Sunday, May 21, 2017

Dress

This is my wedding dress.  Circa 1989. It was the first one I tried on.  Someone had told me that the first dress you try is usually the one you choose, because when the hundreds of teeny buttons are done up in the back and and the long train is ruffled out and arranged, you turn, seeing yourself in the mirror as a bride for the first time, you fall in love with it, and no other dress ever looks as good, and that's what happened.  I managed to regret for awhile having chosen the first dress I put on, thinking I had somehow been too hasty, had missed the biggest shopping opportunity of my life or something, and my petulant whining about that made my mom sad, but on the day, when I was as beautiful as I ever would be, and my best friend had buttoned up all those million buttons at the back and ruffled out the long train, I had not a single regret in the world.  I remember that my beloved brother, looking like Mr. Darcy in his ascot and morning coat, was the one to go to the florist in his Camaro to pick up my bouquet, which he delivered to me with the tenderest care.  I remember that my best friend, looking as always exactly like Martha Plimpton, in her cream lace dress and Florida tan, was tragically hungover and trembling but made us laugh and laugh, and I remember that my mom, looking like a princess herself, put an ice bag on Martha Plimpton's neck to keep her from fainting.  I remember that the waitress at the rehearsal dinner told a filthy joke to the minister and the church organist and I snorted iced tea into my sinuses.  I remember that my dad curled my hand into his big arm as we headed up the aisle together, and squeezed it hard for a second, telegraphing all the sentimental things he wanted to say; his sense that he really was letting me go, and how it was hard for him, but how okay it was, too.  That he loved me.  "Don't trip," he said.  "Walk slow."  I remember that Doc, dressed in his brother's rented pants, was waiting for me at the other end, and that he gasped when he saw me.  I remember that I was so thrilled about wearing this dress that I forgot to pack anything else to wear and had to come home again the next morning to pick up some clothes.  My parents were drinking mimosas.  "It's too late to give her back," they said.  This dress cost a lot of money, a lot more than I should have asked my schoolteacher parents to spend on anything.  It was, and still is, an utterly gorgeous (and utterly 80's) confection, a proper Cinderella dress, and wearing it, I felt lovely and loved. 
Here's something that could not be more true:  the dress does not hold those memories; they are in me.  The dress is not the wedding, nor the marriage, nor the spectacular man I married and our subsequent decades of happy partnership, nor is it the repository or representative of any of those things, either.  I don't need to continue trying to keep it safe and protected from, well, time.  So I brought it down from the attic, and on a cloudy day, I hung it from the crabapple tree, and the wind tossed some pretend life into it, and ruffled out the train, and I photographed it.  And then I folded it carefully back into the bag, zipped it closed, and gave it away.  
 

Monday, May 15, 2017

Island Magic

Martha's Vineyard in the middle of May was gray and blustery, and the sea was roiled up in a proper gale-force way.  My friend Ethel and I did the only appropriate thing and sat in the bar having a huge Dark and Stormy, listening to the wind howl and watching for Ahab to come stumping psychotically in.  Walks on the beach were adventurous and hearty.  She tied a shirt around her head a la Little Edie Beale and we held on to each other to keep from blowing over.  There were blossoms everywhere, and sandy dogs, and people wearing wool hats.  The view out to the wild sea makes my heart pound with happiness.  That bit of relative calm up there is Lambert's Cove.  The wind there was slightly less punishing.  
I love these windswept dunes, full of hidden tide pools and bird tracks and shell treasures.  Those blossoms were the most delicate pink, just the vaguest pink.  A suggestion of pink, against the white sand.  
In a moment of serendipity, I bumped into a couple of readers in the yarn shop (where else?) in Vineyard Haven, and then, crazily, we met them again later in the line at Back Door Donuts.  Hi Sarah and Steph!  I swear I am not stalking you!  Back Door Donuts.  Listen, I have to tell you this story.  Two years ago Ethel and I were on the Vineyard, hanging out in Oak Bluffs after dark.  We'd walked around at twilight looking at the camp cottages [awesome] and it was cold and dark.  A cozy snack started to sound good.  It was not yet Memorial Day, so not much was open, and we were about to give up, but lo, we came upon a light--a single light on someone's desk--shining from behind the window of a real estate office.  A woman sat there in the circle of the single bulb.  She was dressed all in white, and had long, white hair.  I am not making any of this up.  Ethel is bold and talkative, and she said, "I'm going to go in there and ask her if she knows of a place."  I was protesting--it's late, they're definitely not open, the door is going to be locked--but the door was unlocked.  She placidly looked up, like she'd been expecting us.  Ethel said something like "Hi, we're new to the Island, do you know of anyplace where we could get some dessert?"  The Woman in White said, "Do you know about Back Door Donuts?  No?  Follow me."  She led us around the corner and down an alley and past some trash cans where finally a long line was forming beside some dumpsters outside a screen door at the back of a bakery where they were selling donuts.  At night.  A donut shop speakeasy.  It was like finding Brigadoon.  And you guys, these are the greatest donuts you have ever had.  They pull one out of the fryer, put the bacon on (yes, the BACON) and hand it right to you.  They know you don't even need a bag.  We turned to thank the Woman in White, but she was gone, and when we tried to go back to the real estate office to say thank you, we couldn't find it.  I have thought about that little piece of magic dozens of times in the past two years.  So of course, back again on the Vineyard this year, we headed directly for the donuts, and there, as before, was the screen door, and the line, and the dumpsters, and the gorgeous sugary air all around.  And naturally, seeing Steph and Sarah again at Back Door Donuts was exactly what was going to happen.  Island Magic. 
I knit socks on long road trips to keep from going bonkers sitting still in the car.  These three socks happened over the weekend.  How can people who don't knit even stand to go anywhere?  

Monday, May 8, 2017

Early Bird

Something that isn't knitting!  Okay, so you may as well know that I love taxidermy.  It combines art, craft, precision, understanding and love of the natural world, biology, a strong stomach for gross-out, scientific inquiry, and also, sometimes, the deeply creeeeepy, and I say that with the greatest respect and admiration.  The moment my young son realized that the life-size elephant "sculptures" in the American Museum of Natural History were, in actual fact, REAL elephants--he made a wide-eyed "mind=blown" gesture that gripped my heart--stays with me. He was bored, and then he realized, and then he was not bored.  So that's what an elephant looks like.  It was wondrous, the way he marveled. [I, like you, would like all the elephants in the world to live their quiet, peaceful lives beside the river, unmolested and raising their babies and endlessly chewing the grass in placid harmony, but here we have a taxidermied elephant, however possibly misbegotten, however potentially misguidedly acquired, and I believe we can learn from it.  It is okay to be amazed.] I like oddities, unusual things.  I like learning.  I like a rare discovery.  I sort of like things that are vaguely morbid.  I have a bittersweet appreciation for the old-time impulse for scientific discovery (and also the peculiarly Victorian impulse to collect all the things) that led 18th and 19th century expeditions to collect insect, bird, and animal specimens from around the world [though I certainly would not want someone to do such a thing now] and I was completely captivated many years ago by a museum exhibit of 18th century rare bird specimens from the Galapagos Islands.  Such a mixture of feelings, looking at something like that--wonder, sadness and pity, admiration of skill and devotion, eager scrutiny of tiny, long-dead creatures that would otherwise remain to me forever a mystery.  The cabinet of curiosities is such an enchantment, in its original form a way to gain and share information.  Happily, we now have ways of gathering information that are in general much healthier for the elephants and the birds, though I think science still sometimes runs afoul of our moral instincts, and also I think it might have to, for the sake of progress and discovery.  Hey, that's a deep conversation brewing...anyway, I love taxidermy.  So I've been working on some bird sculptures, because real bird taxidermy is for many reasons out of my reach [and in some cases, is also illegal] and also because I am a maker of things, so that's what I do.  
 
 
So a project was born.  Bird Work.  I started drawing birds and trying to figure out how they were shaped, and started trying to figure out how to make pattern pieces that might translate into those shapes.  I wanted birds that look ratty and crafty, with visible stitches, made from tweeds and calicoes, but real-ish. Real-shaped.  You guys, this is hard.  I made so many wrong-looking birds.  Many, many attempts at drafting a pattern later, and a whole box full of sorta birds, I am relatively satisfied with this guy, though he is unfinished, and there is much more tinkering to be done.  At this size--he's about three inches long, not including the tail--1/16" makes a pretty big difference. When I first had the idea some months ago, to replicate the bird taxidermy I cannot otherwise have, the search for supplies (and also the quest for beak ideas) led me to the incredible artwork of Ann Wood, who has since been an enormous source of inspiration, and to this book by Abby Glassenberg, from which followed, as usual, a whole fascinating rabbit hole of soft animal sculpture, and which made me scramble to my sketchbook, full of ideas.  You remember the mouse?  I still want to make more mice.
He's a study, still.  But it's getting there.  Bird work continues.  

Monday, May 1, 2017

Knit Sew Spin

 
The Scarfy Thing has been finished.  I think "Scarfy Thing" is really the only thing you can call this--I don't know what else it could possibly be.  I guess it's a scarf/shawl/wrap, and it's so, so long.  It is enormous; mine is almost eight feet long, I think, and it feels like quite an accomplishment.  Wearing it feels kind of wonderful.  Scarfy Thing will be noticed.  Those tassels just dial it up to eleven for me.  Hoo, I really love it.  In the end, I decided against the intarsia (well, of course.  Intarsia is a nightmare) and after a little/lot of practicing, my join-as-you-going improved somewhat, and I stopped hating it.  That's the way with most things, isn't it?  The free recipe (it is not a line-by-line pattern, but more a collection of tips) can be found here, and if, like me, you have a lot of sock yarns and sock yarn leftovers that you are longing to use, you should give this one a try.  I might make another one someday.  
I also spent a few hours on my Creative Year Project piece--this month's prompt was "My Favorite Book", and for me, that is Anne of Green Gables [I will be avoiding the upcoming grim and depressing Netflix adaptation of the Anne story--it ain't broke, so let's not fix it, hey?-- but if you want to watch an Anne of Green Gables series made by those who brought us "Breaking Bad", please feel free]. This piece stumped me for awhile.  I'm trying so hard not to have them all just be fabric collages...
This week's spinning--alpaca.  First of all, I'm not sure why I even have any alpaca around here, because I find alpaca is a little bit prickly for me to wear, so I don't know what I'll make with this.  Well, I had two small piles of two different colors--one was a Fat Batt art rolag from Spirit Wind Farm and Fiber Studio in the colorway "Sedona Sunrise", and the other, a gift to me, was from an unknown farm, but the alpaca's name was Scotty.  Gifts are like that.  When somebody offers me a bag of beige fluff, I don't delve too hard.  Anyway, there wasn't much of either one, so in order to have enough yardage to make something out of it, I spun them on separate bobbins and then plied them together, which toned down the rainbow sherbet effect of one, and blinged up the boringness of the beige.  They meet in the middle now, to make something kind of tonal and vaguely pinkish.  I might have enough yarn for a pair of mittens, and I could line those with something that won't be prickly.  Plans.
It is gray and cold here today, and pouring.  That sunny gold yarn is the antidote--it is Esopus in 'Gold Star' by Jill Draper Makes Stuff.  Catdog is snuggled up in a nest of pillows, snoring away, and there is a cozy spot on the couch, right beside her.  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Weekly

I've started going to yoga again, after a looooong absence.  I love it so much, but I took a really lengthy break from it because--and this seemed like a rational excuse at the time--we got a dog and getting down on the floor makes a dog think it is time to relentlessly lick your face.  In my experience, all dogs think this.  So now, when I try to practice a little between classes (because, ow, I am solidifying) I tiptoe around the catdog's otherwise constantly slumbering self, hoping she won't notice I'm getting down on the floor, but she always notices.  ALWAYS.  That dog sleeps 23.5 hours a day, but just try to get down on the floor and close your eyes for a minute.  Anyway.  So one thing they keep telling me in yoga (and one thing I kept telling my own students, way back in the olden times when I was a yoga teacher myself) is to honor where you are today, right now.  Do your best, appreciate that it is the best you can do, and let it be enough for now.  Spinning this fleece--oh, I found the card that came with the fleece and finally deciphered the fact that it is a Romney/Blue-faced Leicester cross, not that I know what difference that makes--is really making me honor where I am right now.  
Doc handcrafted those wool combs for me using scraps from his shop and a handful of huge and deadly nails, and they are scary and awesome.  I have only viciously stabbed myself in the thumb once, so that feels like success.  The fleece, which, you may remember, I bought at the Finger Lakes Fiber Festival last fall, a big plastic sack of unwashed hair, is soft and lovely and springy and curly.  I washed it carefully, carded and spun some of it woolen-style, and was happy enough with it, but all signs point to a Romney/BFL fleece being best spun worsted-style, which is achieved in part by combing.  I discovered I love combing fleece, and that there is a huge amount of waste, but it won't go to waste around here--more on that later--but somehow, the yarn I spun from the combed nests, with all its springiness notwithstanding, and me all girded up with youtube tutorials about how to spin worsted-style, and this book, was just limp and dead, and pretty depressing.  No springiness at all.  Wah!  Well.  I think I will keep combing, but will spin woolen for awhile more.  I just like the yarn better that way.  Honor where you are right now.  
In non-yarn news, I keep thinking about Sara Berman's Closet.  (If you haven't seen this yet, go check it out.  Click on all the links, they are all totally great.) My closet is ridiculous.  Actually, all my closets are ridiculous.  I spent a few hours yesterday divesting myself of yet more things I don't need.  Child's outgrown orthodontic retainers?  Dented trombone?  Tiny souvenir guitar from somebody else's trip to Tijuana?  Adios.  I doubt I will go the full Sara, but it is good to remember that we are not our stuff.  My memories are not in the things I own, but in me.  Very interesting antique accordion that looks cool, collects dust, and nobody knows how to play?  Bye.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Signs of spring

Cold morning sunlight pours in through the curtains.  I open the window for ten brisk minutes.  Mourning doves mutter outside in the maple tree, the school bus comes and goes, a big truck downshifts.  Outdoors!  It smells so lush out there.  So dirty and loamy and promising.  
Scarves, hats, mittens, cowls make their way through the wash and into storage.  I love this part of things.  I love taking care of these beautiful things I've made; hand washing them, folding them neatly, tucking them into bed for the summer.  I love unpacking them again, too, later, rediscovering them.  I am already anticipating that moment.  
I make yarn at my spinning wheel.  This is a mystery wool, bought as a bump [that's what you call a ball of carded roving] at a fiber fair last fall, unlabeled and unidentifiable.  Somehow I had it in my mind that it was alpaca, but it is definitely sheep.  That's about as specific as it'll get.  Brownish, natural gray, wooly, soft.  Probably DK weight?  I don't know.  Who knows.  My plying is improving.  There is so much to learn.  
 
My Warriston is finished, and I wear it with some weariness, looking out the window at the tattered but greening landscape.  This pullover is meant to be worn as an outer layer--a sweatshirt with style--so it is very roomy and very comfy.  I used Natural Wool DK 8-ply by Wools of New Zealand in "Cocoa".  What a smooshy, springy lovely wooly wool that is.  It totally looks like the perfect handspun, and I am so interested in that at the moment.  
Here it is, in action in the field, with squirrel skull, discovered on the ground underneath our big maple tree.  I can't say I'm one bit sorry.  Squirrels!  Ugh.  I hate them.  That up there is my very favorite kind of squirrel.  He lives to chew another hole in my barn NO MORE.  
The sock yarns continue to haunt.  Why are these handpainted things so utterly magical in the skein, and so utterly not magical when knitted into something?  So often the gorgeous, luminous colors just devolve into mud.  And yet, they are always in my stash, always in my shopping basket at the yarn shop, and always ALWAYS coming home with me from the fiber festival.  I can't stop loving them.  The Scarfy Thing they are becoming is just fiddly enough to keep me from getting up a good head of steam on it.  Many of my joins and seams look pretty terrible.  I'll probably knit the whole thing all the way to the end without having decided whether I like it or not.  
It won't be the first time.  A knitter's gotta knit.  

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

And so on

Another project has left my needles.  Warriston is lounging beside the fireplace, drying after a bath.  I might have had this pullover done already, but midway through the second sleeve, the last of the wound yarn ran out, so rather than spending four minutes getting out the swift for more winding, I exerted a minimum effort, leaned over, grabbed the nearest ball of whatever that was already wound, and started something else.
Scarfy Thing, by Beata Jezek.  This thing totally captivated me for about forty-eight hours, but has hid the skids already, because after merrily clipping along in a sock yarn leftovers trance all weekend I suddenly reached a point at which it seems like the best way to proceed with this will be [theme from Jaws] intarsia.  Urgh.   I don't like to do intarsia.  Which is not the same as saying I don't know how to do intarsia, because how else would I know I don't like it?  Intarsia, with it's multiple-balls-at-once-twisting-into-a-spiderweb action is one of my personal knitting nightmares.  I hate sitting trapped in the epicenter of a complicated mess of tangling yarn ends.  Part of the appeal of knitting for me is the tidiness--two sticks, one ball of string.  I like an easily learned pattern, and I can stuff it in my purse as I run out the door.  Waiting in line at the DMV is nothing to dread when you have your knitting with you... unless your current project involves INTARSIA.  I think the next section calls for it, though, and I am going to yank up my knee socks and intarsia that thing--eventually--but that little snag did motivate me to get off the couch, wind the rest of the brown yarn, and finish the Warriston.  Yesterday was [dare I say this?] pretty much a summer's day, hold my hand, because I may cry...so gorgeous.  Warm, warm air.  What?  What is that?  My sun-starved, frost-eaten, snow-blinded reluctantly Northern self can't even handle.  Catdog and I sprawled all day long on the porch, hungrily soaking up the vitamin D, and counting convertibles, and even when a cloud covered the sun, the gorgeous April air, the wind was still warm.  We kept looking at each other in wonderment, Catdog and I, and she telegraphed her joy by lying in one sunny spot and not moving a muscle.  You guys, two days ago, there was snow on the roof.  Which means there could be snow again before we're done here--it is still just April after all, and nobody around here is packing away their parkas yet--and I might still need the Warriston.  I hope not.  But it'll be ready when I do need it.  Meanwhile, I'm tackling some intarsia.  Urgh.