Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Green Christmas

Christmas in Arizona doesn't naturally feel like Christmas to a New England native like me. The nights are chillier than you might think (down into the 30s) but the days are brilliantly sunny and warm. So I decorated the house in cool, crisp, whites and evergreens to evoke a more wintry land. I started with a handknit and felted white wool dove, nesting in the front door wreath ....

(It's my own design, which I made up after I was displeased with the other dove patterns on Ravelry. I meant to write it up and release it as a pre-Christmas pattern but ran out of time. Ay!)

When you walk inside the house, you enter into the living room. The right wall of windows look out onto a banana grove; admittedly, that's not very wintry. But we put up a Christmas tree, fragrant and piney. I decorated it in glass icicles, bells, and crocheted white wool stars.

Hung over the fireplace were the green felted stockings I made last year and white wool fabric stockings that I sewed for everyone in the family, decorated with green leather nametags and evergreen sprigs.

(Ay, again. I meant to share the pattern with you. I took photos and was going to put up a post with a pre-Christmas tutorial for the stockings, but I never found the time. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow just the same!).

On the tables were all kinds of woodland curiosities. Deer antlers. Fresh mistletoe, gathered from the mountains. And green Korknissser. A comical story: at some point during the holiday, someone in the family who was the last to bed found a half-finished bottle of wine that needed to be corked up, and they sneakily grabbed one of these for the purpose!

At the back of the room, perfuming the house were magnificent white stargazer lilies in a silver metal birch bark vase.

And towering over it all was the feathery owl tree topper that I made a few years back. It turned out to be just by the heat vent, and whenever the heat came on, the owl quivered in the airstream and looked liked it was flying. What a vision!

I hope that you all had a very merry winter holiday season! I feel like I have so many crafts and stories to share, but this has just been a terribly busy time for me. So, just a few snapshots for now and happy tidings.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Crunch time. At my desk, there's been a crunch of stress.

In the backyard, a crunch of leaves.

Up in the mountains, a crunch of snow.

There's much going on in this season to keep my hands busy with writing, raking, climbing, and crafting. Will write more one of these days when the crunch clears!

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Ay, I'm falling behind! Late autumn is such a busy time for academics. Just catching up now on our Thanksgiving in Durham, NC. Though the highlight was undoubtedly the new kitten in the family, the rest of the visit was splendidly season.

Homemade Pie

Campus Foliage

Bare Branches

Postprandial Strolls

Recognize those shawls, by the way? They're the Lotus Shawls (lavender silk and white cormo) that I knit this past summer. We took the pattern photos in Duke Gardens ... one step closer to having the pattern on its way ...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

cat & mouse

Thanksgiving. Traveled across the country to spend it with family, friends, and a Siamese kitten.

I knit him a mousie ...

And he loves it! He's been thundering about the house with it in his mouth, playing with it constantly, biting a hole in it that I've already mended, growling cutely when we try to take it away from him, and mewing when he's lost it under furniture.

My favorite game is to dangle the mousie by the tail and watch him jump and jump at it. He's a first-rate leaper.

And just look at those beautiful blue eyes!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

happy girl, sad doggie

Late November. The desert is cooling down, with chilly nights and crisp days. I finished up my green Open Studio late last week (in Malabrigo on size 6's), and it was just the thing to wear during a cloudy day climbing in the Refuge.

Isis had a good day, basking in the beauty around her. Such a sensitive beast.

The knitting that I'd brought along was yet another Open Studio hat, in the same rich brown wool as Mountain Man's sweater. I thought I could cajole Isis into trying it on. She was a good sport as long as I was there petting and reassuring her ....

But as soon as I moved out of the frame, it was another matter. A very serious matter.


Well aside from a few sad moments of puppy dog eyes, it was a glorious day. And as we drove out of the climbing country on rough dirt roads, we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

Such an amazing land this is!

Monday, November 14, 2011


Back in Phoenix now. Had a few days of luciously cool weather.

raindrops on the citrus trees

kitty cat pondering the backyard

knitting weather

It's another Open Studio, this time in rich, green Malabrigo. It's a shorter one, a cap instead of a watchcap. I love it. And it's just screaming for a big pom-pom on top!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Open Studio (+ hat pattern)

Hats. One for my friend, one for me. With cables and ribbing and a turned-up brim for a warm, winters-coming watchcap.

The hat was designed for my friend Andrew. Sometime last January, we spent an evening sitting at the Cambridge Brewing Company, sketching out the hat elements that he'd like. In February, we crossed the river to Windsor Button to pick out a yarn, and he (in good, manly taste) went for Donegal Aran Tweed. In early March, I showed him some swatches, picked out a cable arrangement, and knit the body of the hat. But I didn't manage to finish it for him before winter ended.

I kept re-charting and re-knitting the top of the hat, but I couldn't get the cables and ribbing to come together in a way I like. So, I put the hat away for several months. And this month -- November 2011, nearly a year since we started this process -- I picked it up again, knit myself one in red, and finally finished his! I mostly finished it at a dinner party, then got up early the next morning and sewed in the ends just in time for an outing Andrew and I had planned: Open Studio day at the Vernon Street Studios in Somerville.

We had a marvelous time. We wore our matching hat and I smiled ridiculously the whole time. This particular studio belongs to Robert Puig Reyes, whose paintings really captured me and who graciously chatted with us and was even willing to take our picture. See: smiling!

The red one, by the way, was my way of reinvigorating my energy in this design project. It's knit in a handspun wool/hemp yarn that I picked up in Nepal years ago, when Mountain Man and I went trekking there for our honeymoon. It's a thick and thin, DK-ish, sturdy, single-spun yarn. Very rustic, a good match for the Donegal tweed.

When I was thinking of what to name this hat, I thought about something that geographically linked it to the Boston-Cambridge-Somerville area, because it was infused with such a sense of place for me. But that day at the artists studios, I realized that working on this hat was like giving my friend a behind-the-scenes tour of my design studio, so to speak. So, "Open Studio" it is.

If you'd like to knit one, too, you can download the free pattern from Ravelry: http://www.ravelry.com/patterns/library/open-studio

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

High Autumn Splendor

soaring elms, cool morning sun

crisp golden russet apples

late season farmer's markets

colorful squashes

scarlet maple foliage

feeds my soul

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Autumn Reds

My cross-country back and forth continues. I've just been back in Boston, getting my dose of foliage and crisp autumn coolness.

I spent much of the flight there swatching, swatching, swatching. Remember the cabled tweed hat that I started for a friend last winter? After knitting the top of it five times and still being unsatisfied with it, I needed to step away. But cold weather has come again, and I needed to figure out how to finish it. I reinvigorated my energy in the project by knitting myself one in red!

And now I was back at the drawing board with the top decreases, experimenting with different ways of working the shaping into the ribbing and cables. Bah! I like a challenge, but this was getting to be too much.

I had to put it down again for my first few days in Boston. And I threw myself into enjoying the beauty of the place and season. Sunset on the Charles River....

And even a snowstorm, with heavy snowflakes falling on autumn foliage ...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

natural dyeing with pecans

Once upon a time, I had a favorite white sweater. It was a roll-neck pullover from J.Crew in soft cotton and cashmere.

But favorite white sweaters tend to become careworn. Seams came undone. Stitches unraveled. Stains materialized.

I used my tidiest skills to make physical repairs, but the faint yellow under the arms and a stubborn dot of a coffee stain on the chest meant that the white sweater never came out of the drawer for the past two years. It made me sad everytime I spied it, because I knew it had a lot of life left in it.

What's a girl to do? Well, an idea came to me recently when we had to prune a branch off of our pecan tree. I plucked all the unripe pecans off of it and put them in one of my dyeing buckets. After snapping this photo, I bashed and bruised them with a wooden post (very cathartic, must say) and covered them with water to soak for a week.

I washed the sweater to make sure that it was as clean as it could be. And then when I was finally ready to start the dyeing, I soaked it in cool water for about an hour to make sure that the fibers were fully saturated.

Meanwhile, this is what had become of the soaking pecan hulls. The water had become a thickened, slightly frothy yellow-brown. Slow, fermenting soaks like this can have an "ick" factor. But I find them very earthy and satisfying, and so much easier than hot dyeing, when I have to haul heavy pots around on the stove. This just happens in buckets in a corner of my backyard.

For cold dyeing, especially with plant fibers, you typically need a long soak. The wet sweater went into the strained dye liquor and stayed in for almost two days, with repeated airings (which I'll explain below). During the daytime, I'd move it around every few hours to try to make the dyeing more even. During the nighttime, though, it would stay in one spot for 10-12 hours, so that some spots ended up darker than others. If I'd really wanted it to be even, I would've removed it at night. But, well, I relish the wabi-sabi quality of the uneven dyeing (and in real life, the variation does seem a bit softer).

The one thing I wish is that I had taken process photos of the dyeing. There is definitely something curious going on with the oxidation and pecan hull dye. Since I haven't seen anyone else write about it, you'll get my full description.

The dye liquor was yellowish to start, and in the first couple of hours of dyeing, the sweater was taking on a light yellow-brown hue, except for the underarms, which were turning orangeish (probably due to the aluminum salts in deodorant, which were basically an inadvertent mordant!). It was hideous.

I pulled the sweater out of the dyebath to reconsider, and while it was in the air, over the course of maybe an hour or so, the color of the sweater was transformed. It darkened, deepened, and became more reddish rather than yellowish. This was really a shock.

I've dyed with dozens of natural dyes -- leaves, flowers, barks, and bugs -- and the only other one that you see this kind of real-time, color-changing oxidation process with is indigo, which is in its own category of natural dye because the chemistry is so different (basically, the pigment needs to be in a reduced and alkaline solution in order to be in a dissolved form that can adhere to the fiber. You carefully lower the fiber into the bath so that you don't introduce air, and then when you remove it, and the pigment hits the air and oxidizes, the fiber turns from greenish-yellow to blue).

The process of repeated airings not only changed the color of the sweater, but over time it introduced a lot of air into the dyebath itself, and that became a darker reddish brown as well. It was fascinating. Wild and crazy times with natural dyeing!