Sunday, November 25, 2012

Knitting for Male Persons

Knitting quote of the day: from "He Shall Thunder in the Sky": "At least I pressed on him a parcel of food and a nice warm knitted scarf, made by my own hands. My friend Helen McIntosh had shown me how to do it, and I found, as she had claimed, that it actually assisted in ratiocination, since the process soon became mechanical and did not require one's attention."

Sometimes I fantasize about what my life would have been like to have had only daughters. In so many ways, raising males presents challenges. I think of how, when James was a toddler, I had to stuff our books into our bookcases so tightly that he couldn't pull them out and destroy them and how Isabel, his little sister, would, at the same age, gently pull them out, slowly examine the pages, and methodically put them back in place. I'm not into gender stereotyping, but experience suggests some broad differences which stretch beyond what mere individual personality differences can account for. Author Elizabeth Peters is spot-on in her characterization of life with a son, especially in her quartet of novels from "Seeing a Large  Cat" through to "He Shall Thunder in the Sky". She has acknowledged that she based her character of Ramses on her own son and his friends. Still, I'm aware that having an all-female family is not necessarily the road to familial bliss, as my close friend, Mary, mother of four young women, has confirmed.
When it comes to knitting for male persons, author/designer Bruce Weinstein has it mostly right. The young man in my life (my son, James) wants knits that will not stand out, but that will make him look cool while keeping him warm. Examples:

James does not (fortunately) demand easy-care fibres, having been brought up to understand the proper care of handknits. (I still remember the stunned look on the face of a yarn shop owner when then 4-year-old James pronounced, after looking and feeling a skein of yarn, that it probably contained mohair.) Two days ago he asked me for a new sweater for Christmas. Note that at least he has the sense to ask for this in November. So, now I'm thinking about what direction this design will take. I'm looking at photos I like of men in knits and compiling a little gallery to go over with James, so that I can nail down exactly the characteristics he's looking for. I'm tending to think about something in a gansey style, but in a chunky weight of wool, because James says he wants something thick and warm. In knitting for men, there's always a balance to strike between keeping the style understated and the actual knitting interesting. I'm looking at this book for inspiration, and thinking about using this wool.

Of course, that colour choice might be up for grabs, since over dinner last night (baked beans over mashed sweet potatoes, accompanied by fennel salad), James informed me that he might actually like a cream-coloured pullover. Quite a shocking revelation--perhaps his fashion sense is maturing, along with everything else!

BTW, for anyone who wants a simple winter salad, very light and refreshing, here's my recipe, such as it is, for the above-mentioned salad.

Fennel and Apple Salad

1 fennel heart, thinly sliced
1 apple, of a crisp, juicy variety such as Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, or Fuji, unpeeled, 
and thinly sliced
¼ c of thinly sliced red onion
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp of lemon juice

Mix the first three ingredients in a large bowl. Use a whisk to emulsify the oil and lemon juice. Toss with fennel, apple and onion. Chill before serving.
If you double it, you'll have enough for lunch the next day; it keeps very well overnight.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Looking Ahead

The prototype mitt I'm working on is almost done. It would have been all done, but I had to run out to the Bay (Hudson's Bay Company for non-Canadians) to take advantage of a mattress sale. We've had the same mattress on our bed for 25 years, and it was way overdue for replacement. How do we know that? None of our sheets fitted it properly any longer because its innards had compressed over time, resulting in greatly reduced depth. So, with a replacement on the way, I thought I'd share some views of where we're going. These photos were taken yesterday while briefly in the new house with our agent.

Living room, with enormous window

Master bedroom

View from first floor landing


Third floor bedroom, back of house

Third floor bedroom, front of house

Ship's cabin bedroom

View from ship's cabin room


Back garden
Cherub from the front garden
Appropriate, don't you think, given that we're moving on Valentine's Day?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Almost Not Short

For the last 18 years I've been wearing the same winter coat. The coat was a wool tweed, long (because when you walk a lot in real winter weather, coverage matters), and with a hood. Eighteen years is a good run for any garment, but at the end of last season, I said good-bye to it. It had been repaired a bunch of times, and its useful life was finally over. I knew I had to get rid of it to force myself finally to do something about getting a replacement. Otherwise, I'd just go on wearing it until eventually I'd look like a little old homeless lady. So, ever since the fall clothing hit the stores, I've been hunting. I've tried on long down coats--warm, but not stylish, especially when you're only 5'1". I've tried on a couple of mail-ordered petite coats, but they didn't make me feel special enough to justify the hefty taxes and duties to get them across the border. (Did you know that taxes and duties can up the cost of a coat by a third?) Back they went. The weather's been getting chillier, and I was on the point of breaking down and visiting Loblaws to see what Joe Fresh had in store (a sign of all-out desperation), when THERE IT WAS.
Yesterday I took a day trip to Picton. As usual, I visited the Rose Haven Farm Store, dropped off a few copies of recent patterns for the store, and chatted with Linda, the owner. My car was parked more or less in front of City Revival, so I casually wandered in to have a look. City Revival is something of a mecca in this part of the world, far away from downtown Toronto and New York. I've been there before, but never found anything that called to me. Yesterday was different. I scored!

Military-style greatcoat by Elie Tahari in practically new condition. Fits like it was made for me, and best of all, it cost a mere fraction of the original price. Check out the beautiful hand-sewn details,

and the magnificent buttons, all 12 of them!

When I donned the coat to walk to the market this morning, Bill, who rarely notices anything not economics-related, said, "Gee, you look almost---well, not tall, but---not short". Truly, a ringing endorsement of what I hope will be my coat for the next 18 years.

Now, what would you knit to accessorize with this classic piece?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Laundry Day

This morning I managed to finish off the socks I started during our house-purchasing/selling marathon.

The pattern is "just plain socks", from my head, 56 sts on US #2s. Boring to knit, but extremely useful.

Here they are drying next to a freshly washed pair of Brookline socks. Why wash just one pair when you can wash two?

On another topic--have you any idea how hard it is to track down unsweetened Kool-Aid packets in November? Here's what I've collected so far:

The colour I most want to find is "black cherry". If you check here, you'll see that there are lots of interesting shades you can make with it. And I might need quite a few packets, since it takes a lot of Kool-Aid to saturate wool. There's still time; I have about another 70g of fleece to spin. Now I need to contemplate what to work on next (spinning doesn't count, Natalie!).

Saturday, November 10, 2012

FO (with a Mathematical Perspective)

Just before leaving for Rhinebeck, I produced a Finished Object--a Fibonacci Neckerchief in BT's "Loft". Unfortunately, it was so warm in Rhinebeck that I didn't get to wear it. However, back in Kingston we've just had our first taste of really cold weather, so I've been making up for that. Yesterday, Bill and I drove to Ottawa, where he sat in on a talk by Larry Summers, before we spent the night with friends.While Bill was at his event, I took my Fibonacci over to one of my favourite Ottawa spots for a little photo shoot. The sun was low in the sky when I arrived at MacKay (pronounced Mac-eye) Lake.

It's hard to believe that this gem is tucked away in an urban area. The light was on the wrong side of the lake for me to get a photo of the Fibonacci to match the one I took of my MacKay Shawl, so I simply draped it over a bush near the water's edge.

The yarn has a soft, elastic tweediness that makes it very comfortable to wear, and because it's not superwash treated it's deliciously warm. FYI, the colour is "Longjohns". By the time I was done, the light was almost gone.

Bill and I drove back to Kingston via the village of Westport. While there, I checked on my e-mail and found this interesting mathematical analysis of the Fibonnaci from my friend Margaret Lamb, who also happens to one of Isabel's profs at Queen's University.

I'm almost done with the Fibonacci neckerchief.  And Fibonacci numbers just came up in my first-year class -- brought up by a student, not me.  So now I need to hurry and finish it so I can take it to class and show it off.  I'm very happy with the look of it.  It's a nice relaxing knit, with the pattern of stripes and increases keeping it from descending from relaxing to rewarding!  I actually got to the end of the pattern (minus edging) a few days ago, but I have a good bit of yarn left and I'm going to make an extra stripe.  If it's not enough for a 22-row stripe, I'll make it 8 or 15 rows to keep with the Fibonacci pattern but starting to go backwards. 

There's actually a mathematical point in that class that I sometimes illustrate with a knitting analogy, so the neckerchief will do double duty.   One of the things we study is the "efficiency" of algorithms and how they vary with the size of the problem.  For example, to search for number in a list of N numbers takes time proportional to N.  But to sort a list of N numbers in the obvious way takes time proportional to N squared.  So my knitting analogy is that to knit a rectangular scarf N inches long takes time proportion to N.  But to knit a triangular shawl N inches high takes time proportional to N squared because each row has more stitches than the last.  I like that because it puts a mathematical explanation to the feelings I always have while knitting a triangular project.  I get it what feels like "half done" in very little time -- I mean half of the height I want.  And then the second "half" seems to take forever....  It always takes me by surprise somehow.

I just love being able to be a math geek and a knitting geek at the same time...

Thanks, Margaret.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Since returning from Rhinebeck, I haven't been paying much attention to the blog, or even to knitting for that matter. We returned on a Monday, and on Tuesday morning, as I was walking down the street on my way to do some shopping, an acquaintance who rents a lot of parking spaces in the neighbourhood (remember, this part of town was laid out before cars, so most homes don't have attached parking) stopped me and asked if Bill and I were still looking for a house. We weren't actively looking, I said, just keeping our eyes and ears open. Well, I was told, parking tenants of hers were about to put their house on the market. In fact, it was next door to the one we'd made the offer on a couple of months ago. (Remember the one that needed a complete makeover?) Would I like the owners' phone number? Yes, I said. When I got home, I called and a voice with an English accent answered. She and her husband, a Queen's professor, were about to list their house, but Bill and I could have a look before they did. Wow, we thought when we saw it. The next day we made an unconditional offer, which was accepted, and as soon as everything was firm we put our house up for sale. Within 24 hours, we had a contract on our house too. It's being bought by a young female doctor and her engineer husband.
First, the good news. The new house is three floors of gorgeousness--four bedrooms, two and a half baths, plus a library with floor to ceiling bookshelves. It has the feel of a London townhouse, done up with impeccable taste. There's also a small but lovely garden backing onto a vine-covered wall. The limestone building was constructed in 1842 when the city was the booming new capital of the United Provinces. You've seen it on this blog, although when I first took photos, I had no idea I'd own it someday.

The professor and his wife are moving to a country property with (gasp!) eight fireplaces. 
Now the bad news. The move is to take place in the middle of February. Wait--I just remembered someone saying that you could get good deals with moving companies in the middle of winter, so maybe it's not so bad after all.
So, between keeping our house in an unnatural state of tidiness and cleanliness, and feeling a wee bit anxious during the negotiations, inspections, etc., I haven't done much knitting. The knitting I have done has been of the mindless variety. Example:

Sock knitted while sitting in a local coffeeshop waiting for purchasers' inspection to be over (unlike in DC, here the sellers do NOT attend). It's Lang's Jawoll, but I've lost the ball band so I have no idea what colourway it is, but it looks great with jeans. Right now, I'm celebrating the conclusion of this entire episode by leaving dirty dishes on the kitchen counter and wet towels on the bathroom hooks.

P.S. I'll be teaching this coming Saturday at Knit Traders here in Kingston. I'll be helping the class get started on my Diamanda Mitts, while demonstrating one- and two-handed stranded knitting on dpns. See you there, if you're signed up. Drop by and say hello if you're not.                                                            

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Senior Moment?

When I was paying at the cash register at my local Shoppers Drug Mart on Princess Street today, the cashier totalled up my purchases and then said, "and you get the Senior's discount". Whoa! For the record, I'm 55, I'm of normal weight, and I was wearing some nice "Cut Loose" clothes with cute black lace-up boots and my Lucy scarf. OK, I don't dye my hair, but the grey streaks in it have been admired by some who thought it was the result of art, not nature. I really don't think I look like a senior--not yet. Or do I?