Coming up for air

The less time I have to knit, the more I wish I could do nothing else but. Seeing everyone’s wonderful pictures and videos and recaps of Rhinebeck doesn’t help – I am so envious! I didn’t discover knitting until I’d moved away from the east coast, so I’ve never been, but am SO determined to get there one of these days. (I enjoyed this video quite a bit – so fun to see everyone’s Rhinebeck sweaters.) Probably in reaction, last night I found myself reading through the Vogue Knitting Live program for NYC in January, and wondering whether we could swing that. I’m sure it’s a completely different vibe from Rhinebeck, but I wouldn’t mind an excuse for a weekend in NYC, either. Has anyone ever gone to Vogue Knitting Live? What did you think of it?

Anyway, since I last wrote, not much and quite a bit has happened, knitting-wise. My attempted Lena tee remains shoved in a project back awaiting frogging. However, I did finish (mostly) the sweater that began as a swing cardigan that was too big, and got frogged – meet 80s Lipstick (wrinkled as are all my sweaters when I photograph them):

30494016635_83a9505f37_o

This is Lipstick by Joji Locatelli (called “80s Lipstick” because the idea of teal lipstick just seemed so 1980s to me). It’s made out of Malabrigo Rios in Teal Feather, continuing my obsession with what is not the world’s most practical yarn for the desert (worsted-weight wool). So I chose this short-sleeved cardigan, thinking it might be a bit more climate-appropriate. So far, I’ve only worn it once (to travel to a cooler climate), but it’s wonderfully comfortable. The color is a little more green than it looks here – it was hard to photograph. And while the skeins were all bought from the same place at the same time, I did end up alternating them – in my first try with this yarn I realized you could see where the skeins changed. I’m actually really happy with how uniform the fabric looks here.

30377037572_4f238917fb_o

I have to finish putting on the buttons (I bought gorgeous sleek silver buttons from Purl Soho but can’t find them right now, so the ones in the picture are a couple of placeholders). At the moment the front edges tend to curl open, due to the reverse stockinette panel (you can get a sense of that in the top picture), which I find annoying, but I made buttonholes the whole length of the front so I think once I get all the buttons in place I can deal with that better. Also my blocking game has been hindered by SMALL FURRY PEOPLE WHO LIKE TO EAT YARN, so this was mostly just washed and left to dry away from cats – you can see below that none of the lines that should be straight actually are.

30377045072_2eb4755f5a_o

As always, I had lots of help when I was trying to take pictures.

29863295634_18b1e06222_o

(At least he’s not eating it.)

Now my dilemma is this: my sister saw this and absolutely adored the color, which makes me want to make her some kind of sweater for Christmas (probably something completely different in style as she’s skinnier than me and goes for fitted over loose). But she refuses to wear wool, and I don’t know of any non-wool yarn that quite reproduces the beautiful tonal variations you get in yarns like Malabrigo and Madelinetosh. Any suggestions?

 

Advertisements

Finished object: dilute torti sweater

Do any of you have sweaters you love almost despite yourself?

I just finished one of these. It’s Heidi Kirrmaier’s Mountain High, which I had seen but never been drawn to until I saw IADJW’s version and became slightly obsessed. (Now that I look at the pattern page, I love the mauve version in the second picture down, too.)

I shouldn’t love this sweater so much, for lots of reasons. Frankly, I don’t think it looks very good on me. It’s worsted weight, and I never knit in worsted weight, because I am bulky enough as it is; I don’t need added bulk. The gauge is tight enough, and the yarn springy enough, that the fabric tends to hide my bustline (which isn’t that prominent anyway). It’s an a-line sweater, with a wide garter hem, which doesn’t do my bottom-heavy shape any favors. The yarn is pretty variegated, which looks busy. I alternated skeins, which kept the pooling to a minimum, but resulted in lot of horizontal striping, which doesn’t make me look any narrower.  And it’s an odd neutral shade mixing cool gray and warm pale yellow, with shades of beige along the way; I look positively haggard in beige and yellow (even light gray can be dicey).

It’s also by far the warmest item of clothing I own, which means I’ll probably be able to wear it maybe three times a year here if I’m lucky.

But.

I love this sweater. Love love love love love.

First, it fits! I absolutely didn’t swatch for this at all – and I’m not sure why, since I usually try to – just cast on and forged ahead. But it worked! (It’s actually kind of big at the moment – I hadn’t realized how the added weight of worsted weight yarn means that superwash worsted stretches even more than superwash fingering; I think it will spring back eventually, though, or I may try throwing it in the dryer briefly). In any case, it’s super comfortable and cosy.

Second, I loved this pattern. It’s yet another seamless top-down sweater – and I know I should try something with set-in sleeves – but Heidi Kirrmaier’s patterns are so much fun. I always find myself a bit baffled to start – this pattern begins with short rows shaping the neck, and I’m geometrically challenged enough that it took me a while to figure out how it all fit together. But if you follow the pattern, everything comes together like a beautiful puzzle. (I’ve knit her Summer Solstice pattern which is even more so like that.) I know some people hate the slog through the body of a top-down sweater, but as long as I can see what it’s turning into, I can knit stockinette for days. Knitting something bottom up and in pieces doesn’t look like a sweater, it looks like a bunch of flat pieces, and my product-knitter self just isn’t motivated by that.

Third, I love that it’s a-line. I know it’s not really conventionally flattering on me, because I have no waistline in this and it emphasizes my hips. But when I’m hanging out at this end of the scale, I HATE having anything fitted at the waist – it’s uncomfortable and makes me super self-conscious. As some fashion bloggers say, I surrender the waistline. Similarly, I like a-line shapes right now because they don’t catch on my hips and ride up, and I never have to tug them down. I get that all the fashion rules say that covering up your body with acres of fabric is less flattering than more fitted garb, and I promise that my more formal work wear is more tailored. But for causal wear I really love having stuff that makes me comfortable in my body, which right now is stuff that doesn’t remind me exactly what the contours of my body look like.

Fourth, I LOVE the feel of the yarn. It’s Malabrigo Rios, and it’s so satisfyingly soft and springy. Yes, it’s superwash, and yes, we’re not really supposed to like superwash, because it’s unnatural and strips the yarn of its natural scale and coats it in plastic. But from the time I was a tiny child I hated wearing wool because it prickled like mad, and superwash doesn’t do that. I finally get to enjoy the lightness and warmth and temperature/moisture regulation of wool in comfort. (Admittedly, there’s only so much regulation can do, and this is going to be too warm for 90% of the time here. But one of the things I’ve realized is that while it seems a waste of money to buy/make cold-weather clothes here, on those few days when it does get cold here, I have nothing to wear. So I can treasure this for cold days for years to come.)

Finally, the color makes me happy. It really doesn’t flatter me at all, which I knew from the start; it began with leftovers from the baby  blanket I made last summer, and I chose the color based on my friend’s nursery color scheme, not on whether the color flatters me. But I have had two beloved dilute torti cats in the past, and this color almost exactly matches the color of their coats. In fact, I was knitting this over the holiday season when we had to put the second of these very special ladies to sleep. So I love that this is a dilute torti sweater, and I can wear it to honor them.

One of our sweet dilute torti girls adoring her papa. See? Sweater color!

I see a lot of discussion in fashion blogs (and on Project Runway!) about whether fashion has to be flattering in shape and color, and I’ve always been someone who tried to wear clothes that flatter my shape and skin tone. But there’s something satisfying and maybe liberating about abandoning that here. It’s not like this is a crazy, hideous, avant-grade kind of garment; it’s absolutely not. No one is going to stare at it for how hideous it is, and I suspect most people won’t even give it a second glance. But given how much women’s clothing normally seems intended to get that second glance, to make people – usually men – look at you, ignoring that feels kind of like freedom.

24028402086_72de9dd6cc_oProgress picture showing the sleeve stitches held on waste yarn. Mostly because I love the look of the pink waste yarn against the neutrals, and kind of wonder if I should have trimmed the sweater with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

August in the desert

August in the desert is not the most pleasant of months. We had a visiting dignitary at work earlier this week, and in the introduction, my boss said, “And it’s a true sign of her dedication that she’s come down here to see us in August.” But on a different day last week, I walked out of work to see these clouds:

IMG_0964

It was still fairly muggy, but the temperature had dropped below 90 degrees for the first time in yonks, and I’d been cooped up inside for days, so I went for a walk.

It’s interesting to see little bits of greenery pop up wherever water can collect:

IMG_0977

I also really liked how these trees looked like an elderly lady’s crossed knees.IMG_0987

It seems that the acacia trees are over for the summer, and have been for a while, but you still seem to find tiny yellow flowers scattered in nooks and crevices.IMG_1004

The prickly pear have all fruited, and the tunas (as they’re called in Spanish) are this amazing burnished burgundy, to which my iPhone doesn’t really do justice. I’ve seen people harvesting the fruits recently, too – people make a lovely jelly from them. (You can also eat the pads of the cactus, or nopales, although the one below looks a little unappetizing. I ate prickly pear fries in the northern part of the state around New Year’s, and they were tasty, mildly sweet and a little juicy.)IMG_1035

You have to respect people who are willing to brave the spines, tiny and big, to make food from the prickly pear. Sometimes it feels like everything in the desert that might hold a little moisture is guarded by spikes, to keep away thirsty marauders.

IMG_1037

The clouds never turned into anything more threatening – by the end of my walk, the sun had come out, turning all the wildflowers-gone-to-seed and grasses into gold.
IMG_1055

Not knitting, but still making things 

That is, I am still knitting, but this post is not about knitting, but about branching out.

A couple of months back, sort of on the spur of the moment, I bought a sewing machine.  IMG_0045I wasn’t absolutely sure what I would use it for or how often, but at the least I wanted to learn how to work it and be able to do basic repairs like hemming pants and shortening tops (do other people do this/want to do this? Almost every top I try on is too long to look good untucked and too short to be a tunic). And I harbored a secret hope that I could learn to make myself clothes that don’t just fit, but fit ME. The husband approved, even expressing interest in making shirts for himself. (He does tend to leap into the deep end of things.)

A couple of weeks later, I posted my first foray into machine sewing on Instagram. I figured out how to load the bobbin and thread the machine and use the various functions (it’s an amazing machine for what it cost, but it’s a pretty basic one because I’m not exactly engaged in complicated endeavors here). I doodled around a bit figuring out how to sew in reasonably straight lines and what the different stitches do.

Last weekend, I actually tried making things. And it was SO much fun!

An “intro to sewing” book I’d bought had some patterns, so I started (over ambitiously) with a toy elephant. The results weren’t pretty:

IMG_0413

I mean, it’s recognizably elephantine (minus ears, tail, and stuffing), but the seams are…wonky, to be kind, and my whole pinning/sewing something that three-dimensional didn’t work very well.

So then I backed up, and decided to try making one of the Purl Bee‘s Easy Drawstring Bags.

IMG_0417currently lacking drawstring

That went MUCH better – but then, everything is square or rectangular or straight lined, so much much easier for me to handle. And even then I managed to sew the corners to each other the first time I tackled creating the little gusset (practice unpicking seams!).

What amazed me was how different sewing felt from knitting. On the one hand, that’s a duh! kind of statement – of course sewing cloth and knitting yarn are absolutely different. But I hadn’t realized how much my adult ideas about crafting had been shaped by knitting – primarily that you can do it in fits and spurts, in front of the TV, or while reading a book, or wherever you find yourself (assuming you’re not in the midst of really complicated lace or trying to seam a sweater or the like).

Sewing seems much more all-encompassing – I can’t imagine how you could really do anything else at the same time besides sew. I listened to some podcasts, but that (or having music/the TV/a movie on generally as background) is as far as I can see it going. Partly, this is because of the logistics of machine sewing. My machine is incredibly light (it’s advertised as suitable for taking to sewing classes), but using it requires a table top of certain dimensions, and I’m not going to haul it all over the house (which I do with my knitting), so it lives upstairs, in our loft. I would imagine that if I were hand-sewing, some of that might be more portable and easier to have in my lap and work on in front of the TV.

But mostly sewing just seemed to engage a different part of my mental processes than knitting. When knitting is going really well for me, when the yarn is flying off the needles (in fabric, not lost stitches), it’s almost mindless. It’s automatic. There’s a reason so many patterns talk about how easy their stitch pattern is to memorize. I enjoy the knitting process, but in a zen, meditative kind of way, in which the repetitive motion of the fingers allows the mind to wander in all kinds of directions (admittedly periodically jumping back from time to time to check whether the YOs are in the right place and so on).

On the other hand, sewing took up all my concentration. It was at once both physical, and mental. There was figuring out what I was supposed to do, and measuring and marking and cutting, and manipulating the fabric to be where I wanted it to be at the machine. Time flew in a way that it doesn’t when I knit (one of the things I like about knitting, actually, is that time doesn’t quite fly – if I knit when I’m sleepy I will start to fall asleep. If I’m reading I will stay up doing the “just one more chapter” thing until the book is gone, and not really realize I’m tired until the inevitably far-too-late end. Knitting disengages my mind enough to say, “self, you’re tired, go to bed” much more easily. I don’t see this happening with sewing).

What sewing reminded me of most, in this respect, is singing – which is also at once intensely physical and mental, but mental in a very concrete, material way, and which also demands your presence and focus in a way that can’t be ignored.

And like singing, sewing was really fun. And I want to do more.

So I’ve raided the remnants bin at Joann’s (aside – the local fabric store has to be a thing, right? Like the local yarn store? I’ve only encountered one what I’d call a genuine local fabric store, which is no longer local to me, and was actually a local yarn store as well. I’m sure there have to be better resources than Joann’s, but for the moment, that’s where I know I can go, and at least they’re generous with the coupons).

At the moment, my plans are pretty modest. Make a couple more drawstring bags – bigger ones, even, as project bags for my knitting, and line them (based on various online tutorials around the web). I’d like to make a Dopp kit-shaped project bag out of the yellow canvas. It’s supposed to be 111 degrees this weekend, so I’m sure as heck not going outside, and even though the loft is the hottest part of our apartment, I look forward to holing up there and cutting and marking and pressing and sewing.

What is very familiar from when I started knitting again as an adult is that yawning gap between my aspirations and abilities – and not even abilities, but just resources. Being an absolutely newbie beginner means that every time you want to make something, not only do you probably have to learn a new skill, you also pretty much have to go out and buy stuff. I started small (after the machine), with some nice shears, thread, marking pencils, a seam unpicker, and a ruler. But now I have interfacing (for structure for project bags) as well as zippers (for Dopp kit/project bags), and a denim needle for the cotton canvas (it’s pretty heavy). And yellow thread. And ribbons for drawstrings on the way. And more fabric. And I really want a rotary cutter and mat, but am trying to be frugal (since I have been failing miserably to accomplish that with knitting).

But the skills gap is real, too. The things I want to make are the things I don’t yet have the skills to make. The same thing happened when I started knitting, too, but I’d forgotten. And there’s some uncritical part of you that thinks, I can do one craft, I should be able to do the second as well! Nope, still have to learn. It’s a good thing to be reminded of, but I still want to run before I can walk.            

I will endeavor not to whine. But it will take some effort.

The summer here has been pretty mild so far, with one of the latest “first day over 100 degree” dates in years. But we’re paying for it this coming week, which is forecast to be full of triple-digit temperatures, reaching perilously close to the hundred-and-teens (Wednesday’s high is supposed to be 109°.) We will be facing an awful lot of this:

IMG_0347

This doesn’t even look so bad, because of all the green and because the tree casts welcome shade. Shade is key in the desert; when the heat is dry, stepping into the shade knocks the temperature down some noticeable amount. Shade in a humid climate doesn’t really do anything – the moisture in the air conducts heat wherever you try to hide. In a dry climate, though, shade protects you from your enemy, the sun.

Cool becomes relative. Right now, it’s 11:00 at night, and it’s 88 degrees. Stepping out the front door still feels like draping yourself in a warm blanket, even after dark. (But a dry blanket.)

The locals are used to this, of course. Their summer is like winter where I grew up: you hole up indoors and spend as little time as possible outside. But I still suffer from cognitive dissonance, because I think of summer as the season of free time and outdoor activities and picnics and relaxation and all those things that don’t really work with the weather here.

At least the sunsets are awfully pretty.

IMG_0303

It just feels wrong to wish the days away, but: is it September yet?

Hitting the century mark

I know it’s not June yet, but it looks like summer here: we hit 100° yesterday, for the first time this year. We’re predicted to hit at least 100° for the next five days, and the next five after that only drop to the upper 90s. It’s about the time of year when everyone hunkers inside during the day, and goes out at night, when it’s still hot, but not blistering. This afternoon I opened our west-facing screen door to let in the local friendly semi-feral, and the metal burned; the cat trotted in and immediately flopped full length on the poured-concrete floor in a puddle of floof.

I’m not sure how well I’ll be able to show the heat in photographs, because 100+° here looks much like 75-100° here: blue skies, clear air, golden light. Maybe the glare is a little brighter, the colors around you a little more bleached, and the world  a little emptier. We’ll see. You may just get a lot more indoor pictures, of cats and crafty projects. But for the moment, have a few pictures of what it looks like here before walking to the mailbox makes the sweat trickle down your neck.

fluffy pink-tipped flower

purple cactus flower

tall pink flowers with dry stalks

cactus bud and agave

poppy and pavement

purple cactus fruit

citrus bush

red-orange flower on green bush