Oh, HGTV, I love you

Summer always seems to bring on some mild insomnia for me. For teachers, I think there is something very disconcerting about having to keep your brain and your theatrical performance gears going non-stop for nine months, and then — somewhere in the middle of May — the vast expanse of summer.

I don’t know about you other teachers out there, but for me, this opening up of space in my head lets all those neglected worries and future plans rush to the forefront. I find that for about three weeks after the semester ends, I almost completely useless. I need time to let all of those neglected thoughts percolate.

Time to knit. Time to spin. Time to check back in with HGTV.

Ever since I was on family leave with my constantly nursing baby boy, I have had a soft spot in my heart and a glint in my eye for the Home and Garden Television channel. Some of it is absolutely terrible, especially the real estate shows. (Come watch this dimwitted, privileged couple whine about how they can’t fit into their 3,500 square foot house because they have TWO children now. All that and more coming up on “Twits on Parade!”)

But I love the design shows. As someone who is just learning to design knitwear, it is especially interesting to see the designers translate the homeowners’ personalities and vaguely expressed desires into actual things arranged in space.

Color Splash is the best of these shows. The designer, David Bromstad, knows just how to noodge people a bit too far past their comfort zones and love it anyway. And he and his crew do an excellent job of explaining their thought process. They take such joy and humor out of their work, too.

The show has encouraged me to think differently about my own designing. The yarn company Sanguine Gryphon, who make a luscious yarn, put out a call recently for steampunk designs. I set myself the challenge of designing a sweater for men, which is a challenge for a number of reasons:

  1. Most steampunk fashion — like most fashion in general — is for women.
  2. Sweaters weren’t high style in the Victorian period, so I can’t directly mimick a vintage style.
  3. Any design is probably going to have to appeal to a wider range of men than those who want to dress steampunk.

So, like the Color Splash crew, I needed to take some abstract inspirations and translate them into a concrete object. I can’t show you the design I’ve developed because it’s still under consideration, but here are a couple of my inspiration images:

Precious kitty topples from anointed post

Dear Cat #1,

You may recall that a scant few weeks ago I sang your praises as Exalted Eater of All Moths. I regret to inform you that we will no longer be needing your services.

You have been observed treating several of your person’s small craft items as if they were “fresh kills.” This began last week with the pincushion. Your person shudders to think what would have ensued had you swallowed one of those pins.

Today, you were spotted carrying a small skein of handspun yarn from the craft room. HR will be coming for your keys later this afternoon.

Sincerely yours,

The Management

Half empty, half full

Half empty: A couple of days ago, some gnome stuffed my brain and throat full of pollen, making it so’s I can barely talk, let alone think straight. This morning, I broke my toe doing nothing more than walking — not even quickly — across the room. Now, I’m not even a very good driver. I think that’s actually a felony in Texas.

Half full: This meant I was home sick for two days. Hello, yarn.

Half full: I got a lot of knitting done on the swatch for a design I’m working up. The yarn — from Sanguine Gryphon — is bee-yoo-tee-full.

Half empty: The reason that I got a lot of knitting done is because I’ve knit the swatch at least three times. And it’s sizable (about 8″ square). And I’ll probably have to rip it at least one more time.

Half full: I also got to be home for the arrival of my shipment from Halcyon Yarn. I eagerly waited for my new spinning wheel to arrive. Sometime around 2:30, the knock on the door came.

Half empty: It was just the combed top that I ordered so I’d have something to do with the wheel besides pet it fondly.

Half full: Damn, that combed top is pretty, though. It’s from a Blue-Faced Leicester fleece in a natural oatmeal color.

Half empty: I don’t know how to spin top — just roving. Blast.

Half full: Oh well, I can learn! As soon as that wheel arrives…

Potential energy

Have you ever listened to the Knitajourney podcast? Really, really, you should. The host, Susan, is incredibly thoughtful and — best of all — does not have the slightest embarrassment about being smart and well read. (I hate how often women apologize for being smart and well read.)

The other day, I was listening to her most recent episode, “Physics on the Fly.” In this show, Susan shares her thoughts on how spinning and knitting impart energy into fiber. Such a simple idea, in a way, this idea that your hands put energy into the wool. But it’s quite inspiring when you really begin to look at fiber in this way.

Take this for example:

OK, granted, this is partly an excuse to post a photo of my first hank of handspun yard (all 75 whopping yards of it — probably just enough for an egg cozy). I made this during my class at the Campbell Folk School.

But really, my point is this. Before I learned to spin, I saw a lot in yarn — its texture, its color, its construction, its thickness. But learning to spin gives you the embodied sense of the potential energy in yarn. You have stored energy in there with your wheel or your spindle and your own hands. It’s just waiting for you, calling you, wanting to come back out.

Even the plying process gives you some experience with this energy release. During the spinning portion of our class, I learned that — at least when you’re doing woolen spinning (not sure about the worsted process) — you spin singles in one direction and then ply in the other. In other words, the original spinning of the fiber puts in twist in one direction. So much twist, in fact, that the singles curls up on itself.* Then — if you’re lucky or, god forbid, skilled — plying (twisting) one or more of those singles together in the other direction takes just enough of the original twist out so that the yarn doesn’t twist up on itself anymore.

It’s like two perfectly matched forces playing tug-of-war with each other. You might think the yarn is just lying there, but it’s not. It’s locked in a dance, buzzing with energy, calling your name.


* Yes, grammar queens, that is correct. Singles in this context is a singular noun.

Sanity socks

Do you have any idea how many of my colleagues (including myself) are still alive because of these socks? These socks took me through all of the meetings about my college’s massive curriculum change. I just finished them at yesterday’s faculty meeting, wherein we wrapped up what seems to be the last major business in that curriculum change.

If the making of such things preserves one’s sanity, what powers do such socks impart to their wearer? Is all that sublimated vitriol going to ooze back into the soles of my feet? Yee-gads, I hope not. No, I choose to think that these socks are like armor, steeling me for what lies ahead. Actually, the gauge is tight enough that they might as well be armor. The B-2 bomber could not get through these things.

A soft fuzzy

All done!

It has been cold, cold, cold here in Texas…. OK, wait, now everyone on the east coast of the U.S. is going to want to strangle me because “cold, cold, cold” is not quite the same thing as “buried alive under 5′ of snow.”

But considering that usually in mid-February the highs get into the 70s, this year’s highs of 40s are quite a shock to the wardrobe. I simply do not have a lot of winter clothing, because normally I use it for about 10 minutes of the year. (Before you again reach to strangle me, let me remind you that for six months out of the year, you could bake a cake on my front lawn. Without an oven.)

So this year I’ve had a taste of what it’s like to be a knitter in colder climes, where you decide to knit things based on “what you need to keep your body warm,” rather than “what you are willing to sweat in because damn it, you’re going to wear knitted garments for at least a few days before summer hits.”

This scarf is a happy. It is soft and toasty and light on my skin. It does not tickle my nose, nor make my skin itch. It’s purty. It’s a nice change after once again failing to knit a sweater for myself that I like.

What do I want to be when I grow up?

I bought this yarn about six months ago at Stitches South, and now it’s singing a little siren song to me from the closet. Frankly, it deserves the attention. I mean, those four skeins are all in the same color way. That’s one slick yarn, people.

But what to make with it? Many people have made these gorgeous sweaters wherein you do a fair-isle like pattern using two different skeins at two different places in the color repeat. And there’s this amazing shawl, too. But none of them are quite right for me. I am of the pear-shaped variety that does not look fabulous in boxy sweaters, nor in horizontally striped sweaters.

While I am usually not super-picky about matching knitting projects to just the right yarn — Martha Stewart I am not — a yarn like this seems to require a little extra planning. The closest thing that I have found to right so far has been this pinwheel sweater, which keeps the stripes from running across you like you’re the Michelin Woman. And this lovely Mermaid pattern by Hanne Falkenberg turns the construction side-to-side (vertical stripes!) and has waist shaping.

Then again, one of the other rules of Good Sweater Shaping for Curvy Women is: sling that neck low, baby. (No boatnecks, no turtlenecks.) There are some gorgeous Venezia sweaters modified to have deep scoop necks. It’s a good possibility….