Frost-land

Greetings from the polar vortex. If you are anywhere in or around the American Midwest or central Canada, then you know what this is all about. The last two days have seen the region clobbered by heavy snowfall, blinding snow squalls and freeway-whiteouts (imagine a dense, moving pocket of snow that clouds up your windshield), and of course, record-setting lows and their bitter, bitter winds. In Chicago alone, this early morning, lows dipped down to -28 C/-21 F (-39 C/-39 F if you happened to catch a side of wind with that). We were colder than parts of Antarctica, Alaska, and apparently, Mars.

What does strange Martian winter feel like? Frightening. It’s the kind of weather that hardens the world in ice, slickening the footsteps on past snows into unyielding, ankle-twisting formations. It’s the winter that will take the air out of your tires and leave you stranded a near-mile from home, just because (luckily, on the warmer of the 2 days, at -21 C). You’ll spend the afternoon re-heating at a strip mall sub and sandwich joint, waiting for the tow truck to arrive, and when it does, an exhausted mustachioed man in a blue sweatshirt lifts your felled car away and your heart sinks to know he’s been at it all day. You walk that near-mile home at your best speed, but the darkening sky and the growing sharpening in your knees suddenly reminds you that there are parts of your body that are made entirely of flash-freezable fluid.

On the way, passing 6-foot snowdrifts in pharmacy parking lots, you notice a curiosity: an abandoned bottle of perfectly good, uncorked Merlot is peering out of a snow bank. You try to imagine a scenario that starts with “purchase fancy wine” and ends with “leave fancy wine in the snow.” You wonder if you should adopt said wine. Then you fear it’s a trap! (and then you realize that, at this moment, the outside world is a trap). Hastily, you leave the abandoned wine in its place, but take it as incontrovertible proof that the cosmic order of things has shifted. Is shifting. The graininess of the picture of the bottle reminds you of UFO-sighting photography.

You arrive home safely — not frost-bitten but frost-nipped, a little reddened and unprepared for the sting of thawing out (ow!).

While indoors, the mind quickens and grows squirrel-jittery about staving off any incoming freeze. As the temperatures inside plummet along with the blustering world outside (an apartment built in the 1960s has presumably outworn some of its original insulation!), the utility of duvets is no longer theoretical. Alongside radiant heat, fleece, and woolen anything, duvets become the best thing ever invented and you spend the entire night rolled up in goose down, marveling at the small, storm-free world undercover. Overnight, as thick beads of ice form on the insides of the window panes, you consider the dual warming meanings of night cap. In the frigid 6 a.m. air, the wordplay makes sudden, amusing sense — and, come to think of it, also explains why your instinct, during the past 2 days, was to start knitting yourself a hat, in worsted weight on tiny #3 needles, so that the stitches pull in real close.

In other words, it’s been cold.

I hope you are staying warm and keeping safe, wherever you happen to be.

Merci, 2018

Hello, friends. It has been nearing two months since my last thing here – I managed to miss the new-year’s tidal wave of blog posts, and then some, but am finally getting around to catching up. Having also renewed the domain for another 12 months, I thought it was high time to break my no-post dry spell.

I’ve found it challenging to keep up with blogging this past while. The last few weeks have seen me a little blocked up – it’s been hard to find my yarn-fingers (the knitter’s equivalent of sea legs) and my words. Even my gouache colours have been lying dormant and unsqueezed in their travel-toothpaste-sized tubes. After some attempts at forcing a few creative Starts — a bright orange alpaca hat that came out too small, a garment-unravelling project that hit a snag and stayed there — I’m deciding to get friendly with this period of creative dormancy — to stop trying to fix it, to let it be, and maybe even get acquainted with it.

As I’ve written in past posts, The Block is no stranger in these here parts. My projects have often followed this logic and sequence: there’s the dizzying dream of making something new, the hours of research; brow-furrowed exertion melds into hyperfocus (the sweet spot and superpower of creators!); acuity grows with repetition and concentration, but unfortunately, so does fatigue; the arc of work winds down; soon, I find myself not just tapped out, but feeling a bit like the bikes I’ve seen around town, tethered in place and missing a wheel (am I the only one who likes to imagine the complex emotional worlds of bicycles?).

That said, I’m learning to soften into periods of pause, like this one. Although the needles and keyboard are mostly silent these days, I keep cooking and ironing the odd shirt and puttering around the apartment with my green-bristled broom, witchy and on the lookout for dust-bunnies. I read books and aspire to finish books — one at a time, too, which is very uncharacteristic. I eat milk chocolate and talk to friends and watch funny movies. I try not to let the post-vacation laundry pile creep too high. I drink detox herbs at night, stream episodes of “Tidying Up” with Marie Kondo and make an earnest attempt at streamlining the spice cabinet (that’s about as far as I get, but I’m happy, in the process, to rediscover a jar of hidden cloves so I count the effort a success). ūüôā

I also take stock of projects past, reminding myself that Pauses are temporary guests and not year-round roommates. When I think back on my creative journey of 2018, I remember that it was a great year, full of firsts, milestones, growth, and giving — a very first colour-work garment (yay!), breaking into lace in a big way, doll-making experiments, and knitting up a good amount of baby-things and gifts. It was a year of giving away and keeping the learnings. It was a solid year.

In that spirit, I pulled this little blue butterfly out from my 2013 watercolour archives — I chose it as if to say “Merci” to 2018 for all the good things, and to lift a little wing for the flight ahead.

Lace lessons: the Leticia Shawl

After a month and a few days of (slow) knitting, the Leticia shawl is done!

leticia - back.jpg

leticia - side.jpg
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Designed by Reiko Kuwamura, Leticia is a crescent-shaped shawl that is worked in sport weight in 2 stages: the shawl begins with a lace border, followed by the reverse stockinette ‘body,’ shaped using German short rows. The ‘sheerness’ of the shawl is achieved by a technique called ‘condo knitting,’ or working garter or stockinette using two very different sized needles on alternating rows (the mix of little loops and big loops = fun see-through fabric that is super easy to make!).

leticia - condo knitting.jpg
Condo knitting (US 6 and US 11).

This marks my very first introduction to lace-knitting, and I found the pattern excellent and very straightforward. It includes a video short rows tutorial, as well as a formula-page for re-adapting Leticia to any size. If you want to liberate your inner lace-knitter, Leticia is the one (I now need to do more lace, very soon).

As seasoned lace-knitters know, lace needs to be blocked. As a lace newbie, however, I was unaware of just how huge the difference between pre-blocked FO and blocked FO can be! I thought I’d share some first-time thoughts on the lace-blocking process below.

Pre-blocked underwhelm

When the shawl first came off the needles (following a bind-off which took an hour and a half), I was a little underwhelmed. This “finished object” looked nothing like the nice Ravelry pictures. It had no drape; I couldn’t make out the crescent shape; it was puckering at the ends; and the lace edging was curled up and indiscernible. In fact, it looked so different from what was expected that I considered re-doing the shawl in a different needle size, worried as I was about that puckering (whose origins baffled me).

Leticia - unblocked.jpg

As you can see, the shawl looks about as wearable as a deflated balloon that has lost all of its air and has just hit the pavement (which was kind of the state of my heart after casting off and realizing this was the product of a month’s work).

I held off on any rash decisions, though. I could hazard a frogging, I told myself, but only after giving blocking a try. Lace teaches one to keep hope alive.

Blocking : Stitches in Suspense 

In my pre-blocked-lace dismay, I decided to use points on a rewards card to get 9¬†bona fide¬†blocking boards and a set of T-pins. My usual “pin to the ironing board” methods were just not going to cut it with the Leticia shawl: it had an over 5-foot ‘wingspan’ and picot-edging with 105 ‘points’ that needed to be pinned out for shape!

I started by pinning portions of the top of the shawl in a straight line, tugging and pinning the shawl down at every other picot (not enough pins to do them all). The garment started to take shape, relaxing from its curled up state into a symmetrical, pucker-free form.

I ended up short by a single 12″ x 12″ blocking square. I blocked the rest of the shawl, left that section behind, then re-wetted and pinned it down after the first portion was dry. Having a modular board that was easily re-arrangeable was key. Apparently, this worked ok (excuse the blurry pictures):

leticia - partial block composite.jpg

The difference between pre-blocked and blocked Leticia is like night and day. It was a marvelous feeling to take the fresh-blocked garment off the boards after a day or two and see it hold a completely different shape: the lacework edging had opened up, the shawl was ‘breathing’ and beautifully sheer, and instead of curled up, it was soft drape-y magic!

Learning lace, I’m realizing, is certainly a good lesson in patience–the hours of stitching are rewarded by still more days of pinning out and waiting. But, it is also a lesson in¬† transformation. Or, better yet, revelation, with all of the magic, surprise, and unexpected emergence of the extraordinary that the word suggests. In the realm of lace, what you see is not quite what you get!

You can read more random notes on the knitting process on my Leticia Ravelry project page. Thanks for reading!

Do you love lace? Or have any memorable lace projects? Do tell!

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Worldwide Knit in Public Day + a little lace

World Wide Knit in Public Day
Image source: wwkipday.com

Hello. I hope the start of June finds you well! This is probably old hat to the seasoned knitters, but first things first: this Saturday, June 9th is¬†Worldwide Knit in Public Day (WWKiP).¬†Started in 2005, this annual event is the largest knitter-run gathering on the globe. The idea is to join up and meet your local, fellow-knitters for some quality stitching time. Given the often solitary nature of a craft that is mostly performed in (and commonly relegated to) “private” spaces and spheres, WWKiP brings fiber arts into public space and gives crafters a chance to meet/reunite with like-minded folks, share some tips, and enjoy some community-building through the fiber arts.

WWKiP has been steadily growing over the years, with 1125 public knitting events around the world in 2017. That’s a lot of public knitting. If the prospect of some quality time with yarn, sunshine, WIPs, and nice people sounds good to you, the WWKiP website has a worldwide directory of events.

I can think of no better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.


Ok. Now for some lace…

I’ve been busy, this month, working my very first lace-knitting project: Reiko Kuwamura’s Leticia shawl.

© Reiko Kuwamura, Image source: Ravelry.com.

This induction into lace-knitting comes late, a little over a year into my return to knitting at the end of 2016. I can see the reasons for this. I was never a lace-wearer myself, and felt it easier to focus, at first, on the “hardy” practical knits – the mitts, the workhorse socks and scarves, a blanket here, a hat there. It has taken time to discover and appreciate this lighter side of knitting. My coming into lace, in other words, is quite like the process of lace-making itself: a little slow-going, and needing time and the right conditions to “open up” (as lace does, only after a good block).

Leticia

Folks, I love this pattern. It is worked in 2 parts: the lace border is worked first (it uses a 4-row repeat and includes a picot edge), and the body of the shawl proper is worked afterwards, by picking up border-stitches. The first step Рstill in progress Рhas been lots of fun: after about 30 repeats, I felt I had finally memorized the lace pattern and could safely turn it into TV & podcast knitting with the help of a counter (to track my place in the repeats) and good old paper and pen (to keep track of the number of repeats completed). Very analog.

leticia 1

I love completing the border’s repeats. I can never quite stop at just one – the mind wants another and another, and with that, the lace lengthens.

I love the spidery feeling of working something finer and more delicate than stockinette or garter under my fingers, having the fabric coax my hands into learning a new nimbleness.

And I love the fragile architecture of lace, the way it holds together while letting the light and the air in, as if lace were meant to convey the elements. In the photo above, I’m imagining what it would be to sit underneath a huge lace rooftop or canopy and be mottled by little pools of lace-worked light.

Lacework has captured my imagination!

I hope you are making up a storm this week. Until next time!

 

 

A short update

Where has all the time gone? I was just posting about my little Afmaeli cape and before I knew it *poof* two weeks. Gone.

I’m happy to say that the capelet has worked a little bit of good magic. I don’t wear it for all my writing-times, but I keep it close by, on a stool. And something about having made it, and seeing it, has helped me continue to establish my good relationship to the writing work at hand.¬†I think it reminds me that things are possible which I don’t and can’t always anticipate at the outset. It nudges me towards building up a liiiiiittle more tolerance each day for the unknowns. It reminds me to stay attuned to the thing in front of me, and to the process, which is like the weather: full of changes and differences and odd turns and more or less conducive days. The less conducive days don’t erase the good work done on the days before it; neither do they doom all efforts afterwards. Getting intentional about process, it turns out, can be a very good¬†anti-dote to my tendency of getting sidelined by the hopes and horrors of product. Let the product be a document or artefact of process — all those individual, variegated days of commitment held together…. like stitches! (Knitting metaphors for the win!).

So. The cape has become my writing emblem. I recommend making a special garment or outfit to clothe and emblematize your maker-self!

And speaking of time. I celebrated a birthday last week and ushered in a new number. It was a sunny day. And sunshine and new numbers warrant an ample serving of sangria at the local watering hole, and some sheep-ish grinning.

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Ok. Enjoy your weekend!!!