New Growth

When I look back at these photos, which have been sitting on my hard drive, edited, since the end of January, I recall distinctly how unhappy I was—that day in particular, but also that week, and indeed that entire season. Winter was a difficult time for me, the too-short daylight hours filled with a grinding work schedule aggravated by interpersonal conflict. Despite having few to no creative opportunities at work and craving self-expression, I often came home too drained to pick up any of my projects. 

That was frustrating enough by itself, but what added insult to injury was the fact that I was also being confronted on several sides by the opinion that the parts of myself I was managing to express were cold, intractable, and unlikable—in short, unacceptable, and in need of changing. I was counseled on being optimistic, willing to compromise, and above all, being personable. 

I spent a lot of time reflecting on what it is that makes me me, whether those things can be changed, and, significantly, whether they should be.

For a time, I practiced change. There were days when I exhausted myself with the effort of being easy to get along with. The act of being inoffensive.

I’ve never felt less like myself.

On the day these photos were taken, a Thursday, I was working from home due to the snow. After an increasingly taxing work assignment escalated to full-blown railing and stomping through the house, I finally set aside my computer and picked up my knitting and camera instead.

This hat is something new made out of things familiar and leftover: the pattern is the Lotus Hat from Uptown Purl, which I’d previously knit into my Meditation, frogged, and wanted to revisit; the yarn is the remainder from my Mashion. Modifications are detailed on Ravelry.

The whole thing came together in five days, and it only took that long because I kept doing the crown decreases expecting to run out of yarn. When I didn’t, I was able to increase the number of repeats to make a deeper hat.

Putting on a handmade hat (and handmade gloves), standing outside with Justin, and smiling at the camera in the cold reaffirmed that I make things, and will continue to make things, because I care about putting more into the world than I take out of it. I am resourceful, and I can adapt. I also have people who care deeply about me, and who I care about in return.

I didn’t know it at the moment these photos were taken, but the brief emotional respite they provided enabled me to understand, in the days and weeks that followed, that I was growing. It was difficult, and painful, and I would rather the catalyst for growth had been something other than this kind of hardship, but through it I found myself valuing my own work more and criticizing it less, strengthening relationships, and seeking to build new skills.

Spring brought its own share of troubles, but they were diminished in some small way by the feeling that I had survived worse, and could overcome this too. Summer has had its struggles as well, but more and more I find I want to focus on what I can make for myself.

I’m glad to finally say that, while there’s still plenty of room for improvement, I’m happier than I have been in months, and I’m relieved to finally close this post and start afresh.

FO: Slant of Light

If it weren’t for the metadata attached to these photos, as well as a recently developed habit of scribbling dates on the paper copies of my patterns, I never would have been able to recall when I started or finished this project. Clearly at least a season ago, judging by the outfit. As it turns out, I knit up this shawl between the end of July and the beginning of August—nearly half a year ago.

The project didn’t begin with the knitting, though. No, it all started with the yarn, which began its life as the leftovers from my So In Love cardigan (Ravelry link), which apparently pre-dates this blog by a year. I had an entire skein still in my stash, the perfect amount for a shawl. But I didn’t really want another item in the exact same shade of pink, and I wasn’t sure that the slightly cooler tone would be particularly flattering near my face either. It was the perfect candidate for a little over-dyeing experiment. My goal was a warm, orangey-pink coral, which I hoped to achieve using Rit liquid dye and the stovetop method.

For my first attempt, I referenced the Favorite Rit Dye Colors handout and followed the recipe for Coral, which calls for 1/2 cup Petal Pink and 2 tbsp of Tangerine. (Interestingly, there’s another color with the same liquid dye decipe, called Sea Coral (Pink). They have different powder dye recipes, which, combined with my own results, leads me to believe that the Sea Coral one is a misprint.) The result was a saturated hue that was almost neon in its intensity, and more orange than I expected to boot.

Despite its undeniable cheerfulness and perfectly even color, I didn’t love it. Since I considered the leftover yarn a bonus, I decided to gamble and try dyeing it again. But since I ultimately wanted a lighter color, I needed to strip the dye first. (Actually, I needed to untangle the yarn first, then remove the color. Long story short, I didn’t tie off the hank in enough places before dyeing, and my enthusiastic stirring yielded a rat’s nest that took the better part of a Saturday to unravel. Do yourself a favor and tie off the hank twice—three times!—as many times as you think you need before dropping it in the pot.)

I picked up a package of Rit Color Remover, which worked shockingly well—and fast. As soon as the yarn touched the water, it bleached to a natural cream color. I followed the directions for soaking, again using the stovetop method, and then rinsing. I honestly don’t recall if I also washed the yarn afterward as instructed, but if I did I would have used Eucalan as my detergent.

Sidebar: I suspect the wool content in Cascade Heritage Silk is made into a superwash yarn using a method that glues the scales down, rather than removing them, because after bleaching the yarn seemed a lot grippier, like a non-superwash wool would be. I think the bleach dissolved the glue. I’d be interested to know if anyone can confirm or reject this hypothesis.

For my second attempt, I used the same amount of Petal Pink dye, but reduced the Tangerine to either 1 tablespoon or 2 teaspoons. (I know, I know, I should have written it down. I had planned to blog about it right away, and I did remember it for several weeks while mentally composing the post.)

As you can probably tell from the pictures, the dye didn’t take evenly on the second pass. Instead, it produced this lovely semi-solid color, which I quite like: it looks hand-dyed now.

Compared to producing a satisfying color, choosing a pattern was a breeze. Not only had Marisa Hernandez’s Crooked Cathedral been in my favorites for ages, but my yarn turned out nearly the same color as one of her samples! Details on the knitting itself are on my Ravelry project page.

It’s been bitterly cold the last few days, far too cold for such a lightweight neck covering, but seeing seeing it shine in my closet, like the light slanting through a stained glass window in late afternoon, warms my spirit.

FO: Toasted Marshmallow

When I was a kid, campfires were a summertime affair. We had them on camping trips, of course, whether taken with family or with the Girl Scouts every other summer or so. But sometimes we were treated to them in our own neighborhood, if a neighbor was willing to sacrifice a corner of their backyard to an impromptu fire pit, hastily dug, maybe ringed with leftover landscape pavers.

On our little suburban street, houses on one side of the street backed up against a strip of woods; houses on the other didn’t. Ours was one of the houses that didn’t, so we had to plead to our friends’ parents to give us a campfire. If the mood and the weather were right, we’d get our wish.

Sometimes, if one of the adults had thought ahead, or the kids begged enough, there would be s’mores, but we were more likely to have only marshmallows, and just as likely as that to have popsicles (there was always a box in someone’s freezer, and you never had to worry they’d gone stale, like graham crackers always do).

Like any kid, I sampled marshmallows every way, from barely warmed in the shimmering air above the flames to fire-caught, charred, and molten on the inside; I’m partial to a tawny exterior and gooey-soft interior, the kind of marshmallow that takes patience to create.

As an adult, camping has lost much of its allure—I enjoy my creature comforts, my soft bed and hot showers—and I don’t often crave marshmallows, but I still enjoy a fire. Perhaps even more now than before.

Then, campfires were a thing for muggy twilit hours, a treat that could be granted or withheld, presided over by adults who didn’t want you to get too close and wouldn’t let you prod a burning log with your toasting stick, to see if you could coax a bigger, brighter flame.

Now? Now I’m the adult, with a house, with a fireplace and a yard of my own. I can have a fire when I choose. Instead of the end of a stretched summer day, I choose cool autumn evenings and chilly winter nights, a time when thoughts are sharpened like the cold edges of the air.

I build the fires, I tend them, and I’ve discovered to my surprise that my secret wish came true—I’m good at it.

I sit as close as I want, feeling the skin on my cheeks tighten and shine with the heat, letting woodsmoke cling to my clothes, tangle in my hair. Knowing that, even days later, a shock of warm water will set the smoke billowing free again.

I didn’t knit this scarf by a fire, though I thought often—and wistfully—of campfires while I knit it. How could I not? It’s the color of a perfectly toasted marshmallow.

It would make for good fireside knitting too, albeit of the indoor variety, as the placement of the eyelets is too unpredictable to trust to memory and demands a decent light to check the charts.

The pattern, Alicia Plummer’s Campside, calls for DK yarn; I used Meadowcroft Dyeworks Cross Creek Sock, a fingering-weight yarn. The yarn was a souvenir skein from Gate City Yarns in Greensboro, North Carolina. If you’re ever that way, do stop in—the staff are some of the nicest I’ve ever met.

Because of yardage differences, I only knit 19 of the 24 rows of the last chart and ended with 5 rows of garter stitch instead of the deep ribbed border. I hope to knit this pattern again, but as designed, for an even warmer, weightier scarf for truly cold weather.

As summer finally surrenders to autumn and the temperatures fall, I’m ready for the season of crackling red-orange fires and toasty woolen accessories.

FO: Oxidation

With the leftovers from Justin’s cabled hat and my own, I had exactly enough yarn to create a third hat. I’d hoped for as much when I bought the yarns—just ask Rebecca at Warm ‘n Fuzzy—but it was a huge relief when my little yarn scale confirmed it.

Rather than knit more stripes, because I’ve had enough of stripes for a while, I decided that there was no better time than now to try my hand at stranded knitting. Since I knew my yarn was limited, I didn’t bother trying to find a pattern, and instead improvised based on my most recent hat and some guidance from Ann Budd’s The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns.

I’ll admit I felt a bit of trepidation, which is silly, because I didn’t feel a single flutter of anxiety when I first tried cables. Maybe it’s because my very first knitting project was cabled, and I didn’t know enough to have the slightest idea what to worry about. Now that I’ve knit a while, I know what to fret about: Tension. Color dominance. Insufficient contrast.

There was nothing I could do about the combination of colors, since I was already committed to using up the yarn, and tension would only be solved with  practice and patience, so the only thing left was color dominance, which I was aware of and could easily look up online. Ysolda has a great introduction to the theory of color dominance on her blog, but the one thing she neglects to mention is the more practical question of how to carry the yarns so that the dominant and subordinate colors aren’t switched accidentally. Enter Dianna of Paper Tiger, who helpfully explains which yarn is dominant when knitting with one color held in each hand, both colors held in one hand, and with one color at a time. Thanks Dianna!

I knit continental, and I was tempted to hold both yarns in my left hand to keep things familiar. But I’ve heard that, once you get used to it, holding one yarn in each hand is quite speedy and prevents the yarn from getting twisted or tangled, so it seemed like it would be worth the effort to learn to do it that way.

It was pretty awkward. As expected, I struggled to keep the tension even. My tight-knitting tendencies are so strong that the blue stitches, which should be dominant/larger, are in several places dwarfed by the background copper stitches. Every time I started to get into the rhythm of alternating hands, I’d notice that things were moving a little more smoothly and promptly lose focus and knit the wrong color or drop the yarn.

But wouldn’t you know, it flew off the needles anyway. Anyone who’s ever said that there’s an addictive quality to knitting colorwork was definitely on to something. Before I knew it, I’d run out of blue yarn and it was time to decrease the crown and cinch it up.

If you’re curious about the knitting specifics, you can check out the notes on my project in Ravelry. The only thing of note is the crown, which has eight sections instead of the typical six. This was purely down to the number of stitches I’d cast on at the beginning. It does work, but I think there’s a good reason that six sections is the norm: this crown doesn’t lie down as smoothly, and it has a tendency to make the whole hat ride up a smidge, which you can see in the close-up above and the two pictures below.

The scarf I’m wearing is also me-made. It’s a lovely, drapey 100% rayon in a pattern and colors that I love that I snagged from Jo-Ann several months ago. Sadly, I should have purchased a longer piece than I did, because the woman at the counter did a poor job cutting it, so I lost a fair amount straightening up the edges. Once the corners were squared, though, it was a simple matter of rolled hemming the long edges, zig-zag stitching the short edges, and then removing weft threads to create a fringe on the ends.

There are several suggestions online for sewing a rolled hem. Grainline Studio recommends sewing a line of stitching to use as a guide for pressing, stitching, and trimming before pressing and stitching a second time. Craftsy suggests using a teeny tiny strip of interfacing to encourage the first several inches of the fabric to roll properly. I chose to take Megan Nielsen’s advice, which is to sew a few stitches without feeding it through the rolled hem foot, pull the fabric free without cutting the threads, and then use the thread to guide the fabric into the foot and sew.

I can confidently say that, after sewing the edges of this scarf, I am about two iotas better at using the rolled hem foot. Megan’s advice certainly helped to get things started, but keeping the hem even as you go along seems to come down to firm and steady tension applied to the fabric and a keen eye to keep it from veering too far into or out of the foot. So, practice.

Luckily, I got a to try my hand at it again on my next make, coming up next week. Today, I’ll leave you with my favorite photo from this shoot:

FO: Andraste

When I started knitting this, hot on the heels of Justin’s hat, I was certain the yarn was destined to become a Dragonflies Hat by Joji Locatelli. So certain, in fact, that when I made it to the crown decreases and realized the whole thing was turning out much too short, I immediately ripped everything out and started again on a larger needle. When I made it to the crown decreases a second time and it was still—inexplicably, disappointingly—too short, I spent a solid evening mulling over ways that I could fix it. A smarter knitter than I might be able to devise a way to repeat the pattern a third time, but I couldn’t tease out a solution, and I also couldn’t convince myself that adding another inch or two of ribbing wouldn’t disrupt the balance of the design.

After setting the pattern aside (with a promise to myself that one day I’ll knit the sweater version instead), I cast about my Ravelry favorites and decided on Droste Effect by Amy van de Laar, a free pattern from Knitty’s Deep Fall 2015 issue. Besides going up a needle size for both the ribbing and the body, I knit it exactly as written. I had a minor hiccup with the Decrease 5 to 1 instructions, but found helpful notes on another user’s project that had me speeding through in no time. While I love to lose an hour scrolling through all the loveliness in the pattern database, I think I’m most gratified when I can find—and give!—that little hint or nugget of knitting wisdom that turns an imminent failure into a success. In fact, my proudest knitting achievement to date is creating a project with notes that have helped 10 people.

What’s your proudest knitting (or crocheting, or sewing, or crafting) achievement?