Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Everything Wool Ought to Be

It's no longer a secret that I'm working on a book, and to that end I'm exploring yarn and colourway options. It's difficult to gauge colour from a computer screen, as anyone who has been disappointed after receipt of a mail-ordered package knows, so recently I sent away for this. It arrived yesterday.



It's a pack of colour cards from Quince & Co.  After working on the Wolfe Island Gansey last October, I realized that Quince's wools are exceptional. They're soft, elastic, non-superwash, and available in a distinctive and beautiful palette--in other words, everything that wool should be. I won't totally restrict myself to this wool, but it will form the core of my choices. (As an aside, if you are looking to try out some Quince yarns and happen to live in Eastern Ontario, they are now available at Rosehaven Yarns in Picton.)
With James' Modern Gansey ready for his birthday tomorrow, I've been spending the last twenty-four hours playing with some of Quince's "Lark". The colour is "Slate", a sort of greenish, bluish grey, rather like a subdued spruce. Naturally, it doesn't look quite right on my own screen. How annoying!




No, this is not a tea cosy! It's a tam, of the loose, floppy sort worn by the lead character in the 1993 version of The Secret Garden, one of my favourite movies. (That's a whole other blog post...)


I've disrupted the garter stitch ridges with columns of slipped stitches to camouflage the start-of-round jog. And I've tried to address the perennial problem of tams--the need to make the head opening snug enough that the whole thing doesn't slide down over one eye. More of that in a future post.


The whole thing is soaking in a bowl of soapy water in the kitchen. When done, I'll attach a tassel to it, plunk it on Isabel, and judge how my efforts have turned out.
Still no snow here,


although there is a dusting half an hour north in Westport.



Happy New Year.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Boxing Day, 2014: No JAM

Yesterday was a relaxed day, with time spent in the kitchen on and off during the day getting the various components for dinner prepped,

Dining table in the process of being "dressed" for dinner, with 1860s portrait of great-great-Uncle Fred and Aunt Isabella in the background (yes, they're both wearing petticoats).
and time spent on the sofa in the living room on and off finishing the body and right sleeve of James' Modern Gansey.

Being a very good fellow, and understanding of the process of producing a well-fitting sweater, James co-operated not once, not twice, but THREE times during the course of the day by trying on the semi-finished garment. He wants it longer, so that when he raises his hands in the air there's no exposed skin at the waist. Not unreasonable, but it meant spending most of today re-knitting the last few inches of both right sleeve and body with an additional panel. It's the ribbing that seems to take forever.
As for the experiment with adding his initials to the cuff, it was a spectacular failure, as anticipated. Initials work best in seed stitch (when done in purl only they disappear into the fabric). Here's how his initials looked when charted:

The "A" is for Anson, my grandfather's name.

The problem? Ganseys are traditionally worked at a firm gauge in tightly spun sport-weight wool. I'm working in chunky wool. This makes the letters very large, enough to go all the way around the cuff, but difficult to read and rather odd looking quite frankly. So, the experiment was doomed. Still, it was a fun way to play with wool on a strangely warm and unsnowy Christmas Day. Now on to the left sleeve. I might actually get this done by his birthday on January 1!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Menu

In my determination to avoid anything that smacks of serious preparation for Christmas, I've only just this day-before-Christmas (you can't call the morning Christmas Eve) decided what we'll eat tomorrow, and taken the following steps toward readiness.

1. I'm an early riser, at least compared to the rest of my household, so I woke up at about 5:30 am and spent an hour and a half knitting on the right sleeve of James' Modern Gansey. The decreasing is done, so it's just a matter now of keeping on going until it fits him. (Decision point: do I attempt to knit his initials into the lower sleeve, or not? Most likely I'll attempt; not clear whether I'll succeed.)


I think the purpose of the knitting was to steel myself for the rest of the day, when, no matter how hard I try, a little bit of craziness will inevitably creep in.

2. While knitting and drinking the better part of a pot of tea, I decided on a Christmas dinner menu, and wrote down a list of items to be picked up. The programme goes like this:

 Roast Turkey (stuffing unnecessary given the carb feast that this is)
Gravy
Cranberry Sauce
Boiled Red Potatoes in Skins
Lightly Steamed Brussels Sprouts
Baked Carrots and Parsnips
Gingerbread (James Beard's version from Beard on Bread) with Whipped Cream
Dried Figs and Walnuts

3. At 9:05 I called Bearances and asked the butcher if he had any large capons or small turkeys unaccounted for. I had a small, 9-lb turkey put on hold with my name on it. It's a fresh local turkey and I know it will be moist and have delicious flavour, unlike the supermarket variety.

4. At 11:00 I was back home with the turkey and my other essentials and ready for a foray downtown on foot to grab a few last-minute gifts. Best not to buy the chocolate treats until the day before Xmas--I have no willpower when it comes to chocolate, and odds are I will eat any that's sitting around too long. I walked past St. George's Cathedral on the way, here seen from the back. That's the church hall on the left.


It was 10C when I woke up ( strangely warm for here) and we're in for some heavy winds between now and Christmas--90km/hr by tomorrow. No snow, which feels a bit odd, but I'm OK with it. Have a happy holiday!
P.S. Many thanks to all the knitters who purchased patterns and sent them through Ravelry as gifts. I'll be doing some of that too this afternoon.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Balance

The Modern Gansey is progressing.

 

It seems to have hit that sweet spot where the knitting is interesting enough for me, but subdued enough for James. At the same time, nothing is complicated. So, there's balance. The body is getting close to being done. The neck is already completed.


I often like to get some of the finishing done along the way because it reassures me that the finished product is moving well toward its vizualized goal.
Our snow has melted, our tree is up, and all but the stocking stuffer gifts are purchased. I really hate wrapping gifts, so this afternoon I'll drop by Tara Foods and buy some of their brown paper bags with handles. Dressed up with ribbon (or yarn), they make a good wrap alternative and can be re-used for shopping. I can justify this laziness on the grounds that the City allows us only one garbage bag per week, and regular gift wrap is not supposed to go in the recycling bin (something to do with the dyes).
Have a lovely, relaxing (I hope) weekend.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Knitter's Guide to an Unpressured Christmas

In 1991, when I was pregnant with Isabel and James was a toddler, we moved to Washington, DC.  Within a couple of weeks, Bill was sent off to Moscow as part of an IMF team to deal with the breakup of the Soviet Union. It was a pre-internet and e-mail world, and because of the dysfunction and chaos that was Moscow, Bill was unable to reach me by telephone for over a month. So, there I was in a foreign country with no extended family, and Xmas on the horizon. I was lonely. I cried now and then. Eventually Bill returned just in time for Xmas day (with a giant Babar book, which he had bought in London for James, and which we still have), and we had our little holiday celebration. And I learned something momentous. It was OK to have a small, quiet Xmas. In fact, it was terrific. No expectations, no relations you'd rather not have to spend time with, no pressure.
So, for those of you who don't have large, rollicking families, or perhaps for those of you in search of a quieter version of Xmas, here's a guide to an unpressured holiday.

1. DON'T make a list of knitted gifts you intend to complete and wrap by Xmas morning. There's nothing like a deadline to suck all the joy out of the lead up to Xmas (or any other event). If, one week out you absolutely MUST knit something as a gift, choose one of these sure-fire, easy pieces:
a) Brooklyn Tweed's "Turn a Square" hat. I've made two (both out of Cascade 220) and they are not only quick, but the best-looking men's hats I've come across.




(b) Deb Gemmell's Ergonomic Mittens.

 

Granted, you'll have to make two, but they're exceptionally quick, and I even have a tutorial to help you with the special (and fun) thumb increase. Who can resist cherry red mittens in the bleak midwinter?

c) My Tumnus scarf. This is a great unisex, reversible cable scarf that's quick to make and super-soft if you choose Berroco's Ultra Alpaca as I did. 


2. DON'T even begin to plan think about Xmas dinner until the day before. I used to order an organic bird from our local butcher until I realized that he always has extra birds available at the last minute. I like not having to commit. Try a capon instead of a turkey. They're cheaper, there's less waste, and they don't take up the entire oven while they're cooking.

3. DON'T get in a rut where you blindly follow some family "tradition" out of duty; DO try out some new activities; they may turn into new traditions. When the kids were small, we always used to go to church on Xmas morning. James was a chorister at Washington National Cathedral, so he sang the big televised service for a few years (while we felt exhausted for the rest of the day), but when we moved back to Canada, we discovered that in this less religiously observant society hardly anyone goes to church on Xmas morning any more. If they do go to church, they do it on Xmas Eve. For a few years we went to movies on Xmas Eve. That worked out well during the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but lately there's been nothing we think worth going to (and we can't walk to a our local movie theatre since it closed), so I think this year I'll try to get everyone together to watch something at home. The point is, be flexible. Do things you enjoy.

4. Skip the Xmas baking. Clementines and dried figs are our favourite desserts. You'll save calories, and have more time for knitting. If you are determined to bake something, try out this recipe for baked ornaments. If you keep them in a dry place, they'll last for decades.

 

5. Give up on Xmas cards. Even my elderly relatives have stopped sending cards. The only ones we get these days are from politicians and real estate agents.

6. DON'T rush to take down your tree. Here in Canada we have Boxing Day, which really helps with post-holiday let-down. Since we have an artificial tree (mostly for allergy reasons), we leave it up for the twelve days of Xmas and then take it down when we're good and sick of it. (We put it up only a few days before Xmas at the other end, so it's not actually up for all that long.) I confess that during our DC years, when I was mostly single-parenting because of Bill's job, I simply put a sheet or an XL garbage bag over the tree with the lights still attached and stuck the whole thing in the basement until the next year.
OK, so I'm lazy! Or, I like to think maybe it's just that my priorities are elsewhere.
Merry Christmas!