Knitting for those we love ~ stitching memories

Last December on Prairie Home Companion, one of the skits was about a man receiving a scarf for Christmas.  His girlfriend had knit the scarf especially for him and couldn’t wait for him to open the gift. When he saw it was “just” a scarf, he looked at it with disdain, clueless about why his girlfriend could be so excited about giving him such a gift. “You would think she had knit the Shroud of Turin!” he huffed. I felt sorry for this fictional woman. I knew the scene rang true for many of us knitters. We quickly learn to rethink who we knit for and what we knit for them.

When a newbie to knitting, I started with scarves and hats. I knit watch caps for my dad and for my brother, Steve. Love was in every stitch as I thought about the recipient during my knitting. When I excitedly presented Dad with his hat, he had a puzzled look on his face. “It’s a hat, Dad, for when you’re working outside or fishing. It’s 100% wool and will keep your head warm.” He replied, “Oh. Thanks.” I’m pretty sure he had no idea why I knit such a hat for him and I never saw him wear it. Come to think of it, I only remember Dad wearing watch caps during harsh New York winters when he and Mom lived in the Catskill mountains. The weather had to be windy and bitterly cold for Dad to wear a watch cap, otherwise he wore a cowboy or baseball-style hat. After retiring to North Carolina, he no longer needed a warm wooly hat. The hat for my brother was ridiculous: Steve’s hat could have fit a good-sized pumpkin. He put it on his head and said, “Geez, how big do you think my head is?” My expectations were too high.

My knitting has come a long way since then. I’ve gifted socks to my sister-in-law, Diane. When I recently gave Steve a pair to pass on to her he looked at me with amazement and said, “Now I know why you told me no one should have so many beautiful socks in their drawer. These socks are amazing! Diane loves every pair you’ve given her.”

Dad loved the pair of socks I knitted for him one Christmas. He was disappointed when he could no longer wear them because of swelling in his feet and ankles. He was amazed by the Girasole blanket I knit for him and his lovely wife, Helen, for their first wedding anniversary. He was 79 years young and Helen five years his junior when they married. Helen enjoys the socks I’ve knit for her and was the recipient of my first and to-date only felted hat.

This past December, Helen and I rushed Dad to the emergency room because he was having difficulty breathing. As uncomfortable as he was, Dad introduced me to the nurse, “This is my daughter. She’s a knitter.” I could hear the pride in his voice. “Is that right,” the nurse replied. Dad said, “I bet she knit that sweater she has on.” When I said, “Yeah, Dad, I did,” the nurse looked at my heavily cabled, zippered and hooded cardigan with admiration. I made Dad proud. I was proud of him, too. He understood my passion for knitting. We had both come a long way since that watch cap.

Dad and me cropped

~ Dad and me circa 1952 ~













  – In memoriam John Gregory – January 1, 1929 – December 23, 2012

Confession time ~ from skepticism to passion

I have a confession to make: I was a skeptic and clueless about the many facets of knitting. All I knew about knitting was drawn from my efforts as a young mother and my mother’s knitting: knitted Christmas ornaments and crocheted afghans all crafted from acrylic yarn. Then…….

In 2004 when my friend, Carol, invited me on a trip to Maine, of course I said yes. Who wouldn’t want to spend a week in September on the coast of Maine hiking, birding, and kayaking when most of the tourists were gone. The weather was perfect for a group of 5 women to enjoy the great outdoors.

I believe it was on the afternoon of the our second day, when Carol, Margaretta and Beth were in the living room enjoying the view and knitting. With a frown on my face, I said something like, “You’re knitting; I can’t believe you’re knitting. We should be outdoors. We’re in Maine!” Someone responded, “We’re taking a break and relaxing. This is fun!” I shook my head in disbelief.

Of course, we had to make a trip to a local yarn shop or two. I was clueless about that, too. While in one of the shops, I remembered knitting a few things back in the day. I decided to pick up a pattern, needles and yarn to make a sweater for my three-year-old grandson. We didn’t have a lot to do in the evening; I guessed I could give knitting a go. While Margaretta taught Carol how to knit socks (Carol later took up the nickname The Socklady), Beth taught Wendy and me how to knit; and, she taught us to knit continental style! For some reason I thought that was so much better than “throwing” or the right-hand carry method I learned as a teenager. The “Stoplight Sweater” was one result of that trip. Wendy and I were hooked.

About this time last year, Carol told me she thought I might start designing knitwear. Again, I was skeptical. What a wise woman. Only one design written up, but that’s a start. Thank you, Carol, for the wonderful trip that changed my life in such a positive way. I miss you, dear friend.

The Socklady

                           Carol Quick Porter
                  July 15, 1946 – May 4, 2012

A cable needle in my coffee ~ the how of getting there

This morning I came across yesterday’s coffee cup. A curved metal hook shone just above the surface of the day-old coffee. How the heck did one of my cable needles end up in such an odd place? People often find themselves in unexpected places. Barbara Walker thought she would be in Washington, D.C. for awhile. Lucky for us knitters, she left for New Jersey and needed an interest that would fit easily into raising a family.

Barbara Walker

Barbara G. Walker – October 6, 2012

“How I Became a Knitter” was the title of Barbara Walker’s keynote address delivered at Interweave Knits Knitting Lab on the evening of October 6, 2012 in Manchester, New Hampshire. What a story. Ms. Walker became a knitter after leaving her job as a cub reporter at the Washington Star to follow her husband to his new job at a pharmaceutical company in New Jersey. What was a woman with interests outside the home to do while raising a family during the 1950s and 60s? I doubt daycare other than in a private home was an option.

Even 20 years later in 1974, daycare didn’t exist for toddlers in Fort Collins, Colorado. My 18-month-old son, Chris, attended a daycare center just outside the city limits. The center was organized by a group of women with degrees in early childhood education and located in a church annex. I would drop Chris off for a morning of painting, drawing, water play, and other engaging activities while I biked on to my morning class at Colorado State University. I would pick him up at lunch time. After less than ten minutes in the bike seat, he would be fast asleep – his head lolling gently against my lower back. Chris loved those mornings at the center. Unfortunately the church decided it wanted the facility for other uses during the week; the daycare center’s lease was not renewed. A suitable facility could not be found because of the stringent building codes for a daycare center in Fort Collins. Much of the code made sense; much of it made no sense at all. To meet code, a facility would have to either be built from the ground up or an existing building totally gutted and rebuilt. A plea was made to the town council for help. We were told we should be home raising our kids. Yes, that is exactly what one of the councilmen said, “Mothers should be at home raising their children.” I still get angry when I think of that meeting with the town council. Why would dropping my son off to play, paint, draw, listen to stories and music for a morning hurt him? Why would my taking classes at Colorado State University cause him harm? CSU had the perfect facility, tiny toilets and sinks that met code, but it told us no: no daycare on campus; the university had plans for the facility. After almost 40 years I can’t remember what CSU had planned: I do remember that it wasn’t daycare for either it’s students or working mothers. So I could complete my classes, I sent Chris to a private home. Moving from a group he loved to a private home went well until the woman caring for him had to leave town to care for her ailing mother. The second home was a disaster: the caregiver’s 4-year-old daughter liked to hit; an act my son never understood. Somehow we made it to the end of the quarter. I doubt Barbara Walker would have accepted what the councilman said which was pretty much to stay at home 24/7 unless going out was with the husband or for a cause related to the children.

Barbara Walker is an extraordinary woman with an appreciation for a craft most people think of as ordinary and fairly routine. Try mentioning some of the math involved in patterns; the typical response from a non-knitter is, “Really?” in a tone I can’t possibly help but hear as a bit skeptical. I feel honored to have been in the audience to hear Ms. Walker’s talk. So many have benefited from her research into the history of the craft, her innovations (the top-down sweater!) and her many books. I am so glad she left that fabulous job as a cub reporter to become a mother in New Jersey. What gifts she has given to so many with her work in such fields as anthropology, feminism, humanism, mineralogy, art, and, yes, knitting.

To learn more about Barbara Walker, listen to this Freethought Radio interview on YouTube. Now to locate a copy of her autobiography.

Missing Mr. Mantis ~ late summer joys

Found this guyBrown Mantis on my hummingbird feeder three mornings in a row. Each morning I moved him to one of the flowering plants that miraculously survives in my seriously neglected perennial garden. (Confessions of a knitaholic.) When Mr. Mantis didn’t appear on the fourth morning, I felt a bit sad. Did he find a mate and not survive, was he preyed upon by a bat, or did he simply relocate? I’ll never know, but at least I learned that the male praying mantis doesn’t always become a meal for his mate and that this mantis may have been a Ms., not a Mr. More surprisingly, I found that the Chinese Mantis (Tenodera sinensis) has been observed preying on hummingbirds. Next time, the mantis gets relocated as far away from the hummingbird feeder as possible. Don’t think he would have had much luck snaring a bird, though. His brown camouflage was of no help on the red-topped feeder and his stature was on the small side.

Late summer spiders are amazing – big spiders building big webs. One morning large webs spanned all three exit/entries to the house. I kept forgetting to duck when I stepped off the back porch ending up with spider silk in my hair.Fall spider

The New Dawn climbing rose is in its last bloom of 2011. If I feed the poor bush and weed around it, maybe it will show signs of its former glory. I must put the knitting aside to care for one of my favorite climbing roses.Rose

The cool evenings and mornings have been wonderful. Sunday was cool enough for me to wear my newly blocked Summer Solstice, a pattern by Heidi Kirrmaier, knit up in Elsebeth Lavold Silky Wool. I finally finished it. Love the fit, but may shorten the sleeves. Sure is hard taking pictures of oneself. Us regular folk look so much better in motion.

SS fini

I love working with the Silky Wool – a fabulous choice for this cardi. I have two more sweater’s worth of the Silky Wool. Deciding if Sigrun should be knit in the green or burnt orange. Silky Wool lt green

Silky wool burnt orange

Leaning toward the green.

No starting other projects, though; I have to get a couple of projects (my Ravelry project page) off the needles first (just a couple, not all) – 2 pairs of socks, a scarf (hibernating since March), a second hat (should have been posted as my second pattern a month ago), a shawl, a shawlette (Catkin by Carina Spencer), and a tank top (Zigzag top by Marianne Isager). What I’m hoping to finish in the next two weeks are the Catkin (a birthday gift) and Zigzag top. Kinda looks impossible since I need to cast on a pair of mittens to match the Laura’s Spirals hat pattern, socks I promised my car mechanic for his wife and a sweater for my granddaughter.

When can I possibly get to Lemon by Helga Isager, Marianne’s daughter? After seeing Helga’s Camomille shawl up close and personal, I want to knit that too. So many fabulous designs and yarn to go with them. What’s a knitter to do, but welcome the cooler weather and bring out the hand-knit socks, sweaters, shawls…….

Woobie Woes ~ when toys attack….

As soon as I saw this pattern – Woobie Kitty by Kris Carlson – I wanted to drop everything and knit one for my 6-year-old granddaughter. Keira let me know right away that her Woobie should be knit in black and red. She even named it Ruby Kitty before we bought the yarn: Cascade 220 Sport Superwash; a fabulous yarn when washable is a must. Could not talk her out of the kitty (the zebra and the bunny seemed more interesting), nor could I get her to choose colors other than black and red. Red is okay, but I really, really dislike knitting with black.

The knitting looked simple enough. Even a 340-stitch picot hem wasn’t all that intimidating. In my opinion, the picot was a must and added to the nature of the Woobie. The recipient should have the best rendering of the pattern, right?

Picot hem was going great until the second decrease round. Made note to self, “There are critical points in a pattern that require one’s full attention.” I knit the second round of decreases too soon so they didn’t line up correctly. I tried to fix the error by dropping down, but couldn’t see what the heck I was doing. Again, I really, really dislike knitting with black. I ended up with a mess, so I ripped all the way back to approximately the 3rd rnd from the cast on; second go, was a breeze.

Finally got from this

Woobie mess 1

to this –

Woobie 50

After working alternating red and black stripes, all was well……  for a while. Had decreased to 140 stitches: exactly what I was supposed to have before increasing the decrease rate. Decreased to 108 stitches, but oh! wait! I had 107. Searched for a dropped stitch without any luck. It all looked good, but I can be really dense sometimes. I started ripping back. Stupid, stupid. This was for my favorite little girl in the world. It had to be as perfect as I could make it. Never mind that perfection is rarely achieved by humans and never in my hand knits. So I had mess #2 on my hands.  Folded it all up in a pillow case and took off to the gym for a swim. With a clear head it was easy to see I should simply do a single decrease instead of a double on the quarter of the blanket missing a stitch. The pattern does not note that the stitch-count gets thrown off by one stitch: I’m pretty sure that is what happens as noted by another knitter on Ravelry. I hadn’t even made a mistake. I hope I have taken this lesson to heart.

Fortunately I was able to take this mess and without much trouble get from here

Woobie mess

Good kitty

to here

Keira and woobiea

and finally, all ends well….









Ears could easily be made to look more like cat ears by attaching more of the back side of the ears to the head to shorten them and push them forward; however, recipient insisted Ruby Kitty was fine as is and would not release her for cosmetic touch ups or the addition of whiskers.

Technique notes:
Tips (not a how to; you can google that) on working a crochet-chain provisional cast on when there are a lot of stitches (technique allows for interruptions or breaks):

  • for waste yarn, use smooth cotton string (comparable to lace-weight yarn in thickness)

  • using waste yarn and crochet a lose chain of 5 or more stitches than required for the cast on

  • use a crochet hook that is at least 1 gauge higher than project’s knitting needles

  • when ready to remove waste yarn and knit with live stitches, place provisionally cast-on stitches on a dpn (smaller gauge than using for project) 20 or 30 at a time to begin working with stitches.

Using cotton string makes it easy to see the crocheted chain and where to insert the hook or needle for casting on stitches. It’s also easy to unzip the chain and leaves no fuzz behind.

Note on short rows: have never knit short rows w/o either a wrap & turn or a “shadow” stitch. Pattern directions could have been clearer on “knit in the stitch below,” i.e. which stitch below? The right side of Ruby Kitty’s head looks good; the left side is pitiful.

A foray into the blogosphere

I am an avid knitter expanding, like so many others, into knitwear design. Figure if I start blogging about it, patterns will evolve into print. My first design is this shawl, but it has yet to manifest itself completely to the written page. In other words, I started writing the pattern and it waits patiently to be finished. The pattern name is Winging It. Used Kauni Wool 8/2 Effektgarn, ~650 yd.

My first written pattern (hope to post it to Ravelry by week’s end) is this hat – Laura’s Hat. Very simple. It’s okay to start with a simple pattern. In fact, that’s probably better. Get a little experience under my belt. Big yarn: ~90 yards of Debbie Bliss Como. Most of my knits are in fingering or DK weight, but big yarn seems to be popular and who doesn’t like a quick knit….

now a free Raverly download

I have taken quite a few knitting classes, but no classes focusing entirely on how to design knitwear. I hope to bring home several new skills after my trip to Manchester, New Hampshire in October for Interweave Knitting Lab.

For today, this is about it. Just one more photo to share. Found this lovely on a potted plant near my side door.

Orgyia definita – Definite Tussock Moth – Packard, 1864

This catepillar eats tree leaves; however, there has to be an infestation for it to cause significant damage. So glad I can simply enjoy the critter for its very brief lifespan.