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Winter reaches us on the Bristol Downs

Hi! Happy be-lated New Year!

Yes, it has  been a long time since I posted. I’ll skip the excuses and get on to the goods.

So remember I’d been knitting several gifts for friends/family for Christmas? Well, here are the pictures I have of those. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of all of them before I wrapped them up. But as the French say, tant pis!

I’m sorry the lighting isn’t so good for some of these. I do the best with what I got.

Mittens and a matching tam (not pictured) for Momma in Choclate, by Deborah Norville. They match the scarf I made for her last winter — my first ever knitting project. Isn’t that sweet? I’m a married woman but I still like to make things for my Mom in the hopes that she’ll put them on the fridge.

Why yes, that is a Melanie Fallick pattern from her delicious book Weekend Knitting. The pattern was straight forward (my kind of project) and the final product looked pretty darn good for my first pair of mittens — another box to tick. I made another pair for my bro-in-law’s gf out of Wensleydale wool in Oatmeal. Unfortuantely I don’t have a picture of those, but i can tell you they were lovely and neutral and super warm because I lined them with fleece. I used a little bit of the leftover yarn for the strip in my hubby’s hat, pictured  below.

Next here’s the hat I knitted for my fella. I used the wool I bought when we were on our honeymoon in Maine. (I subsequently accidentally deleted all of our pictures from that trip, so little momentos like this are pretty special, if you know what I mean).  It’s spun by the last living Shakers in the world  from their community at Sabbathday Lake. And yes, we did go to a Shaker community on our honeymoon.

It’s warm and wooly with 2×2 ribbing. It’s a basic man hat. No frills. They like it that way.

Isn’t he cute? And the scenery’s not bad either. This was on our sledding day. England in the snow at Christmas is so ridiculously picturesque and nostalgic. We’re talking Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

Last but not least, another man hat for my new bro-in-law. J’s got the crazy personality to pull of a slightly slouchy hat (though in this pic it looks like it fits him pretty snuggly). The yarn is ” Linus” by Knit One Crochet Too. They do a whole range of colors specifically designed for men. Isn’t that cool? I love the orange gradations splashed into the manly pine color.

Here he is rocking it.

And yes, that is a pet rat in his lap. Isn’t he adorable? His name is Mango and it makes me sad that he’s way over in NC while we’re in England.

How did y’all’s knitted gifts turn out? Did your peeps like them?

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The inside of the market near our flat

So this afternoon I realized two things: first, that we humans are prepared to think the worst of one another, don’t you think? And secondly, that I’m a cynic. To give a little context, this morning I was talking to Luke about what we think it will be like moving back to the US after being away for so long — specifically, how we’ll cope with the insane politics and the especially charged political atmospher right now, and wouldn’t it just be better if we stayed in England where we have NHS and people don’t own guns? That got us talking about the US new health care bill and the Tea Party movement and all the hype about elections coming up, and how all of those things sound so crazy when you look at them from a foreigner’s perspective (particular a European’s). Anyways, that got us theorizing (because we know what we’re talking about, right?) about how we think the United States as we know it will cease to be within our lifetime, and we just hope the transition isn’t violent, but when you got crazy gun-weilding Tea Partiers running around, who’s to say it won’t be? Besides, it’s kind of already begun with Irag and Afghanistan, right?

And then, thankfully, later today I had the opportunity to read another silly person’s doomsday prediction and it made me laugh at myself a little (in that sad, ironic way).  I was reading abook review of a book that blames environmentalists and naive leftist politicians for starting an ideological war about the whole global warming “myth,” and I couldn’t help but read some of the comments … do you see where this is going? One of the said commenters made a statement along the lines that he’s convinced environmentalists are just as capable of commiting genocide and other atrocities on the same scale as their communist forerunners.  Sound crazy? Sound a little like some other crazy person’s “prediction?” That person being moi.

This is not really a political rant. My husband and I don’t know squat about politics and we like it that way.  We like to cook together and go for walks and knit and have conversations with people, and we have this crazy dream that, one day, people will stop doing this.  The comment to that book review was equally silly.  I guess it just made me laugh a little (in that sad, ironic way) to think how quick silly people on either side of an argument are to assume the absolute, devilish worst of one another.

It’s also reminded me why I knit.

And speaking of, I finished that piece for my sister finally! I dropped it in the post on Monday, so I can’t post pictures until I know she’s received it. But let me just say, it was about bloody time. In total, it took 8 months of work, on and off, but it’s finally finished. If you remember, I followed Kieran Foley’s gorgeous pattern for the Cold Mountain scarf. More to come about how I messed up on the pattern, missed both gift-giving deadlines, but still ended up with a pretty alright finished product. It was my first every lace pattern, too!

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been working on.

The start of a crocheted pink beret... otherwise refered to at the giant pink doily.

You guessed it, the first on my long list of Christmas gifts. Luckily, the stylish pattern by CreativeYarn takes, literally, 2 hours to whip up. No joke. Even for me and I’m slow as, well, Christmas.

Also I’m working to turn this ball of nondescript yarn into a hat for my bro-in-law. Actually, “nondescript” is an unfair adjective for this beautiful and lush, man-for-men Italian alpaca, wool and acrylic by Linus! I got it while we were on our honeymoon in Maine — yeah, which, by the way, did you hear about that dummy who deleted all their honeymoon photos? No, you didnt? Oh, well, story to come… just too bad I won’t have any fotos to go along with it.

That yarn is destined for this pattern by Kris Percival.  Manly ribbed hat for a manly yarn.

Despite intentionally trying to avoid them, I fell into a trap today; I read an article about graduate unemployment.  The best I can say about it is at least I don’t feel alone. The Independent reckons there are, on average, 69 applicants for every one position; The Guardian has a bleaker outlook: 12,000 applications for 50 places.  Talk about spoiling the rest of my full English breakfast (probably the last I’ll ever be able to afford if The Guardian staff writer is right).

So what did I do with this information?  Did I immediately hop onto the computer and begin– for the 20th time — job hunting?  Fraid not.  Did I fret and flutter and burst into tears?  Well, nearly.

Nope.  I got out my rolling pin and baked some delicious cheese scones. And then I knitted some more of the square cake handbag.  And you know what?  The future didn’t look so bleak afterwards.

We are creative beings; we thrive from positive nurturing and encouragement. With so much discouragement out there, sometimes you have to use your hands to create something beautiful and delicious. It’s what we were made for.

Here we are:  two unemployed graduates… but we seem pretty happy so far.

In addition to picking out our wedding favors these past few days (which, by the way, is still not a done deal: s’mores or candy rock?) I’ve also been looking into handmade wedding thank-you gifts for family and friends who’ve helped out. Naturally I’d like to knit and crochet some of these gifts. And I don’t just want to knit pretty flower pins and small gift bags either; I want my gifts to be personalized, practical, and something people would want to use or wear because, let’s be honest, the handmade movement is at its best when made-from-home crafts compete with factory-made items for usefullness and prettiness.  Otherwise, why would people bother with handmade? So picking the right gifts/patterns is key.

The other factor is, of course, time. Seeing as it’s taken me three months to get through half of a shawl for my sister’s wedding gift turned birthday present (granted, I was in the middle of finals), I know it’s better to be realistic than optimistic — game day is, after all, under three months away. Yikes!

But because I’m stubborn, I’m determined to at least try. Plus I’m sure these adorable gifties won’t take too long to whip up. What do you think?

1.) I love this Crocheted Hemp Flower Necklace from Crescendoh, which I’m thinking would be an adorable gift for the mothers and/or my soon-to-be sister in law. The kit comes with hemp yarn, a crochet hook, 40 hand-dyed buttons and intructions (v. important!). Of course, I think I would use different colored buttons and maybe throw in some novelty items, i.e. felt leaves, shells, and wooden buttons. We shall see.

2.) For our somewhat “green” wedding (whatever that means), I  thought this simple yet lovely market string bag from Erin Vaughan would make a nice gift.  You can never have enough of these washable, stretchable  bags, especially now as farmers markets are regaining popularity across the country.

3.) Here’s one for the winos and, incidentally, the men in my life.  I hope they wouldn’t feel too girly caring a “handbag” even if it is for wine. I don’t care either way. They’re cute as all.

Harry wine bottle tote by Tante Sophie.

I’ve never tried felting before but the instructions look pretty straight forward. I’d say now’s as good a time as any to give it a try.

4.) In the same vein, these crocheted baskets are darling. Perfect as fruit baskets, napkin holders, anything really.

5.) Finally, who doesn’t love an adorable, multi-purpose tote? What’s more, it’s made from recycled bread bags. Again, this would complement our eco-conscious wedding theme, plus it’d be great as a market or beach bag.

I love the colors on this one. Wonder what bread they used... Sarah Lee?

So will I have time for all these projects on top of writing this novel, on top of planning the wedding, on top of applying for real jobs? Okay, probably not. But one can dream, right? Besides, they’re great projects to put on the backburner if I don’t finish them before the wedding.

With temperatures climbing into the 80s here in Bristol, I can’t believe I’ve chosen such a hot day in May to post these pics of the winter hat and cowl combo I began back in January. It’s just like me to talk about a winter knitting project in this kind of heat.

Even so, this variation on the simple knitted hat with rim (kind of like this one by Deborah Anne, only I knitted mine in the round) is stylish and cozy enough to make even the most vitamin D-starved sun-worshipper long for those winter months when they can pull this cap down over their ears.  Knitted with Araucania’s lush Azapa wool, hand-dyed by fairly-compensated local women in the mountains of Chile, this earthy moss color can dress up a drap outfit or blend in with other neutral colors.  And did I mention this wool is super soft? It’s the perfect Christmas gift or late fall birthday present, and now’s the time to start knitting up a whole slew of them.

First, let me just say, I adore this yarn.  It’s soft, multi-toned and complex, and it’s the perfec choice for a chunky wool that doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a sheep on your head. However, this yarn likes its static electricity. So as a novice knitter it was a bit tricky trying to tame the hairy, clingy bits, especially when I had to tink a few times (first time using circular needles).  I probably wouldn’t use this yarn for a more complicated pattern with several repeats, because I had to be careful when frogging not to let it get knotted up. Of course, having said that I have a friend who’s knitting a shell lace stitch scarf with this yarn and hasn’t had any problems. So it must just be me. I like easy knitting jobs that use nice, tractable yarns.

Still, I will definitely be using this yarn again for simple patterns. The beauty of Araucania is that a simple pattern compliments the lovely tone and textures of the wool, while a complicated pattern could detract from it.

I made the cowl neck out of the leftover yarn from the hat (150grams for both) and sewed on a couple giant buttons for detail.  I didn’t follow a pattern, just knitted a simple rectangular piece on #13s.  Since these pictures were taken, I’ve added a second button, lending more versatility to the piece. I wear the pair together or each on its own.  Actually, I rarely get to wear the hat at all, since the boy keeps nabbing it!

Ignore the red eyes! 😛

And here it is on the boy on Hadrian’s wall.

Recently, I started knitting.  I began for a few reasons, the most obvious being that I wanted to extend my wardrobe with lovely, handmade garments.  Also, it was around Christmas and I was annoyed at all the over-spending that goes on around that holiday, and on gifts that have arguably less meaning that something handmade.  As a writer, you always have the option of writing your loved ones a story, poem, or memoir (hopefully keeping it as cheese-free as possible).  But, let’s be honest, how difficult would it be to write something creative and uniquely styled for each family member while also working on your own projects?  And with the same 25th deadline for each present?  I don’t think so.  Now, with knitting, I’ve got next Christmas in the bag.

One of the driving reasons for my learning to knit, though, was as a way to connect with my grandmother.  Although she is healthy and active now, I know that she won’t always be around.  I feel a great push lately to spend as much time as possible with my grandparents and to accept their gifts of knowledge and skills, which will otherwise be lost.

So those were my reasons, and the time spent with my grandmother in pursuit of this craft produced lasting and precious memory.  However, as I’ve now completed two projects and am working on a third, I’ve discovered another benefit of learning a craft.  Knitting to me is like praying the rosary.  Sometimes I do pray; knit by knit, perl by perl, a prayer for every action, every loop, ever tug, every person in my life, for the stranger I’ve never met.  But even when I am not actively praying, I am meditating.

Knitting preoccupies the hands in a creative way, allowing the mind to mull over other creative pursuits.

For me it’s a great time to think — sometimes without being aware of it — of my writing projects and to work out issues which, if I stared at a computer screen and forced myself to work them out in an attitude of frustration would, A, be unproductive, and B, possibly, and hopefully only temporarily, snuff out the positive creative  vibrations associated with that project.  There is so much to be said for taking breaks from writing.  There’s even more wisdom, I think, in taking craft-based breaks which keep your creative muscles engaged in a way that might seemingly have nothing to do with your writing, but is actually keeping you in tune to those voices.

I’m officially a knitter, but I realize that as long as I’ve been a writer I’ve always been a crafts person.  In these next few days, I’d like to discuss the philosophy of “craft” and how it pertains to the writing life.  What crafts do y’all enjoy in partnership with your writing?

Pictures of my latest project, a basic hat using Araucania yarns from Chile.

I love how my camera picked up the lovely glints of green and blue of this yarn.  Safe to say it will be a photogenic hat even if the wearer is not.  🙂

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"The purpose of art is not a rarified, intellectual distillate -- it is life, intensified, brilliant life." ~ Alain Arias-Misson

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