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?

Jane Eyre Looks Good in Red

So in the 2006 version of Jane Eyre, there is a whole lot of use of the color red.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have to spell out what the significance of the “red” trope is, considering that we see it in a number of telling places, including (but not limited to) (1) around Jane’s neck after she falls in love with Rochester, (2) streaming out the window of the third floor of the north tower, and (3) swaddling the young Jane Eyre as she enjoys her imaginative travels through her “escape book.”

Unbridled passion; primal animal instinct; the true self unbound by conventions of society — we could argue about what it all means. And believe me, I would relish a good, meaty conversation about the symbolism of the color red in Jane Eyre. I actually love That Sort Of Thing.

But tonight I am hungry, and need to take a shower before I go out for dinner with Melissa, and then repair to her abode for another viewing of that delightful film that so obsesses us.

So instead I will just show you some pictures of the red neck tie — based on the one Ruth Wilson wears in the movie — that I knitted up last weekend while watching. It’s a little rough, but it was just for fun, and let’s be honest, I was more than a little distracted at times.

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If you’re interested in getting the pattern from me, let me know in the comments! It is a little bit of a tricksy construction, with a fair bit of hocus pocus going on where the two ends meet in front, and I’d be happy to share if there’s any interest.

Right now, though, my unbridled passion (THE BEAST WITHIN) is focused solely on the dinner that awaits me.

And, of course, the dark, intoxicating hours beyond.

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 Knitty.com 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?