in a different chain of mountains, would be planted in my Dwarrowdelf.

Art by Ted Nasmith, image from lotr.wikia. Click for link.

That was five and a half years ago.

I had those colors in my head, such that when the yarn appeared in Yarns Unlimited a few months later, I snapped it up right away. Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light, in Water Lily.

A picture I took in January of 2011, when I bought the yarn. Why did I not check then to see how different the skeins were? In hindsight, I can now see how much darker the skein on the right is than the other two!

I finally started this insane project, knitting through all the Fellowship patterns in such a way that matched them to their place in the story, about two and a half years ago. This slow, meandering journey has finally arrived in the depths of Moria. It’s also the moment when the pace of the book suddenly dramatically accelerates.

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The fellowship has tried twice to cross the Misty Mountains, and only this terrible path remains to them. Geography and Saruman unite against them to prevent a southern path or a crossing of the pass. They know that mysterious unnamed horrors await them, and it takes the Watcher’s attack sealing the gate behind them to commit them to the underground way. A week-long trek in oppressive darkness ends with the revelation of the ancient glories of an impossibly powerful old Dwarven civilization, fallen from grace, awakening a longing for what was once possible. But the horror uncovered by ancient pride is re-awakened too. Then the confrontation with the Balrog, the fallen Maiar, is Gandalf’s match: these angelic powers fall, and the fellowship’s successfully passing the mountains comes with their greatest loss. That loss, too, will lead to rebirth, but they don’t know that yet. They just have to pick up and run, streaming tears along the way.

In what I am sure is no coincidence, I bound off this six-year-long journey on Sunday night: the day before I was ordained a priest.

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Ancient halls, seeming-doomed. Ancient glory, whispered and obscure, but alive in dwarf that walks there. Ancient strength, achingly beautiful even in by the faintest light, stretching out into the ancient distance. Present friendship, hardship, darkness, love, loss, sacrifice. Future rebirth, unknown but secure, and hope in a quiet sovereignty greater than any present and visible evil.

This is my world.

I am only at the beginning of learning what it is to be a priest. I understand it theologically and have accepted the calling in confidence, but in actually taking vows and accepting hands laid on me, I am now taking my first step into a larger world. A world everyone inhabits, but for weak and small and selfish little me, this is the path God had to draw me on to make me see. An ancient lineage of priests is now mine, a stream within a wider lineage of saints. Small, scared, lost, honored, humbled, hopeful, confident, curious, open. I am all those things and more.

And because I am still me, I find all these things and I stitch them. Or rather, I look at what I have stitched, and reflect on what I have read, and find that I have knit what I have lived. Story and song, image and craft, stop my thoughtless consumption and make life a thing realized.

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Under the eyes of the Smiling Theotokos.

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And now, for the details: because this blogging craftspriest can’t help it. I made this pattern my own in a few little ways.

1. The center panel is not bi-directional. I just didn’t like this aspect of the pattern. I didn’t think it was necessary to interrupt the central column to make the center panel symmetrical (after all, when you look at the stone columns, you only see them pointing one way). Also, there was just no way to graft the two halves to look seamless, at least not without much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Not worth it. So I just knit the whole center panel straight up.

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2. I took advantage of this mono-directionality to block that center panel, and determine exactly what my row and stitch gauge would be. I noticed online that folks were having trouble with the side panels not blocking quite as wide as the center was long. Since I was knitting the center panel more simply, I could predict exactly how wide my side panels would come out, then very easily (if only slightly) adjust the length to match. Can I tell I felt very clever about this?

It still looked pretty weird pre-blocking. Though Naomi thought it was beautiful; I laid it out for this picture and forgot about it, then later she came up to me and said "Can I pet your new shawl?" Melt.

It still looked pretty weird pre-blocking. Though Naomi thought it was beautiful; I laid it out for this picture and forgot about it, then later she came up to me and said “Can I pet your new shawl?” Melt.

3. Not a pattern change, but a change in my plans: I did not notice the color difference between my skeins until the first one ran out. Thank God I did not start with the darkest, or not notice it until last! As it was, discovering the odd skein second gave me a chance to at least make it symmetrical. The gradient technique did not do much to reduce the offending difference, and it looks hopelessly striped. But at least it’s the same. I’m holding onto that.

4. Most obviously, I added beads! These were leftover from Mithril, and were exactly what I had always imagined to match the cloud-like rock from which my sage-rose crystals emerged. This idea was so firmly implanted in my mind for years that I actually thought the pattern had beads! By the time I discovered it didn’t, it was too late. I was married to the plan. I sketched and tested and fiddled, and changed the pattern stitch ever-so-slightly so the beads would nestle just right in the column bases, but in the end I’m perfectly pleased with how they came out.

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The pattern is brilliant. At first I was not thrilled with the construction; I wanted infinite columns stretching their long legs from shoulder to shoulder! But this structure means that the symmetrical architectural effect is created when you actually wear it. Additionally, breaking it up into three phases made it loads more interesting to actually knit.

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Maybe one of these days I will bring Dwarrowdelf back to Pittsburgh with me, and take it to visit the stone that was so instrumental in its long road to creation. In the meantime, I have it draped around my shoulders right now, and I will wear it and think of beautiful underground spaces, ancient wisdom, present adventure, and future glory.

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Wrestling – Or, Learning to Love Twisted Stitches

Has it really been nearly two months since my last post? Dear me. I would have missed February entirely, if leap year weren’t providing me with this extra day. It feels like a cheat, doesn’t it? Like we all get a time turner for one day.

I’m still finding my voice in this new place. I think that’s a pretty normal experience for a new minister. And it should be a pretty normal experience for someone new to the north. This place is so amazing – vibrant, resilient, resistant – that it seems like everyone who visits here has something to say about it. There are more books and studies and artwork that come out of this place, per capita, than anywhere else I can think of. The cold, dark and hardship put on the pressure, squeezing expression out of the human toothpaste tube.

It’s staggering how much creative work has been produced out of this environment. I’ve already been lent and given more books about Inuit culture than I can find time to read. I keep acquiring books in Inuktitut that I have no hope of puzzling through yet. And the painting, carving, jewelry, sewing, crocheting, weaving…. I started out wanting to do it all, but now that I see the scope of it, it’s overwhelming.

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A sunrise from January. The best ones are always with a lot of cloudcover, but with a slit by the horizon to let the morning light reveal that mass of grey as a wispy vaulted ceiling.

I have felt no need to add to this chorus of creativity. I felt like this when I first started knitting – the amount of work already done was so impressive, I saw no point in adding my own designs. That changed, so I’ve no doubt my own day will come to add to the panoply of Northern arts. But not yet.

Conveniently, the Inuit way of learning is to watch. Watch quietly. Try, and be corrected. So I let others do, I admire, and I try to keep my mouth shut. Then when the moment comes, I try.

What I have been trying most, these days, is ministry. Sunday mornings have stabilized into a regular enough rhythm that we can begin to think outside the box. Baptismal preparation has flowered into quite the responsibility, so I’m prayerfully leaning into that. There are other things on the go – being mentored, doing some visits, responding to calls, sermonizing, lots of prayer and reflection, but most of the remainder of my efforts goes into staying sane and leaning on God to do the impossible, because everything I can do is so small.

It’s hard to describe what all this is like. At one level, it just feels like stress – the anxiety I thought I had overcome is back, with teeth. But that’s not really accurate.

I never understood what was going on when Jacob was wrestling with God. Why would fighting with the Creator be a good thing? And how could Jacob win? And what’s with his putting Jacob’s hip out of joint? Well, at least allegorically, that’s one mystery I understand just fine now. When I lay awake nights, fighting against my own faithless worrying, I am wrestling with God. It’s God on one side and me on the other, and in some mystery, my flesh on one side and new-created spirit on the other. I am fighting myself, but demanding a blessing from God, demanding peace, when the strife itself is caused by my own persistent delusion that the salvation of anything depends on my efforts. Then when I lose, I win, because Jesus lost – died, even – so his Spirit could have this wrestling match in my heart. And that Spirit he sent, even as he turns me upside down into a new creation, does so in a way that respects my integrity as a person. So we work it out, in fear and trembling.

I’m learning to love this anxiety. I’ve learned it’s the beginning of real vulnerability. My season absent anxiety was also a season when I didn’t much care for humans. Those people I envied because they seemed so coolly invulnerable, I now realize that anxious little me has something to offer them, because I am vulnerable enough to actually love them. My vulnerability is my power, and this anxiety, as frustrating and exhausting as it is, is its seed. And in the shadow of that anxiety, one day, I will find passion and strength.

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I knit these tensions, these experiments, these sleepless nights, into Dwarrowdelf. It seems appropriate that, at least on the right side of this stole, there is hardly any plain knit stitching that isn’t twisted or decreased. It’s all weaving back and forth, leaning and tightening. But at the end of eight long repeats, three long columns stand straight and tall.

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I’m halfway through. The repeats ended with a border that I think of as the bases of the columns, and I fussed my own addition of beads into the eyelet triangles. It had precisely the intended effect.

Unfortunately, the three skeins of Madelinetosh “tosh merino light” which I bought half a decade ago are extremely different from each other. And I didn’t notice until I wound up the second ball. I knit the center and most of one side in the middle shade; the others are slightly lighter and a lot darker. So much darker that even if I’d alternated skeins, it would have looked like stripes. I’m glad I wound the darker one second; I might not have noticed a problem if I’d wound the other. As it is, I graded the darker one onto the end of the first wing, so I can do the same at the end of the other. It’s pretty glaring, but at least it’ll be symmetrical.

Observe the offending difference!

Observe the offending difference!

Each of these LotR projects seems destined to have some major problem or other. I’ve accepted it. It all seems appropriate right now. Right down to knitting a soft, woolly image of the dark stone halls of an ancient dwarven city, found at the end of a long, dark, fumbling journey.

The fight isn’t over, but the light is coming back.

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Monogamy: Abandoned

Well, I tried.

It took me a year to whittle my out-of-control knitting hobby down to just one project. You’ve read the argument fifty times by now: I wanted to know what it was like to have just one project on the go. I wanted to feel like I had my hobby under control instead of it taking over my house like a soft spiderweb. I think I repeated myself so much because I needed convincing.

I finally did it. When Evenstar was bound off, I had nothing else going. M’s elephant (which was my only Christmas project, hooray!) had my undivided attention. Christmas was still approaching at the time, starting to surface like a hideous festive kraken, so I decided to cast on something simple. I may have overcompensated.

This year, instead of knitting Jared a hat, we decided I would knit him one of his sweaters. Jared went through a rather intense yarn-buying phase, but never really got that intense with the actual knitting. As a result, he has more sweater-quantities of yarn than I do, but he knits about half an object a year. I had been gently suggesting for a while that maybe I could knit one of these sweaters for him. After all, why should I try to come up with something that I hope he’ll like, when he’s already invested in the materials for something he wants? That was my logic, anyway. He took some warming up to the idea; after all, he wanted to knit the things for himself. But when a whole year passed with him losing more stitches to attrition (thanks to leaving his knitting bag out near a toddler) than he actually knit, he decided to let me at his stash. He chose the yarn and pattern, we packed it all up with our belongings, and shipped it up to the Great White North.

Jared found the discontinued yarn for this project in a gorgeous variegated brown. This photo is copyright "frederick" on ravelry, and slurped from hence. I would have just taken a picture of the project in the book, but, well, you'll see...

Jared found the discontinued yarn for this project in a gorgeous variegated brown. This photo is copyright “frederick” on ravelry, and slurped from hence. I would have just taken a picture of the project in the book, but, well, you’ll see…

I was all ready to cast on; I wound some yarn, and started hunting for the book so I could do a gauge swatch on the correct needles – and we couldn’t find the book.

We shipped up 50 lbs of knitting books and magazines, 12 skeins of hard-to-find discontinued Japanese luxury yarn, and we couldn’t find the pattern.

It’s not in his knitting bag. It’s not with our other books. We even had my mom hunt through the stash we left at her house. It’s gone. It’s not purchasable online. It’s not at the library. (I put in an ILL request at our beloved Iqaluit library, but it probably won’t arrive before we visit the US.)

I was thoroughly and hilariously thwarted.

(By the way, if you own a copy of Knitting with Balls by Michael de Veccio, please feel free to send me a copy of the “Knee-Length Coat.” We own it with complete legitimacy, I just can’t… find it…)

I then set to work on Jared to let me knit the one project he’d brought up for himself to knit – another sweater, one he’d already started. I tried hard not to wheedle. (Why did I persist? It’s not as if I didn’t bring up enough things to knit for myself. I guess I feel better about my habit if I occasionally devote it to clothing the most important person in my life.) Eventually he relented, and I cast on the “Ski Sweater” from Knits Men Wantwhich had not disappeared from Jared’s possession in the meantime.

Photo copyright Jared Flood, from Knits Men Want, slurped from Ravelry.

Photo copyright Jared Flood, from Knits Men Want, slurped from Ravelry.

I treated this simple project with the greatest care. I tried continuing on the piece he’d started, but couldn’t get a close enough fabric. I swatched. I experimented. I ripped back. I measured his favorite sweaters. I practically redesigned the thing to be more like the sweater he was verbalizing, instead of the sweater in the pattern. (He kept saying things like “I don’t want another big slouchy too-casual sweater that I can never wear.” When the picture above is of a drop-shoulder, large-collar, relaxed-fabric sweater that’s about as metro-casual as you can get.) I recalculated. I frankenstined other patterns from the book. Finally I was content that I would get the size, sillouette, and fabric that would best meet his stated preferences, while still producing a sweater that resembled the one pictured.

The knitting was boring, but for a while, boring was what I needed in a knitting relationship. I cranked through the back while juggling Christmas planning, though by the end of it I was starting to feel the tedium. But I controlled myself, and tried to think of the endless ribbing as “meditative.”

Forgive the recycled picture. Uploading new ones takes up precious internet bits, and the project looks pretty much the same.

Forgive the recycled picture. Uploading new ones takes up precious internet bits, and the project looks pretty much the same.

It was when I started a sleeve that was I was confronted, mercilessly, with the undeniable fact that I was going to run out of yarn.

Curse you, fisherman’s rib! This stitch sucks up as much yarn as if I were crocheting. It makes a wonderfully cushy fabric, but I was obviously a few balls short. The yarn had been discontinued for years, and with a sweater so plain, I would want to get the same dyelot anyway.

I’m not sure if it was the despair of running out of yarn, or the ebbing of the Christmas crazies, or the lure of lace after such a run of ribbing… but it was a moment of weakness. I strayed.

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Oh, Dwarrowdelf! The next Lord of the Rings project was calling my name, probably the one I have been looking forward to most out of all the fourteen or so patterns in the first series. I tried to wait. I printed the pattern, and waited a day. I wound a ball, and waited a day. But when I dug out my chipped pair of 3 mm Addi Turbos, I knew I’d gone too far. I cast on, telling myself that the blue sweater was a lost cause. I was a widow, not an adulteress.

At the same time, my conscience could not entirely rest. I had not yet pursued all avenues. I got on ravelry and started searching. Berroco Pure Merino, Cadet Blue, dyelot 8022. Nothing explicitly for sale, but after hunting and hunting, I found one person, a woman in Oklahoma, who had three balls in the right dyelot. I sent her a desperate, apologetic message, not expecting to hear back, but feeling I had done my duty.

A few days later, she wrote back! She would be happy to send me the yarn, as she thought she’d already given it away; its only flaw might be a few bits of lavender from being stored with a scented sachet. (I am not the sort of knitter who is responsible enough to store my stash with scented sachets. I was impressed.) I begged her to let me at least pay for shipping, but she said it was on the way, with a Merry Christmas.

So there I was. A simple project back from doom, with still ten good balls of work to go before I’d be stuck waiting for Canada Post. And a zippy lace project, with action on every row, requiring and rewarding all my attention.

That was when I accepted the fact that, really, I have at least two kinds of brain space for knitting. I am not continuously knitting like I was in past years, so as to reasonably have four or five projects on the go, but even though my knitting time is limited, one project really couldn’t meeting my needs. I need a project simple enough that I can read and work on it, and I need a project complex enough that I can be read to and work on it without being bored. This isn’t falling off the wagon; it’s retaining reasonable limits. Two projects. That’s my new limit.

I’ll settle for bigamy.

To quote my husband, “There are worse kinds of monogamy to fail at.”