Knitting like only a history geek can

Now that I’m fully rested from my trip to London, it’s time to knuckle down and finish some of the numerous craft projects I have in progress.

One item that has been crying out to me in the middle of the night (eerily, like a faint, fibrous ghost) is one of the projects I’m making for Plimoth Plantation. They sent me yarn some time ago — spun from wool right there at the museum, and hand-dyed using 17th-century methods involving vegetable dyes and other such wonderfulness — along with a couple of patterns for me to knit up. Everything I make will be worn or used by role players at Plimoth Plantation, the living museum not far from where I live.

I’ve got materials for a fantastic pair of ladies’ woolen stockings (thigh-high, with ridges for fastening the garter around the upper leg, and tapering down to the ankle and toes, with an inlaid pattern along the side of the calf), but I decided to start with the smaller project, a little knitted reticule (or “pocket”) in bright shades of yellow, green, and purple.

Tudor Rose for Plimoth Plantation

Don’t you just love those colors? Glorious.

It’s got a fussy little looped collar to it, which I’ve only just finished to my satisfaction, before I could proceed on to the intriguingly patterned body of the thing.

I’m just about to put in the first bit of purple:

Tudor Rose Pocket

I did do a trial run of the stockings, to see how the yarn would behave, and to test out a few components of the pattern that had me scratching my head. Only did one mini-stocking, though, which I will undoubtedly have to rip out so that I can reuse the yarn when I get cracking on the real thing:

Lady's Stocking

The silly little yellow flower on the cuff is my own addition. There was about five minutes this spring when I felt the need to knit little yellow flowers and put them on practically everything. Such whims, I find, are best indulged.

I’m also working on a shawl that I’m calling my Lady Ludlow Shawl, because it’s an attempt to recreate some of the amazing drape achieved by the shawls and hoods worn by Francesca Annis in Cranford.

I’m not even trying to replicate the patterns or textures of the shawls worn by her character in the films, just trying to replicate something of the effect — that kind of loose, languid drape is something I’ve long coveted in a large shawl, and I think I’ve struck on just how to achieve it. So the yarn is just a deep, dark black, a bit shimmery from the inclusion of a fair bit of silk into the fiber blend:

Cranford Shawl

Of course, a considerable amount of the effect is only truly going to be achievable by people whose first names are Francesca, and whose last names are also Annis. Woman can wear some clothes.

What else? I still need to finish another pair of these lacy mitts, which were long since promised to one of the winners of the Spring 2010 Eggplantia give-away.

Forsythia mitts

You see? Far too much in progress. Time to achieve some completion, wherever it can be had.

What have you been up to?

At Mitts' End

Now that Spring is officially on its way (the forecast is for 53 degrees today! I am all a-twitter and agog!!) I feel that I must finally post some of the fruits of my winter knitting frenzy.

Naturally, I spent a great portion of the winter this year embroiled in a deep obsession with the PBS/BBC series Cranford.  Partly because I will watch ALMOST any British period costume drama they care to serve up (I draw the line firmly at Keira Knightly), and partly because the cast was so wonderful.

I will watch anything, for example, with this divine lady in it:

Francesca Annis

Love. Her.

So Cranford was sweet and light and fun — it didn’t feature a great quantity of the smouldering and agonizing heartache that I prize so much in period drama, but it DID feature some truly glorious knitting that I spent much of the winter trying to recreate.

Mostly, I was obsessed with the many varieties of fingerless gloves (which they would have called mittens) that the ladies of Cranford wore.

I ordered a great big cone of natural, somewhat rough, handspun lace-weight yarn so that I could experiment at will, and while I was waiting for it to arrive (annoyingly, it was backordered for weeks — I suspect I wasn’t the only obsessive knitter so afflicted) I pulled out some gorgeous malabrigo laceweight that I had had in my stash for over two years, patiently waiting for a project that was worthy of it.

After starting and stopping a few times with various combinations of stitches, I decided that I first wanted to see how the yarn would behave in a lacey mitt pattern, so I made a pair in the Spyrogyra pattern from that I had always loved, and gave them to my friend Melissa, who has the tiniest, most delicate paws you can possibly imagine.

Here’s how they came out (beautiful photography by Melissa Averinos, natch):

mitts detail

Mitts in toto

Mitts on paws

See what I mean? How could you not want to knit for delicate little hands like that? I ask you.

So those came out pretty well, but my cone of handspun, oatmeal-colored yarn still hadn’t arrived, so I started up another pair, this one a Cranford-inspired pattern of my own devising, destined for my very own hands.

These had a short cuff of two-by-two ribbing, followed by a simple double-yarn-over lacey loop repeat, followed by very basic stockinette all the way up to a running diagonal lace trim on the fingers and thumb. I wanted to show off the gorgeous shades of the hand-dyed malabrigo yarn more than the Spyrogyra pattern had done, so I suffered in silence through the many hours of laceweight stockinette on size zero needles. The horror!

It was fun. I secretly LOVE knitting on teeny tiny needles.

So those cameout quite satisfactorily, too, and I now wear them every day at work in my freezing office in Cambridge:

simple mitts for me

mitt thumb

mitts and mac

And when THOSE were done, I finally had possession of my cone of oatmeal two-ply. But by then I was so mittened out that I jumped right into a huge circular shawl with a deliciously soft brown trim with the stuff.

It isn’t quite finished yet (almost! dang but that trim takes forEVER to finish up), nevermind blocked to within an inch of its life, but here is a taste:

lacey shawl

I should be able to complete the trim and block it out next weekend, which is just about when I expect the crocuses to start to poke their little heads up out of the ground.

And then it will be time to move on from winter-ish knitting and into some springier sorts of crafty goodness.

I am thinking something soft and green, to celebrate the new season of warmth.

What will it be?

not dead yet

Well, the bad news is that I don’t really feel any better today than I did yesterday.  In sickness, as in all things, I generally insist on linear improvement.  I prefer exponential, but will settle for the merely geometric.   Alas.  Disappointed again.

The good news is that I had been planning all along to start a seven-day detoxification diet right after The Big Event, to wash my body clean of all the gallons of coffee, mountains of packaged food, and insane amounts of stress I either ate or internalised over the last few months. 

So the fact that Day One (today!) of this little detox occurs just as I am engaged in kicking a head cold to the curb is all the better.  I’ve got real motivation to purge the crap from my body, since I actually feel like True Ass, and not just the Downtrodden Derriere (Beknighted Buttocks?  Ramshackle Rear-End?) I am acclimated to, and therefore hardly even notice anymore.

Mostly this diet consists of lots of steamed vegetables, brown rice, and some lean protein like chicken, fish, and/or tofu.  Also green tea, some insanely tasty veggie broth, more green tea, and some homemade shakes, which suits me, since I never had found a use yet for that blender Grammy gave me last year.

So yesterday I bought just a ridiculous amount of fresh vegetables, and today I chopped them up and I steamed them.  Also I made a huge batch of brown rice.  At the same time as I was was heating up the kettle for some green tea.  So the sauna was in full effect, and it was pretty great. 

The regimen (which I first heard about through the fabulous-along-many-vectors Lolly) also calls for a nightly bath, in a mixture of salts and lavendar essence, which I have to say sounds downright fantastic to me right about now, too.  So I also cleaned out the bathtub with baking soda and blazing hot water this afternoon.  Also helpful (read: steamy), and fun in an anticipatory sort of way (I’m gonna meet you!  You’re gonna meet me!).

The other good news is that I bought myself some gorgeous new sock yarn the day before I got sick, and so I have had its subtle hues to soothe me through my travails.  Also, it is the first sock I have ever knit on the dreaded size zero needles! 

It is another one of the Nancy Bush socks out of Knitting Vintage Socks— the Lichen Ribbed Socks.  Although I am not planning to build an entire ouevre based on Nancy’s patterns like Lolly is, I am pretty into the idea of knitting resurrected Victorian sock pattterns.

Which says a lot about me, I think.  Alas.

sock zero

sock pr0n!

A while back, I made some socks for my friend Saucygrrl.   I am well into the third pair of socks down the road from that pair, and I only now realized that I never did post pictures of the finished product.

To rectify that terrible omission, here are Saucy’s socks:

Saucy's socks

They are made from 100% mohair, hand-dyed by Zen Strings, and purchased, as were the blocking forms, from this lovely site that has quickly become my main purveyor of sock yarn.  The pattern is Baudelaire by Cookie A.

 This was the first time I had ever tried a toe-up method, which was fun and novel at first, but I found the whole wrap-and-turn nonsense at the gussets to be way too demanding of my attention. 

Since I like to knit my socks while watching costume drama on Masterpeice Theatre (I swear to god they could film episodes of The Love Boat in period dress and I wouldn’t give a damn as long as there were handsome British men in breeches and cravats cavorting about, manfully repressing their feelings…) this method forced me to waste too much of my attention on the knitting and not enough on the cravats.

But I did love the combination of cables and lace.  I just wish, in retrospect, that I had chosen a deeper color to work this pattern in.  I shall have to try again, this time with a deep, dark jewel tone. 

 Much like the socks I am knitting now, in fact:

red socks

This is another Cookie A pattern, charmingly known as Monkey, using Cherry Hill ultramerino, I think.  I am lousy at saving the actual names of my yarns.  But this one is a fantastic, rich red, and it is coming out even better than I had hoped.

Sadly, I am less thrilled with the pattern than I thought I would be — only because I knit with four needles, and this repeat calls for purls at both ends of each needle, which causeth the yarn to stretch at the “seams.”  Henceforth, I will eschew patterns with purls at both ends of the needles, because it is impossible to pull the yarn taut enough between purl stitches across needles.

I also recently finished these:

Twisted Flower

And I am sorry but you are just going to have to take my word for it that that is what these actually look like:

socks 002

…because I am incapable of taking good pictures of knitting.  I don’t want to use the flash, because you lose all the good detail and the true color with the flash, but if I don’t use the flash then the shutter time is too long and it comes out blurry.

I have spent so much time in the past two years getting good at knitting that I have completely failed to become good at photography.  Alas.  It shall have to be an obsession for another time.

Anyway, the brown ones are the ones I made, and the green ones are the actual pattern photo — AGAIN from Cookie A.  I am STUPID for her sock patterns. 

 Not sure what’s next in sockville, because I am planning on taking a brief respite from socks for a while and try something I’ve never tried before: a lacy shawl.  Check this out:


 Photo and knits by Brooklyn Tweed, whose take on this pattern I really like.  In the pattern book this shawl is very pale and pastel and diaphanous (ick), and I really like how he’s solidified it into a more striking and dramatic piece.  I’ve already ordered yarn very similar to this, by the same amazing yarn people at Sundara Yarns.

I am really looking forward to working with some completely luxurious and awesomely seductive yarn, as Sundara is reputed to be.

I just don’t get people who knit with crap acrylic yarn.  I like to knit for the process, to watch something useful and wearable and beautiful slowly form out of the painstaking arrangement of one long, long bit of string.  Then I like to give the stuff I’ve knit to people who I think might appreciate it at least a little bit as much as I do.

But saving money is totally not the point.  I spend money on yarn and needles and patterns the way I used to spend money on taking myself out to eat, or buying books.  It is one thing that is totally for me, to suit my interests and desires.  I knit something because I want to.  And part of that equation includes asking myself:

what color do I want to spend my time with for the next couple of weeks?

what sort of texture do I want to run my fingertips along for hours at a time?

what new techniques can i wow myself with this time?

Knitting with hand-spun wool connects me to the community of knitters who feel the same way.  When I buy yarn from a tiny little outfit like Sundara, or Zen Strings, I am linking myself to the folks who thought it was worth their time to carefully, painstakingly create a skein of yarn that was a DELIGHT to the eyes and the touch.

Because that’s exactly why I knit.

That, and because I never thought I could be good at something so delicate and exacting.  And I flip myself out every time I realize that I am really actually not at all bad at this.