Monday, August 27, 2007

A room of one's own

Sneak peak at the completed Lucy!

During the 70's, in my idealistic youth, I subscribed to the feminist literary publication, A room of one's own. The title, I believe, came from Virginia Woolf's assertion that in order to write successfully, a woman needed a room of her own (and money - critical!). The review featured unknown authors - it gave women a venue for their writing which did not previously exist. I was reminded this morning of what I read during that era, and why I read it, during an interview I was listening to on CBC. Connie Watson, of The Current, was interviewing Katie Roiphe, Cathi Hanauer, and Leanne Delap on the topic of "mommy lit", which has evolved from the genre "chick lit". Roiphe is scathing in her assessment of this genre; she believes that the romanticization of the 'stay-at-home-mum' harbours a political agenda of a return to the values of the 50s, wherein women would be financially dependent, once again, upon their husbands. Hanauer was critical more of the quality of the writing than of the content of the genre, and Delap felt that the portrayals of the difficulties of parenthood were not overdrawn. Bear in mind, while reading my thoughts, that I have not actually read a novel of this genre.

I must say that my initial reaction to Roiphe's comments was anger and indignation. This was not due to the suggested political agenda, but because of the subtext of her arguments; that is, that for a woman to be of value, she must be employed outside the home. Recently, I have been reflecting on our society's values, and what the measure of success is. Most equate success with financial success, or fame. There is little room in this schema for a woman who chooses to stay at home with her children and participate fully in their childhood. One can argue, of course, that a life lived vicariously through one's children is the reflection of the children's success, rather than the parent's own success. However, I don't believe that. I believe that our children are a very precious resource, and we value far too little the caregivers that are raising them, be they mothers, fathers, or childcare workers. That being said, I have never had the financial independence to allow me to stay at home with my own child. I don't feel guilty for that; it was a financial neccessity. I also would have stayed home with him if it had been possible. But here's the rub. Those women who do have the financial independence to make the choice to stay home with their children almost all experience that financial independence at a cost, being financially dependent on a spouse. And yes, here we are, back at Roiphe's concern over the political agenda.

Once I had done my oh, so circular reasoning and concluded that Roiphe is right on target, I began to think about that romanticized vision, the Cinderella story, the Pretty Woman story. I have become increasingly concerned over the last few years about the number of young female colleagues who continue to embrace that vision in both subtle and blatant ways. Did the 70s actually happen? I sometimes find myself wondering. Maybe it's time to start raising a few consciousnesses again. Maybe it's time to start reading 'A Room of one's own' again.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled blog...

Here is the completed view of the Lucy sweater. The colours on this one are so vibrant! I chose some little iridescent buttons that pick up the pink beautifully. The finishing took longer than planned. I had some repairs to do once I discovered I had put the buttonhole band on the wrong side - see! I am prejudging that this should definitely be a girl sweater!!! I had also picked up too many stitches and the band went all wobbly. This was because though the tension on the machine was almost spot on, I had not actually knitted enough rows in the body of the sweater. It's all right, though, as I simply made the button bands a little smaller and it looks fine.

And here's a peek at what is on the needles right now. I am knitting an old pattern I have done before in cotton. The first time I did it, though, I used navy blue, hot pink, bright jade green and purple. This one, though the purple is very dark, seems somewhat bland in comparison. I don't think there is enough contrast in the colours to make it jump out at you. However, it is an easy knit and the colours work well enough together to make a nice looking sweater.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

On the needles: Lucy

OK. Here's the thing. I love these two kits from Bees Knees Knits. I showed you the completed Devan sweater last post, and I really love the way it turned out. But here's me with this completion stress and there is that other sweater in sock gauge yarn and I have to go back to work in a week and... Besides, I have been wanted to try out my knitting machine. Well, it has been fun, but I have made tons of mistakes, and the machine has screwed up a few times too. There seems to be a disproportionate amount of time dedicated to correcting mistakes as opposed to the amount of time it takes to knit 60 rows. I suppose that is the price you have to pay.

In any case, each mistake I made has been a learning experience and I now understand my machine a lot better. I would still like to take some lessons to learn all the ins and outs of machine knitting, but I'm happy with the progress I have made so far. Increasing, decreasing, casting off. All are now under my belt. I was going to try to figure out how to do intarsia knitting for the back (there are two different colour blocks on the back), but when I saw how invisible a seam mattress stitch makes, I decided to knit the two back pieces separately and then stitch them together. I will put them back on the machine at the end to do the roll up hem in pink. Finishing by hand will take the same amount of time, but that's ok.

Completed so far: two fronts, one half of the back, and the other half mostly done still on the machine. The sleeves will be a bit trickier as I have to increase every four rows, but it is amazing that, even with all the mistakes, I should have completed all the pieces for this sweater in about 3 days!

Best mistake: After carefully removing a piece of knitting from the machine, pulling back a couple of rows to the mistake, and then painstakingly replacing each stitch on its needle, I realized I had the carriage on the wrong side of the knitting. Well, that's ok, I thought, there's no yarn in the carriage yet, so I will just slide the carriage to the other side and then add the yarn and carry on knitting. I moved the carriage over - and - all the knitting fell off the needles on to the floor!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Off the needles: Devan!

I don't know why, even when I have seen a sample of a sweater made up, or photos of the completed object, but I can never get the "finished picture" in my brain from looking at the different pieces. The finishing completely changes the look of any individual piece for me, moving it from two dimensions into three. I always experience a wonderment when the garment is complete, assembled and all the ends are worked in. (Even if I hide the ends from view, I get a different feeling from the garment - weird, I know). So, Saturday, I used the three needle bindoff to join the shoulders, then worked on the button band. I don't like picking up stitches, not because it is difficult or challenging, but because I don't feel I do a good job of it. This garment was a bit challenging on the first edge, because I couldn't get the number of stitches right. Next time I do this, I think I will do as I saw suggested somewhere; divide the edge up into even sections with strands of yarn, and calculate how many stitches need to go in each section. That way the distribution of stitches is even. I started to sew the seams, and though I used my usual backstitch for the sleeve to shoulder assembly, for the underarm and side seam I used mattress stitch as specified by the pattern. I had never tried it before, because I couldn't conceive of holding the two pieces together and stitching at the same time. (I have always used pins to hold the seams together.) In any case, I am very impressed with the way the seam turned out! Today I found some little abalone buttons that set off the colour really well, and attached them and the label Holli included in the kit. VoilĂ !

I include the back view because I really like the little contrast detail on the back. It is now blocking again, very slightly, to take the shape of the shoulders.

The Pomatomus sock is advancing slowly; I have about two inches done. I am in a conundrum, though. I realized, as I was doing this sock, that I had not knit two together through the back of loops for the first sock when I was decreasing. I like the way the sock looks, but I like the way it looks done correctly even more. What do I do? I am damn well not going to take the first sock apart and redo it. I ahave tried to do the second sock with the incorrect stitch, but it looks so much better the right way! I am tempted to do it correctly and see if anyone notices!!! However, I have put it down for the moment while I mull it over. I have purchased some new cotton to make another little baby sweater, and am tempted to cast that on while noone is looking...

Friday, August 17, 2007

Halcyon days

Cousins, aunts, and uncles came together on this unique Gulf island to reconnect and relax for the day. Oh, yes, and to eat. Food by the bushel was available - I know, as we were still eating leftovers for days! Some chatted on the porch, some beachcombed, others picked blackberries and wandered across the fields. Overall, though, it was a relaxing and fun-filled day.
Checking out old family photos in the album.
Serving liquid refreshment...
Waiting by the dock for the water taxi to take them home. Saying goodbye.
Dabbling feet in the water - what a great way to spend an August afternoon!

Once the majority of the guests had left via water taxi for Sidney or Ganges, sister Kerry, son Stewart and I stayed on for a few days. There's a beautiful little log cabin overlooking the bay where the dock is; cold running water, propane stove (coffee and tea in the morning!) and a kitchen fully stocked with dishes, pots, utensils, etc., were the luxuries of our visit. The outhouse - not so much - but we spent the majority of our time at the main house or helping on the farm, so that was a minor inconvenience!
And look! You can knit looking out over the incredibly beautiful view!

What is there to do on an island farm? Fill and transfer feed bags for the sheep. Check the water supply for the animals. Load lumber for transfer. Build a rope swing in the barn (should have taken a picture of that one!) Weed the vegetable garden. Feed the animals. Bring in the hay (a huge job that was completed before we arrived!). Actually, the work is never ending and our small contribution was but a drop in a vast bucket. Feeding the animals was Stewart's favourite thing. This is Bobby, one of two calves being hand fed.

My father's older sister, aunt Jean, is the reason my sister and I felt like this island was a home away from home when we were younger. We spent many a day visiting and helping on the farm during spring breaks and summer holidays.

Sheep! Yes, this island is a sheep farm! (OK, they raise cattle, too, but how many knitters are interested in cattle??) Apparently, there are two years worth of fleece in the barn because they have missed the shipment date to the Wool co-op back in Ontario. I am tempted to try my hand at spinning... Except there is already no room in my house - where would I possibly put a spinning wheel? I also tried to convince my cousins that they should try distributing their own hand spun wool - but that was met with subtle resistance. Could it possibly be that they already have enough to do on the farm? Could it have anything to do with the fact that washing and preparing the fleeces for spinning is such a labour intensive job? The saddest part of this story for me is that, even though hand dyed and hand spun wool demands such a lovely price in the wool shop, the sheep farmers see very little of that money. Understandably, the labour involved in prepping, dying and spinning is what drives the cost, but it seems a shame that the raw material is of so little value that two years' worth sitting in the barn makes no difference to the economy of the farm.

Finally, in knitting news: I have completed all the pieces for the little green sweater Devan. The final piece is now drying and I will piece it together and do the finishing once it is dry. I have started work on the second Pomatomus sock, but there is less than an inch on the needles. However! I have completed the crazy, mad katerpillar scarf. I have discovered that the extremely loose cast on, that I thought was not loose enough, was in fact too loose! I also had some difficulty with ensuring that each row had at least 10" left for the fringe when I got to the end of the row. This may have had something to do with the varying tension of the different weights of yarn. In any case, I have completed it and have given it to cousin Barbara. I am now waiting for a photo of her wearing this elegant scarf while out feeding the sheep...
Kerry and Barbara modeling the creation.

Friday, August 10, 2007

A treasure or two

©Betty Ruth Emmons

What a joy when your passions bring you into contact with new people who have similar interests! I met Y at Wool and Wicker, my LYS, where she works a couple of days a week. She is always so excited to see new projects and encouraging to knitters. When I joined the West Coast Knitters' Guild, I found she was also a member, and this week she showed us these stunningly beautiful dolls she had crafted. I love the knitted garments they are clothed in - in fact Mitocho Girl is knitting her own outfit as she sits! Ah, yes, Mitocho. Short for Mitochondria. Very small parts of our cell structure - have their own DNA. Meg battled for Charles Wallace's Mitchondria in Madeleine L'Engle's A wind in the door. Isn't that a fabulous reference for this whimsical pair? Y told me the materials these two are made of, but I forget the name of the substance. However, it will harden and they will be as strong as garden statues, able to withstand the weather. Thanks to Y for sharing her art.

Stewart and I are off to the Gulf Islands for a few days. Family reunion and then we will be staying on in the log cabin for a small holiday. No power, so no blogging until we get back...

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Works in progress

OK, so technically, I still have five projects (oops, I mean six) here that are incomplete. But I can explain, really, I can. I'm actually only working on two, right now. So why are the others in the Works in Progress category? Well, because they are sort of started or partway done... Here, look. This lovely Devan sweater is by Vancouver designer Holli Yeoh. You should check out her website, Cool sweaters for little kids. This has been my main project since the Quidditch sweater - actually, it was interrupted to knit the quidditch sweater! In any case, I met Holli at the Saxe Point knitout and fell in love with the little sweaters she had on display, and ordered two kits. They are easy in stockinet stitch, except the yarn used is sock yarn, so the gauge is very fine and takes quite a while to knit. The designs are really enhanced with Holli's wonderful use of colour and the self-patterning sock yarns. Devan is pictured here with one front, one sleeve and the back partially done. I am now working on the last piece before assembly, so I'm in the home stretch. Lucy, the second kit I ordered from Holli, is not technically on the needles yet. I have shown it here with the colours of yarn and the pattern on my knitting machine. As I was working on Devan, I thought this would be a perfect match to work on the machine. So I have swatched a bit and played with it a bit on the machine. I am not happy with it yet, but it is still a possiblity to do on the machine. The main concern I have is for trying to do the two colours on the back. My machine has the possibility to work with two colours at once, but they are all in fair isle-type patterns. I think I have an idea for how to do it, and will try it out when Devan is finished.

Ha! I showed you this before, on the scarf post! Yes, it is the other project that is technically "on the go" at the moment. I haven't worked on it a lot since starting Devan, but it is an easy knit to pick up and do a little bit on now and again. And here is another scarf that I tried to start... but am having a few technical difficulties. Cool kit, isn't it? I bought at Saxe Point knitout, as well, from a woman who runs the knitting shop on Quadra Island. Don't know if the shop is called Fun with Knits, or just the website, but anyway, this scarf kit was kind of funky and looked easy. It's just straight garter stitch, after all! What could be hard about that? Well, the problem is that you cast on lengthwise, v-e-r-y l-o-o-s-e-l-y, leaving about 10" at the beginning for the fringe, and supposedly having about 10" at the other end left over - well, even though I cast on as loosely as I could, I still have more than a yard left over at the end. Well, minor challenge. I am going to ask my mother, the queen of loose knitting, to try the cast on for me, then we'll see how it goes. Should be a one evening deal once the cast on is complete.

Here is a cool sock that I made for my niece, Taryn. It's the Pomatomus sock by Cookie A.; you can find the pattern on the site. I love the way the pattern is pointy and curvy at the same time, and the beautiful Fleece Artist sock wool in Pinata colourway really sets off the pattern well. The only thing I didn't like about this pattern is that it is, again, in twisted rib! Arrrrggghhh! This is a project on hiatus right now - I originally put it to the side because I wanted to make sure the first sock fit, and then I thought it would be better to wait to cast on the next sock until one of the other projects is finished. See? I really do like to work one thing at a time!

Last, but not least, a beautiful Norah Gaughan design from the Fall '91 Vogue Knitting, in Philosopher's Wool yarn. I am making this sweater for my sister's fiftieth birthday, started over a year ago. While the photo shows only the back as complete, I have now finished one sleeve, as well, so it is half done! (And we've still got two years before the 50th birthday!) Another project in hiatus for the moment; however, I was very disciplined and didn't start my knitting rampage earlier this year until I had completed the sleeve. I think once the other projects in this post are complete, I will do another sleeve before I tackle anything else... Wish me luck!

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Process vs product

I guess I have always known I was a product knitter. One of the things I have always loved about knitting is that there is an end point, and a finished product. Unlike housework, or say, teaching, where you just have to keep doing it over and over, and sometimes it feels like you have nothing to show for it, knitting has that very satisfying sense of accomplishment when you complete a project. Don't get me wrong - I am well aware of the myriad joys and celebrations of teaching - but often teaching successes are transitory and you have to begin again the next day - or the next period! It feels like - and rightly so - a never ending task. So, generally, my knitting history has been one project, work it through, complete, begin a different project. Like people who read several different books at a time, I couldn't understand why one would have several different projects on the go at a time. This was true for me of sewing, as well, though I don't sew much anymore. (Knitting is so much more portable!) Of course, there have been exceptions, but in general, one project on the needles at a time. My stash reflects this habit - I don't have a large stash, and most of the yarn in it is leftover from completed projects rather than anticipatory skeins for projects down the road a ways.

So, this year, something strange happened to me. It coincided with discovering the blog of that ultimate of enablers, the Yarn Harlot. From her site, I started exploring knitting blogs and knitting patterns online, and discovered the wealth of creativity and projects out there - not that I didn't have a wealth of pattern books here at home and ideas from the LYS, but the inspiration of seeing what others are doing has a powerful effect. I started one project, then another, then another, til all of a sudden I had about five on the needles at once. Yikes! At first, it was very satisfying, exploring all these different patterns at once, but fairly soon, the anxiety factor started slipping in... Completion! When was I going to get these things finished? Well, if you have read any of the preceding entries on the blog, you realize that I did indeed get things completed, and several of them, as well, but it has been a learning experience for me. I do enjoy the process of knitting. I do enjoy experimenting with different patterns and techniques. But what I still like best is that feeling of accomplishment when a project is finished and can be gifted.

I have grown, though. I am now more comfortable with having more than one project in the works at once, but I know that I will likely have only two or three going at one time, and that one will generally predominate until it is finished. Tomorrow, I will show what is in progress right now, and what is waiting to be worked on... In the meantime, one photo for today: in keeping with the concept of teaching, here is Stewart learning how to knit. He asked me to teach him when I was working on his quidditch sweater. This is going to be a bookmark, if it ever sees completion!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Baby blanket

I've been trying to think what other projects I have completed this year. This baby blanket is the only one I can come up with. I knitted it for the daughter of a friend; baby Melissa was born in May and the blanket was completed and given a couple of months ago. These photos show the work in progress. The yarn I used, Kelly, is a cotton/acrylic blend for easy care, and I loved the way the colours blended on the ball. That's why I took these photos with the ball on top of the blanket; I was really disappointed with the way the blended effect disappeared into stripiness on the blanket. The lace pattern was adapted from an afghan pattern in The pattern companion: Knitting. The pattern was an easy knit, quickly memorized and it grew quickly on the larger needles.

Tomorrow, product vs process!

Friday, August 3, 2007


Last summer, I was madly knitting scarves for the homeless. The instructors and Grand Master's wife of my sons martial arts class were spearheading a project for a local charity. Their goal was, I believe, 500 scarves. I knit several that were simply 2 X 2 rib, fast and easy. While yarn shopping, I saw this beautiful multi-directional scarf at my LYS. It is made from Trekking, and the variegation of the yarn really makes the triangles stand out. I love the colours and the way it shifts from shade to shade. Originally, I intended to keep this scarf, but my coat is navy with purple/green and the scarf just doesn't go with it... So my sister lucked out and acquired it!

I didn't really plan on doing any more scarf knitting, but when I was at the Saxe Point knitout in June, I saw some lovely Noro yarn in purples/greens. (Just shortly after seeing the yarn, niece Jennifer told me she loved anything purple...) Well, I hadn't planned anything specific for the yarn, but one day when I was between projects, I thought I would try out the Noro, and it just sort of came together as a scarf... I love the colours in this yarn, as well, but I do not enjoy knitting with it. I have found that I do not like knitting with yarn that is uneven in texture. This yarn has some extremely chunky spots, and some very fine spots. In any case, the overall effect is quite nice, and Jen may end up with a scarf for fall. (If she is lucky, and if she ever decides to read my blog and comment...)

Thursday, August 2, 2007


While I have knitted a pair of socks before, I have mainly concentrated on knitting sweaters in my knitting life. Lately, there has been such a buzz about socks, I decided to go with the flow... Actually, these blue socks I decided to make because my son was going on a skiing trip to Manning Park in March. I wanted him to have a pair (or two) of wool socks to keep his feet warm. He has a tendency to feel cold all the time, and I wanted him to enjoy his time outdoors in the snow. Because I hadn't knitted socks from the toe up, I tried one pair cuff down and the other pair toe up. The wool I used, Trekking, was mostly wool with some bamboo. There was enough for the two pair of socks, but just barely; the second pair was slightly shorter than the first pair - I was afraid of running out.

I love these beautiful Kitri socks. I ordered the kit from the designer, the Tsock Tsarina. The socks themselves were not that difficult to knit, once I got over the initial struggle with fine yarn and sorting out the pattern. I hate knitting behind, though, and this pattern was full of twisted stitches. Nevertheless, I got the two socks done fairly easily once over the initial hurdle. The challenge came when I tried to knit the beaded lace cuff. First, I picked up all the stitches at the top of the sock from the provisional cast on and then cast on the lace stitches. Working at 90 degrees to the body of the sock, you knit one row, then pick up a sock stitch, and go around the top of the sock, picking up one at a time. Either I hadn't read the instructions carefully, or had misunderstood them, because working with six needles getting in your way is a prime pain. Finally, I figured out that I should place the sock stitches on a length of waste yarn, and only have two needles to work with. Much easier. However, now I discovered that the black Zephyr was very challenging to tink, so as I was learning the lace pattern and making mistakes, I found it necessary to unravel completely, and start again. Third time lucky, I thought, casting on again for the lace and studiously reading the pattern. I had done about six rows, when I started to wonder when the pattern was going to ask me to add in some of those beads I had carefully strung... only to reread the pattern and realize I should have been adding them from the very first row... Rip it out again and start over. Okay, so now I have the pattern pretty much down pat, the needles are out of my way, and I am motoring along, adding beads (which had their own challenges, but hey! I worked it out), when son Stewart calls me for help. I put the sock down and go help, and when I come back, mere minutes later, the cat has chewed completely through the Zephyr yarn, leaving me with about a meter of yarn (and all the beads) hanging from my work. The only reason the cat is not dead is that Stewart came running to cuddle and protect him... OK. I admit defeat. I put the socks away for about a month and thought about other projects. When I went back to it, taking care to keep it well out of the cat's way, the cuffs didn't take very long at all. I was delighted with how the grafting of the the ends together was virtually invisible. Mind you, one cuff is better than the other, but don't look too closely and you'll never know. They need blocking still, but I am delighted with the way they turned out. My sister is graduating from her teacher training in the fall, and these are going to be her grad gift.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Two in white

I was inspired to knit this first sweater by a post on the Yarn Harlot's site. She had knitted a little sweater from a vintage baby book by Patons. I didn't have the pattern so I improvised. It is not exactly the same as hers, but very similar. I used a cotton from my stash, and was very frustrated to discover (once it was blocked and put together) that I must have had two different dye lots (for white, yet - go figure!) because you could see a line of a different white at the top of one of the sleeves. I tried soaking it in a mild solution of bleach; the difference is much less noticeable, now. I really like the little picot hem on the edges.

I saw the pattern for this sweater on Berrocco's site. My LYS didn't have the fluffy white yarn that was called for, so they sold me a beautiful 100% wool substitute, Orisetto. The knitting on this one went really fast, but it was the finishing that took so much time. The embroidery was a pure pain in the behind. Embroidering on knitted garments, particularly where the knit is on fairly large needles, is a challenge. The shell crochet is supposed to go all around the collar, too, but when I got to that point, I really liked the more subdued look of just the row of single crochet around the collar edge. The pattern had a little toque for a hat, but I like the more traditional style of bonnet to go with the very delicate look of the sweater.