Thursday, March 5, 2015

Lots of Little Pieces

Just a visual update on Cafe Au Lait and my Cedar Glen Mitts.   I think both will be done in a couple of days.

I can't believe I'm this close to finishing Cafe.  My concentration was shot.  I screwed up on the cables four different times, having to rip back sections each time.  Prepare for an image of sheer evil.

Now, multiply it by four.  See?  At least the lace and use of larger needles made this project grow more quickly than fingering weight projects usually grow.  Fingering weight yarn and me have a love/hate relationship.  It's more readily found by hand dyers and can sometimes knit a project with only one skein, which I love.  I think that's why so many knitters make socks and shawls.  But it also takes foooorever to knit a sweater up in fingering, which I hate.  Another reason knitters love those socks and shawls.  BUT, it makes it up to me by drying overnight.  So, I can love it again.   While my pieces of Cafe au Lait were blocked and drying (I have got to get real blocking pins!), I the lace panels for Cedar Glen Mitts.

My gauge is way off, so I'm reducing the amount of seed stitch stitches that I pick up from the side of the lace portion.  I deserve a quickie accessory after back to back lace sweaters, right?

Edit:  I've now begun seaming Cafe, after putting it off for two days.  What a wimp.  It's not that bad, really.  I mean you have obvious cables and lace sections to match up as you seam.  Seaming is usually more mysterious than this.

It turned cold again here and I realized I have all of these great tights and no skirts suitable for cold weather.  So, I'll probably start New Girl after these are done.

How are your late Winter/early Spring projects coming along?  Do, tell.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Beautiful Woman

Beautiful never mattered to me.  It just wasn't on my radar.  Useful, kind, strong, faithful, disciplined, imaginative, bold, funny- these things were.  They were the things I wanted to be.  Of course, true beauty is comprised of these things, but when I was a child, "beauty" was a term that described pageant queens, girls who couldn't run, and a mole on Ginger's face.  It wasn't a word I felt comfortable with until adulthood.

When Libby, of TrulyMyrtle, tagged me in 20 beautiful women on instagram, I began to consider where my ideas of true feminine beauty came from.  Then, I had the craziest week ever, so I'm just now getting back to it.  It reminded me how blessed I am to have a mother who looked further into people and who taught me I was "made" by Someone.

I thought everyone thought the way we did.  I was in my twenties when I began to realize that the women fixated on beauty as appearance, a number on a scale, or a hair color were not an anomaly.   They were my peers- the norm.  As I worked with children in my church and spent time with my daughter's friends,  I cannot say how many little girls I've heard talk about beauty as only a surface feature.  Almost every single time, they spoke in quiet reverence of a form of beauty, in some other girl, that they didn't feel they had, personally.  As a girl, it never occurred to me to classify women as pretty, not pretty, thin, fat, smart, dumb, etc.  I tended to see genuine personalities and vibrance as attractive.  I rolled my eyes at the thought of someone wanting to be beautiful.

I remember the first time I heard a grown woman call another woman ugly.  I was in shock.  I remember the first time I saw a grown woman consumed with jealousy over another woman's weight.  Then there was the first times I heard a Christian woman call another woman bland and another say something like, "She's really beautiful ... for a black woman."

In the Christian church we hear that "beauty is vain, but a woman that fears the Lord- she shall be praised."   We read that true charm is an inward beauty, where a woman wears the "ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which in the sight of the Lord is of great price."  It is supposed to be enough to save a family.  Seriously. ( 1 Peter 3:3-5).  As Christians we are told that God looks on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7), then we go home fretting about this stuff?

We teach our little kids that Jesus loves us just as we are in Sunday School,  but then they see us walk out the doors of the church and still strive for something more.  We may seem irritable because we aren't what we want to be, we may whisper about women who are, we carry a cloud of inadequacy over our heads, that is surely felt by our children.  Some of us punish our bodies into submission, fretting over every change, or the lack of it.  There's often some bitterness there.  Are we confused?  Are we listening to what we say that we believe?  I think the question is, do we really, truly believe it?

I just wasn't aware of what anyone thought of my appearance as a girl.  I mean, I was clean, what else was there to think about?  Maybe I lived in a little, idyllic bubble.  My mother may have curled my hair and tried to get me to sit up straight, but she didn't seem hung up on appearance.  She said things like, " Pretty is as pretty does."  And I never heard her berate herself.  Just as she shielded me from ugly thoughts about skin color, as I grew up in the deep south, she also protected me from the self-destructive comparisons women make about bodies.   I looked around me and just saw people, like she did.

Then, I had the unique experience of seeing my mother's ideals tested.  I watched her lose her hair, more than once, during chemo.  I watched her seem to lose height and her back develop  Cushing's hump, due to prednisone, when she was just 40.  I never once felt a tinge of bitterness coming from her.  She went to one of my volleyball games so swollen with fluid that she was barely recognizable.  Some of the other girls were staring and wondering.  She came home after a mastectomy surgery with her head held high.  She was so very much a beautiful woman.  Never once did we see her confidence in that waver.  Never once did ours.

One time, a girl in school tried to shame me by telling the other children my mom was bald.  I was a very stoic child, friends, but that... that hurt.  She was being mean to my mother.  When I got home, off the bus, my mom asked how my day had been.  No matter how sick she was, even when dragging an IV tower around behind her, she was as involved as possible with my life.  I tried to act fine, but melted into tears.  Eventually, my desire to be comforted by her outweighed my desire to protect her from the hurtful comments, so I told her what that girl had said.  Her reaction surprised me.  She laughed.  Then, she said I should try to sell tickets.  That the kids could get off the bus and line up at the door.  For a dollar, she could pull of her wig for a moment.  We ended up laughing and I felt so much better to know that she was unmoved by someone's opinion of her.  The differences between her appearance and other moms' just didn't matter to her.

Her attitudes just seeped into me during those years.  I am the Queen of Awkwardness.  You may have noticed this, but this is mostly due to things I can control.  If ever I feel less pretty than another woman, it is usually from something like their gentle character convicting me of my own brashness.

So now my own test has come.  My body began changing in my thirties- no, not the usual changes- but a weakening.  My shape changed some, but mostly my hair began to thin and my face began breaking out with bad, cystic acne.  Add to that exhaustion, lots of migraines, and fuzzy thinking and you have a picture of me for ten years.  Though my doctor has a treatment for me now, it was ten years of feeling yuck.  Even when you're not "into appearance," scars, sores, thinning hair, and general malaise can work on your confidence.  Remember, I was the girl who wanted vibrance over beauty, and I felt like it was slipping away.

Should I have stayed at home until I was better?  Should I be ashamed that I looked different from the other moms?  Should I wait to try things until I had more energy?  That would've been a long wait.  I had to really think about the way I looked at other people and apply it to myself.  For me and for my children.

So when I told my teenagers, worried about their own blemishes, "It's just skin."  Did I mean it?  Was I living it?  I put my beliefs to the test every time I went to a soccer game or met my daughter for lunch with 30 cysts on my face that makeup would not cover, feeling exhausted though I had done every, single thing I knew to do to care for my body that day.  I have to admit it was hard sometimes.  Some days the best I could do was just joke about it.  When I felt self-condemnation start up in my head, I'd fight it with what I really believe: we are beautiful for how we behave.  Pretty is as pretty does, right?  I never came home from one of those outings wishing I'd stayed home.  I never regretted living as without shame about my appearance.  I thought I was confident before, but I've seen my self-esteem rise like crazy in the last few years.   And it wasn't from getting to any point of perfection.  It was from living without it.

(on instagram and flickr)

Here is the crux - When He says we were "beautifully and wonderfully made," did He mean it?  When He said His "grace is sufficient for you, His strength is made perfect in weakness." did He mean it?  Do I really believe this stuff?  Would doing everything "right" but not getting the healthy feeling, "the look", the approval change what I believed?

Nah.  I'm 41.  I'm covered in scars that I sometimes edit out of photos and I am in no way ashamed of that.  I may be healing now.  But if I never healed and die tired and weak, like my mother, I would never be ashamed for believing in a God who loves me just as I am and allows me to be frustrated for reasons I'll never understand.  Now, I know.  I won't be embarrassed of the life I lived in this body, or the body, itself.  I really do believe all that feel-good stuff about inner beauty.  I am beautiful because He made me so, particularly when I act like the person He made me to be.

Okay, group hug, everybody.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

One Thing at a Time

Usually seeing a project progress gives me a lift.  Something tangible is getting accomplished!  But this year I've found I'm getting bogged down in projects.  I haven't shifted my expectations to match my decreased knitting time.  The result is little bags of half-finished stuff, stuffed in little places around my half-cleaned house.  I miss monogamous knitting.

So you can see my Drift's Ridge, on the left, which would've been done had I not flubbed the sizing.  Cafe au Lait, center, is now stealing most of my knitting time, since it's part of the Holla Knits KAL that is underway.
Twenty Ten, up top, is such a fast knit, but it's also been set aside for the KAL.
There's a second Fire Opal Tee, in blackberry in the bottom corner, which will be a great mindless knit when things warm up.
Lastly, I have the very, very beginnings of a Offshore V-Neck sweater that I cast on in the space between something blocking and a yarn order arriving.  Why I'd pretend to do damage on this in a few days, I don't know.  It was abandoned with a box coming in the mail, and sits in a basket by the couch.  The basket is supposed to remind me of things, so I don't forget them and cast on new things. I may need to paint the basket something day-glo.

This really isn't that bad.  I know my blog sidebar says I have a million projects on the needles, but some of those are just projects I've made Ravelry pages for without actually beginning.  See, I'm more organized than I seem.

Oh, I miss the days of powering through something until it was done.  Of kind of knowing when I'd have an hour to myself, with nothing stressful looming in the background to unsteady my concentration.  I miss getting to do more than one thing that's good for me every other day.  I miss seeing the phone as a gateway to relationship instead of something to dread.   I remind myself this is just a season in my life.  Sometimes that makes me feel better, sometimes it sounds trite.

Enough of that.  Obviously, I've had enough time to myself to finish the back and half of a front of this sweater, when I'm sure plenty of reading and television watching occurred.  Now I'm going to go run for a bit before anything else comes up.

(more on ravelry, instagramkollabora, and flickr)

By the way, have I ever told you how much you cheer me up?  You do.  I was feeling beyond blah when I started this post, now I'm about to burst out of my front door at a full trot.  Thank you blogging/ knitting/ crafting/ instagram-ing friends!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The return of mauve and other things my mother would've loved

I was so much more content to wear my brother's old blue jeans than dresses straight off the set of Little House on the Prairie.  My mother won on Sundays, though.  Not only did she curl my hair under, like Joey Lawrence,  but she got the itchy, puffed sleeve dresses over my head.  If she dared to say I looked nice, I would then feel forced to walk with a horribly, exaggerated hunched back, muttering under my breath, with a dazed look on my face.  I cannot say how many times I heard her say, "Oh, be pretty.  Just be pretty."  She was only half serious.

When I ordered the Palette yarn in Comfrey and the Gloss Fingering in Velveteen and Hawk, I thought of her.  I remember a mauve skirt and jacket she wore to church, and her mauve nail polish.   Though I liked that the color made me think of her, I would never have seen myself wearing it.  Mauve was synonymous with my mom... a forty-year-old housewife.  That, and the eighties.  I would have died before wearing mauve nail polish.  I was in my twenties when Urban Decay had just launched nail colors like "Acid Rain" and "Roach."  Mauve wasn't my thing, or anyone's thing then. 

 (image via Pinterest)

 (image via Pinterest)
 (image via Pinterest)

 But here I am, a forty one-year-old housewife and mauve is everywhere, growing on me through osmosis.  So my selections for the Holla Knits KAL 2015 are all for you, Mom.  Cafe au Lait is knit in Knit Picks Palette, in comfrey.

This Gloss Fingering will become a pair of Cedar Glen Mitts.  Not only is it mauve-y, but it's even pretty.  Mom would be proud.

Not mauve, but very feminine is the New Girl skirt I'll be knitting up later.  It may be finished after the KAL, but who cares as long as it gets made?  I'm using Paton's Classic dk in sea green and medium grey.

This last knit will be in Cascade 220 sport's Lake Chelan colorway.   It's not a color my mom would've worn, at least not when I was a girl.  But I know she would've approved of the style and the little stitch pattern of the Julep Jacket.

(more on ravelry, kollabora, and flickr)

Truthfully, my mom liked crafts.  All through my childhood she was dabbling in some kind of craft.  There was macrame, tole painting, sewing, and ceramics around the house at different times.  So I'm pretty sure she would've enjoyed all of my knitting projects.  I like to think she might have even wanted to knit along with me.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy Valentine's Day

It was the seventies and we were three, cut us some slack.  
 Happy Valentine's Day.

(on my instagram)

Friday, February 13, 2015

Veera and Joji Knit Fort Worth

I've been to Madtosh Crafts before, but never for a class.  In fact, I've never done any kind of craft with a group since college.  My first thought was to attend classes at Fiber Fest, but they filled up almost instantly.  My disappointment was completely assuaged by getting a spot in small classes of twenty to twenty five knitters with Veera Välimäki and Joji Locatelli last week for "Veera and Joji Knit America 2015."

Veera and Joji were promoting their newest collection Interpretations 2 (below) by visiting Happy Knits in Portland and Madtosh in Fort Worth.  

See the short sleeved purple garment (True Friend) towards the back?  I am so knitting this in Tosh 80/10/10.

Besides classes there was a trunk show,

a knit night,

and a special colorway dyed by Amy, with Joji and Veera's input, just for the occasion.  It's Mockingjay, the perfect gray.  

 Madtosh Crafts is a beautiful places to be creative.  I totally escaped into the world of thoughtful crafting for those hours.  I'm thinking I need regular breaks like this, not necessarily classes out of town, but maybe camping on the beach, a long day hike, or anything to recharge me creatively during a stressful time in my life.

 As soon as I got back, my non-knitting family and friends wanted to know if I learned anything, what I can do differently now, how I will use this.  My knitting friends online, of course, were all like, "Woooow, how cool!"  No explanation was needed.

But I'm pleased that beyond it being cool to be around such inspiring designers, I really did learn some things I can use to modify existing patterns or create my own designs.  Not sure when that will happen, because I've already jumped into another KAL, but I am properly motivated.

The classes I took were geared toward more experienced knitters (many of my classmates were test knitters or designers).  I figure between them, our teachers, and our colorful surroundings, some creativity had to rub off on me.

My first class was Shawls and Shapes with Veera Välimäki .  Remember I've only made one shawl so far, but did begin to queue bazillions of shawl patterns after that.  But I've just never been motivated to look beyond a Ravelry pattern search for a design.  After having Veera lead us in a sort of "Choose Your Own Shawl Adventure" kind of activity, I feel like I have to create one myself.  I'd never have pictured myself designing a shawl, but now I have campfire shawl ideas, scarf-like shawl ideas, wedding shawl ideas, all rolling around in my head.

These are her mini shawls she brought to give us an idea of basic shawl shapes- so cute and perfect.

Then there's my mini shawl.  Yeah... not so perfect.  I began with a circular shawl, then added short row stripes.  But, hey, I was paying attention to Veera, not my increases.  Our notes included basic recipes for all the various shapes and tips for edges and blocking.

I most definitely want to knit one of Veera's shawls now.   I've always been more of a sweater and hat knitter.  Even though all of Ravelry has knit a Color Affection, I still have not.   However, I'm thinking of making Stripe Study in these lovely colors of Tosh Merino Light.

 It's appropriate, as my second class with Veera was all about Stripes.  She covered horizontal, vertical, short row stripes, textural and blocked stripes.  See her neat swatches, below.  You know how you know there are neater ways to deal with introducing new colors and jogless stripes but you keep doing things the same old way because you're too lazy to learn anything new?  This was my chance to focus, and practice these techniques until I got them.  Well, my brioche needs work, but whose doesn't?  I especially liked the helix striping technique.

Here are my not-so-neat swatches.  Keep in mind I took the "bring yarn scraps for classroom use" email seriously.  I did, indeed, bring scraps- scraps of puke green, burgundy, navy, and purple.  They weren't quite as lovely to behold as my classmates' coordinated pairings in madelinetosh, but you get the point.  

Veera did cover using the color wheel for stripes, value, and hue.  My swatches looked ever more like abominations to me as the class went on.   When I'm knitting "for real" I usually just wing it with colors, but I like the idea of using a more thoughtful approach to how I incorporate it in a design.

This is a good time to segue into Joji's class on Aproach to Sweater Design.   Remember, I just made one of Joji's lovely designs, Dragonflies?  Well, she discussed her entire design process: from keeping track of inspirations, to brainstorming construction methods tailored to your reader, choosing yarn, and some size grading.  We practiced getting true measurements and solving fit problems with industry standard sizing.  I liked seeing how she thought/drew everything out, on paper, from the beginning to the end.   It was a good push for those of us who gets lots of ideas for designs but assume someone else is probably doing it better, so why bother.   Joji encouraged us to just try thinking it through and see what happens.  By the way, I think I'm gonna have to learn Excel.  Boo.

One thing I thought was cool was her challenge for us to forget what we know about construction and just envision what we want made in a new way, then see if we can get there, practically.  That sounds like a great experiment in creativity.  It's the kind of thing you do when you're a new knitter and want to make something that looks "beyond your skill level" using simpler techniques.   Anyway, I was completely inspired.

And that's the main thing I got from this event.  Besides all of the techniques I had learned,  I was leaving with the desire to make things burning brighter than ever inside of me.

Thank you Veera and Joji for the inspiration!

(more on instagram and flickr)

Monday, February 9, 2015

Dragonflies Jumper

I wanted to finish this pullover, by Joji Locatelli, before sitting in on one of her classes.  Kind of like reading an author's book before hearing them speak.  It just happens that I recently won this pattern in a giveaway by the crazy-talented Elena of Elena Knits.  So I did a late-night knitting cram session before we left for Fort Worth.

I finished the sleeves, two at a time, then I steam-blocked the lace body to make it wearable before we left.  That left picking up stitches for the ribbed neckline on the drive.  My hope was to start Veera Välimäki's Twenty Ten and get partway through before attending her classes.

It's good that I had a seven hour drive ahead of me.  I re-did the neckline several times and still feel like it's a bit high, though the fit in the arms is awesome.  Amy Herzog's Craftsy course has me totally paranoid of tops that give you a low bust.  The clinical term is LowBustphobia, or maybe that's the hashtag, I can't remember.   I can't help but like this higher crew neck.  It makes me think of raglan t-shirts I wore in my early twenties and teens.  It also came out very similar to Isabel's sweater, which I emulated with my modifications.

One caveat: I haven't actually done a true wet blocking on this.  It may be loose when I'm done and that may make a difference.  But I'll think about that tomorrow.  Lets look at pictures of it while it fits perfectly, shall we?

 I used a good basic yarn I've never tried before, Valley Yarns Northampton.  I found it comparable to Wool of the Andes or Patons Classic in the way it knit up.  I can see using this for sweater quantities in the future, especially when it's on sale.

I got gauge with a size 3 needle.  I'm still using only bamboo circulars, since realizing it helps me keep a consistent gauge, plus I opted for the much looser English knitting style, since it's second nature to me.  I needed no added distractions while working this heavily patterned pullover.

My mods followed Isabel's, except that I switched from the lace pattern to the bottom 2x2 ribbing on row 5, I think.  See below, where I realize my shoes match my sweater.

I wish I had a before and after of the steam blocking process.  I think my husband wondered why I stayed up so late to finish knitting a drab, olive mess.  That is, until he saw it blocked.  That earned an audible "Wow!"  I was a miracle worker... a tired, obsessive miracle worker.

(more on ravelry, kollabora, flickr, and instagram)

I will talk about my classes with Joji and Veera next time.  I came home to much busy-ness, a set wedding date for my daughter and her fiancé, tons of laundry, and the Holla Knits KAL 2015.  I'm late casting on for it, too, so why not join me?