Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Old Sweater

It's one of those things you just don't think about. It's there when you need it, so you use it. It's his, but I often wear it if I need something warm when working outside in the winter. Gran (his paternal grandmother) knitted it; I knew that much, and I'd guessed it was a gift when he was younger because it's relatively small. It's a sturdy, quite glossy wool (with my new-found knowledge I think it's a longwool) in a peculiar shade of pale mint-green with flecks of pink. There are a few errors in the pattern stitch, and the seaming looks like my first efforts. There's some staining where the collar rubs the wearer's neck, a lot of pulled threads, the cuffs are fraying, and a felted scrap of red wool knotted into the fabric distinguishes the back from the front.

When I came across it yesterday in my search for some other sweater I thought to ask how old it was. He paused and looked thoughtful. "Ohhh, probably about 1966", he said. A Christmas present, probably, because no one in their right mind gifts woollens for birthdays in high summer. I commented on the rough seaming and asked whether Gran learned to knit late in life (I scarcely knew her, as she died in the early 1980s not long after we moved to the UK). He looked surprised. "She knitted all her life. Perhaps it was her arthritis? She'd needed two sticks to walk for as long as I can remember". I thought about that. He was born in the early 1950s. Decades... DECADES of walking on sticks, living with pain. I thought of a picture I'd once seen of Gran as a Land Girl during the First World War, tall and slim in trousers(!!), smoking a cigarette and laughing.

I remember Gran sitting upright, poised and elegant in her hospital bed: she flatly refused to be seen by anyone until the nurse had applied her face and done her hair. I think of her working painfully, slowly, knitting sweaters to keep her grandchildren warm when they moved in 1961 to distant, cold Canada
. The wear and stains show this one did sterling service over the years. I remember him wearing it under a down vest (we've still got that, too) standing over me and laughing when I fell over cross-country skiing, back when we were courting (a quaint phrase). That sweater is a memory palace in its own right, deserving to be packed away in lavender but... that's not what it's for. We wear it. Because it's warm and it's there when we need it.

By contrast something disgracefully pretty:
This will be the 'Cherry Leaf Shoulder Shawl' from Victorian Lace Today, a gift for someone who loves these colours. The yarn is Handmaiden Mini Maiden, a silk/wool blend, in 'Periwinkle'. The yarn is lovely, soft with a silken sheen, just a trifle splitty – but perhaps that's the pointy Addi lace needle. The pattern is an easy knit so far, although I'm a bit nervous about what will be my first knitted-on border. The Gairloch Socks are at the heels, where I'm discovering that 2-colour knitting *flat* is no fun. I think I need to learn to purl from the front. Alternatively I could abandon all this... my birthday present arrived early, yesterday. I have a copy of Cat Bordhi's New Pathways for Sock Knitters AND several (I'm too embarrassed to count) skeins of STR. And then there's work proper, trailing the field of desires... I must be strong. Perhaps one day this shawl will be a memory palace for someone.

Incidentally the knotted bit of yarn on the left is a quick&dirty row marker. I slide the xth loop onto the needle when I start on the xth row of the pattern; finish the row, move to the x+1th loop. Exceedingly easy, more accurate than my old row counter, sadly not an original idea, I picked it up on Ravelry (sorry).

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Up and down

Dear Mother,

Do you remember the strange, mis-shapen ashtrays I used to bring home from the summer ceramics kids classes? The vases that only held water and flowers if they were braced upright with plasticine? Well, this is the fibre equivalent of one of those ashtrays. It's the Wool Peddler Shawl from Folk Shawls, handknit by me from my very own, very first handspun yarn project, a blend of alpaca and silk. I confess I am quite proud of it; I've been told it's very good for a first yarn. The silk shines in the autumn sunlight and the alpaca is already developing a fine halo to trap the warmth. While down on my hands and knees to pull guard hairs from the blocking shawl, I spotted some additional content. There's cat hair of course (what do you expect from this household?), and I'm sure I found some of mine and some of his, too. So we're all here, holding you and keeping you warm on cold winter nights.

Happy Birthday!

I've learned a lot from spinning and knitting this shawl, more than I'd have thought possible when I began it. The improvement in yarn quality is quite literally palpable: I just wish that I'd thought to BEGIN the shawl so my earliest effort was hidden in forgiving garter stitch, instead of resorting to it at the end where the stockinette lace is less forgiving. I spun this painfully, boring-ly slowly: I started within a fortnight of acquiring my wheel at the beginning of March, and I didn't finish the 600m of 2-ply until the end of June. I think it's [up] reasonably consistent in weight and fineness because I refused to try to push for more speed. [down] There's some inconsistency in the grist, which shows in the way the stitches move. But I went from [up] loving the roving to [down] really disliking some of the singles to [up] liking the 2-ply and loving the garter stitch bit... until I discovered how the convoluted track of knitted yarn pushes any stiff material ([down] the cursed guard hairs) up and out of the fabric. I have actually spent 5 HOURS working over that shawl with tweezers, pulling out guard hairs.
The top of the shawl that will sit on the neck is soft and hair-free, but the lace where the extra twists hold the hairs is still a bit prickly. I. Must. Assess. Roving. More. Carefully.* But the shawl is still beautiful and I am still proud of my accomplishment.

Another almost-accomplishment, lots of ups and downs:
Yes, some of you have seen some of that before. It's Kinder Scout again, a fortnight ago. Isn't the heather lovely? Imagine entire hillsides and hilltops covered in those colours, blending heather-purples and greens and browns and golds. The patchwork of fields is the Edale valley, with a train that reminds him of a sequence in Spirited Away. We've walked that long ridge (Lose Hill to Mam Tor) beyond the valley, there and back again; this time the plan was to walk around the Kinder plateau. Sadly the long drive means a late-ish start, made 30 minutes later because we lost the will to walk when we smelt frying bacon. Two bacon&egg buns later we began at a cracking pace; not deigning to follow the path, we shot straight up a clough (water-cut steep ravine) and onto the path. We were going quite well, even with regular stops in hope of preventing his knee problems when he slipped and fell, scraping his shin very badly indeed. Nobly insisting it didn't hurt (once the agony of the disinfectant had ebbed), we continued a bit more slowly. The blood trickling down his leg sparked several comments from other walkers; apparently someone walking ahead of us had a similar but far worse injury. By about 1500 we were on the northern edge with a stunning view. Glossop and the outskirts of Manchester were faintly visible in the haze (but not in that image).
The sore bits. You can just see the blood on his shin. My foot rates mention because I've discovered that the swollen joint of my big toe is arthritic, with restricted motion (hallux limitus) and it's occasionally aches deep in the joint on hard walks like these. I've started investigating treatments. Here we both found a generous serving of gorp most efficacious. Look at the heather on those hills! Sadly, as we marched on we realised that if we did the full circuit we'd be as late down the hill as we were up it and home much, much later after the long motorway drive. So we bailed onto the footpath over the top and made our way back to Edale. This doesn't bother him much, but I'm a completist [not so much for music, but very definitely for SF authors. And possibly walks, it seems]. Not doing the entire circuit is niggling at me like a, a hangnail. I have to do it right, I have to FINISH IT even if it means getting up at 4am!

Next, more knitting. I have some yarn... OK, I have quite a lot of yarn, but I have some yarn in my hands for the Next Project: the Cinnabar Pullover from IK Fall 2007. It may not have a v-neck (it's for the winter!) but it does have waist shaping. I'm working on the courage to add some short-rows for the bust; I may have to, as I'm seriously considering the 37" and I'm a 38. I must check the hip widths and I know I must recalculate the stitch counts for a different gauge. I'm going to knit this to fit. And I'll finish it.

* The person who knows alpaca fibre has just seen it and says it's not bad for guard hair. Really. She showed me some commercially available alpaca roving that is just stiff with them. Absolutely horrid stuff.