More of a Bourbon Girl

Caitlyn is sitting on a stone ledge around a fountain. She is wearing her Henslowe shawl wrapped around her neck like a bandana.

Caitlyn is holding up her Henslowe shawl to show it has a wingspan of about 4 feet and a depth of about 1 foot.

A close-up of Caitlyn holding the Henslowe shawl to show the shape is a shallow, rounded triangle

This is the Henslowe shawl by Beth Kling. The yarn is a delicious fingering-weight merino single from Neighborhood Fiber Co. called Rustic Fingering. The color is Ramblewood, a warm reddish-purplish brown semi-solid. If my notes are any indication, there’s very little to say about knitting up the pattern: it’s neatly written and easy to follow, with helpful designer’s notes sprinkled throughout and a clear construction diagram. No head-scratchers here, just a soothing knit from beginning to end that yields plush garter stitch and an interesting lace.

Of course, I’m not sure my notes ought to regarded as an authority, since they completely neglect to mention when I started or finished my Henslowe. (Fortunately, I seemed to have had the presence of mind to create a Ravelry project at the outset.)

Why do I (usually) remember to write down the date I start a knitting project, but never the date I finish? It hasn’t been that hard to train myself to print off a new pattern and jot the date in the upper right corner of the first page. Is it so much harder to bind off the last stitch, breathe a sigh of relief, and then pause to scribble a second date under the first before putting everything away?

I mean, I guess I don’t consider a knit really finished until the ends have been woven in and it’s been blocked (unless it’s a hat; I don’t bother to block those), so I’d have to wait until that’s done for it to count. But if I can take the time to painstakingly set all those pins in place, then pluck them out again, how much longer would it take to pull out the pattern again? Especially since I’m going to have to pull out the pattern again anyway to transcribe my on-the-fly hard copy notes in Ravelry.

If I can set aside the time to pick an outfit, do my hair and makeup, shoot photos, transfer said photos from camera to computer for editing, and write a blog post, then why oh why can’t I write down a mere six digits (four if I’m feeling truly lazy)?

Sure, calendar days aren’t a great proxy for time commitment: I don’t knit every day, and even on days when I do knit, I seldom knit for the same amount of time. And that doesn’t begin to touch the amount of time spent eyeing a project up and down, admitting something’s wrong, succumbing to weeping and/or gnashing of teeth, tinking, and re-knitting.

In truth, tracking the dates is barely helpful to me, and useless to anyone else—so why do I even care?

The best answer I can come up with is that I like seeing the ebb and flow of this hobby. I like knowing how many things I knit in a year. I like being able to see when I’ve focused on a single project and when I’ve juggled two or even three projects (as was the case here; I knit this shawl from start to finish in the middle of knitting a cardigan). I don’t need to have something to knit all of time, but I definitely get restless and cranky if I go too long without a project. “Why do I feel out of sorts when nothing is really wrong?” has on more than one occasion proved easy to diagnose by checking the finish date on my most recent project.

Filling out every field in Ravelry also satisfies my inner completionist. And what knitting project is complete without an  overwrought explanation for its made-up and irrelevant name? The pattern moniker, Henslowe, and the color of the yarn reminded me of Hennessy, a cognac. I do enjoy cognac in cooking, but I’m not one to drink it straight—when it comes to liquor, well, I’m more of a bourbon girl.

Positive Peer Pressure

Caitlyn holds up a shawl made with Freia Handpaints yarn to show the full wingspan and different lace patterns

Caitlyn stands with one hand on a brick wall and her lace shawl wrapped around her neck like a bandana

Caitlyn sits on the steps of a public building with her shawl wrapped around her neck like a bandana

Caitlyn sits on the steps of a public building and peers playfully from behind her bandana shawl

Peer pressure: the catalyst of lying, cheating, stealing, drinking, smoking, and who-knows-how-many other societal woes. As a topic and a scapegoat, it was a perennial favorite in D.A.R.E. Seemingly all of the world’s vices would, someday, be offered up to us innocent lambs in the guise of friendship, and it was our solemn duty as good citizens to stand our ground and say, “no, thank you, I don’t need that to be cool.” We dutifully role-played each of the tactics, in escalating degrees of righteousness, for declining these tantalizing but ultimately life-destroying activities.

Peer pressure got a bad rap. What about using peer pressure for good? There was precious little talk about how peer pressure is also a lever for positive action. You can call it motivation, or a good influence, or tough love, but let’s be clear: it’s still peer pressure.

Take this shawl, for instance. The pattern is the Local Yarn Shawl from designer Casapinka. It was designed and released to commemorate the inaugural Local Yarn Store Day on April 21, 2018. I don’t particularly follow new pattern releases in the knitting world, and I’m not usually tempted by flash sales, special events, and the like. I will occasionally download free patterns when they’re offered, but I don’t go out of my way for them.

But as it happened, my own local yarn store Warm ‘n Fuzzy was one of the participating vendors. It doesn’t take much to bring me into the store, and the promise of a small discount on yarn purchased to create the pattern was as good a reason as any to at least drop by and see what was new.

While I liked the look of both of the sample shawls shown in the pattern and knew that Warm ‘n Fuzzy would have a delectable array of speckled and tonal yarns to suit the larger design, I kept coming back to the blue gradient. It wasn’t really a mystery to me why: every time I went into the store, I’d eye the Ombré Gradients by Freia Handpaints. I’d seen them used to great effect in yoked sweaters, but as I wasn’t ready to tackle large-scale stranded colorwork yet, and the yarns are on the pricier side anyway, I’d always sigh admiringly over them and then move on to something more “practical.”

On LYS Day, there was a great bustle of people in the tiny store, and energy was high. Despite the crowd, I shopped as was my wont: I went immediately to the Freia, which I loved and which absolutely met my needs; then I proceeded to examine, heft, and pet every other fingering-weight yarn on display, because there might be something more suitable, something better than the thing I wanted most; then I drifted back to the Freia collection to dither a little longer, as though there were a real choice to be made.

Eventually Justin took me by the shoulders and said, more or less, “We’ve taken up space long enough; either we buy this yarn or we leave.” (He has a real knack for getting to the point.)

If it had been a sleepy Sunday afternoon, if we had been the only people in the shop, if I hadn’t gotten a cheerful email saying “come out and support your local business!” I might have put the yarn down and walked away. But I wanted the Freia, and I wanted to show Warm ‘n Fuzzy the love they deserve on a day dedicated to everything great about small (and often woman-owned) craft businesses.

Did I spend more money than I intended, more than I’ve ever spent on a shawl? Yes I did. Was I happy with my purchase? Also yes, very much so.

Of course, since I had something else on the needles at the time (though I’ll be blowed if I have any idea what), I didn’t immediately dive into knitting. In fact, I very nearly forgot I had either the pattern or the yarn until I was casting about for something to knit five months later. I had been seeing more sampler-like shawls popping up on Ravelry—ones that used bands of different lace or textural stitches—and got a hankering to knit one.

After scrolling through several pages of designs and finding nothing that particularly scratched the itch I had, Justin very sagely interrupted to ask whether I might have something in my Favorites already, and to suggest that I ought to work on knitting the things I already liked instead of searching high and low for new things to fall in love with. More positive peer pressure at work.

Once I rediscovered the pattern and the yarn, everything was smooth sailing. In the ongoing cosmic irony of my knitting life, I needed two balls of the Freia to have enough yarn for the small shawl which meant—you guessed it!—alternating skeins as though for stripes. Two balls was a manageable level of hassle, however, and the end result was well worth the minor inconvenience. You can find the (few) technical details on my Ravelry project page.

On a less thrilling, more workaday note, the top I’m wearing in these photos is also handmade. The pattern is the SBCC Tonic 2, the (free) long-sleeve version of their popular t-shirt (also free). The fabric is a mystery blend with a high spandex content; it (appropriately) came from Spandex World in the New York City Garment District. I picked up this fabric and another navy-and-white stripe there, along with a small collection of other fabrics from other stores, during a day-long fabric shop tour we planned as part of our 9th anniversary vacation.

Caitlyn is smiling as she stands with her thumbs hooked through her belt loops and shows off the long-sleeve striped t-shirt she made

Key differences between the Tonic 2 and the original Tonic tee are the higher crew neckline, longer length, and less-slim-fitting waist and hip. I’ve found I prefer the higher neck, and the longer length meant I didn’t need to add any length like I did to my Tonic tees—in fact, I could probably stand to shave off an inch, to perfectly nail the proportion I like. While think the slightly looser waist is probably a good call in such a thin, clinging knit, I don’t love the relaxed hip: it lacks the negative ease to anchor the top the way I feel it should. Fortunately, it should be easy enough to go back and serge a little excess from the side seams, tapering to nothing at the waist.

Caitlyn is standing with her back and one foot against a brick wall, arms crossed but smiling as she shows off the long-sleeve striped t-shirt she made

The armhole on the Tonic 2 is ever so slightly more scooped than the Tonic. The sleeves feel a little weird to me, like the seam isn’t quite in the right place. I can’t tell if it’s because I might have accidentally set the sleeves in backwards, because the bicep is a little too snug, or because I’m being a princess who wants perfection in handmade clothes. Whatever it is, it isn’t bad enough to stop me from wearing it.

Caitlyn is wearing a long-sleeve striped t-shirt she made, sitting on the steps of a public building, and laughing at something off-camera

I also made a short sleeve version of this top, using all of the Tonic 2 pieces but chopping off the sleeves at the Tonic length. I didn’t bother with pictures, though, because yawn. But I’ve worn both tops a ton in both business casual and casual outfits!

I even eked out a pair of underwear using Zoe’s free Pants/Undies/Knickers pattern, but they’re too small. I can’t decide whether I want to size up or find another pattern; I have a couple in my stash I could try before diving into a search online.

Caitlyn is wearing a long-sleeve striped t-shirt she made, sitting on the steps of a public building, and smiling with her eyes closed as though thinking of a secret

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.