Wednesday, January 14, 2015

hobbies for hibernation

In the deep freeze of winter, there is always knitting. 

Back in the summer I made my first Undersea Garden Cowl and I wear it constantly. Easily seduced by Quince and Co's website, I ordered more Tern to make myself another, convinced my colleagues at work might wonder why an obsessive knitter wears the same garment every day. But that's classic knitter's "justification"; I just wanted new yarn and a reason to keep knitting.

Tern is my favourite yarn right now and the Syrah colourway is as wonderful as Dusk. It's taking serious discipline to stop myself from ordering more colours, and I'm so inspired seeing Ashley using the yarn for a whole sweater. It shows off lace patterns beautifully and really brings the Undersea Garden Cowl to life. This time I blocked the cowl and not only can I see the lace better, but the yarn also softens considerably. Basically I can't say enough awesome things about it.

Sitting under a special skein of yarn from Camellia Fiber Company are the two books I finished up over the holidays. Mira Bartok's The Memory Palace was a compelling memoir of Bartok's experience with her mother, a woman who suffered from mental illness from a young age and spent many years homeless. Bartok purposefully disappeared from her mother's life and changed her name, an act that haunted her daily although it meant she could lead a life that allowed her time and creative energy. And for my Canadian Book Challenge I got through Tish Cohen's The Truth About Delilah Blue. I'd started it during last year's challenge but it didn't grab me then. But while waiting for an Amazon order to arrive I gave it another try and this time it stuck. I always struggle with stories set in Toronto, as if the familiar mentions diminish the magic I'm hoping for when I read. Luckily the story shifted from Toronto to LA, and that made all the difference. It was entertaining with a hint of college art student life and family drama, but most of all I'm glad I finished it. Half-read novels make me anxious.

For more knitting and reading recommendations, check out Ginny's Yarnalong.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

south marysburgh slippers

It's been a long time since I posted a pattern, but after making three pairs of these slippers I think I finally have something worthy of sharing. And with both winter and the holidays looming there's enough reason to either keep your own feet warm or make a quick pair for someone you love. 

I first knit these in the summer on our cold cottage vacation in Prince Edward County. Even though our stays are short, I always feel very inspired, creative and relaxed when we're there. Named after our South Marysburgh location, these slippers are simple and tailored, and hopefully bring you comfort akin to the best of quiet vacations.

You will need:
1 ball worsted weight wool (I’ve used Quince & Co’s Owl, Lark and Naturally Drift)
4.5mm straight or circulars
4.5mm DPNs
5.5mm needle of any type (for optional seed stitch band)
1 stitch marker

Gauge 18 stitches over 27 rows = 4” square
Size is for an average women’s foot, but with a flexible length. Although I haven’t tested it, I think a thicker wool and/or larger needles would result in a size suitable for men. If anyone wants to try it I’d love to hear the outcome!

P2tog: purl two stitches together
RS: right side
sl1: slip one stitch knitwise
skp: slip one stitch, knit one stitch, pass the slipped stitch over the knit stitch
ssk: slip one stitch, slip another stitch then bring left hand needle into the fronts of both slipped stitches, and knit them together
st st: stockinette stitch
WS: wrong side

CO 20.
Starting with a knit row, work 12 rows in st st, ending on a WS row.

On next RS row, K14, skp, and turn your work.
R1: (WS) sl1, P9, P2tog, turn your work.
R2: (RS) sl1, K9, skp, turn your work.
Repeat these two rows until you have 11 sts left on your needle, having just finished a RS row.

With the RS still facing you, pick up 8 sts along the st st edge to your left and place them on your needle.  Turn your work and purl across all 19 sts on the needle, then pick up 8 more sts on remaining st st side and place them on your needle too (27 stitches total). Starting with a K row, work 15 rows in st st.

At this point, transfer your stitches to DPNs.  Using the backward loop method, CO 9, place marker, and join in the round (36 stitches total). Work st st in the round until the slipper length measures 1.75” less than your foot length (or the length of a loved one’s foot!)

Slip marker and K4.  To make the decreases more manageable, shift your stitches around a little: place the next 9 stitches on a DPN and think of this as your first needle.  Place the next 9 stitches on another needle, followed by 9 sts on another, and then another. Your stitches are now divided equally over 4 needles.  You can remove the marker at this point (which would be happily nestled between stitches on your fourth needle).  The following rows start at the first stitch on your first needle. 
R1: [K1, ssk, K12, K2tog, K1] 2 times. (32 stitches total)
R2: Knit.
R3: [K1, ssk, K10, K2tog, K1] 2 times. (28 stitches total)
R4: Knit.
R5: [K1, ssk, K8, K2tog, K1] 2 times. (24 stitches total)
R6: Knit.
R7: [K1, ssk, K6, K2tog, K1] 2 times. (20 stitches total)
R8: Knit.
R9: [K1, ssk, K4, K2tog, K1] 2 times. (16 stitches total)
R10: Knit.
R11: K2tog 8 times. (8 stitches total)
Cut yarn and thread through remaining stitches.  Tighten and weave in yarn end on the inside of the slipper.

At this point the slipper is pretty cute and wearable, but if you’re anything like me, you might prefer a nice finished band.  Using DPNs, pick up 45 stitches evenly around the slipper opening (14 across the heel section, 11 along each side and 9 across the front) and place marker. 
R1: [K1, P1] to end.
R2: [P1, K1] to end.
R3: [K1, P1] to end.
Bind off using 5.5mm needle so that the opening is flexible.

Make a companion slipper following the same instructions. Weave in ends and immediately slip onto a pair of cold feet.

(Pattern is for personal use only. Please do not use for commercial purposes.)

In the new year I plan to convert all my patterns to pdfs so they are easier to reference (not to mention, a little less old-school), but for the time being I hope this pattern-in-a-post suffices. And since today is Ginny's Yarnalong, my small reading update is that I'm slowly working through Mira Bartok's The Memory Palace: A Memoir. It's a heavy, but impactful read. There's simply no way to rush through it.

Happy knitting!

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

fall is for...

...making new hats. For everyone, whether they already have a hat or not. Luckily Sadie and Milo are eager participants in my too-many-hats-for-one-household fall knitting extravaganza. They happily help design, choose yarn, and model the finished result. And since these were finished a couple weeks ago, I can also add "wear the new hat daily" to their supportive behaviours. I love these kids.

I also love these hats. Sadie's colour blocked version combines two great wools: Crestone by Classic Elite and the sumptuous Canopy Worsted by The Fibre Company. I meant to only knit a stripe of the ivory, but once I started I just didn't want to stop. The pompom is a rather decadent yarn choice, but Sadie and I agreed that this Acadia by The Fibre Company was THE purple the hat needed. We didn't agree on the pompom for Milo's hat though; Sadie felt that a mid-grey option was better. Milo was more easily influenced and agreed to ivory Purlsoho Merino (thank you Squam attendee bag!) to top off another Snappy Cable hat for him. I've made bulkier versions of this hat before, but this worsted version, in Debbie Bliss Rialto, is soft and a little more sophisticated for him. 

In contrast to knitting, a lot of late working nights has slowed down my fall reading quite a bit. Since September I've only managed to finish The Violets of March by Sarah Jio and Our Daily Bread by Lauren B. Davis. Jio's novel was light with a compelling level of mystery, perfect for a few pages every night. Davis' novel - only my second in this year's Canadian Book Challenge - was much more powerful, but also totally devastating. Set on the east coast, it reveals a stark and disturbing difference between those who live in a small town and those who live "on the mountain" near the town. Driven by poverty and affected by drug abuse, the children raised on the mountain endure unthinkable situations that slowly come to light throughout the story. At the same time a family in town gradually falls apart until a shocking climax which helps sets change in motion. Painful but profound, I'm eager to pick up another novel by Davis.

For more knitting and reading catch-ups visit today's Yarnalong hosted by Ginny at Small Things.

Monday, November 03, 2014

essex everywhere

I have bought more yards of Robert Kaufman's Essex Yarn Dyed fabric this year than I have written posts for my almost-10-year-old blog. I can easily explain the Essex love: it's the perfect fabric, a cotton-linen blend suitable for clothing, quilts and home decor, it washes beautifully and comes in the perfect colours (black being my favourite, hands-down). As for the post count, well, that's not so easy to explain. I'm too fond of Instagram these days? I've lost the work-life balance I once had? Making is paramount to writing about making? Without a clear conclusion on that front, I'll stick to writing when I can. Which will often involve writing about this amazing fabric.

This shirt is a case in point. I've been drafting a pattern that has this gently rounded collar that's partly sailor, partly prairie style. Using the black Essex, I made one for myself which I haven't taken any photos of (except with my phone, which is becoming a bad habit). Sadie loved it and asked that I make one for her in the denim blue for the first day of school. I missed that deadline and procrastinated until Picture Day and in classic Mom fashion, I was still sewing long after Sadie was in bed the night before. I didn't grade the pattern - I've never learned how - but by taking in the armholes it fit her fine. She's 10 now and her chest circumference isn't that far from mine (sadly). It's meant to be worn with a shirt underneath and we made it tunic length so she can wear it with leggings too. She loves it and wore it two days in a row that week, which may not be ideal hygienically but hard to argue when you've hand-sewed half a dozen snaps to a button band. 

Clean, shmean.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

fun with charts

The best knitting lesson from my Squam adventure in June? How to read knitting charts, hands down. I've been scared of charts for years, but one class with Franklin Habit demystified those grids and now I can't imagine how I ever attempted lace using written instructions. Oh wait - I didn't.

This cowl is my third lace cowl since camp ended, and I've already started a fourth (Greyhaven, not photographed yet). It might be turning into a chart obsession? But this one is actually my favourite finished garment, though the yarn is partly responsible for that. Quince & Co's new Tern wool/silk blend has a fantastic palette and I just love this colour. It's called Dusk, and it's a smokey lavender that has a slightly heathered effect. I thought the silk would make it softer to handle, but even so, it's very comfortable to wear. And with this cool summer I've already had plenty of opportunity to wear it (and so has Sadie). The pattern is Undersea Garden and the fact that the lace creates a bias twist on the cowl is part of the charm, but what I really like is the distinct design at the top. Most often lace cowls are just topped with garter ridges, so this is a nice departure.

My summer reading has been a bit slower, partly because I've chosen books that I never felt I could devour. I enjoyed Terry Fallis' No Relation, though it was a little slow moving for me. But the question it raises is so interesting: if you were stuck with the same name as someone famous (or infamous), how would it affect your life? I quite liked the characters and especially liked the opening scene set in a NYC advertising agency. As my first novel for the 8th Canadian Book Challenge, it was a great fit.

For more knitting and reading wrap-ups, visit today's Yarnalong.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

summer shawl

There was a point before Squam when I thought I could knit a whole shawl before leaving. It was an impossible idea, but at least it moved this project along. And now it's done, blocked and ready to wear (by who remains to be seen...Sadie quite liked wearing it for the photos).

The pattern is Vintage Bouquet by Dani Sunshine though I completely skipped the beautiful lace edging. I actually chose the pattern for that detail but eventually realized it wasn't really my style, whereas stripes with a solid garter edging totally is. Plus I'd knit way past the intended stitch count and I didn't feel like doing any math. The bonus? It was much easier to finish. As for the wool, I mixed Grignasco Jguaza that I picked up at Rosehaven Yarn Shop in Picton last summer with Cascade Heritage Silk. Even though they are quite different yarns they work well together and I love the colour combo. The Grignasco looks grey indoors but it's actually a soft lavender in natural light. The resulting fabric is drapey thanks to the heavier Grignasco, but soft because of the Cascade. And it also blocked nicely.

I kicked off my summer reading with something really light and entertaining. I often forget that we need these books as much as we need light movies (how else do you justify watching The Hangover 3?). The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen was fun, fast and really the most perfect break from the stream of heavy novels I've been consuming. Summers are meant for a good dose of magical realism, not to mention characters who see silver sparkles when the scent of baking is in the air.

For other tales of knitting and reading, visit today's Yarnalong.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Books and yarn are piling up, which is never a bad thing.

There was a vendor fair the last evening of Squam where I happily picked up some wool from Kelbourne Woollens. It's hard to find in Canada, so it was a great opportunity. I got enough Acadia for a poncho project, and already I love the yarn. The colour (what's with purple these days?) is a bit risky for me, but the tweed effect makes for a great texture in simple stockinette. Immediately after Squam I was in Manhattan for a work conference. My one and only personal errand was to hop on the subway and visit Purl Soho. I could have stayed there all afternoon. Actually, I could have lived the rest of my life there. The wool, fabric and notion selection is straight up perfection. My limited time meant I had to make quick decisions, but I'm pretty happy with my picks. Linen and gingham, and yummy yarn choices - though ironically, four skeins are Koigu, which is totally Canadian. But that soft grey/purple semi-solid? I've never seen it on this side of the border.

On the reading front, I am way behind with my (really brief) reviews. This pile goes back to April but it also represents finishing up this year's Canadian Book Challenge. I met the author of Elephant in the Sky - such a smart, amazing woman! - and was eager to pick up her newest novel. Truthfully, I get a little distracted when I recognize location references because the novel is set entirely in Toronto, but the exploration of childhood mental illness is so heart-wrenching, the story just sucks you in. It's based on a true story, which makes it especially shocking and poignant. The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson was a little more slow-going. I really enjoyed Crow Lake, but this story took longer to develop and of the four books, it definitely took me the longest to get through. Little Bee by Chris Cleave kept my emotions on alert all the way through, and I actually put it down one night because I couldn't handle the possible outcome to a scary, missing-child situation. And the ending, well, I'm still numb from it. But The Light Between Oceans by M.L.Stedman was easily my favourite. It's been on my wish list for a while, yet I had to summon courage to tackle it. It's an impossible scenario - taking in a baby that magically appears, and raising her for a few years, but eventually realizing there is a mother mourning that child's loss. The storytelling laid the character's emotions bare, and it was hard to get through but entirely compelling at the same time. The story still lingers with me.

For more tales of knitting and reading, visit today's Yarnalong.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

squam love

I don't know how to be brief about such an amazing adventure. Where to start? What to share? How to truly explain the experience?

The idea of attending a Squam Art Retreat seemed fanciful, unrealistic, something other people did. For years my job had a direct conflict the first week of June, and anyway, who travels to New Hampshire alone to attend camp with strangers? Well, it turns out I do. 

With the job conflict out of the way, I decided that making the trek to Squam Lake was a great way to mark turning 40. The retreat sold out the day of registration but I put myself on the waiting list and magically a spot opened up. Then a carpool from Boston involving 4 women named Jen and a minivan fell into place. In the first awkward hours I met my roommate and realized that we were both there to celebrate turning 40. By the next day we were giggling about our identical, hand sewn wardrobe, comparing notes on knitting patterns and gentle sons. Our cabin was full of wonderfully warm and welcoming women, and together we spent the evenings sitting around the fire, needles moving, laughing at stories and the occasional knitting performance art video. There was canoeing, learning, drawing, great food, quiet moments on the dock, and most of all - this amazing sense of belonging. I was surrounded by strangers, but they felt like home.

As I hear myself telling people now about this recent adventure, it's clear how much of an impact Squam has had on me. Restorative? Oh yes. Inspiring? Absolutely. Full of amazing, talented people who are a joy to meet? Most definitely. There's a Squam high that I'm riding, and it's a feeling that I can't quite put into words.

But one thing is for certain: I've started plotting my return. Turning 41 is worth marking too, right?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

the colour of comfort

There has been something about turning 40 (which happens tomorrow, whether I want it to or not) that has compelled me to make things for friends near and far. And the elegant, but comfortable shawl has become my go-to thing to make.

This simple red version is for someone who has been very dear to me since we met at overnight summer camp 26 years ago. We weren't from the same town, but happened to meet again at a different overnight camp two years later (it was an arts camp for our school region). And shortly after that we moved to Kingston, starting our BFA at the same time and living in the same residence. Ours was destined to be a lifelong friendship! We've lived together, sewn together, run a business together. And the most magical thing is that we were born on the same day. It's pretty neat to wake up every May 1st as excited to wish my best friend happy birthday as it is to celebrate my own. I'm so thankful our 14-year-old selves crossed paths.

Kristen lives a province away and so this shawl is in the hands of Canada Post. Red has always been a shared favourite colour and when I saw this wool I knew it was perfect for her. The yak down/cormo blend has a lovely smell (where does that come from?) and the semi-solid is nice and subtle. After blocking the shawl, it was everything I had hoped for: a warm, red, wool hug.

Travelling in the same package is a little lavender sachet with some small scale cross-stitch that made my eyes hurt (clearly they know I'm turning 40). Shawls and sachets - I feel like we could all use them in our lives, whatever age we are.

I'll catch up on reading reviews next week - starting with The Light Between Oceans. I finished it last night with a few tears and a sad heart. I need time to digest it!

For more stories from other knitters and readers, visit today's Yarnalong.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

grey skies

Another shawl, another gift. This time Veera Valimaki's Blackcurrant Shawl using two skeins of Rhichard Devrieze's fingering weight wool. I rarely use fingering but it's really surprising how far it goes. The pattern was simple but interesting, creating a fun, drapey shape at the front. The semi-solid colourway of the wool is sophisticated and I imagine the merino will soften over time. The colour suits this elongated winter perfectly - not to mention the eye colour of the recipient! - but hopefully some warmer weather will appear soon to inspire a brighter shade for my next knitting project. I won't count on it though. 

And more books! These two novels took place on opposite sides of the world, in different time periods - but even so, I can't say which I preferred more. Linda Olsson's Sonata for Miriam was characteristically sad, but a little less haunting than her Memory of Love. Olsson tells such an emotional story full of rich and heartbreaking characters. In this case a father loses his daughter but in the process of healing finds a way back to his real family and eventually the mother of his child. From Australia to Poland to a lonely island in Sweden, it was a tough but really memorable journey. Sally Armstrong's The Nine Lives of Charlotte Taylor starts with a journey, but once the main character makes her way to Canada the bulk of the story happens in the young country. The novel takes place in the late 1700's/early 1800's and the description of life in that time period was fascinating. Armstrong has written about her great-great-great grandmother but even with liberties, she created a realistic, formidable character. I loved Charlotte, her gigantic family, the true love of her life Wioche and the rough, developing landscape of New Brunswick.

For more knitting and reading suggestions, visit today's Yarnalong.