This was just about to be the first month without a post since November 2014 . . . Nope! 🙂
A week or so ago, on a day that wasn’t going so well, I posed a question to the members of a small knitting forum I’m part of. I asked people to share an experience in which knitting had helped them through a difficult time.
There were a number of responses. Some were instructive. Some were moving. All were warm and encouraging and helpful. One in particular suggested knitting a bird. My knitting friend said,
. . . one thing that helps when I feel stressed is to knit something really quick and easy, which I can complete in one go. I especially like Bluebird of Happiness. There’s a sense of achievement from just being able to complete something, especially if you can’t solve or fix or control everything else that’s going on around you.
I have to admit that I wasn’t feeling all that hopeful. But trusting that another knitter wouldn’t steer me wrong, I thought, “what the heck; I’ll knit a bird.”
I cannot explain it, but knitting this little bird (and the several that followed) changed my outlook. The thinking about it, the picking out the yarn, the getting involved in the pattern . . . watching the little body start to take shape . . . The whole endeavor was monumentally soul soothing.
Before the bird, I was feeling depleted and pretty down. But then I knit the bird. And I felt a little better.
And you know what’s funny? One bird led to another in the most beautiful way.
And then this morning, as I was snapping some photos of my little birds of happiness, I glanced over at the pile of books near my desk, and my eyes came to rest on Annie Lamott’s incredible Bird by Bird.
Do you know this book? Its subtitle is Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and boy is it ever! I recommend it to everyone, even to those who have no interest in writing. Because of the life part. It’s fine advice.
Here’s where the title comes from:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Sometimes when I’m feeling like I have to do everything, fix everything, understand everything . . . I become untethered and lose touch with what knitting is always trying to teach me–the only way forward is one stitch at a time, or as Lamott says, bird by bird.
A long, long time ago–back in the Fall of 2006 to be exact–Laura Aylor introduced the Lizard Ridge blanket to the world. Knitty published the pattern, and it instantly became THE blanket in my mind. I adore knitting with Noro Kureyon, and the way the Lizard Ridge worked to show off the gorgeous colors of the yarn and brought everything together into such a magnificent whole absolutely undid me. That picture of the blanket draped over the seafoam rocking chair, on what I presume is the “Ridge,” has been in my head ever since.
I started my own version sometime in the distant past and loved the yarn, loved the squares, loved the whole idea except that I did not love knitting all those short rows. Four or five squares of the blanket and a box full of beautiful Kureyon have been sitting in my closet ever since. Or I should say they, had been sitting in my closet until the Fringe and Friends Logalong started percolating in my brain.
I tentatively knit one Log Cabin square with the Kureyon, and guess what. Potato chips! You canNOT knit just one. My few squares of Lizard Ridge:
Quickly became a pile of Log Cabin:
I found Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne’s Fussy Cuts Blanket Pattern, and I was off.
All I want to do is knit log cabin squares. I can’t explain it.
At first I wondered if the picking up stitches part would be a drag, but I read this post by the Yarn Harlot on “picking up and knitting” stitches and “picking up” stitches and knitting, and I never looked back. I might even say that the picking up business is one of my favorite parts of the whole process. It’s so easy to do once you know what you’re looking for and so satisfying!
I have become someone who knits log cabin squares all the time. Couch, car, classroom, bathroom, outside with the dogs, at the dinner table, standing at the dryer waiting for the clothes to dry, planting trees, falling asleep, getting dressed, standing in line, I knit them. I knit them ALL THE TIME.
The closest anyone has come to capturing the whole thing is Karen Templar in her February 15th blog post. She is talking specifically about her wonderful Log Cabin Mitts here, but I believe the idea holds true for all kinds of log cabin projects:
I know it seems like I’m just knitting Log Cabin Mitts here, but that’s not how it feels to me. There’s something primordial about it. I’m having a reaction. Succumbing to an addiction. Scratching some itch that I don’t quite understand and am enjoying more than I can describe. I mean, the knitting is really fun, and the finished mitts are super cool and useful and feel good on my hands, so on that level they’re an obvious delight. There’s also something almost subversive about it, since I add onto them in life’s interstices — knitting a patch in a stolen moment here and there . . . . And when I’m not knitting them, I have intense withdrawal. I literally dream about them, and my hands yearn for them when I’m doing other things. I can’t think of a parallel experience.
As much as I did not enjoy knitting the Lizard Ridge short rows, THAT is how much I love knitting Log Cabin squares. More than that. It is seriously all I want to do.
All the time.
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.
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.
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 met 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.
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.
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!
Talking sweaters today, not government.*
Paul’s Checks & Balances sweater is off the needles!
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.
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.
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!
*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.”
There’s a reason this blog is called Knit Potion. More often than not, knitting and, just as importantly, KNITTERS make things better. Thanks to today’s post over at Yards of Happiness, I now know about #knitterspayitforward. What a wonderful community we have. I’m not sure how I’ll be participating yet, but I definitely will.
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.
Paul’s sweater is ready to be finished.
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.
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.
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.
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.”