Red Feather Spice

Since before we even started dating, I’ve been knitting for my husband. In fact, by the time we started dating I think I had already made him three pairs of socks and a scarf. One of his favorite stories to tell is how we went into the movie theater to watch The Joker and came out with a half-finished sock (I can knit without looking, but I can’t turn a heel without looking!). In my defense, we were really good friends before we started dating and he’s from an area of New Zealand where it doesn’t really get cold. His first pair of handknit socks were such a game-changer that he literally asked when he could get a second pair as soon as he had them on his feet. He took to my handknits so enthusiastically that for our first holiday season together, I knit him a sweater. And then I knit him another one a few months later, and another one a few months after that.

I’ve almost knit sweaters for the men (ok one man) in my life before. In fact, I was working on an octopus embrace sweater when the sweater curse struck and I realized that the work needed to create the handknit wasn’t worth the relationship! After that, I refused to knit anything larger than a sock (just because they’re small doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of stitches!) for my partners. My husband, who at this point now has 4 handknit sweaters to his name from me, is the first man I have ever given a sweater to. He’s also 100% worthy of each of them and is always willing to oo and aww when I show him progress updates.

Knowing that we had a winter baby on the way, I wanted to make him something particularly cozy this year (after all, there would be a time that he would have to take the dog out on his own). There are about 8-10 sweaters that I’ve favorited over the last few months because I thought he would like them, so I don’t have a good reason for choosing to make a Spice Cardigan other than the fact that my local yarn shop‘s birthday was coming up (they had a giveaway bag if you spent over x amount, which is so easy to do with sweater quantities) and I have been wanting to work with Spincycle Yarns for a while. In fact, it wasn’t until after I purchased both the pattern and the yarn (I snagged some Forge by Hudson + West Co to go with the Spincycle) that I realized the pattern required the cardigan to be steeked. But we’ll get to that in a little bit.

When it comes to sweater construction, I don’t have strong feelings about top-down, bottom-up, or pieces that require seaming. I usually pick a sweater pattern by the design itself and then throw myself into it. Having said that, I’ve never knit the sleeves of a sweater before knitting the body of a sweater. This is not an uncommon technique, many knitters even do it so that they can use the sleeve as a gauge swatch. Andrea Mowry actually wrote Spice in such a way that you knit the sleeves before you knit the body of the sweater. True, it’s easy enough to knit the body of this sweater first and then set it aside for the sleeves, but it was sort of satisfying to have “completed” two parts of the sweater before even casting on for the body.

The colorwork stitches being every other stitch is nice as well, the yarn flew between my fingers as opposed to requiring that I slowed down to pick up a float from time to time.

I suppose this brings me to steeking, that thing I’ve successfully avoided my entire knitting career. Until this sweater. After attempting a few stitches of the crochet reinforcement, I ended up deciding to use the straight stitch on my sewing machine instead. Though nerve-wracking, it was easier than I thought it would be to sew through the knit fabric. Next, I picked up the stitches for the collar based on a suggestion from Tincanknits and tried to knit a row (and put off cutting the fabric a little longer). This method result in a cramped working space, so I ended grabbing my scissors and spending two minutes cutting the knit fabric before continuing the collar.

Now that I have a steeked project under my belt, I can say that it’s honestly not that bad. I don’t see myself seeking out projects just to steek, but I don’t see myself actively avoiding them either. All in all, I would (and probably will) steek again.

An orange cardigan with a shawl collar and five toggle buttons laid flat.

…and Forward on 2022

As I write this post, it occurs to me that I’m not really sure what I expect 2022 to bring. I suppose we’ll see some change (some good things and some bad) and we’ll also find ourselves wondering if anything has really changed at all. One thing that the last two years has really taught me is that nothing is truly set in stone and if you’re willing to pivot you’ll have a better time.

In 2022 I:

  • will spend more time in the garden. Whether it’s planting vegetables or sitting around the fire at night, I want to make sure I enjoy all the hard work and time we put into cleaning it up last year.
  • will spend as much time outside as possible actually, doing all the things. It’d be cool to get a mountain bike for the summer months, but we’ll see.
  • will read books because I want to, not because I set a numeric goal. This was a good goal last year and I think it should stay on the list.
  • will spend more time by the water. Even if that water in question is found while enjoying a walk in the woods.
  • will design and publish a baby sweater! Hey it could happen.
  • will make. Whether it’s via my knitting needles, sewing machine, loom or some other method, I will make things with my hands.
  • will keep trying new things. How else am I to discover things I didn’t know I would like?
  • will journal and/or sit with myself more. I am just as important as those around me and should treat myself as such.

The interesting thing about getting older is that my desire to push myself as far as I can go isn’t as strong as it was when I was in my early 20s. It’s not that I’ve become apathetic, it’s that I’m learning to slow down and enjoy what’s around me. I’m learning not to beat myself up when I don’t meet a goal and to think about why that goal wasn’t met (and even whether or not I care). So while I’m tempted to add things to the list such as “travel to new places” or “finally hike Mt. Washington for real”, I realize that having less specific goals means that there are many different ways to meet them.

Looking back on 2021…

It crazy to believe that 2021 is over, it feels like time slowed down while speeding up. We’ve been back to in-person work for a few months now and even though the pandemic is still something that affects our day-to-day lives it’s safe to say we feel like things are starting to normalize. Time is still broken, but honestly, I think I’m ok with it. It’s nice to enjoy the small moments and to imagine ways to start incorporating bigger ones.

In 2021 I said I would:

  • hike Mt. Washington. I think this year will be the year that this finally happens, we’re starting to run out of excuses. We pushed off hiking Mt. Washington in favor of shorter hikes closer to home. This doesn’t mean I’ll never hike Mt. Washington, it just means that this year didn’t end up being the right year for us. Though we gave up long day-hikes this year, we found ourself in the woods more often because we didn’t need as much time to get away.
  • camp a lot. In fact it would be great if this was the year of camping. I’m talking load up the car and go somewhere new. I’m talking pack a bag and camp off trail. 2021 is going to be the year of the woods that 2020 started off being before the house distracted us. Nope, didn’t camp at all. This makes me a little sad, but it was so rainy this summer! By letting this specific style of vacationing go, we found ourselves taking more day trips places an hour or two away. Plus, my husband enrolled in a firefighter certification course and, though it ate up a lot of our weekends, I couldn’t be prouder.
  • knit more sweaters for hiking. I knit one last year and am obsessed with wearing it instead of a jacket, for something that’s not bulky it’s so warm! instead, I cranked out baby sweaters, so many of my friends expanded their families this year! That and I started sewing more garments, so while more hiking sweaters are still desired they took a back seat this year.
  • be finishing off one of our bedrooms as a nursery. Which in itself is a crazy concept that we’re wrapping our heads around slowly because it’s always been an abstract idea. Don’t expect anything until someone sticks me with a covid vaccine though! This got done! We finished off the nursery! We’ve also started on the hallway, which means that in less than a year and a half we’ve fixed up most of our house! Also, it just occured to us that no contractor was hired to help us, which makes the final results even more mind blowing.
  • be growing vegetables that will make it to edible format. I can feel it, it’s going to happen this year. Unfortunately, this is another thing that didn’t happen this year. So much energy was spent on other things this summer, but I’m thinking that next year we’ll have the capacity to complete more hobby projects around the house.
  • not try to read 100 books. Last year I found myself pushing through books that I wasn’t into because I had a number goal and limited time to reach it. This year I want to read books that I like and abandon ones that don’t hold my interest. Or at least save them for a day that I’m in the mood for them. This goal was so much better for me than last year’s I read over 70 books and don’t feel bad about the ones I put down for various reason.
  • daydream about running in person races and patiently wait for them to start happening again. Or at least try to be patient. This happened! Hubby and I ran the New England Dog Jog in May with Loche and had such a fun time! It felt so good to be “surrounded” (staggered start and all) by other people working towords a common goal. We also had plans to run an October race but I pulled a muscle and needed to let it heal instead.
  • probably knit my niece something kitchy, because eventually she’ll care what she wears. This year, I made my neice three cute little sweaters and a poncho. Plus I sewed her a summer dress! Not sure if I’ll collaborate with my sister as a holiday gift this year, I’m starting to want to knit what I want when I want to again.

In 2021 I:

  • Got married! We tied the knot wearing whatever we wanted to in our backyard. For me, this meant a sundress and no shoes.
  • Worked hard on setting healthy boundaries.
  • Planned and instructed a learn to code python series.
  • Joined the Wonderland Yarns team as a collaborator and ambassador.
  • Was a 2021 maker for Blue Sky Fibers
  • Took a few sewing classes and made garments that mostly fit
  • Upcycled a chair

January 2022 Book Club: Lovecraft Country

Cover art for Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff.

Lovecraft Country was an interesting book to ring the new year in with. For starters, it wasn’t the horror book that I thought it would be based on the first episode of the HBO show that I watched. There were no crazy monsters that went bump in the night (although there are definitely some horror scenes!), only a strange organization of Alchemists that somehow possessed magic powers.

As I read each section of Lovecraft Country, I had a hard time following the timeline of events. Where they meant to be short stories that were independent of each other? Connected only in that they were dealing with the same man? It wasn’t until the characters got together to discuss what had been happening to them that I realized the change in narration was designed to illustrate that these things were all happening more or less at the same time after the initial trip to Ardham.

Many of these stories are based around the concept of how getting what you want doesn’t always happen in the way you want it. Atticus begins our tale with a subtle desire to live in a Lovecraft novel and to find his father, who wanted to understand where his wife came from. Both of these desires were the catalyst for our story, so it’s interesting that they spend time ignoring what happened to them despite the clear meddling from Braithwhite. They want to be left alone from the legacy that was left them, which does eventually happen (although getting to that place is a process).

Letitia, one of my favorite characters, wants to leave her mark on this world and is determined to do so since the first page we’re introduced to her. When she comes into some money from a mysterious benefactor, it’s no surprise that it’s used to purchase an apartment building in a white neighborhood. A part of me was even left to wonder if Letitia would have been as interested in doing so if it didn’t also come with the label of “pioneer”. On the one hand, Letitia got what she wanted. On the other hand, she needed to stand her ground and navigate owning a haunted house. Letitia’s story is one of determination and grit, one that you want to succeed from the beginning.

Ruby’s story provides the most insight into how people of color were (and sometimes, unfortunately, still are) treated. You can’t help but feel angry for her as she loses her job because someone else stole a pair of earrings and intrigued when she’s able to try on a different face. Ruby wanted power over her life and Braithwhite gave it to her. This was one of the few relationships in the book were Braithwhite was being used as much as he was doing the using and the cost was “only” lying to those around her and believing Braithwhite when he told her that she was keeping Delilah alive.

Ruby’s story is about being self aware of yourself and your surroundings. It’s hard to recognize the privilege that comes with the color of your skin as you observe through Ruby’s eyes what it’s like to interact with a police officer as Hillary. How easy it is to manipulate the men and women around her because they believe that she can do no wrong as Hillary. Ruby wanted freedom and power over her own life, it broke my heart that in order to get those things she had to physically change who she was.

Ruff also takes us through a desire to begin to set things right (the ledger of owed back wages and interest), a desire to discover (the teleporter), and a desire to protect your family (the devil doll, and the trip to meet the Winthrop ghosts). Each of these desires demonstrates how you have to decide between what you want and what you need, all the while taking advantage of the experience (minus the devil doll story, poor Horace).

Lovecraft Country is brought to a cinematic end once each character shares their stories with each other and it becomes clear that Braithwhite is a problem. Perhaps the most poetic part of the tale, Braithwhite loses his powers to the people he manipulated and we are left to assume that he will spend his days trying to get back into an organization that will no longer take him due to the new color of his skin.

Knowing that the show has altered the story’s events, I haven’t decided if I’ll finish it. That being said, I’m glad I picked up Lovecraft Country and stuck it out to the end, it was a fun read.

The icy January winds have me daydreaming of warmer days, so for February’s book let’s step into the pages of The Henna Artist, which takes place in the city of Jaipur during the 1950s.

Cover art for the Henna Artist by Alka Joshi.

Escaping from an abusive marriage, seventeen-year-old Lakshmi makes her way alone to the vibrant 1950s pink city of Jaipur. There she becomes the most highly requested henna artist—and confidante—to the wealthy women of the upper class. But trusted with the secrets of the wealthy, she can never reveal her own…

Known for her original designs and sage advice, Lakshmi must tread carefully to avoid the jealous gossips who could ruin her reputation and her livelihood. As she pursues her dream of an independent life, she is startled one day when she is confronted by her husband, who has tracked her down these many years later with a high-spirited young girl in tow—a sister Lakshmi never knew she had. Suddenly the caution that she has carefully cultivated as protection is threatened. Still she perseveres, applying her talents and lifting up those that surround her as she does.

“Saving” My Emery Dress

Young woman wearing an ill-fitting short sleeve dress. The dress is green with frog faces on it.

In May/June of 2021, I enrolled in an Intro to Classic Dressmaking class at Notion, where I attempted to sew an Emery dress out of a frog patterned quilting cotton. Attempted for a few reasons, for starters, it was hard and I’m by no means an expert sewist (yet?). The more important reason, however, is that when I blended two sizes together to form what I thought would be the correct size bodice I was left with a shoulder area that could have been smaller (aka I probably didn’t need to blend a larger size into a smaller size)! This is probably why people sew a mock version before attempting the project in their final project, similar to creating a large swatch in knitting. Needless to say, the only way my Emery dress would fit would be if I suddenly grew about two cup sizes.

If I’m honest, the dress sat on the floor of our bedroom for several months. Literally staring me in the face day in and day out with its cute (and just a tad creepy) frog faces. My husband, who hates clothing on the floor, stopped offering me pitying looks about the situation after about a week. At least he didn’t say anything about moving it, I was suffering from a feeling I’m sure his inner artist understood.

A size 6 month pinafore dress with a repeating frog pattern laying next to a pair of matching baby bloomers.

It finally came to me, after spending probably too much time on Pinterest looking up sewing projects for babies (their clothes don’t require a lot of fabric!) and a strong desire to have the little frogs live out their destiny to adorn someone’s body. In less than an hour, my missized Emery dress became an adorable Crossover Pinafore (free pattern from Smashed Peas and Carrots) with matching bloomers!

Pros and cons of the Crossover Pinafore really come down to how well you can manipulate fabric around the tight corners that form the straps (which in my case means that they’re a little wonky). I like that the pattern is reversible, but I used some leftover black cotton from an art project my husband was working on, and don’t foresee anyone flipping this particular version to that side. It was also a fantastic excuse to pull out my machine’s buttonhole maker, which always blows my mind a little bit. All in all, I can see myself making this when a friend announces that they have a little girl (Is this too girly for a boy to wear? Do babies even really care?) on the way with purposefully picked lining fabric so that it’s actually reversible.

Now that it’s done, I can’t help but think about the remnants that can be found in my fabric stash. I must have enough fabric leftover to make another one (combined with more black remnants of course!).