Sunday, December 31, 2006

Kristen's felting

This is the third in a series of cunning little felted purses that Kristen made as Christmas gifts for friends. She bought this way cool cat button at L'Atelier last week, and he looks very pleased with himself to be on such a snazzy felted object. The colors, in case they don't reproduce accuretely, are a bright pink with leaf green contrast. Note the knitted in buttonhole.

Felting is so much fun. At some point, magic happens and the entire look and feel of the piece changes. Felt is an intrinsically cute fabric, and when it's been shaped by one's own hands, the result is just amazing.

Year's End

I have started on a Merino wool hat in bright pink. (The color is called "That's Pink," which is charmingly translated also into French as "Voila Rose!") I'm knitting it in the round on size 8 needles, based on a pattern I copied from Knitting for Peace. It's really just a shell of a pattern--a basic rolled brim hat which can be altered or adapted in many ways. Should I do it half in pink and half in bright turquoise? Should I add turquoise stripes? Should I return the turquiose yarn and get red instead? (Do they have red? This was half price at the little Japanese knitting shop in Gardena.) Anyhow, it's coming along and I can decide as I go. Since the knitting shop won't be open till at least Tuesday, I might get too far along to change colors.

Kristen finished *another* little bag to be felted today. She knits so fast! Actually, we were both knitting last night, and I think stitch for stitch we knit at pretty much the same rate. But she has greater powers of concentration than I do. She kindly noted that I was getting up to help Papa with his skin cream and various other interruptions, while she just kept on knitting. But she does have a great ability to focus (is that the up-side of OCD?) while I have a great ability to distract myself 20 times an hour. She's going to felt the bag today and give it to her friend Mariel. And then she can concentrate on knitting her cable mittens!

Yes, cable mittens! Can you believe it? She came home 3 weeks ago today, not knowing how to hold knitting needles, and in the interim, she has made a hat, a scarf, 3 felted bags, a little rabbit, and a partridge in a pear tree. No, not that. But she has got the cuff done on a pair of mittens. She went to L'Atelier in Redondo Beach (el snobo yarn store) and bought cashmerino wool in a gorgeous wine color which coincidently *exactly* matches her purchased sweater-jacket. (And which coincidently exactly matches the University of Chicago's crimson color.) And we found a pattern online for cabled fingerless mitts, and a picture of someone's adaptation of the silly fingerless mitts into full-grown mittens. (Just keep going and add an end!) She started on it twice, trying to work out the cable, and now has it off and running.

Let me also mention a funny story she told me. She was at school last month, watching her roommate knit fingerless gloves for her boyfriend on 4 double pointed needles, and she wanted to figure out how knitting worked. But she had no yarn or needles. So she found two nails and unraveled a piece of string from a towel to practice with. Doesn't that sound like some pitiful tale from a concentration camp or something? Anyhow, the urge was there, and has now been fulfilled.

Yesterday, we went all over town shopping for the food to make for Japanese New Years. Our favorite store, Pacific Market, has no chicken tenders and worst of all, no cut up chicken legs. So we went to Nijiya Market and they had the chicken tenders for the Ozoni soup, but also no cut up legs. We tried the Chinese Market (Ranch Market), but no luck. So we decided to brave Marukai. Marukai is over-crowded and hard to park on an ordinary day, and they also require a membership card, which I don't have. But we were getting desperate.

We pulled into the parking lot and circled several times, but no place to park. So then Kristen said, Why don't I go in and see if they even *have* this essential chicken? So she got out, and I circled the parking lot for 10 more minutes. Then Kristen called me on the cellphone--"I finally got to the back of the store, and it's here! Plenty of packages of it! But I don't have my wallet!" Ok, so she put down the precious chicken, shoved her way back to the front of the store, and I pulled up by the front door and handed her some cash. She went back in, got 4 packages of chicken, paid a $1 fee for a temporary membership card, and came out, then phoned me again to tell me that she saw my car and would I stop circling. Phew! We felt like true hunter-gatherers!

So now I'm going to make the Ozoni (rice cake soup) for breakfast today (and again tomorrow), and then start cooking the New Years food. I feel sad that Kristen will be leaving before the crack of dawn on Tuesday the 2nd. Her time here flew by. Anyhow, onward!

Friday, December 29, 2006


Enjoy them, because I amy not be able to accomplish such feats of technology on my own once Kristen goes back to school. The scarf is finished!! It took three weeks of fairly intensive knitting, which is much longer than it *looks* like it would take! It's not at all the sort of Finished Object that people would comment on: Oh, I love your scarf, where did you get it?? It looks like the answer would be Target. But it turned out pretty and it will be nice to wear. The Merino wool is soft and warm. So:

Since it was taking quite a bit of photographic fiddling to get these pictures taken, I decided to include several other small Finished Objects all in one. Hence, the shoulder bag and the felted bowl. I realized yesterday that if I turned the bowl inside out it was more of a bowl and less of a hat.

And then the bunny. Isn't that adorable? Kristen made the knitted fabric as her very first piece of stockinette, and I followed the mathematically precise instructions and sewed it up.

The Mobius scarf has been abandoned and ripped out, so I think I will instead have a go at a roll-brim hat. Will I ever wear a wool hat? Well, maybe I can finish it before I go to Maine? That would be good. Maybe I can finish it on the plane on the way to Maine and stick it on my head when I arrive at Bangor!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Great pattern for brand new knitters

This is too cute. Kristen knit her very first piece of stockinette last week in white wool, and last night I stitched it up into this little bunny and added ears. I adapted the adapted pattern, since the ears looked too long. Instead of decreases, I just stopped with 5 stitches left, threaded the yarn through and gathered it.

He's now hanging on the Christmas tree. Every year we need one new ornament that reflects the year, and this year we have two--a University of Chicago decoration and the bunny!

Speaking of Kristen's learning curve on knitting--wow! She finished another bag tonight which will be felted tomorrow as a gift for another friend. She's whipping out one Finished Object a day!

And I'm still working on the scarf-that-doesn't end!

Welcome to the future

There's a t-shirt around that says something like, "I thought this was the future--where's my jetpack?" The future has turned out to be a bit of a dud. Certainly, for most of our lives, the year 2000 or 2001 sounded like it ought to be a very futuristic future--and here it is on the verge of 2007! They promised us telephones on which we would see the person we were talking to, and that's at least more or less possible, though just as we thought, it's not really desirable much of the time. And they promised us robots that would do all the housework. But unless you have a roomba, that's not happening, and probably never will. I mean, ok, in a sense, dishwashers (if you have one!) and washing machines, from the point of view of a woman in 1900, would be a form of robot. But if there's going to be a real robot, it will need to be able to tidy up the house, put away left-0vers, and make the bed. Nope, I don't see that in my lifetime, if ever.

And then there's the jetpack--instead we get traffic jams, 10 speed-bikes but no place safe to ride them, and a few oddballs with Segways. Segway is an answer to a question on one was asking. ("Gee, if only I could stand up and move forward, only a little faster than walking." How is this thousands of dollars better than a wheelchair or a scooter or a bicycle?)

But I guess what we never realized about the future is that the past always comes along for the ride. Houses, for example. We thought the future would have all future-houses. But the world is already rather well-supplied with houses, and they're mostly still here. I live in the sort of house that was being built back when I was dreaming about the future in 5th grade. Where did we think this little 1950s house would go? Except for the computer and the microwave, there's nothing really different about the house I live in now, because it actually is the very same house that people lived in 50 years ago. The same thing is true for cars. Oh, sure, we have airbags and power windows, but if my 5th grade self had seen a 2001 Toyota Sienna, she would not have found it very surprising for a car. And cars from the 70s and 80s still cruise the streets. Ford Thunderbirds look just like the original 50s models once again, thank goodness!

Apart from computers, the pace of change seems to have slowed. From December1903, when the Wright Brothers made their first puny little flight, to July 1969, when man walked on the moon (we think), was a little less than 63 years. From 1969 to 2006 is 37 years, and yet we're still flying in essentially the same airplanes as we had in 1969, and the average person is no closer to going into space than we were in 1969 or 1903 for that matter.

The other evening I was sitting in my chair with an electric lamp brightening the room, listening to the radio and knitting, and I thought to myself, It could be 1936 instead of 2006.

Except if it had been, I wouldn't be able to write about it here and have friends all over the country read it!

Why we knit

What is it that causes people to want to make things? Even things that could be bought for less money, more professionally done? I am old enough to remember from my early childhood a time when women sewed in order to save money, and knitted or crocheted in order to be able to have things that they otherwise couldn't afford. A generation or two earlier than that, the ability to sew and knit was essential if the children were to have warm clothes. Manufactured goods were expensive, while a housewive's labor was essentially free.

Now manufactured goods are produced under sweatshop conditions probably worse than anything that ever existed in the Lower East Side or the mills of Lowell and Lawrence, the labor so devalued that by extension it almost devalues domestic crafts as well. I see cute Christmas stockings or antique Santas and snowmen made of felt, imitations of a handcrafted style that was itself an imitation of an earlier attempt at making something from nothing--and they sell for $10 or $20, less than the cost of materials, less than the cost of even a pattern. So why would anyone bother?

There seems to be an innate desire to create and to own the competence needed to make beautiful and functional objects with one's own hands. The need to feel competent is a basic component of self-esteem. Infants and children practice any skill they see around them with a passion to achieve competence, whether it's walking on two feet or stalking animals or riding a bike or playing a video game. Doing something hard and doing it skillfully is intrinsically satisfying. And if it's something that your gender--your people-- have done from time immemorial, it fulfills several needs. You feel connected, grounded, like you are part of a long chain of women doing not only what was needed, but rejoicing in their own skill, doing it better than strictly necessary. In a day when the family depended on mother for socks and mittens and sweaters, mother knitted intricate color patterns, cables, lace, anything to showcase her skill.

One of the most touching museum exhibits I ever saw was an American Indian museum just east of Yellowstone National Park. Cradleboards and moccasins and baby clothes were covered with elaborate patterns in tiny beads. Those mothers had a lot to do just to keep their family fed and clothed, but they needed more than that--they needed to show their skill, their creativity, their joy in a new baby. A plain cradleboard would have worked just as well as a decorated one, but not one of them was plain. It's probably true that every human society has decorated its tools and made everyday objects as attractive as possible. Even the Amish, who call themselves Plain People, make beautiful quilts, exquisitely executed. They avoid flowered fabrics, using only dark solids, and their designs are so pleasing that "worldly" people copy their sense of style. We are compelled to make and surround ourselves with things that are beautiful.

So if we pass that job on to others, to fashion designers and interior decorators and third-world wage-slaves, we feel impoverished. We are less than a wandering nomad or a dirt-poor peasant or a cave dweller, all of whom created their own beauty for themselves and those they loved, not for money and not simply because they had to but because that's what human beings do.

In the past I have done cross-stitch and crewel embroidery, made patchwork quilts, and crocheted, and all of them fulfilled the need to make something beautiful and to acquire the skills necessary to do it myself, to do it well. Somehow knitting feels even more grounded, more connected. I know that my grandmother could crochet and embroider, but what I actually remember is her knitting. She worked at the GE her whole life, as much a working mother as any modern woman, but she always knit us Christmas gifts. There was a little yarn shop down by the River Works, and I imagine that many of the women who worked in a factory felt a need to create something beautiful of their very own, something that they controlled from start to finish, something that belonged to the world of women.

It's funny that clever new knitting books offer us patterns for knitting bikinis and weird skirts and sexy bustiers, but what women are actually knitting is socks. Socks! Could anything be less sexy, less cutting edge, less necessary than hand-made socks, when we can buy socks for a dollar or two a pair? Thanks, North American Free Trade Agreement, but there is something we value more than cheaper consumer goods--the work of our own minds and hands as an expression of our love and our connection to our grandmothers and our children.

Time Stands Still

There's a good reason why it's called the winter solstice--the sun stands still, apparently. And that's the feeling the days between Christmas and New Year's give me: nothing can happen, and time stands still. The day of the week has no meaning. Is it Wednesday? Who knows, who cares? It's the no man's land of time.

Kristen passed on to me a great new word, that I'm afraid might be all too useful in the days ahead: procrastiknitting. The meaning is obvious--the act of procrastinating from real work by means of knitting!

Well my scarf is still not done, but it's getting close. I spent a couple of hours at Borders this morning alternately knitting on it and browsing through books on all sorts of advanced knitting topics (the folk mittens of Maine and Maritime Canada and why they should be made of wool--of relatively little importance to a person in Southern California who has never knit a thumb gusset in her life. But charming nonetheless.)

In view of the impending conclusion of the scarf, I bought several new skeins of yarn. I am starting on a Mobius scarf in bright pink wool. I cast on 150 stitches and have made a start on knitting the first round. But I'm not quite sure I'm joining the round together properly--either for normal knitting in the round or for the twisted version that will create a Mobius strip of knitting. Time will tell.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

post-Christmas post

What a great Christmas feast we had! An 8 lb. rib roast turned out absolutely perfect, with perfect gravy, mashed potatoes, green peas, flaky biscuits, and a new apple pie recipe that was much better than the usual one I've been making. This year we used Jonagold apples and made a brown sugar crumb topping (Dutch Apple pie cobbled together based on two different internet recipes.) All yummy. After we ate around 3:30, we packed up a dinner plate for a neighbor who is in a nursing home and brought it over to him. When we saw the food they were served, we were glad we did. He's only 59 years old and is stuck sharing a room with two other guys, surrounded by people who are mostly either mentally handicapped or senile. I don't even know why he's in there--he injured his shoulder and can't move one arm, but that hardly seems like reason enough to lose one's autonomy! Anyhow, a plate of roast beef and gravy certainly looked better than a plate with ice-cream scoops of rice, macaroni and cheese, and some form of mashed broccoli!

Kristen made the cutest little felted purse, all in one day! She started working on it on Christmas Eve, based on a pattern in One Skein, knitting in the round in sage green wool yarn. She was so obsessed that she stayed up till 1:30 am to finish it, then felted it in the washing machine on Christmas Day--and it came out perfect! She sewed decorative buttons on it, and it's done and ready to be gifted. I am amazed at how quickly and confidently she's been learning new skills. She just reads the instructions and does it--a large button-hole type thing to create a handle, no problem. Increasing by knitting into the front and back of stitches, no problem. If she ever gets the camera out, I will post a picture. Meanwhile: (Pictures of other people's felted purses. Hers is cuter!)

While she was home knitting, I went to midnight Mass. The only problem with midnight Mass is that it *starts* at midnight! If they would do it at 10 pm, and end by midnight, it would be more enjoyable! But the Vietnamese congregation has the 9:00 to 10:30 time slot, and then there's a Christmas concert from 11 to 11:50 pm. So my friend Nancy had asked me several months ago if I would take her to Saint Catherine's some time, as she has lived in the shadow of the church for years but has never been inside the doors, never attended a Catholic Mass. So I suggested midnight mass as a possibility, since it wouldn't interfere with her Sunday School duties at the Baptist church.

I had to take a nap from 9:30 to 10:30 pm in order to stay up that late, but I did, and met her at 10:45 to walk over to church. Lovely evening, Orion sparkling overhead. The concert was very nice. There were probably only 100 or so people scattered through the church when we arrived a few minutes before it started, but people came in all through the hour and by the time Midnight mass started, the church was full (maybe 700 people?) There was incense, 5 priests, a slightly scolding sermon from Father Sal (who is a high school principal and a natural-born scold) and a post-script by Father O'Byrne (who is a psychologist and a natural-born comforter and an Irishman with the gift of Blarney!) Janet Hook, whohas a lovely soprano voice, manages to sing an Agnus Dei that starts off on a shockingly high note--I can't imagine being able to just open one's mouth and hit such a note, rather than easing one's way up to it as the finale.

So when I got home from midnight Mass, it was after 1:30 AM and Kristen was still up, having just finished her knitted purse and feeling all pleased and excited.

For Christmas, Sam gave me a microwave oven for my office, since I have a refrigerator in there (left by a previous occupant) but no way to warm up a lunch. I think this will encourage me to eat less junk food. Generally at lunch time, I buy whatever looks quickest at the tiny little canteen, often a slice of pizza. But now I have no excuses and can take some low-calorie frozen meal or left-overs from dinner and have a sensible lunch in less time than running over to the canteen--which has anyhow been closed while they tear down the building! (Rumor is that they will try one more time to open the cafeteria, but that's off the beaten path and they mostly sell junky food anyhow.) Sam also gave me a lovely gift set of perfume and body lotion in the scent called Pleasures, and he gave Kristen a smaller set of Beautiful, which includes a velvet purse and some lipstick.

And Kristen gave me a Japanese calendar and a beautiful knitting book called Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. It is visually very attractive, and has some nice patterns (though nothing that I could possibly knit in the time frames they indicate--less then 2 hours, less than 4 hours, etc. If I change hours to weeks, it would be closer to the mark.)

So a nice Christmas. And now what? Um, finish the-scarf-that-doesn't-end? And then maybe try my hand at a baby sweater? And what would I do with a baby sweater, you ask? Oh, I don't know. It's a way to practice sweater making skills without the need to worry about whether the sweater will fit me! And if I finished it in a month or two, I could give it to so-worker Nancy, maybe. (There are other pictures of that sweater in finished form that look better than the original pattern. Who dresses their baby in Graphite gray??)

And left-over roast beef and gravy sandwiches for lunch! What could be better?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Daughter is on a Roll!

Daughter has taken to knitting like a fish to water. She knit two little swatches and then was ready to tackle cool projects. Her first Finished Object was a rainbow scarf, knit on long but flexible needles with a variety of fuzzy yarns, the long way. She cast on 170 stitches, I think it was, and finished it for a Christmas gift for a friend in just a few days of intense knitting. Then she immediately got to work on a hat from Stitch 'N Bitch done on circular needles. It's not exactly what one might think of as a beginner's first project, since it involves seed stitch and decreases and switching from circular needles to double-pointed needles, but she just finished the basic hat part. It fits perfectly and looks tres cool. Now she can add kitty ears and ear flaps and i-cord--or not, and it is still a hat. How cool is that? Next up-- a mobius scarf! Mathematics and knitting and warm comforting objects all in one fell swoop!


OMG. It took three days and technical assistance from my in-house tech support person (aka daughter home from college) to actually find the way to get here and post! I thought this was supposed to be super easy! ?! I am. Now what do I want to blog about? Well what finally pushed me over the edge, after reading political blogs and religion blogs, was the knitting blogs. I taught myself to knit over the Thanksgiving holiday, and I am enjoying it so much that I have become obsessed.

Daughter saw her roommate knitting at college and independently developed a craving to learn to knit, so when she got home, I gave her a hint or two and she also taught herself to knit. So the two of us are laying about the house or hanging about in local coffeeshops, knitting. We even went to a local Meetup group and met some other knitters, and after the holidays are over I will probably go back there for some moral support and help on knotty problems.

So, as soon as I can get Daughter to drag out her digital camera, I will post pictures of what I've knitted so far. Nothing too terribly wonderful, but it's wonderful to me because for years and years I only knew how to do garter stitch, and that not too terribly well. (Casting on and binding off were scary!) But now I feel competent enough to actually make things! I used the Klutz book to get the basics, and made their little coin purse, a small shoulder bag that's perfect for taking to the farmer's market or on a walk when all I need is a place for cash and car keys, and a glasses case.

Then I ordered a pattern and yarn from Morehouse Farm ( and have been working away on a lovely periwinkle scarf. But the yarn is quite thin (with quite a bit of variation in thickness) and the needles are size 5, so it's taking A While. But it is lovely and soft and charming, so on I go. (I like the name that Stitch "N Bitch gave a nearly identical pattern: Ribbed For Her Pleasure. Yeah, ok. )

To break the monotony and to see what knitting in the round was all about, I also made a felted bowl of bright pink wool. I got the general idea from One Skein, but it seemed like too much trouble to actually use a pattern, so I made it up as I went. I succeeded at knitting on a circular needle, and in transferring to double-pointed needles and knitting on those. And I succeeded in decreasing down to just a couple of stitches. And I succeeded in hand-felting it. But. There were a lot of geeky defects, most of which came out in the felting. (A few stray holes, a pointy top, a jog at the starting point. So before I make something in the round where the stitches will actually show, I need a bit of help. The final felted product is a bit floopy, and the shape looks like a hat for an American Girl Doll--but still. I did it all by myself!

I enjoyed the hand felting. I used a bar of lavender soap which has bits of lavender in it (so slightly rough) and a natural bristle nail brush, and I just scrubbed away. I added some boiled water, and I switched to cold water a couple of times, and it suddenly was felt! It took a long time to dry, even with the addition of some use of a hairdryer after a day or two. Wool really can absorb a lot of water!

As I knit, I am planning my next projects....let's see, a hat? A Windy City scarf? A pillow (sachet??) with a heart design knit in as purl stitches? (that sounded really easy and cute until I paid attention to the fact that on the back side it is purl with knit stitches to make the pattern.) Two weeks in Maine, with two long flights/waits will provide ample time to get a good start on another project. I think I can get the ribbed scarf done before I leave (January 7th. Surely!)