Tag: potion

The Knit Together Project: Ode to the Hemlocks 20

Things have been so busy that there’s probably been less knitting in my life over the last month than at any other time in my adult life. The irony of this isn’t lost on me. This blog is called Knit Potion for a reason. I truly believe you could substitute knitting for meditation in the old Zen proverb that advises, “You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day — unless you’re too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.”

Alas, I know it, but I haven’t managed to do it. I knit, but instead of finishing projects, I finish rows. The simple Hitchhiker I started weeks ago is still on my needles. My argyle pillow is still an idea. My Inlet cardigan, sans sleeves.

Enter Shirley Yeung, the incomparable maker, thinker, and writer behind Handmade Habit. In an absolutely enchanting blog post, Shirley talked about the Knit Together Project and shared the story behind her own beautiful blanket square. She also encouraged others to participate.

The requirements are that the 8”x8” square be knit from fiber that has special significance for you and then mailed to the project’s mastermind, Melissa of Knitting the Stash. Melissa will be seaming the squares together into a blanket that will eventually go to one of the people who’ve contributed a square.

On some level I must have known that participating in a project like this would be just the dose of knit potion I needed. It made me start thinking about the extra special yarns in my stash, and that got me thinking about all of the incredible fiber friends I’ve made since we moved to Tennessee four years ago. Among these is our dear friend Marcia Kummerle. I’ve written about Marcia many times, including here and here. She’s also known as Good Fibrations.

Besides being one of the nicest people I know, Marcia is an inspired dyer with a direct link to the color gods (check out the red yarn at the bottom of this post). Last year, she created two new colorways, “Deep Forest” and “Ode to the Hemlocks.” The story behind them struck a deep personal chord, and I’d like to briefly tell you why as a way of telling you about my blanket square.

The eastern hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) grows everywhere in the Smoky Mountains. We live on close to 35 acres of forest, and they are thick on our property. These trees can grow to be over 150 feet high and nearly 6 feet around. Some of the ones in our area are over 500 years old. Many species of birds nest in their branches. Flying squirrels live in and feed around them. And they help keep the forest floor and mountain streams cool. The day we moved into our house, I hugged one. I didn’t know what it was then, but it called to me, and I loved it.

I’ve since learned that this amazing tree is in trouble. It’s being attacked by a non-native insect called the hemlock woolly adelgid. An article on the Scientific American blog, “Hemlock Extinction Looms Over the Tennessee Forests,” offers a succinct account of the situation. The New Yorker’s “A Death in the Forest” takes a more in-depth look at things. It’s not good.

So Marcia’s yarn . . . A year-and-a-half ago or so, Marcia visited a favorite hiking spot for the first time in many years. She couldn’t get over the sense that something was strikingly different. It took her awhile, but by the end of the hike, she had come to realize that what was different was the light. There was too much of it. The hemlocks that had earlier blanketed the forest floor in cool deep greens were gone, and the new forest appeared as shades of brown. The character of the visible forest had entirely changed. It was in response to this experience that Marcia created the colorway “Deep Forest,” a memory of the forest that was, and “Ode to the Hemlocks,” an acknowledgement of the forest that is increasingly becoming the norm in this area.

Because this yarn comes from Marcia’s goats . . .

Because Marcia created the colorways as a testament to the shocking change that is taking place in our forest, literally outside my door . . .

Because I believe that somehow noticing and telling and creating in response to this event means something . . .

I decided to knit my blanket square in Marcia’s yarn. Viewed head-on the square is stripes of then and now.

Viewed from another perspective, the deep green of the hemlock forest remains intact.

I’d originally planned to have the green show up as a tree shape, but in the end it seemed more fitting to knit a circle. My thought was that though we might not see it now and we might not know the exact shape it will take, nature will find a way back to wholeness. So far at least, it always has.

Thank you so much, Melissa, for thinking of this project and shepherding it along. And thank you, Shirley, for brining it to my attention and encouraging me to participate. Here’s to knitters. And to the hemlocks.

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Check out woollythoughts.com for lots of great info on illusion knitting! My circle is a modification of one of their simplest patterns. Many of the others are stunning in their complexity.SaveSave

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Funtimes in Babylon 10

Life has been especially lifey lately. As a consequence I’ve found it necessary to cast on many things. Well, just three things, but that’s two beyond my comfort zone, especially since I still have a couple of UFOs in the wings.

The first cast on is something I actually mentioned a couple of posts ago but haven’t really talked about. It’s Jane Sowerby’s Spider’s Web Shawl from the book Victorian Lace Today. Here is a picture, but you can’t tell much. It’s destined to look like a blob as long as it’s on the needles.

This is the most challenging lace project I’ve ever attempted. A couple of years ago, I knit Hilary Latimer’s Mystery Knit Along Shawl and loved the way the painstaking, careful work of knitting it actually turned out to be very relaxing. I had to pay attention so absolutely that when I’d come up for air it was almost like I’d spent the time taking a rejuvenating nap. My mind would be clear, and I’d be refreshed and ready for whatever was next.

I’m hoping the Spider’s Web Shawl will give me a similar experience, but I’m not quite far along enough to tell. The thing that motivated me to attempt this pattern was actually the yarn. The yarn I’m using is an airy, soft, almost luminescent, lace-weight, mostly mohair blend that came from a couple of very special goats we know.

We met Gracie and her brother Reuben when they were babies. They belonged to our dear friend Marcia who runs Good Fibrations. Somewhere I have a picture of Paul holding Gracie the day we me her. I think she was only a week or so old at that point. It’s insanely sweet, and if I ever find it, I’ll show it to you.

Anyway, Gracie and Reuben now live with our friends, Ann and Trish, over at Out in Jupiter Farm. Here’s Paul with Gracie at their place last year.

Ann and Trish took the fiber from Gracie and Reuben’s first shearing and turned it into an out-of-this-world laceweight yarn, and that is the yarn I’m using for my Spider’s Web Shawl. I’m hoping to do it justice. I’ll keep you posted.

So that was the first wild-hair cast on. Remember the Inlet cardigan? It still has no sleeves. I just wasn’t in a sleeve knitting mood, ya know? The Spider’s Web Shawl requires concentration, and it’s gotten too warm to work on the Zigzag Blanket, so there were some knitting opportunities cropping up when I didn’t have anything to knit!

And there was stress. It’s the absolute craziest time of the year for me workwise. So one night when it was very very late and I was still sitting at my desk, I decided the only sane thing to do was cast on a project I knew I’d love because I’ve knit the exact same thing in the exact same yarn once before. Martina Behm’s Hitchhiker scarf. In Malabrigo “Archangel.”

I know you understand.

Cast On #3. This one isn’t actually on the needles yet, but that could happen any second. I’ve got the yarn.

Look:

I’ve been dying to knit with some of the wonderful, speckledy Hedgehog Fibres yarn I’ve been seeing everywhere, and after I knit The Rain Outside for Cari, I knew the next one had to be for me and that I had to get myself some of that yarn. I chose “Poison” and “Ruin.” What do you think?

And just in case the cast-on frenzy isn’t over, I ordered the two skeins of “Sangria” at the top of the post. I’m so not sorry.

 

*Father John Misty’s Funtimes in Babylon has felt relevant lately.

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Knit Potion 4

I don’t seem to be able to language lately, but knitting goes on.

Exhibit A (etc.): Cabled Fingerless Mitts for Cari . . . That’s actually Cari’s hand wearing the mitt, which just happens to match her mug with knitted cables on it. AND she’s knitting! In other words, this picture equals a whole bunch of happy for me.

 

Fetching Mitts for Liz:

 

Annual Christmas dishcloths for my Dad:

 

Double Knit Cap for my godson Finn:

 

 

Elevation Hat for my cousin Randy (modeled by Paul):

Solidarity, my knitters!

Checks & Balances 13

Talking sweaters today, not government.*

Paul’s Checks & Balances sweater is off the needles!

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I wrote about the Good Fibrations yarn I used for this in an earlier post, and I simply cannot praise it enough. Knitting with it made me think back to one of the first sweaters I ever made.

That sweater was a cardigan, and the yarn I was using was a worsted tweed of some sort. The feel of it was full and soft and sturdy, all at the same time. It was like a lullaby in my hands, and it carried me off to a sweet, sweet place whenever I picked it up. Honestly, I think knitting with that yarn, all those years ago, is one of the reasons I became A Knitter. And this yarn is like that. Plus, it’s gorgeous.

The colorway is called “Soft Suede,” and it goes with just about every pair of pants Paul has.

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One consideration when I was choosing a pattern was that the sweater needed to be sturdy and not prone to losing its shape. Paul is pretty hard on his clothes, and I wanted this to be something he could wear without having to worry about stretching it out or messing it up. I decided to go with a design knit in pieces and then seamed, hoping that the seaming would add a little more structure to the sweater than it might have otherwise, and that definitely turned out to be the case. He should be able to knock around in this day in and day out without any worries.

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It makes my heart swell to think of my honey wearing the sweater I knit for him, with all the love and care that went into it holding him close. I don’t do a ton of knitting for other people, but every time I do, I’m reminded what a special gift a knitted thing is. The person who gets it and the knitter who knitted it both come away with so much.

I have one other random picture I’ve been meaning to show you–the Mystery KAL Shawl in the wild! A friend took this snapshot of us at a wedding recently. The shawl was perfect because the wedding was in the evening, and it was held outside. The temperature was in the seventies when we got there, but by the time dinner and dancing wrapped up, it was in the mid-fifties. I started out with the shawl over my arm, but by the end of the night, I was using it to keep me warm. Hooray for handknits in action!

amandas-wedding

 

*Just one thought–I loved this article on npr.org about working toward a fuller understanding of where others might be coming from by reading “the book that’s not for you.”

 

 

“Time is contagious . . . Everybody’s getting old” 3

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Hello, my friends. If we were standing face-to-face, this would be one of those days when we just looked at each other, shook our heads, and then burst out laughing. Know what I mean?

The only thing that makes a lot of sense in my life right now is the zigzag blanket. I’ve been knitting on it constantly.

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Paul’s sweater is ready to be finished.

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I intend to seam it up and add the neck any day now, but there keeps being the world and the work and the million stressful things, and I just keep needing to knit the zigzag blanket.

Happily, there was fiber guild last weekend, so I was able to socialize with the zigzag blanket in tow. In addition to seeing my people, I got some excellent blanket knitting advice from Teddy.

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He was so tired by the time he finished wedging himself between Cari and me to offer his views on color selection that he had to collapse on Cari’s lap and take a nap.

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Another happy thing is that three books I preordered forever ago have all come in the mail. People Knitting has incredible photos as I expected it would. I haven’t had a chance to dive into Mary Oliver’s Upstream or The Hidden Life of Trees yet, but it’s nice having them nearby for whenever that elusive free moment comes. I’m especially excited about The Hidden Life of Trees. I wrote about it here if you’re interested.

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One of the things I’ve wanted to share with you when I finally got around to posting is this article about Lars Rains. He’s a former New York cop who is really into knitting! He published a book called Modern Lopi last year, and the designs in it look incredible. I especially like Hildur. There’s something about the way the neck is worked that seriously appeals to me.

The other thing I wanted to mention is the Dyeing Now project. This is the coolest thing! The centerpiece is a book published in the early 20th century called Vegetable Dyes. It was written by Ethel Mairet who was a pioneering weaver but also did tons of experimenting with natural dyeing. The book is a catalog of all of this with instructions on how to duplicate Mairet’s results. It was apparently one of the first books on natural dyeing to reach a wide audience. The point of the Dyeing Now project is for contemporary dyers to prepare samples of dyed fiber using Mairet’s recipes. Anyone can participate! The instructions are on the Ditchling Museum website here.

Sorry for the rambling post. I hope to make more sense again some day. Today’s title is from Damien Rice’s song “Coconut Skins.”

 

Instructions for living a life . . . * 2

I’m trying to live deliberately these days. There’s so much to be swept up in. I know you know what I mean. World things, family things, living life things . . .  It can be overwhelming. I’m looking for solid ground.

Knitting is solid ground. I’m slowly making progress on the sleeves of Paul’s sweater. I love thinking of his arms wrapped in these stitches I’ve put together, one after another, so carefully.

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Recently, I was with some people dear to me, and the situation was stressful, tense. There was waiting involved. I picked up these sleeves and started to knit, and the effect was remarkable. The energy in the room changed for all of us. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t experienced it first hand, but my knitting was like a spell that suddenly allowed us all to relax. I was aware of the change as it was happening. We were all watching my hands knit one stitch, and one stitch, and one stitch, and we began to be soothed. Knitting has that power.

Homemade buttermilk biscuits are also solid ground.

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Baking these required just enough focus to make the demands of the moment more powerful than all the other places my mind wanted to go. Eating them reminded me of my grandmother. Sharing them with Paul made me happy. That was enough.

Another thing I think will be grounding is starting to do some natural dyeing. I’ve been anxious to try this for quite a while. The process interests me, and I like the idea of becoming more intimate with the plants and trees that are everywhere around us on the mountain. The goldenrod is practically insisting that the time is right. It’s in full, crazy bloom at the moment and is everywhere.

I ordered some books last week.

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And today we went to the flea market to look for inexpensive, non-reactive pots and other tools I’ll need.

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It must have been my lucky day because I found three pots, two stainless steel and one enamel, along with some tongs and a stainless steel colander.

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Dogs may be the most solid ground of all. How can you have any doubt about where you stand when you’re with a dog?

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In many ways blogging is also grounding. It’s what I thought of when I read Mary Oliver’s “Instructions for living a life”:

 Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.

If you have any suggestions for staying grounded, I’d love to hear them. Please post a comment or email me at melinda@knitpotion.com.

 

*From “Sometimes” in Red Bird: Poems by Mary Oliver

Connecting 13

A few weeks ago Donna Druchunas posted a list of her ten favorite knitting books. One of the books she mentioned was Knitting Heaven and Earth by Susan Gordon Lydon. She said, “This is hands-down my favorite non-pattern book about knitting, and the best writing about knitting I have ever read.”

Knitting Heaven and Earth

I ordered it so fast I didn’t even realize I’d gotten a used copy. I don’t mind buying a used book, but when I do, I like to make sure it’s a clean copy with no writing in it or serious damage. I’m actually a little OCD about these things, so when the book arrived and I saw that a previous reader had highlighted passages throughout it in red crayon, I was pretty disappointed.

I’d just finished another book, though, and because of the no-being-between-books-or-you-could-die rule, I needed to start something else right away. So I dove in. And an interesting thing happened.

Almost every time I reached for my pen to mark something important, the red crayon person had already marked it.

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At first, the red crayon annoyed me. I just tried to ignore it and keep going. In the back of my mind, I thought–if it turns out that I really like this book, I’ll get another copy.

As I read my way through the pages, though, it began to seem interesting that the red crayon person and I had marked so many of the same things, especially since not all of them were obvious things someone would mark. I felt my heart start to soften. I began to be less annoyed by the red markings. In fact, by the time I was halfway through the book, I realized I was really okay with the fact that the red crayon person had been there before me.

We began to have a sort of dialogue. When I marked something the red crayon hadn’t, I wondered why. Did the red crayon person not think that passage was significant? Had her mind wandered for a moment–wasn’t she paying attention? And when the red crayon marked something I wasn’t inclined to call out for a  future me, I thought, “Mmm-hmm, now I see what you’re all about.”

I’m pretty sure the red crayon person is a woman, for instance, and that she’s probably a bit older than I am. I got this from the passage she liked about the women’s movement. Susan Gordon Lydon says that if she’d told the other feminists she knew in the 1970s that needlework could become a spiritual path, they’d have laughed her out of the room.

I also wonder if the red crayon person may have had to deal with breast cancer. She marked the lines that read: “Suddenly everything was different. Welcome to breast cancer land. Life as you know it is now over. All your plans, all your dreams have been replaced by nameless terrors and fears.” My heart sank for her, and when she marked again, I marked right along with her: “Above all, I didn’t want to lose my ability to knit.”

Knitting has a power.

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I’ll never know what the woman with the red crayon ultimately thought about the book, but it seems fair to say that many of the same passages spoke to both of us.

I differ from Donna Druchunas in that I don’t think this is the best writing about knitting I’ve ever read. It’s as much an exploration of a certain period in the author’s life as it is a book about knitting. I agree, though, that there are a number of places where something essential is captured about what it means to be a knitter.

Plus, it includes one of the most fascinating tidbits of information about Elizabeth Zimmerman I’ve ever heard. Apparently, she used to knit while riding on the back of her husband’s motorcycle! (The red crayon  wasn’t impressed.)

So anyway, I finished Knitting Heaven and Earth last night, and I’m glad to have read it. Some of it will probably be with me forever. Certainly, the warm feeling that there are other people out there who know that knitting is so very much more than a hobby is something I’ll hold onto.

In the introduction to the book, Gordon Lydon references E.M. Forster’s famous epigraph to Howards End, “Only connect.” She says:

Knitting connects. It connects us to one another. It connects us to our deepest selves, to the vastness of our ancestral knowledge and internal landscape. It connects us to the elemental forces of the universe, the pull of gravity, the solidity of earth, the majestic roll and swell of the oceans, to weather and wind, the animal, bird, and vegetable life around us, the ethereal heavenly spheres where our inspiration flourishes. Humble though it is, I believe knitting has the power to connect heaven and earth. And according to the I Ching, or the Chinese Book of Changes, when heaven and earth unite, what happens is profound and enduring peace.

Knitting does connect. I see it all the time, even in this funny experience of encountering another knitter through the marks and margin notes she left in my book. I hope that wherever the woman with the red crayon is now, she’s knitting. And I wish her peace.

I’m off to listen to Swing Out Sister’s Where Our Love Grows. I have a feeling I’m going to like it.

Swing Out Sister

When you walk through the garden . . . * 9

knitting 3

Things are overwhelming.

Cancer is the devil. Since the last time I posted, I’ve learned that two people dear to me will probably die from it in the next days or weeks and that one precious friend is facing it again, after fighting a long, hard battle to beat it once already.

And work. I’m so grateful to have it, but the stress is huge.

And the world. Ohhh, the world . . . I’m trying to remember to breathe, do yoga, eat healthy food, get enough sleep, love on the dogs and Augie, take at least a little time to touch base with the wise people in my life, and of course, knit.


Augie

This morning, I was in serious focus mode: “This 45 minutes, in between all of these other things, will be spent dedicated to making progress on this particular work thing.” During the 45 minutes, I got two separate texts about two new and complex obligations that have to be added to a schedule that feels like it’s already unworkable.

For a second I was teetering on the edge . . . but then I put the texts out of my mind as well as I could, finished out my 45 minutes of work, and like I was reaching for a life raft, picked up my knitting. I actually set an alarm for ten minutes so I wouldn’t have to keep looking at the clock, and I knitted on the  Smooth Operator socks I’d cast on last night. 

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It helped.

I’m saying this here because it’s been six days since I posted, and I didn’t want to just disappear. It’s also a note to my future self: knit. I can’t imagine I could ever forget that, but just in case . . .

The other thing I’d like to mention for the record is this huge life lesson: Cut everyone you’ve ever known a ton of slack. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Assume people mean well, and hope they will know that you do too.

This is such a cliche, but I’m understanding it in a way I never was able to before. My younger self somehow felt on top of everything, all the information, mine, yours, theirs. If I didn’t know, it was just that I needed to find out, think more about it, ask some questions. I didn’t even realize I thought this way. But now, as I face new challenges and I see people I love face challenges that my younger self just flat didn’t have the wherwithal to imagine, I realize how much every single one of us needs a break.

 

*Way Down in the Hole