Archive for September, 2009

chill chasers

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

for lunch yesterday, one last bowl of the tomato soup i made a week ago, so good and warm. just the right thing to go with some good reading . . .

tuesday’s mail brought me a copy of alice starmore’s book of fair isle knitting, first published by taunton press in 1988 and recently re-released in paperback by dover press.

this has long been one of my favorite knitting books—i purchased a hardcover copy back in the early 90s on remainder and practically wore it out, scouring the pages for insight into combining patterns and colors in textiles.

i learned a great deal from this book about putting my mind and my skills to work to take my knitting to another level. my favorite aspect of the book is the photographic juxtaposition of environmental patterns and their translation into knitted color patterns.

as a painter, i was able to appreciate and relate to starmore’s explanation of how to channel inspiration into textile surfaces. my vision about what was possible in knitting was opened wide. i’d been encouraged before by clothing designers i worked with to “do something with your knitting”, but didn’t know how to start, and being non-knitters, they didn’t know how to help me.
the book started me in the right direction—because i possessed established skills and experience (both in knitting and garment construction), and a good vocabulary of stitches and techniques, i had confidence about approaching my knitting in a different way, once i was pushed to see how.

i’m not saying that the book gives step-by-step instructions to accomplishing a great mental leap—that’s a really personal process—but that for me, it offered an example for using my mind and skills in a way i hadn’t yet, at least not with textiles.

though i have yet to knit a fair isle sweater, the book inspired me to spent a good deal of time swatching color patterns as well as lace, cables, and knit/purl motifs to understand how the elements of scale, color, negative/positive, texture, etc, can be used to express ideas and inspiration AND be visually/universally pleasing AND work mathematically within the structure of a garment.

in addition to the section about design inspiration and translation of visual imagery, the book offers concrete information on pattern geometry and mapping, a library of motifs, sections on techniques for fair isle stitchwork and garment construction, as well as historical background on the practical and aesthetic aspects of fair isle garments. plus a beautiful section of patterns for fair isle sweaters, for those that do not wish to design their own.

whenever i am asked to recommend a book about designing, i point to this one; i’m so glad that it is once again available to everyone—and at a reasonable price.

one day, i will knit one of these incredible sweaters for myself—it will most likely be my version of “wearing purple”. on the other hand, i should probably tackle that project before my eyes get to be anywhere near that age . . .

despite the cold and rain, our neighbor has begun the process of getting his house ready for halloween. the ramp-up toward the holiday has begun in earnest—i can’t wait tos ee what he does this year.

well, i thought i had a ton of other stuff to talk about, but now i’m not sure . . .

roxanne has updated the zen yarn garden shop and added some of this yummy squooshy yarn, which is what i’m knitting these gray socks with in the silver moon colorway.

for some reason, my sock knitting has been going very slowly—well, i know why, but i wish i could get it together; sock weather is upon us now and i’m going to need a few more pair for gifting in just a little while. i’m still working on this first cabled sock, but not often enough. must get busy.

my brown sock is growing at about the same snail’s pace. i really must get back to making socks my regular late-night knitting or they just don’t get done.

last evening i went to debby’s to knit and we both worked on neckwarmers—she’s test knitting hers in a solid color and it’s amazing. i didn’t have a camera with me to take a photo, but i’ll be sure to get one on monday when i see her.

we worked through a few last kinks in the pattern and now i think it’s all good. carissa is knitting one too, so she’ll tell us if we missed anything.

my second one was tooling along nicely until i did, indeed run out of yarn. drat.
so, i have to loudly recant my statement that the neckwarmer takes just 100 yards of yarn—make that more like 120 yards. you can’t get two of these from one skein

i’m going to set this one aside just the way it is and hope that someone decides to make one in the same colorway, and might be willing to sell me their remainder yarn.

i moved on to another project and got sorta sidetracked in the usual beginning tangles. i had to rip and re-cast on a few times, then decided to make a change, so ripped again . . . that sort of thing. i thought i’d have time to get some work done on my green sweater, but no.

still, a very nice evening of knitting. and you can’t beat the company.

on a completely other note, my bianchi flies once again.
you remember i got a new bike about a month or so ago? well, after riding it for a while i was experiencing pain in my back and knees, probably caused by a poor fit—i’m freakishly high-waisted, which creates problems in finding a bike.
this one just isn’t right for me. i feel terrible because it’s brand new, but i decided not to keep it—might as well sell it while it IS still new. and it will be right for somebody else.

i went back to the bianchi and it feels so much better. plus, it’s way cuter, hahaha.

too much to talk about

Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

i can’t believe that just on sunday, i had all the windows open while i worked in the kitchen, getting the latest batch of produce squared away. just two days later, i’m huddled here at my desk wrapped in a sweater, as high winds blow cold rain and the temperatures continue to drop. my prediction that we have three more weeks before the frost may have been hasty.

the garden actually seems to have come to an abrupt halt—where i was collecting a basket-full of stuff every day or two, suddenly there are just a handful of things for several days now (except the greens, which love this weather).

i did a lot of cooking sunday, but before i get into that, let’s dial it back to sunday morning and start off with some spinning and knitting. i wasn’t up all that early, but i still managed to get my wheel out about an hour before class and good thing i did

it was a little challenging to get started on another wheel after working for so long on the schacht. the two wheels are set up differently from each other; the schacht has all its mechanisms in one compact space so that working between the parts doesn’t really require dropping the fiber. it’s also a double treadle so getting and keeping the wheel going is effortless. and it’s easy to adjust the tension, even in double-drive mode and i’ve grown accustomed to the playing with that a lot; it has spoiled me.

the parts of the merlin are further apart, and it requires a little more coaxing to get the bigger, heavier wheel going (this smooths out once you get used to it, but at first, it’s kind-of a pain). it’s also a little trickier to get the tension just so, with the right amount of takeup. i fiddled with that until i wanted to tear my hair out, but eventually i found my zone. and once it’s there, it does not require constant as much adjusting.

by the time the other spinners arrived, i had everything pretty well in hand, though i hadn’t gotten much fiber spun, heh. but by the end of class, i was spinning pretty consistently on it and i’m looking forward to mastering this wheel further.

i chose a beautiful blend of baby camel and silk from a verb for keeping warm in colorway taboo, a mix or red, camel, tan, and some gray/blue that has nice depth.

this fiber is blended a little differently than the cashmere/silk i just finished working with—the two fibers are not blended to the point of homogeneous consistency, so that veins of pure silk or pure camel run throughout. it takes a little getting used to, because the two fibers have completely different staple lengths, but i’m excited about seeing the results in the yarn. i’m expecting that maybe i’ll see irregular flashes of silk against the matte camel fiber, though this would show up more if i was spinning a heavier weight yarn. i can’t wait to find out . . .

everyone else is still spinning the same projects as last time, but they all brought new knitting projects to share for a few minutes before we got the wheels going.

anne marie and barb are neck-and-neck on the progress of their maze sweaters. anne marie is knitting hers in the same briar rose legend i used, a beautiful mix of golds.

linda and susan commiserated over their ondulé sweaters and how to read the pattern. they are both doing a beautiful job with this one for their first sweaters. susan is knitting hers with briar rose grandma’s blessing in a gorgeous aubergine/brown blend that’s hard to describe, but i think it looks something like this

linda is using knitting notions classic merino sport in the dusk colorway, which constantly changes, depending on the light it’s in. i know because it’s the same color i have in the superwash sport and it’s a challenge to photograph it accurately.

so we had a great show-and-tell. then we spun for the rest of the morning, which was even better. i almost gave up on using the big wheel, but decided to stick with i. and that’s when things began improving—funny how that can happen.

after everyone left, i headed straight for the kitchen. i had a big pile of just about every kind of vegetable to deal with and there was no putting it off.

(i love how the round multi-colored tomatoes look against this multi-striped towel; i wish i could keep this arrangement on the counter all the time)

with luck, i thought, i’ll be outta here and knitting in a few hours. heh. well, it went a little over that—i cooked til almost 7 pm, but i listened to a good book while i worked and got a lot done.

i collected all the ripe tomatoes from the porch and from the previous day’s picking. i’d been pondering what the heck to do with these for several days sincei don’t need to freeze any more.

i decided to make a big pot each of soup and sauce. i dry-roasted half the tomatoes to puree for paste—with some garlic hidden underneath to save out for the saucepot.

then i cooked the rest on top of the stove and pureed those for a looser consistently

i saved some of each to make pasta e fagioli, which was david’s choice of soup for this week, and cooked enough sauce separately for a few meals.

for the soup, i started a sauté of the usual onion/carrot/celery mix, but added some summer squash, because what else am i gonna do with it?
(throwing it out is not an option for me)
my grandma would spin in her grave if she knew i added little chunks of zucchini to the pasta e fagioli, but i can’t imagine that varying the recipe is worse than wasting food. (i did ask david’s opinion on the squash first—i’m not sure he really cared, but he wisely took a sec and then nodded slowly as if he really put some thought into it). actually, it was good that way, too. but i still won’t say a word to my mom about it.

i opted to deal with the peppers another day; they got washed and put in the fridge—i think i’ll stuff those some night this week to freeze for christmas eve dinner.

as you can see in the photo above, our apple harvest doubled this year.
while i was outside sunday morning i decided to snag these two apples from the tree before some other animal got them. i took a break during the afternoon to share the bigger one with david and it was surprisingly delicious (last year’s apple was just awful).
hmmm, it might be worth exploring how we can get more out of that tree, which we’ve always considered useless for making actual fruit. this apple was crunchy, sweet and delightful; i wouldn’t mind having a few more . . . but we know nothing about how to care for fruit trees.

to end the afternoon, i cooked a head of cauliflower that david bought earlier in the week into a simple pasta dish with anchovies and hot pepper, which is quick and a favorite comfort food of mine. it’s one of those all-white dishes that’s hard present attractively, though it tastes yummy.

it felt great to sit down. after dinner i worked on some photo-editing, until very late. i was stubbornly intent on getting some knitting time in before bed, so at 2:30 am i finally joined david to watch TV and work on my green sweater.

i love this sweater in green. yesterday i sent a swatch off to moving mud so they could make some little glass buttons to sew down the front of it. i’m looking at the little flat, seed-shaped ones and admiring those that have some turquoise and yellow mixed in—i especially like the center one in the top row. a little bit of contrasting color would keep the sweater fresh-looking, i think.

i’m almost done with my first front. i took a whole week to knit this piece; i’m kinda proud of not becoming obsessed with it yet not giving in to my obsession with it at the expense other knitting.
hahaha, one small step at a time, one giant step for anne, right?

yesterday in class, i cast on for a second cashmere neckwarmer, just to make sure i had my pattern right, and to knit through a couple of tricky areas to see what i could do about writing them more clearly.

the pattern is all written up and proofed; a couple of test knitters are taking a go at it now. we should be ready to release it next week.
i’m almost done knitting this second one—it’s sort-of a race to see which ends first, the yarn or the pattern. according to my postal scale, i should have had nearly-equal weight and yardage for each one. but it’s possible that the first one took a few more yards than i estimated . . . we’ll see.

i have at least as much more stuff to show you as i’ve already talked about, so i’m saving the second half for tomorrow. there’s more knitting, more class stuff, and books. see you then . . .

dovecote shawl

Monday, September 28th, 2009

when i named this shawl, i was thinking only that the triangular shape and gingerbread-type patterns reminded me of that spot in the eves where the roof peaks—the spot where birds like to hang out.

once i actually looked up the term on the internet, i found so much more interesting information about dovecote structures and history (and we haven’t told david yet, but now i want one of my own). you must take a look after you finish here; it’s fascinating (who knew there was such a thing as pigeon racing??).

there are some dovecotes that look similar to my original vision of them, but generally, they are much more elaborate and tailored to the pursuit of raising birds. my very favorite photo is this interior shot—i was completely pleased to discover this pattern of pigeonholes, or boulins, entirely in keeping with the fabric of my shawl.

shown above: size tall in canopy bamboo/alpaca/merino blend from the fibre company, colorway cat’s claw; click here for a complete list of retailers.

shown below: size petite, also in canopy, colorway, macaw, knit by our good friend karolyn

to purchase pattern or view complete pattern information, please click here to visit the product page in the knitspot pattern shop.

flower pin shown with shawl on this page was purchased from perl grey.

kate and courtney at kelbourne woolens enthusiastically sponsored this project (and the upcoming partner stole, birnum wood, to be released later this week) by providing the luxuriously beautiful fibre company yarn shown here. thank you so much for your generous support!
karolyn and jocelyn eagerly dove into the test knit for this piece and whipped through them so fast it made my head spin. jocelyn used some lovely shetland in a natural color.

karolyn, BTW, highly recommends this yarn and this pattern—just ask her (she’s knit three of them and i swear she’s all set to do another if needed).
(psst, we might do this design later in a baby shawl . . . just sayin’)

david raced the dark and the impending rain on friday evening to bring you these lovely photos and did an excellent job at that.

fall of the garden

Saturday, September 26th, 2009

i can’t get over the resurgence of my cherry tomatoes—even as the very plants brown and die back, hundreds of them are popping out in plump bunches all over the vines, turning ripe on a daily basis (and they’re tasty, too). i’ve been gratefully gathering them by the bowlful because they are the one thing i’m a little short of at the close of this season. i dried two sheets of them this week and i think i can plan on getting a few more, at least.

about ten days ago, my friend norma (one of my all-time favorite bloggers; i never miss reading her) wrote a wonderful series of posts, here, here, and here about the payoffs she derives from having a vegetable garden (ps; while you are there checking out her garden haul, please consider getting in on her raffle to benefit the red scarf project, a most worthy cause).

friday being the first only sunny day we had all week, i thought it would be nice to stretch my back and take a walk in my own garden to see what i could plan on picking this weekend and snag some pictures of the early-autumn activity.

once i got out there, i suddenly saw my garden the way norma talked about hers, from an end-of-year perspective, and realized that it will all come to a close soon. not quite yet of course—because it’s not over til jack frost visits—but soon. i’m giving it about three weeks—that’s what i sorta feel in my bones.

from some angles the garden looks pretty sad right now

hahaha, that’s almost embarrassing—the corner closest to the back door has been hit a little harder with various insect damage, spotty fungus, and what have you, so we lost a few tomato plants by the end of august. but once you make your way inside, it still looks beautiful, at least to me

everything is still flowering profusely and producing regularly. i can’t cut the greens often enough and we’re still picking lots of squash—a first for us.
peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant always produce til the frost hits—we’ve just had so many more this year that we can’t think of another new thing to do with them.
i wish i had time every day to cook a fresh meal with it all.

while i do miss the zingy taste of really fresh food during the winter, i’m never too sad about the garden’s yearly demise—i admit that by october, i’ve wearied of spending a couple hours each day dealing with tending plants and cooking heaps of vegetables.

the things i’ve put on hold throughout summer become more urgent and i’m happy to turn my attention to them once it starts getting chilly.

honestly, i haven’t dared count up yet how many of everything we’ve put up for winter from our garden, but our freezer sure is scary-full of food right now.

i know—there are a couple of spaces there, but i have plans for those. believe me, the uploading of the freezer is very carefully paced through the summer and fall. if we fill it too fast, we can’t find (or move!) anything til february and we haven’t treated ourselves to enough fresh food. too slow, we could get caught unawares by jack frost with a bare cupboard. it’s a process worthy of a statistician or public planner . . . or both.

we’ve netted somewhere in the neighborhood of 36 quarts of tomatoes, 24 cups of tomato paste, 3 quart bags of dried cherry tomatoes (and counting), 20 bags of greens, 15 bags each of summer squash and eggplant, 6 quarts of ratatouille, a few curries, stuffed peppers, roasted peppers, tomato sauce, and other sundries i can’t remember. let’s just say . . . a lot.

and the garden isn’t big—maybe 600 square feet . . .
as of now, it has slowed but not stopped—not by a long shot.

in fact the rain this week, after such a dry month, has resulted in all manner of acceleration. i skipped going out there for three days and on thursday i came inside with a big basket filled with squash, eggplant, and peppers, plus another one filled to the top with tomatoes.

it’s kind of stunningly wonderful to be overwhelmed with this plenty. our neighbors and our weekly knitters have all enjoyed it along with us (thank goodness) and continue to do so.

not everything was a grand success—our asparagus bed continues to be a big disappointment after three years of trying; we may need to start completely over next year. sigh.

we planted strawberries for the first time and got only a few, not-very-tasty berries. i heard that this is to be expected the first year, so i’m hoping next year will be better. the patch is filling out

so we should get more berries. i’ve been keeping them trimmed back so they don’t invade the rest of the garden, but i AM allowing them to trail under the fence to take root in the back yard

where the lawn is so pitiful. nothing would make me happier than having a strawberry field take root there to replace the “grass”.

my experiment with starting okra after july 1st resulted in almost nothing. only a few plants even made it after transplanting and those are just now producing maybe a couple of tiny okra

not even enough for a taste.

and then there are my zen greens, which i grow every year because they are so easy and tasty. they grew fine—bigger and better than ever—at the end of the greens patch, but starting in august, i encountered a problem with them that i never had before

(lace is everywhere)
i couldn’t figure this one out for the longest time—only these particular plants were getting eaten—none of the swiss chard or other greens right next to them were affected. they do not have bugs anywhere on them—what could it be? and why only these greens?

well, today i got my answer to the first question, at least

slugs—just look at him go. i still don’t know why they eat only these plants and none other, but i do know that next year, i’m putting down some coffee grounds (they supposedly hate caffeine) or some similar deterrent around the zen greens.

which brings me to the other incredible aspect of the garden—that, no matter what kind of year we have with it, good or bad, it offers a constant source of amusement and blog fodder for me, and hopefully, for you too.

from the delicacy of vegetable flowers, captured in their brief moments of ripest beauty

to the wondrous network of insect life humming busily beneath the visible surface

sometimes i see just one rare thing, but friday i saw so many—my interest was especially captured by the lemon (or lime) balm flowers i hadn’t noticed before.

i don’t know how long they’ve been out, but they struck a nice chord there in the dye bed—pretty purply blooms surrounded by foliage going all gold and orange—a beautiful autumn palette.

some of them haven’t opened yet and those look like raspberries or blackberries, sort-of.

there i was snapping one picture after another (sometimes in the light, it’s hard to tell if the photo will be good, so i take a ton just to be sure), when a little visitor touched down nearby

and for once, i got a fantastic series of bee photos. bees are really hard for me to capture, as they are constantly moving—even when they have settled in to collect, their bodies vibrate vigorously, creating a blur in the picture.

but yesterday there were a few magical moments—maybe a minute total, when i managed to get it right—watch this

photo from yesterday’s post
now with bee added

he moves a little, but stays right in front of me (he wants me to check out his butt)

then finishes up

and flies off.
but wait—he doesn’t go far

before selecting to visit another bloom nearby

look at him dig into that, smooshing his face deep into the middle—it’s kind-of intense . . . for a few minutes anyway, until a different flower captures his interest

gotta get all over that one, too

can’t miss a drop

i finally decided to back off and leave him to his business—it was starting to feel a little invasive, heh.

this won’t be the last garden post, but maybe the last long one. it’s hard to tell.
it’s that time of year when the chill in the air reminds me to turn more energy toward my work—soon everyone will be looking for new gift knits and items to ward off the cold and i must be ready with something to offer. knitting calls.