Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lake Effect

The air temperature is up today, although not as much as in Toronto or Ottawa where there were heat advisories, but the lake is still cold. Result? Mist. A lovely sort of cool, hazy mist that hung over the land at dawn, as you can see from this view from our third-floor window at about 6:00 a.m.

While I was waking up with a cup of tea, the milkman made his way up the street. I could hear the fog horn from the ferry when I opened the door to say hello.

After breakfast, I hopped on my bike and pedalled down to the Olympic Harbour where the Kingston Handloom Spinners and Weavers were having their weekly get-together. I tried out a spinning wheel for the first time. Who knew that working the treadle to maintain an even speed could demand such concentration? Not yet sure whether wheel spinning is for me.
I left just before lunch and took a spin along the lakefront through the Portsmouth District, across this narrow bridge,

with a view over the still misty water. A possible sweater photo venue? I think so.
The second sleeve of Harriet's Jacket is done and the pattern is almost entirely written up. I'm looking forward to receiving the garnet coloured wool in the mail so that all will be in readiness for the knitting up of Isabel's version. I swear she must be the best dressed student (from a knitter's point of view) at Queen's.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Soup Kind of Spring

We've had only a handful of really warm days so far this season. Mostly, we seem to be having days when I want to wear a wool vest (yay Buttonbox!) under a linen overshirt, and wool socks around the house. To keep the chill at bay, today I'm making some white bean soup for lunch. The recipe is from here, and it couldn't be more simple or more delicious. BTW, this is the cookbook for anyone who is really clueless in the kitchen (are you reading this, Bill?). With its step-by-step photos and definitions of basic terms, it's super simple for newbie cooks to figure out how to do things. Isabel really likes how various recipes even explain how to tell when things are done.
While I'm writing this, the soup is bubbling gently and the whole house is fragrant with the scents of rosemary and garlic. That's fresh rosemary from my front doorstep (from left to right: rosemary, sage, thyme, and oregano).

I'm in the process of writing up "Harriet's Jacket" too. The left half has been re-knitted,

with the underarm bulk satisfactorily removed. This is a really quick knit, and fun as a bonus. When I finish this version, I'll knit Isabel's from the written-up pattern (in garnet). This helps me to double-check for errors. Then we'll have a photo session, and I'll get it up on Ravelry. I have a biking expedition planned for tomorrow to scout out a potential photo site. Now, soup's on!

Sunday, May 26, 2013


After knitting a right half and a left half of Harriet's Jacket, each slightly different, I spent the early part of this evening frogging everything. I avoided doing it in Bill's presence; for some reason he finds the undoing of several days of work mildly upsetting! Here you see the equivalent of 10 balls of wool, re-wound, with just two cuffs left on the needles.

I used the word "equivalent" since some of the balls were spit-spliced together while others were broken up during the knitting. At any rate, it's all back to almost the beginning again. There was a time when I wouldn't have bothered doing this. Each of the halves I had knitted was OK, after all. The thing is that the more I design, the more willing I seem to be to re-work pieces until they're more than merely OK. I want them to be as perfect as can be, and far from being a chore, the re-working is part of the fun. Now I know exactly how to make the next version the best, and I can't wait to get going.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Spoke Too Soon

Forget yesterday's post! We woke up to 3C this morning, with rain. All the woollies have been called back into service. What ever happened to global warming?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Now is the Month of Maying (and Rhubarb)

At long last we have entered a period of warm days, abundant flowers, asparagus, and (yes!) rhubarb. The exuberance of Morley's madrigal is apt.  In keeping with long tradition in these parts, I planted our spring annuals, cleaned up the rest of the garden, and even gave the grass its first mowing of the season. Photos follow:

We've been gorging on asparagus (except for Isabel who for some reason always finds it bitter). Our favourite way to eat it? Cooked until tender, then cooled under running water and served at room temperature tossed in a lemon vinaigrette. The local rhubarb is in too, and we will of course be having rhubarb pie this weekend.

Rhubarb Pie
-one recipe for double crust oil pastry
-enough chopped rhubarb to mound in the pie plate (use scissors to cut, and remember that the fruit will       shrink when cooked
-about 1 1/4 c sugar mixed with 1/4 c flour

Preheat oven to 400F. Mix the rhubarb with the sugar and flour mixture and let sit while you make the pastry. Fill the bottom shell with the fruit, cover with the top pastry, prick some holes in it, crimp the edges, then place the whole thing on a cookie sheet in the oven (the juice will inevitably overflow and make a mess if you don't). Bake for 40-45 min or until golden brown. Cool to until just slightly warm. The juices will thicken as the pie cools. Serve with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream. Bliss!

What's happening with the knitting? Well, I've finished up the right half of Harriet's Jacket,

or maybe I haven't. I'm not happy with the fit at the underarm, so I'm knitting the left half with some modifications. If I like the result, then I'll go back and re-work the right half. I'm doing this in Elann's Peruvian Highland Chunky, colour "Tranquil Lagoon."

This swatch, done in seed stitch (I know, I know--there's no seed stitch in Harriet; this is for something else), is supposed to show you the lovely grey/blue with heathered flecks of red. I may try to find buttons in a reddish brown to highlight the undertones. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

An Authentic Life

It's a fact that when you move, you begin to receive catalogues addressed to the former owner or "current resident" of your new home. It's a glimpse into a world you otherwise might not have known about. Last week a very thick mailing arrived on our doorstep--literally, because it wouldn't fit through our mail slot. At first I thought it must be the Yellow Pages, but once I hauled it into the house, I realized it was a set of furnishings catalogues from "RH", also known as Restoration Hardware. Back when we lived in Wash, DC, I occasionally would saunter through the RH store at Tyson's Center Mall across the Potomac in Virginia. I would admire the restrained colour scheme of the items on display, but never contemplated actually purchasing anything. The sheer size of the pieces made them unsuitable for our tiny Cape Cod in Chevy Chase, DC, and we won't go into the prices, which were equally upscale. When we moved back to Canada, the only exposure I had to RH until now was through a couple of quick strolls through their Yonge St. shop not far from where my relatives live in Toronto.
Just as in DC, we continue to live in a small space here in Kingston, ON. We live in a relatively old small space--old for North America, that is. A Brit friend reminded me of that a few days ago. I was happy to note that the RH catalogues that arrived unexpectedly on my doorstep include one devoted exclusively to small spaces-- a Paris pied-a-terre, a Napa farmnouse, a Boston brownstone--you get the picture. The 1842 limestone row house we now own, with its three stories and long, narrow rooms done up in the style of a London townhouse has a good deal of the same romance (as well, I suspect, as a lot of the inconveniences). After some browsing through RH's small spaces catalogue, though, I'm not sure whether we're all on the same page when it comes to the definition of "small space".
That said, the catalogue that sparked this post is the one entitled, "Objects of Curiosity". Let's have a look at what you can mail order for your old house (or perhaps your new one). How about "statuesque neoclassical hand-carved urns and finials"? The details follow: " Dating to the late 18th and early 19th centuries, neoclassical elements such as finials and urns added an architectural flourish to stately homes and public buildings, garden gates, and grand monuments. Our reproductions have been hand-carved and carefully aged for a distressed, antique patina." Or you might like to have "boarding school boxing gloves" and an "english rugby bag" in "vintage cigar leather, burnished and stitched with care". The blurb goes on to add, "our reproductions of old boarding school sports equipment have a worn and weathered beauty." I'm not sure what you're supposed to do with these. Leave them lying around your vestibule the same way modern kids drop their sports equipment the moment they enter the house? Not all the items in the catalogue are reproductions. There are some handsome "retired" 19th-century Indonesian millstones on metal stands, in case you require conversation pieces. There are also items that are ambiguous in their provenance, such as "magnificent 18th century handcrafted journals", each of which "is handmade, its pages hand-cut with water, then dried under the sun, the linen binding naturally stained, the label artfully timeworn."
It's the pretention of this catalogue that irks me. It presupposes a desire for the old, the classical, the accoutrements of wealth, private education, and clubs. The idea that there's an entire segment of the buying public out there wanting to lead a sort of pretend lifestyle as evidenced by such embellishments is what really bothers me. Access to private education, an interest in classics and other historic memorabilia, and collections of mounted skulls of horned animals, may cast you as an eccentric member of the "one percent", but they don't make you into a fine human being. Pretending, through the display in your home, to lead this eccentric lifestyle makes you at best a fool and at worst a fraud.
As someone who enjoys the beauty of old architecture and antique (but modest) family possessions, the "Objects of Curiosity" catalogue led me on this Victoria Day weekend to have a good look around my own house, to assess what the things I surround myself with have to say. (We don't need to mention the "wool room"--we all know what that means.) I looked at these two little wooden plaques on our library wall.

They belonged to my great-grandfather, a younger son of a landed English family who, like so many other younger sons, went into the Church and then on to the colonies (Canada in the 1880s), where he remained impecunious but well-connected. He acquired them while studying for his divinity degree at St. John's College, Cambridge. The labels pasted on the back tell where they were made.

I grew up with my grandparents and these plaques hung on the wall in our downstairs hallway. Although my great-grandfather died long before I was born, these possessions of his were part of my everyday life and a reminder of his.
My great-aunt Isabel, called "Siddy" by the family, also lived with us. On her bedroom wall she hung this very charming 1860s portrait of her Uncle Fred (in skirts) and Aunt Isabella. This too, I saw almost every day as a child, amazed at the artist's ability to capture the delicacy of the lace petticoats.

On our current third-floor hall wall, we have a photo portrait of my grandfather by Karsh (the same who took the famous photo portrait of Churchill scowling).

It's a reminder of the man with the long nose and thick white hair, who bounced me up and down on his knee whilst reciting "There was an old woman as I have heard tell..." and other now obscure rhymes from the past.
I also have objects from our more recent family history on display. There's this group of shells that James and Isabel gathered on the beach at Newport, RI while we were on a summer holiday there,

and this plaster of Paris piece I bought on a hot May day morning many years ago at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival.
All these objects on display have one thing in common. They remind me of family, of people and places I love or have loved. The point? It's that we should surround ourselves with objects of meaning to our real, our authentic life, because of what those objects say to us, not what they say to the outside world. 
P.S. The Harriet Jacket continues to grow.

P.P.S. I've fallen off the Friday recipe wagon. Really, I tried, but cooking just isn't as important as other things (like knitting!)

Thursday, May 16, 2013

In a Better Light

More photos of yesterday's handspun in the light of morning.

Bet you can't tell I'm in love with it!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Swept Along by the Momentum

I know a bunch of readers are waiting for me to get Harriet, the jacket, out there as a written pattern, and I want you to know it's happening. There's a sleeve with part of the body attached sitting on my living room sofa right now. This morning, however, I got caught up in the excitement of finishing up a little spinning project. A while back I bought a fleece braid of BFL from Turtlepurl in a turquoise/lime green combo. Now, I don't have a wheel; I spin exclusively with drop spindles. And I don't give much priority to spinning (sorry, Natalie!). I use it as a kind of "filler" activity for times when I don't feel like knitting (yes, that happens), or for when I've finished one project and haven't decided what to start next. (Big confession: I'm pretty much a monogamous knitter--usually only one project on the go at a time.) The bottom line is that I produce spun yarn rather slowly. Eventually, when I get close to two full toilet paper tubes bobbins, I start to feel the momentum building and end up taking part of a day, or perhaps a full day (on and off) to ply. I use a big spindle to do that because I like to spin worsted weight yarn and it takes a large spindle to hold a decent amount. Once that's done I make it into a skein. I have a niddy noddy, but usually here's how I skein my yarn. I apologize for the dark photos. It's a grey day with rain in the offing.

The tall jar acts as a "kate". I use my right hand to turn the swift, using the little handle at the top. It's the reverse of how the swift is normally used. Next up is a close-up of the newly plyed wool.

The way I spin it "off the fold" causes even my singles to barberpole. By the time the yarn is made into two plies, the colours blend quite nicely. I like this effect and don't bother to make yarn with graduated stripes.
After the winding, the skein has a bath and gets hung to dry. A re-purposed music stand helps out.

Notice how the washing makes the wool "fluff out"?

Well, now that that's out of my system, it's back to Harriet.
 P.S. No idea what I'll do with this yet, but I'm sure this skein will speak to me sometime soon.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Different Kind of Design

It's been a year since I gave up on our car. I've joined our local car share, Vrtucar, and for long road trips I take out an Avis rental using our bank card points. I had a car last weekend and decided at long last to visit "Unraveled" in Merrickville, about an hour and 15 minutes drive from Kingston.

That's Beckie, the owner, with a customer. We don't have a shop like this in Kingston, so I really spent a lot of money enjoyed myself. There are some Rowan products on my stash shelf that weren't there before. The Felted Tweed DK is, in my view, a good buy, considering the yardage it yields. 
Yesterday I made an excursion closer to home to pick up some perennials for the garden. The previous owner of our house was great at hardscape design, but not so great in her plant choice, especially in the shady areas of the garden. The back garden needed more diversity in foliage colour and texture. Come to think of it, garden design isn't all that different from knitting design. I started off by heading east, where I was forced to stop while the bridge was raised at the causeway over the Cataraqui River.

Then I drove along the St. Lawrence, almost all the way to Gananoque to "Made in the Shade", my favourite perennial place.

Laura, the owner, is incredibly helpful. I'll plant this haul over the next few days. Still too early in the season to plant annuals. Lots of people do, but smart gardeners wait until the Victoria Day weekend, to be sure of a frost-free start. 
With Zora taken care of, and my knitted sample sent off for a certain fall publication, I'll turn my knitting attention to Harriet. Now, what yarn will I choose from my stash? 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Zora on Ravelry

The idea for "Zora" came about because I wanted to knit a "Wakefield Redux" for Isabel to model. "No way,"she said, "I''m not a hearts and bobbles person". Around the same time, another knitter told me that she didn't feel she could wear Wakefield as she was big-busted and really didn't want bobbles marching down her frontage. Fair enough. Thus Zora was born for knitters who liked the general silhouette of Wakefield but not the sentimental hearts and attention-grabbing bobbles.
The superimposed double wave cable pattern is adapted from Barbara Walker's first Treasury. I say adapted, because I made it grow a little wider to suit my needs. You'd think that having done that, all I'd need to do would be to plug it into the Wakefield directions. Alas, life is never that simple. The new panel was 20 stitches wide as opposed to the old 21-stitch panel, and this necessitated a lot of number changes. The most important thing for you to know is that the finished widths for Zora are all one inch smaller than the measurements for Wakefield. Anyone who has made Wakefield and wants now to add Zora to their collection needs to keep this in mind when choosing a size. The version you see  below is knitted in Elann's Sierra, which has some alpaca in it for drape, but this design can work well in any wool blend yarn that works up at 4 1/2 sts per inch. Think Brooklyn Tweed's Shelter, Quince & Co's Lark, or Diamond's Galway.


To purchase this pattern, click here.

Friday, May 3, 2013


Spring is often described by weather forecasters as a "transitional" season. You see this term in the fashion industry too. I think it's the most difficult season to dress for. The day can start out at 5C and end at 25C. If you go out the door at 9 a.m. wearing socks, by 3:00 in the afternoon you wish you were wearing sandals. What to do? Layers, of course, and lightweight, airy little knits. I like to wear loose knit trousers in the spring (and fall). My favourites are from Cut Loose. Jeans are good at this time of year too (really, they're terrible in the heat of summer and the freezing temps of January). I start the day with clogs and socks, then remove the socks as the day warms up. For tops, I like Cut Loose's sleeveless linen V-necks. Not dressy, but not sloppy either. I pair them with Buttonbox and a big loose linen shirt worn as a jacket, or with my Perth Cardi. I chuck the knits when it starts to heat up.
The desire for lightweight warmth is probably what's driven me to experiment today with this--

 a bit of mohair fluff and fern lace combine to make a top-down spring cardigan in grass green.
Along with the good things about the season,

come the not so good.

We're inundated with mayflies. They're so small they get through the screens on the windows, collecting in ugly puddles in the window wells. Disgusting!

They'll be over in another week and I'll vacuum them up until next year. Down by the lake, where they hatch before their short lives are done (less than a day each), they make life miserable, even though they don't bite. Joggers and cyclists have been seen with scarves wrapped over their faces, and knitting models have to brave annoying swarms.
I took Isabel down to the water yesterday after dinner to take advantage of the evening light, but it turned out to be next to impossible to get a decent photo. See how the photographer couldn't seem to get the horizon straight because she was so busy swatting at flies?

And the model couldn't seem to keep her hands from doing the same.

Apart from the flies, it was a lovely evening, the lake glassy smooth and the distant wind turbines barely moving.

I hope to bring out "Zora" on Ravelry early next week.

It's Friday, so that means recipe day. This week it's really a component for a recipe--homemade pizza sauce. This couldn't be easier, and it's beyond me why anyone purchases the pre-packaged stuff, especially given its sodium content.

Pizza Sauce

I small can tomato paste, about 1/3 c
1/2 c water
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt (remember, the cheese you're going to put on your pizza is full of salt)

Mix together, then spread on pizza dough.

That's it! Next week, pizza dough and some topping ideas. I'm sure you have your faves.