I'm such a fan of the knitting designs of Carrie Bostick Hoge - she's been in nearly all of our Taproot issues and I've loved every pattern she's shared with us. Just this week, her latest collection Anthology 2 was released. I jumped on ordering it, and promptly picked two things I wanted to make. I have no shortage of yarn, obviously....and no shortage of knitting projects going on right now. I think I counted five sweaters last time I checked the basket. But all of those - in sport weight or smaller - are plugging along at a slow pace. That's all fine and well, but sometimes it feels good to crank something out. A big, squishy, fluffy cowl on size 13 needles? Yes, please! I chose the Lainey Cowl, knit with Quince and Co's Puffin. Ah...what a treat to start something in one day and finish it the next. And to have something to cozy to wear at the end.
My studio, unfortunately, happens to be the coldest room in our house. It's just around the corner and around another corner from the woodstove - our source of heat. I am, by nature, also the perpetually coldest person in the house (you've seen my kids barefoot in winter for years - it makes no sense to me, either!). The combination of those two things - coldest room, coldest person - well, brrr.....that's all I have to say. Especially during this very frigid week we are having here in Maine. I do have an electric space heater in my studio which is effective in keeping one side of my body warm at a time (have I ever told you about the first winter we lived here when I developed a strange 'rash' on my legs, only to discover that it was just a result of sitting too close to the space heater and that I had effectively burned myself while trying to keep warm? It's called Erythema ab igne. Yeah. That was ridiculous.)
Now that I am in this space for good, we are investigating connecting a teeny woodstove into the chimney that is inside the walls of my studio. And thinking about opening up the bathroom in here, and putting in a claw foot tub in place of the shower. (woodstove plus claw foot tub? In the same room? Oh my gosh, sweet heavenly day!) I've learned to adjust for the time being, for the joy of heating with wood, and living in this house I love so much, and really have made improvements in this little space of mine - so close yet SO far away from the cozy woodstove as it is. My chair is lined with a sheepskin, I just added a rug beneath my feet, I keep a lap blanket around always, and I am quite a fan of my longjohns and of course the wool. All the wool - from head to toe and shoulders and lap. Ah, wool! But it wasn't until this very winter that I discovered my hands were more cold than anything. I can't type fast enough to keep them warm, and I can't keep them warm enough to type as fast as I'd wish!
Enter my new handwarmers. Simple little handwarmers made from the free pattern Wabi Mitts from Fringe Association. They're knit in a fingering weight yarn, held double at times and singly at other points. It's a sweet and quick little pattern, and just the right result for my studio hand warmers. The yarn is from Shivaya Naturals many years ago now, and is the very last bit leftover from the baby surprise jacket I made while pregnant with Annabel (would you look at that wee little thing? Ah! My baby!).
A simple and light layer of wool on top of so many more layers of wool. I think it's just the right amount now to keep me cozy and warm in here. And how delightful that wool is the answer to what I need? Because yeah, I've got that.
Before I bore you to tears with talk of rug hooking yet again (what? You're not as obsessed as I? 'Tis a shame!)....I want to tell you - before it's too late - that our Taproot Holiday Pop-Up Shop opened yesterday! We all had so much fun handpicking all this handmade goodness from some of our favorite makers. This portion of our shop is a limited edition thing, so when the goods run out (as some are already doing), that's it. Even if you don't shop, do enjoy peeking at all the wonderful things these people have made, and reading their stories. Oh! And in the Taproot Goods section of our shop, Support Your Farmer and Feminism is Freedom tees are now available in Youth sizes. I thought you'd want to know that. I'm waiting anxiously for my own to arrive in the mail.
Now, let's talk rugs....Yes!
Honestly, I'm not sure how exactly this rug is finished. I feel like I've hardly been home at all. But I suppose it is a testament to the 'one row at a time,' 'one seam at a time,' 'one strip of wool at a time' philosophy that rules my days. At the end of the day before bed, just a few strips of wool hooked and one chapter of an audio book (I just finished All the Light We Cannot See and am struggling to find something as wonderful to read after that amazing story). I suppose that's how this rug was made - in tiny moments that all add up. I'm so pleased with the results - my first rug meant to be a 'rug.' It includes the lyrics from a favorite song, The Littlest Birds Sing the Prettiest Songs by The Be Good Tanyas, and was meant all along to be for my own littlest bird, Annabel. Just a little something for her little room. A tiny spot of wooly warmth to stand on (it does feel so good on the toes), or to sit on while she plays with her dollies (that's her Edrie doll on her lap from Bamboletta).
I learned a bit about color in rugs on this one - I could have used a more contrasting color around the lettering. As it is, it's a bit hard to read (though we all know what it says, no matter). I used a combination of yarns from my stash, and some from my sheep. I was surprised, actually, at just how much yarn it soaked up - that yellow around the edging is Anne's fleece dyed with tansy and I used nearly two full skeins (I can't remember the yardage). This was such a fun project, and I've got ideas and thoughts for the next one. It's a lovely balance to knitting - though hardly as portable - it does move faster and just feels different to work with. I'm feeling a little itchy for some knitting though, and I think I'll move onto that while I plan the next rug. Harper has requested one, in purple and with a truck on it. So...there's that to think about. And you know someone keeps slipping me designs featuring horses. Of course.
Meanwhile, I think my littlest bird will enjoy her rug. I asked her if she preferred it on the floor as a rug or if I should put it on the wall. She thought for a moment, finger on cheek, preparing her statement, and then said, "I think I'd like it if you make it a dress for me". I think that means she likes it?
(Thanks for the photos, Calvin!)
Really, I'm not obsessed, really I'm not. I'm just....well....diving into the deep end, or something like that. A mere month after I picked up the hook for the first time, it seems I've committed myself - both financially and space wise - to rug hooking. First I moved from burlap to rug warp cloth for a backing material. I loved the utilitarian and affordable nature of the burlap, but did not love the mess I was making all over myself and the house each time I used it. This rug warp cloth, though? It's so dreamy to hook through. On? With? (So new to the craft I don't even have the right lingo!) Anyway, it's an entirely different experience with this backing. And I'm hopeful that it'll make a higher quality, and more durable rug when finished. (You'll see above that I started this rug on burlap, but quickly stopped and moved onto the rug warp cloth when it arrived).
Then, just yesterday, I took a little drive to pick up my new (to me) favorite toy - a cheticamp rug hooking frame. Ah! I'm so very thrilled. Upon arriving home, I quickly put it together and stitched my current rug onto it and got right to it. How amazing to be able to see so much more of what I'm working on at once! And to have my lap free. And a space on which to lay out the colors and tools. So so good. I was a little surprised at how large it is - between that and my spinning wheel and everything else, this studio of mine is getting a wee bit crowded! But crowded in good fibery mess, so all is well.
I've heard from so many of you these past few weeks asking about getting started hooking. I highly recommend checking out the inspiring work of Deanne Fitzpatrick, starting with this lovely video. And yes, I do think this could be a great children's craft. I just picked up this kit for Adelaide for Solstice (shhh!!!), which looks to be a great first project.
Forgive my Pollyanna perspective, but isn't it just amazing to think about all the things out there that bring us joy, some of which we might not even have discovered yet? To think about all the surprising things we can make and create with our hands? It's exciting, I think. Finding new loves and knowing there are only more to come in this life.
So maybe I misspoke last week when I told you I wouldn't have time for rug hooking until after the new year. I hardly put the hook and hoop away. I really just meant to experiment a little bit - wondering how it would feel and what it would look like if I gave it a go with yarn instead of the wool strips I had been using. I cut a piece of burlap, drew a design on it, promptly set about to ignoring that design, and free ranged this little thing. Besides the blue background yarn, the rest of it is my earliest of handspun yarn - thick and thin in places and very irregular. If I enjoyed hooking with wool strips (which I did), I am absolutely in love with hooking with wool yarn. My little experiment quickly became the only project I wanted to work on, and by the end, I was so wishing I could supersize the whole thing into a rug. Another wall hanging, I do not need. A rug I definitely do. But a pillow? Sure! Fresh ones are always welcome. I backed the piece with linen to make the cover, then made a quick inside pillow stuffed with raw fleece. I like it (and so does Piper the cat).
Some proper linen backing has just been ordered, more of each of these yarns is all queued up, and I'm spying floor frames. I'm ready to make something bigger of it all. This time, with yarn. My yarn! Oh, this is fun....
I guess it's official - I'm hooked (and the puns with such a hobby will never end, it's just too easy). I just finished my second hooked rug piece - this one was a kit, Hollyhocks from Etsy seller Harwoodhookedonewe. It was a pleasure to work on this in front of the fire each night, though goodness I do need some better lighting if I'm going to continue hooking. I've resorted to a headlamp, which makes everyone around me laugh. So there's that.
I think I'm ready for a project of my own design, and maybe even perhaps - a rug! Instead of something that ends up on the wall, or as a cat mat, or on the floor of a dollhouse. I think I'm ready. But first up, tomorrow we start shearing, and then I will be swimming in fiber. Oh, and the holiday making must get wrapped up soon, as we are in the thick of another busy Nutcracker season occupying so much of our time. It's such a good thing there is a long winter still ahead - there will be plenty of time for all the things we want to do. Hooking included.
(Photos by Calvin.)
I finished my Shalom, knit with the yarn I spun from Cinnamon (the sheep). I've made this sweater twice before, but never have I made it following the pattern exactly, and keeping it sleeveless. I had just the right amount of yarn to do that. I got gauge with the handspun, but could have used to add a few stitches to the body or at least ignore the waist shaping. No matter. I like it as it is - open in the front, with no sleeves to get in the way. It's warm (so warm!) and will be a perfect sweater for layering when an extra bit of warmth is needed out there. I can't think of a sheep I'd rather wear than Cinnamon - she's a sweet one, that girl. And isn't it amazing how her coloring translates into the yarn? I'm fascinated by that - the depth of color, the color at the tips versus closer to her body, and how that all blends together in the process of spinning...and yarn...and then a sweater. So good, this whole process is. I am in love with it all.
A few rainy days, and a cozy fire going in the woodstove means that I've finished spinning Emily's fleece. I'm so pleased with the lovely gray color. Putting it next to the girls I've already spun - Anne and Cinnamon - I am feeling so grateful for the color diversity. And so tickled to know that even more of it is coming when we shear everyone this fall - it's a Shetland rainbow out there (so many color possibilities with this breed!)! I think my yarn is getting a bit more even, and a little less overtwisted with each skein. Certainly, there's a lot of practicing happening.
I have just one fleece left ready to spin - Charlotte, who is Anne's twin and shares her coloring. I'm going to do my best to pace myself with it. But soon enough, after shearing and sending ten more fleeces off to be prepared, I'll have plenty to keep me going through the seasons ahead. Until then, I'll knit....
I can hardly begin to describe what a pleasure it is to be spinning the sheep that I know. Truly. Sometimes, spinning their wool (and then knitting with it) is just as ordinary as can be - meditative and calming, soothing and rewarding in the finished product. But every once in a while, it dawns on me that I know the very animal from which this wool in my hands came from. This is Anne, I think. Anne who was born here two years ago to Emily. Anne who is the only ewe not to have lambs of her own. Anne who is a little more skittish than the rest, who takes a little more time to get close to, who kind of does her own thing. That Anne. She's the one whose fleece I'm spinning right now.
I know that with this next batch of fleeces it will be far more economical to combine by color rather than keeping it separate by sheep. And that will be wonderful too. But oh, it's a pleasure doing it this way now. Sheep by sheep. One at a time. Each one ball of roving, each skein of yarn, each finished object connected to an animal, a certain personality and spirit, that lives in our backyard. It is a joyful and fulfilling feeling, to be sure.
Anne is now all spun up (is that the proper terminology? It sounds good), and at least I can say that I'm consistent in the results. Similar to Cinnamon, Anne's fleece started out weighing 1 pound, 7 ounces and finished as just a little over 400 yards of what is knitting up to be an aran weight yarn (because I'm still a one trick pony...maybe someday I'll get to a worsted or even - gasp - sportweight!).
I did start knitting with Cinnamon. I'm making a Shalom, this my third, but first of course with my own yarn. I'm excited about that. Opening up all of my currently in-progress projects bags, however, made me laugh a bit. All is well and good for now, but I best get knitting on all four of these before the depths of winter hit. Because come February, March and April, the rule is all color all the time. Maybe that's when it will be time to start playing with some dye. For now, though...with the riot of color outside on the trees and on the ground, and the flurry of the season, all these neutral, soothing colors are just right. And, well, just so happen to remind me of those sheep of ours out in the pasture.
Well, look at that. My very first completed rug hooking thing (piece? wall hanging? rug? I don't know what to call it). Perhaps like many first completed projects of a new craft, I think this looks best from far away. And perhaps in dim lighting? Ahem.
That said, this really was such a fun project to get started hooking with with. It was about halfway through hooking the sky (is that the right terminology?) that I really got into the groove of what to do, my hands cooperating the way I wanted them to. It was then that it clicked, how I could be using the loops - the direction and placement of them - to create more a more interesting visual rather than just 'filling the space' in rows as I was doing. When I realized that, I contemplated ripping it out and starting over, or just setting it aside for a while. Adelaide, who was hovering over this project from the start, was outraged. "No, Mama! This is your first one, just keep practicing! Keep going!" Wise words that I couldn't ignore. She's also the one that insisted we hang it up on the wall when completed, at least for a little while before I have a feeling she'll be begging me to use it as a cat mat (a place of honor in her world).
I am, forgive the pun, hooked on this process. I'm not sure if I'll dive into another kit right away, or try something on my own. The whole time I was making this one I kept thinking this medium might be really conducive to interpreting children's art. I'm not certain, but I think I'd like to try that. I know a certain someone who would absolutely adore a small rug on her floor made with a drawing of her horses.
Some of you may have read the comments of the post when I first shared this rug hooking project last week. An interesting discussion took place there over the next few days, with many thoughtful and sincere words from some long time readers. (Thank you for the civility!) The gist of it is something I've come across often in the years since I started blogging - how do you do it all? What's the secret? What do your days really look like? Are you for real?
I thought a lot about those questions as I was making this little hooking project in particular. My hope has always been that the answers can be found everyday in each post that I write, as I focus on what I love, what brings me joy, and the blessings of family and a creative life. I've tried to address these questions many times over the years, but I don't know as though I've done it well. Goodness though, I wish I could. The thought of what I do here making anyone feel inadequate is just about as far away from my goal in sharing in this space as is possible. Perhaps though, I can answer some simple and straightforward ones that I sometimes find stated as fact about us. There is no nanny just out of the frame of my photographs, no housekeeper hidden in the closet under the stairs (though goodness, I would love that and feed him/her well!), there is no trust fund and we are quite far away from 'independently wealthy'. There is a lot of chaos, mess, sibling squables, frustrated parents, and all the normal challenges of three generations and eight people living under one roof - learning, loving, and growing together. There is also all the laughter, love, beauty, peace and harmony of three generations and eight people living under one roof - learning, loving, and growing together. The latter helps me get through the former, and I suppose that's how I write here as well, with a focus on all that I'm grateful for, all that fills my heart, all that inspires me to get up each day and do it again.
We have, in essence, crafted the life that is just right for us. We are thoughtful in our decisions about what comes into our lives, about how we spend our time, about the things we say yes or no to, about the ways we earn an income. We've worked hard and lived simply so that we can be together as a family in the ways that we are each and everyday. When does the crafting happen? All the time. When there is not a child in my arms, there is often yarn. Or fabric. Or rug hooking. We do it together, as I am slowly read aloud to from someone practicing their reading, as I teach one of them to knit, as I watch one more trick on the half-pipe, as I snuggle into bed at the end of another long and wonderful day and spend just a few minutes, just a few rows, working on the latest sweater. It brings me joy, it grounds me where I am, and the utility of what I make nurtures my family in practical and spiritual ways (I hope).
The documenting and sharing of all of that in this space (and by extention, my books and the magazine), while originally snuck into the moments of napping children or a quiet house when I first began blogging eleven years ago, has now become my job. One that I take seriously, that as a family we dedicate hours to me working on in (relative) solitude, and that I am so incredibly grateful for. I love my work. I love that I do it with my family, that it is all about the things most important to me, and that I am so fully supported, encouraged and covered by my partner. Working at home - just a room away from all the chaos and commotion and laughter of family life - is not without its challenges. Harper's sweet face has popped into many a Taproot video conference. I've had to hang up quickly on colleagues as I heard the shouts of "pig's out!" coming from outside my door (consequently, have had the same happen to me when on the phone - how lovely to work with folks in the same kind of life!).
And now I'm rambling, and still I do not think I have answered your questions in a way that will satisfy. Oh, but I wish I could somehow. I wish we could sit down for a cup of tea (or wine?) and we could talk this out properly in a real world way. That I could tell you my struggles and joys, and you could tell me yours and we'd find connection in that in this crazy and wonderful life we're all living. But I hope that's precisely what I'm doing here, each morning as I close the door to my studio and sit down to write at this little box. And I hope that's why you are reading - because you feel that too.
There is a full day ahead - of horseback riding and dance classes and editing the pages of our next issue (BREAD! Oh, I'm having fun with this one!). The leaves are falling, and after an unseasonably warm weekend, today feels crisp and cool. Here we are, on the cusp of October. Such a beautiful month it is. Friends, I wish you a wonderful start to your week, and thank you, as always, for stopping by.
Another crafty hobby? Why not! The more the merrier, I say.
I've been thinking about rug hooking for a while now, partly inspired by the beautiful rugs Megan has been making these past few years, as well as the North Woods Rug that Charlotte created for the pages of Taproot (in Issue 8::RECLAIM). I had thought "that's something I want to do....someday." But maybe not just right now. But you know that once you say something like that, you're gauranteed to be confronted with it at every turn. Somehow, someway, hooked rugs kept appearing in front of me this year, reminding me. I think I picked up and admired every hooked rug I saw at Brimfield this year and at ever antique market since.
Ah...well, leave it to a place like the Common Ground Country Fair to inspire a lady to take the plunge, to dive on into a new craft, and to arrive home with everything she needs to get started. The lovely folks at Searsport Rug Hooking, in their booth at the fair, pushed me over the edge with the piles of wooly goodness. I bought a kit and some extras, got a quick lesson to get me started, and went on my merry way, new hobby in hand. I'm excited to begin. And looking forward to a winter ahead full of spinning, knitting and now...hooking too. (And now I've promised myself to wait until at least next winter before bringing a loom home.) There's always room for a little more crafty goodness.
Speaking of things piling up and pulling at my heart strings....in the corner of my studio a great big pile of fleece has been accumulating. Just two years worth of shearing, and just four sheep (until this fall). But still....the washing and carding of it all was a slow process, one that this newbie wasn't exactly performing well and definitely not at a pace in which I could spin it in a reasonable amount of time. Eventually, a few months a go, I cried uncle. I needed help! I needed someone to help me out with at least one step in the process. With every angle of it being so new to me - the shearing, washing, carding and spinning - there were just too many places at which things could go wrong. Having a few steps done 'right' by someone with experience would allow me to focus on learning one piece of the puzzle at a time. Spinning first. And so...late one night in my studio I boxed up those fleeces, and sent them on their way.
They spent a little bit of time with Nancy at NEWAIM Fiber Mill, a solar-powered mill on the coast of Maine, where her experienced hands did just the right thing. This week, they came back my way. Opening those big boxes was such a delight. Inside, were four clean and tidy, beautifully carded bags of roving - one for each of our first sheep, Emily, Cinnamon, Anne and Charlotte.
Aren't they gorgeous? Ah! I could just look at them all day, sinking my hands into them periodically as well. Love, love, love. But of course they aren't meant for staring at, they're meant for spinning. And I am quite excited to get started doing just that, with such well prepared roving. It's a whole lot of roving, but thankfully there's a whole long winter ahead and a wood stove calling my name. And at the end of it all....some knitting in my future. And maybe some dyeing too? Oh yes.
(Let us not talk about the reality of ten more fleeces coming my way in just a month or so, okay? I'm still riding the illusion that I can keep up with it all, even with a little bit of help. Do let me live that fantasy. Ahem.)
I haven't really knit in months. It's seasonal, of course, as my hands have been busy with lots of other things - mostly dirt and food (it's garden season, after all). And yet...as these days of August start to wind down, I am starting to feel the urge. Mind you, I have no interest in rushing summer - it is my very favorite time of year and hope for many more warm summer days ahead. There are a great number of backyard barbeque's still to be had, and I haven't been swimming nearly enough to call it a full summer. But still, that feeling to have something warm in my hands, keeping my fingers busy, I've been feeling that. Talking to my knitting friends, I am not alone. It seems we're all at the least thinking about knitting. And that's something, isn't it? The beginnings of what is to come...
And you? Are you knitting yet?
I'm happily taking a bit of a break from the garden today while the rain comes down (saving me from all that time spent watering by hand - hooray for rain!). The cooler temperatures are a bit of a reprieve for us to focus on some inside projects (where did all this laundry come from? And what's that smell in the refrigerator? Hmn....). It's also perfectly timed for Annabel to wear her just-off-the-needles new sweater. An In Threes - such a great pattern I've made many times now. This one in a newish-to-me favorite local yarn, Maine Twist. Alpaca, silk, CVM - so soft, and so sturdy and just wonderful to knit with.
My Annabel is as chatty as I've known any three year old to be. Talking from the moment she wakes up until the moment she falls asleep, often mid-sentence. It's a stream of things that make amazing sense for her age, or make no sense at all, and quite often make us all laugh a whole lot. She loves that place - the center of attention for this, the youngest of five. When I delivered her sweater, hot off the needles, she responded in the sweetest, most innocent and sincere of voices, "Oh! Thanks!" Pause. "I know you think it's beautiful. I just don't think it's so beautiful." Then she promptly walked off, dismissing me and the sweater.
Ha! Well, thankfully she can be as fickle as she can be chatty. And just a few moments later, heading out to the see the ducks, she decided it would be okay to wear the sweater after all. And in the middle of all the storytelling and conversation she had with Ginger, I heard "Ginger, you love my beautiful new sweater, don't you, you cute, cute little duckling?"
I'll take that as a thank you.
I feel like I might jinx myself by saying this (because I'm a wee bit superstitious though I don't like to admit that), but the garden is in a decent place. The fruit trees and berries and the yard in general? All well (enough) attended to. Firewood we are ridiculously behind on, but that's not really my thing until we get to the splitting and stacking stage, which we're not at yet. But what we are caught up on leaves me with surprisingly 'free hands' at moments in the day, made even more free by the children that are no where to be found (though I could find them if I wanted to - they're in the woods on their bikes, or their in the pasture with the sheep, or chasing butterflies in the field, or building fairy houses by the rock wall....beautiful summer things). And so I find myself, surprisingly for June, in moments here and there with yarn in my hands. A few rows after weeding a bed in the garden, a few more while waiting on dinner in the oven, and just a little bit before bed with a book on the front porch. It takes longer, this kind of knitting - sometimes just a row a day. And it travels farther as it comes along with me where I go - all over the farm. But that's alright. It's still the welcome pause in my day that it is all year round, year after year. A meditation with my hands. And at the end, perhaps in time for the next season when it's needed, there will be a sweater. And a whole lot more knitting to follow.
A very dear friend of mine is about to have a baby boy after a string of girls. Naturally when I heard the news, the needles started clacking (wooden needles don't really clack, do they? But still...). I have hopes of finishing a few things for this little one, but the reality is that might just be these two - one just came off the needles and the other is so very close. Soon, seeds need to go in the ground and before I know it this little one will be in his mama's arms.
Finished, is a Pebble Vest with some unlabeled fingering weight yarn held double, and a set of vintage buttons. And almost finished is a Baby Surprise Jacket, in Manos Serena, an alpaca/cotton blend that I'm knitting with for the first time and really enjoying.
It's got me thinking - the knitting for this baby - about what a dream layette for a newborn baby would be. Surely it'll be a while before my days really lend themselves to creating such a thing - a big pile of hand knit essentials for a little one. Dare I dream of doing so someday (many many years from now) for a grandchild should I be so lucky? Month spent knitting little things, culminating in a big pile of warm woolie goodness. Ah, yes. That hand knit newborn layette, should it ever happen, might just have to include one of each of these favorites -
Pebble Vest - for boy and or girl, this wee vest is so tiny knit in the DK weight. There's hardly anything as heart melty as such a tiny little thing wearing...a vest. Yes, an essential.
Kicking Bag - I have to confess that I wasn't certain about this kicking bag when I made the first one. The adorableness of it was no question, but would I actually use it? Yes. My last two babies spent a better part of their first weeks in these kicking bags. It kept them cozy and warm at naps without having to worry about blankets, and made diaper changes all the easier by just wearing a diaper onesie and kicking bag. An essential.
Pinwheel Blanket - Of all the baby blankets I've knit (okay, five), this one really is my favorite. With a beautiful yarn, this pattern has such a great drape, weight and size too. And while it got a little enormous on the needles towards the end, it really was a fun knit. Annabel's is still snuggled up with her often.
Stay-On Baby Booties - I've tried several bootie patterns, and these are hands down my favorite - because they really do stay on!
Oh, I could go on. There are February Longies, and a Cassia dress, and oh - what about hats and bonnets? Yes, I can see this list is not complete. Thankfully, it will be a good deal of time before my days lend themselves to creating such a hand knit layette. I'll wait for it. And until that day, when I learn of a new little one coming into our world of friends and family, I happily pick and choose what I can manage to make with the time I have from my list of favorites.
I have found that now - this time of year - is when we need handwork most of all. Not just me, as evidenced by the finished knits piling up this February. In hands both big and small, handwork projects are the way we love to get through the days with peace and ease. In the early days of winter, just the shift to inside is enough to uncover latent projects, or forgotten books, puzzles and games. Artwork happens with a flurry in the months that begin winter. But eventually, at just about this point, we all get a little stuck. A little tired of looking at the same pens and paper, bookshelves, and projects in progress. And as a result, I see more unrest, feel more unsettled kids around me, and hear more bickering. The days are getting longer, and warmer, and it's becoming easier already to be out of doors more. We are close! But still...some "new" handworking projects are just the thing for keeping little (and big) hands busy, heads satisfied and hearts happy. They keep the peace, these things. After all, you can't swat at your brother when you're hands are both deep in felt. And you can't call your sister a name when you're counting stitches.
I thought today I'd show you some of the kid handwork we're up to these days, on the chance that it might be helpful in your own hands and homes too.
(Mama and her old bed sheet as a floor surface wasn't around at the start of this particular carving session. Ahem.) Everyone (excepting Annabel) has been doing quite a bit of carving these days. There are spoons, and wands, and spatulas in progress - rustic and unidentifiable as they may be (I'm speaking of my own work here). The kids - and Steve and I - have picked up most of our carving instruction from our friends at Koviashuvik Local Living School. I don't have a great book resource to give you about carving, but can promise that some good information is soon coming to the pages of Taproot!
Harper is having a great time with embroidery these days. I wrote a bit about the earliest of embroidery with children both in my first book, The Creative Family, and in this blog post. Harper has moved past that first burlap goodness and is now fully into linen and the like. He likes to draw directly onto the fabric with a light pencil, then stitch over that with a tapestry needle and embroidery floss (using all the strands). He just finished working on a collection of Valentine's - with his friends' name and accompanying hearts which were turned into "dream pillows". Sweet, sweet.
He - and Annabel too - are also spending a lot of time with the hand drill right now. It's a Fiskar's Hand Drill (like this one), recommended a few years back by Amy, it's become a huge hit here. We have a second now, just because it was in such frequent demand. They do some specific making of things with it, but mostly, with the littlest especially, they just really like making holes in wood. And I think that's just fabulous.
Adelaide has been spending a bit of time this month with her potholder loom - a little different from the classic metal one (which we also have, but that she got a little bored with in years past). This one requires a bit more work - more weaving - but it's perfect for where she's at. When it comes time for weaving (a hobby I am half-jokingly saving for my forties), I think she'll be able to lead the way, after using this.
She's also been playing around with a lot of wet felting, using Artfelt to be specific. It's an interesting process - a bit faster than a traditional wet felting, which I think makes it more appealing to her at the age of eight. I think she's just tapped into the things she could make with this - she really wants to 'draw' with felt, and she thinks this will be a good method for doing so.
And then there is knitting. A lot of knitting. I have taught my children to knit at various points each, sometimes with it sticking and sometimes not. It comes in fits and spurts for some, and with a passion for others. Ezra has been quite content to work on the same hat for about a year now - a few stitches here, a few stitches there. Sometimes ripping most of it out to trade out a stripe for a different color. Oh, he loves the process! And doesn't think much about the product. Adelaide started a cowl last week, cleverly devising a basket she could hook over her arm so that she could walk and knit at the same time, determined to be wearing the cowl by this weekend. Oh, my girl. (For kids knitting instruction - if you're looking for a visual reference for them or you - I really do like Kids Knitting a whole lot for that purpose.)
And you? Is there handworking keeping you and yours busy these days?
I have one son who is a mere two inches away from being taller than his mother, the next one I can share shoes with, and apparently a daughter right behind them to wear my clothes! Well, not exactly, but nearly. Because this sweater I knit for her is an adult extra small, with only a few adjustments, and it fits her to a tee. I was shocked really, when I took the measurements, looked at the pattern, and took the measurement again. And then shocked again when it actually really fit her - not 'a little big, but it'll fit her well next year' kind of fit, but really truly fit her. Oh, my babies! (But what fun this growing up is. And man, you should see my hip and trendy shoe options now! I'm as cool as a thirteen year old boy. Well, maybe not that cool.)
The pattern is Annabel by Carrie Hoge for Quince & Co. It's knit in Osprey, Goldfinch (just the same yarn I knit Annabel's sweater in last week. Originally purchased to make an afghan, I have a lot of that yarn.) I've knit an Annabel before, and it's a favorite go-to cardigan for me. Adelaide is not a fan of fussy or frilly - she wants something simple, easy and comfortable to wear from sheep pasture to goat pasture to horseback riding to the library with a kitten in your arms. That kind of sweater, and I think this one does just that for her. What makes this extra special to her is not just that her Mama knit it for her (she's one who really appreciates such things as that), but the buttons. From Wooly Moss Roots, they're made from found deer antlers! Her eyes got even brighter and shinier when I gave her that news about her new sweater. An extra special treat for this animal lover of mine.
As an aside, did you know that a knitting notions bag - with the ultra sharp bits removed - can hold a two year old's attention for at least twenty minutes, maybe even half an hour? Which is just enough time to weave ends in and put six buttons on. Here and there, one row at a time, this is how the knitting happens in between everything else in my home and likely in yours too. And for anyone keeping track, yes, this is the third (albeit, child's) sweater in this month of February. With only one week left to go, it would be a shame to not make it an even four, don't you think? Hmn. We'll see.
A sweater a week? Well I'd say that average sounds just about right for February, especially when you're talking about Purple! and Yellow! and well, the tiniest of my people that I could possibly knit for. Yes, one sweater a week is just the perfect thing for now. And this sweater? Oh goodness, it was quite seriously a fun knit - just enough variation to make it all interesting, and in an aran weight to make it fly off the needles. It's Springtime in Hollis knit in Goldfinch Osprey by Quince & Co. (I made it a little large in the size four.) Such a pleasure to knit, really - highly recommended. (Ravelry link.)
It was especially a pleasure to knit, since it was for this little miss, who instructed - whenever I walked in the room this week - to 'sit down and knit my sweater, mama!" or something to that effect, with hands on her hips or pointer finger pointing, lips pursed. Oh, this youngest child of ours. Oh, oh, oh. I think and read a lot about birth order, but no one makes me think about it more than this, our youngest of five. It is said of the youngest that they may "grow up expecting others to take responsibility". I wouldn't be exaggerating to say that, by default rather than intended indulgence, she's got a house full of us at her command. If one of us says 'not right now' to reading her a story, playing a game or dressing her doll? Well, she's got seven more people (including Gram now) to go through, and she's bound to get a yes eventually. Oh, this girl. And on the flip side of that, I do think all that love received equates to the love she gives, for I've never heard anyone say "I love you so, so, so, so much" to so very many people as often as she does. A character, a charmer, a confident, demanding little love of a girl, that's her. Miss Annabel Edrie (she calls herself that. Hands on hips, of course).
And Miss Annabel Edrie is quite pleased with her new sweater (and pleased with herself). Well, as you can plainly see.
Recently, while consulting with the kids about what I should knit next, this little guy quietly sidled up next to me, shined his sparkly blue eyes my way, and said in a soft voice (this is how he gets things done, this one), "You could make me a sweater, Mama."
"But Harper", I replied as gently as I could, "you have a few sweaters I've made for you and you don't seem to wear them very much. That's okay - really. But I don't want to spend a lot of time making another one if I don't think you'll wear it."
He paused for a moment, and I could see him thinking hard, trying to phrase what came next in way that I could understand.
"Mom." he said quite seriously, "They're not purple."
But of course! What was I thinking? Clearly not, for - more and more - this Purple Working Man prefers everything to be as such. Tool boxes (thank goodness they make such a thing), the tools within, ski helmets and everything else imaginable. Purple.
I cast on with vigor about a week ago, with Quince and Co. Osprey in Petunia (such a great name, yes?). And here's where I must pause to give props to local yarn stores and specifically my favorite local(ish) one, Knitwit, and the shopkeeper herself, Suzie. For I do remember picking up some lovely DK, and even some fingering in those aisles, before she ever so gently led me on the straight and narrow back to the Aran aisle, saying something like 'Purple Working Man is going to want that sweater sooner rather than later, yes?". And again I found myself saying, But of course! What was I thinking?
Anyway, a sweater was finished in less than a week, which is in equal parts owed to his persistent asking about it, along with my staying up far too late each night working my way through two seasons of Girls in just five days, and of course, the fact that it's Aran weight yarn and he's still a little guy, really. (Other important details for you knitterly types - the pattern is TAMA by Kelly Brooker, which was fabulous, really. Versatile in yarn choices, easy to read, and resulting in a great knit. The buttons are from Wooly Moss Roots, and oh - I love them so.)
It was just right, the timing, the color - everything - for Harper who anxiously awaited this sweater. Twenty four hours of blocking by the woodstove was almost more than he could bear, checking it nearly on the hour. But at last, it was dry and ready, and so was he. True to his word, the purpleness of it made all the difference. He's worn it for at least a part of every day since I gave it to him, giving sparkly-eyed and wholehearted words of thanks here and there to me. And well, I'm not sure what makes a knitting Mama happier than that.
I am having a great time with my sweater knitting right now, even those long-lingering on the needles. I've got my Antler crawling along with my handspun, and Lady Marple has been enjoying a leisurely stroll on the needles. Newly on the needles, but moving at a surprisingly rapid pace is a Brownstone for Steve. All of those knits are fine and good. BUT. It's time to put them away. To tuck them into hibernation for month.
Because February is coming, and we all know that February knitting (in wintry parts of the world, anyhow) is not meant for white, grey or black. Denny says so. Stephanie says so. My friend Jean says so. It's just Knitting Truth. There is plenty enough white outside our door, and grey is most definitely how it's easy to feel at just about this point in the winter. So...all color, all the time...in February.
I'm kicking things off with a bit of purple. For my boy, of course, a raglan sweater in Osprey. In worsted, for a little body, this one is going to fly, I think, so I've been eyeing what comes next. Making plans, printing patterns, and in general just being sure there's plenty of color to round the bend into March. I think I'm good.
Should I doubt this color strategy, I need only look at the happy legs of my little miss, sporting her new yellow (yellow!!) legwarmers to know that color rules in February (the pattern is when left foot met right foot legwarmers). Yes, yes...we're going to have no problem making (knitting) our own sunshine this month.
Hello, again! From the 2014 Maine winter. Where it's always snowing! And it's very, very cold!
What I really mean to say is - this is the latest and greatest of the needles! It's a honey cowl - I've made one before and wear it constantly. This one, though, is for a friend, a friend who I thought could use a little extra lovin', a little extra warmth this season. But before sending it off, I had to give it a go to make sure it worked at keeping out the cold. Of course it does. It's such a great knit, that Honey Cowl. This one is made with a skein of the amazing Swan's Island yarn that is just so delightful to touch (in the same colorway as Ani's sweater jacket). I used one skein, and cast on 160 stitches, putting it somewhere between the two sizes provided on the pattern, but just enough to wrap (tightly) twice if wanted. I like it that way, anyway.
(Why yes, adorable cats and pups are the perfect accessory, we think.)
I took one more lap round the Honey Cowl train this week, making another for Adelaide. Watching her head to the mountain for skiing, I asked where her cowl was. "I don't have on that fits, Mom." Well, my goodness gracious. I remedied that, you can be sure, by the time she got home later in the day. It's with a bit of Sundara - the same yarn I used to make my own Honey Cowl as well as Annabel's baby sweater. Oh, it really does always work out to buy a little extra yarn, doesn't it? (I like to tell myself this often.)
Well. With those two things off the needles I can rest assured that two ladies I love will be just a little bit warmer in what remains of this winter. It's a cold one, to be sure. Stay warm, all! May I suggest a little knitting?
I have a favorite pair of mittens that I made thirteen years ago now. I know precisely how many years ago it was because I made them during a winter when I was doing lots and lots of neighborhood walking with another Mama with our babies* practically zipped up inside our jackets, in their slings. We would walk....and walk and walk, talking all the while as we both - new to the Mama gig - tried to sort out exactly what we were doing - in cloth diapers, in slings, in breastfeeding, in our days with a tiny person attached to us all day and all night long. That little baby boy of mine turns thirteen this week, and those mittens are still going strong, and still my favorite. For the life of me, and for all the searching online, I can't find the original pattern. But it doesn't matter anyway, because with my knitting so new at the time, and my complete lack of knowledge about gauge as it was (diving in seemed like the best way to start), I'm sure it was just dumb luck that they ended up as they did. I can't even remember if they were actually supposed to be felted, or if they just "ended up" that way. Hmn.
Anyway. (Forgive a sentimental Mama on the eve of her firstborn becoming a teen.) I love those mittens...and wanted another pair somewhat similar. With a trusty pattern at my side (Family Mittens by Carrie Hoge, from Taproot Issue 3::RETREAT!), I grabbed an unmarked skein of un dyed bulky yarn from my stash and got to to work. I decided to make them on the bigger side, in the hopes that I'd be able to felt them just a bit to be extra cozy. At the last minute, before felting, I decided to throw those mittens into the dye pot. Why not? White mittens are fun, but, my goodness, January and February are sometimes in need of a pop of color.
And a pop of color, I got! They're so yellow! Just two hot soaks in the wash later, they felted a wee bit - just enough to shrink down to the size I want, and hold the fibers close together nicely, keeping my fingers extra warm. So good. I'm so pleased.
(*Speaking of first time Mamas - anyone care to place a wager on Cinnamon there? I think she's looking a little round....oh, but I'm not certain! We had a chat, she and I, and I don't think she knows either. Hmn. Time will tell. Soon.)
Just as soon as I gave myself permission to 'experiment' with my fleeces last week, a weight (that I didn't know was there) lifted, the fog cleared, and excitement settled in. I set to spinning with no expectation or pressure of the result. And it wasn't long before my eyes found their way to the bookshelf, and then the dried tansy still hanging from the library beams from last summer. If it's all an experiment, then why not go for it? What's to lose? Calling upon the handy reference of Wild Color by Jenny Dean, I soaked the fibers - both Charlotte's fleece and some un-dyed, unlabeled mill-spun something or other - in a mordant of allum and cream of tarter overnight. And in the morning, I made a dye bath from the dried tansy. The yarn stayed in there for another day, and the result spent the weekend drying by the fire. It's a lovely shade of yellow that I'm so pleased with. I have no idea what I'll do with the yarn, exactly...but that's really not important for now. The importance was in the process, and that, to be sure, was just delightful.
I think I've stumbled my way onto just the perfect word for me to hold onto this year. Experiment. Yes, yes...I could do with a little bit of that. And tansy - a favorite (weed) of mine - is just the way to kick things off.
My daughter was working on a new project this weekend - some wet felting. Something she hasn't done before, but has been excited to try. With the older boys still in teenage sleepy morning land, the youngest two occupied with some ukuleles and guitars by the fire, I had a whole morning to dive into the project, one-on-one with her in my studio. My sweet darling girl (and fellow Virgo, ahem) was eager, excited, and then...oh so quickly frustrated. That she couldn't quite "get it" immediately. That her hands felt clumsy (her words). That the piece in front of her didn't match the piece she had envisioned in her head. She wanted to abandon the project, give up on it, and found all sorts of reasons why she should do just that. "Oh but honey, this is the very first time you've ever done this in your whole life! It's just a beginning!" I told her. I was full of empathy and Motherly words of gentleness and patience with her. There were tears and even a bit of anger that she walked through that morning as I held her hand, on the way to that first felted project of hers. The project she wanted so much to do. The project she, ultimately, was so proud of.
I'm not sure exactly when it clicked for me, but somewhere in my studio that morning, I found a parallel in my own creative life. Perhaps it was when she so well articulated the feeling of seeing something different in your head than what's in front of you. Perhaps it was in her tears, in the way that I know her, in the ways that we are so much alike. Perhaps it was when I reached over into my own big basket of our sheep's wool to hand her some roving. Yes, I think that's it. That's when it clicked...when I realized that I could use a little empathy of my own, a little bit of patience, a little bit more gentleness with my own process.
I had not spun in months. I told myself it was because the days were just too busy - and certainly that's true. I told myself that there was something 'up' with my wheel (also true, though just a tiny bit of a sit-down to oil it is all that I really needed to do). But....I do think there's a bit of frustration that had gotten in the way most of all. Frustrated that my hands felt clumsy. Frustrated that the yarn in front of me didn't look like the yarn I was picturing in my head, or the yarn I'm used to buying in a shop. Frustrated, that I didn't know the difference between a fine wool carder and a drum carder or English combs and viking ones. Frustrated, that this precious wool we sheared from our very own sheep wasn't being given it's proper due by the way in which I was spinning it. And on and on.
It was a most wonderful realization that morning in my studio. When I could turn the words I gave to her right back onto myself. This is the very first time you've ever done this in your whole life! It's just a beginning!
I told her about this, that I thought I was doing the very same thing with making yarn. "Well Mama, you just need to keep practicing" she told me, matter of fact, her own hands deep in her basket of roving. It really is as simple as that, isn't it?
Later that night, after tucking my little girl into bed with her felted project drying close beside her, I dusted off my wheel (literally). I gently oiled her (the wheel) with the recommended paraffin wax (so much easier than I had told myself it would be). I tried to refresh my memory on all the parts and pieces I needed and where my hands belonged. I picked up my new combs - the ones that I literally drew blood on myself each time I'd tried to use them prior. And I just started. I tried - as best I could - to talk to myself as I would to her. With gentleness, and kindness, and patience. It's just a beginning. Let's think of this as practice. Let's just enjoy the making of it. I gave myself permission to never even use this particular yarn - to think of it as practice only. And that, I think, worked. I've found a bit of a groove with my combs and it's been days now since I've injured myself with the sharp tips (progress!). I like them, for my Shetland fleece anyway, so much better than the carders. I'm getting more bits of vegetable matter out of the fleece for one. And I love that I can lay the fiber all in the same direction for combing. The spinning is coming along too - feeling freer now that my expectations of it are just 'practice' instead of something useable, something pleasant to knit with. My thoughts wander to that tansy still hanging from the library ceiling and maybe some dyeing experiments ahead. Playing.
There are four very plump and likely pregnant sheep out in the pasture. And if they happen to birth like their breed is known to do - frequently having twins - I may just have a pasture full of lambs on my hands very soon. We won't keep them all - though, likely the females all will stay. And I anticipate not just four fleeces sheared this fall, but a whole lot more than that. And maybe - just maybe - one of those lambs yet to be born will be the eighth or twelfth fleece I spin - the one that looks just like the yarn I have pictured in my head. Maybe. Until then, though...I'll keep spinning my way there. Gently, with patience, and yes...great joy in the process.
All my scrap balls of worsted weight yarn end up in this picnic basket that sits in a corner of my living room. There, this blanket is slowly - ever so slowly - growing and growing. It may not be the most beautiful thing I've ever knit, and goodness, the garter stitch is as simple as it gets. But I love it. I love that while I certainly can't remember all of the yarns and where they came from, I can remember a good majority. Baby sweaters for the boy almost taller than me now, things for each of the siblings that followed him, shawls I've made for myself, things that never got finished, and gifts I remember making for people. There's a flood of memories in here when I look for them - which I do - each time it's in my hands.
Nearly five years ago (so says the blog), I cast on for this blanket. I have no idea how when it will be done. It's at a 'throw' size right now, and I'm not ready to be done knitting it. So I suppose the next marker will be a twin size blanket. And I have no idea how I'll finish it - line the back with fabric? pick up stitches along the edge for a crochet finish? I'll think about that when the time comes - later. Likely, that's still years away. I'm not in a hurry to get there.
It doesn't see a lot of play time, really, this blanket. When I'm in between a project or having a hard time getting started on something new, but need to do a little knitting, I pick this up. When I'm in that corner of the living room and just can't get up to find my current knitting project - when there's a sleeping baby on my lap, or I'm just feeling too cozy to move.
There's one other time this blanket sees action. And that's on days like the ones we're having this week. When the temperatures outside are below zero, and that mighty wood stove of ours struggles to keep the rambly farmhouse warmish. When layers of wool long johns and socks and cowls are worn inside to stay warm enough. When all I want to do is sit in this rocking chair right next to the wood stove, sipping tea all day, with babies big and small reading and playing games at my feet (and on my back and in my lap)....and knit with the project that doubles as a wool blanket. Yes.
It'll be twelve below by nightfall. I'll be blanket knitting.
I'm not sure what I was thinking - I thought this hat was for me. In the yarn shop where I was just browsing (browsing in a yarn shop, ahem), I lingered over this lovely alpaca, silk, CVM yarn from Maine Twist. So incredibly soft and yummy. I originally picked up an oatmeal color thinking I'd make myself a hat and mittens, walked to the counter (before I could do more "browsing") and then did a quick pivot, replacing the oatmeal for the hot pink. What? I know. I don't know, really. "Get something different!" I think I told myself.
I cast on for Wurm, happy to add another hat to my winter stash, and delighted to knit with this lovely yarn. It moved quickly, as hat knitting can do. I was knitting in all kinds of light - in the passenger seat of the car, by the firelight in the evening, and and under the flourescent lights in the dance studio. And somewhere along the way, a creeping doubt became a loud and clear laugh "I am NEVER going to wear this hat!"
It's a gorgeous color, and simply scrumptious yarn, and quite fun (and warm!) pattern. But that hot pink and I were just not meant for each other.
I realized this, thankfully, just in time to stop a little bit short in the pattern. So that it would be just right for a smaller head, one for whom this hat is a perfect match...
In the middle of the living room - for no reason grander than it has no other place to go - lives a cedar chest. Inside of that, live all of the "retired" handknits. It doubles as a 'coffee table' and is therefore covered with piles upon piles of books which distract the curious from opening it. But once in a while, every so often, Mama does. To add something to the pile that's been outgrown. To make sure that the lavendar and cedar is doing its job to keep the moths away. To touch the yarn and laugh and sometimes cry just a few happy tears, remembering baby years. And to pull things out that might just fit someone else. Someone growing into a new size, and therefore a new handknit (originally for her big sister).
Quickly, it just becomes part of the wardrobe - part of the laundry pile - and part of the everyday wear for a while. But for a moment, a delightful moment when it is first pulled out again, it's always a pleasure to pause and remember the babe for whom it was made, before handing it over to the babe for whom it fits. To notice their similarities - oh, that two year old belly, and oh, that blond, blond hair that I know will soon darken. And the humor and the coyness from both. And yet, so different they are, each of them their own person.
What a pleasure it is to knit for these babes of mine.
I'm Amanda Blake Soule. Mama of five, blog and book writer, magazine editor, and maker of all kinds of things. It's a pleasure to share here our family homesteading adventures, the things we make, and what inspires our days. Read more about my family and work here. I thank you for visiting!