Turning Off and Casting On

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t have a love/hate relationship with Facebook?

Over a year ago, my husband gave up Facebook. Since then, he’s written a book, finished several embroidery projects, read goodness-knows-how-many pages, completed P90X, and taken up stamp collecting. Until today, I remained on Facebook. I can barely keep my six geraniums alive, I’ve gained three kilos, my reading/attention span are in the dumps, and the house is littered with yarn ends that I tucked in, snipped, and never bothered to throw away.

So I’ve declared August a Facebook-free month. I’ll still be updating (at least theoretically) my Work Even and Balkanite pages. But my personal profile will be gone for a bit. I may stay off for longer than a month, or I may return in September. In the meantime, I need to refocus, give my eyes and neurons a break from social media, and buckle down on some projects that are very meaningful to me. For starters, I have two sleeveless tops on the needles that are nearly finished!

What are your feelings about social media? How has it added to– or taken away from– how you spend your time? Are you doing anything to unplug this summer?

Quickies: Beach Tank Duo

And now for something completely different.

 

Me IRL

A photo posted by huelo (@huelo) on

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m an all-wool-everything kind of knitter. As much as I love cashmere, my desert-island fiber would probably be Bluefaced Leicester. I love wool and not even particularly soft wool. Mohair is pretty neat, too.

When it’s hot, I’ll knit a little something in cotton or, preferably, linen. While I like the way the projects turn out, the process of knitting plant fibers is just not nearly as satisfying to me as working with wool. Obviously I’m not alone in this; wool is king for a pretty big swath of the knitting population.

The first time I was in Spain was in Seville, in April of 2015. It was already 80F in Seville, and the hot streets emptied every afternoon until dinner at 10pm. I, however, tracked down the only yarn boutique in Seville, found the lone basket of 100% Portuguese merino, and bought five skeins.

little bit of yarn haul: Portuguese merino

A photo posted by huelo (@huelo) on

On my most recent trip to the Iberian Peninsula, I wanted to “integrate” a little more, and I had to admit that wool just doesn’t cut it in a Spanish summer.

I’ve had my eye on Jess Schreiberstein‘s Beach Tank pattern since the thermostat climbed above seventy degrees. It’s the perfect summer knit: fast, simple, and somehow universally flattering (seriously, check out the project photos, everyone looks cute as hell).

These tanks are made with yarn I found at a huge department store in Madrid. The orange one is a prudent 100% cotton, but it’s held together with some novelty abomination that includes polymide. And I love it! The gray one has a little linen, but also viscose, polyester, and (gasp!) sequins. I also love it!

#beachtank in the flesh! Plus #nomakeup and #sweatyponytail because summer

A photo posted by huelo (@huelo) on

Wool is my first love, but I’m so happy I tried something I don’t usually go for. It’s nice to know that my tastes and experiences can still evolve after all these years of knitting.

The pattern calls for two light DK yarns held together, so the possibilities are pretty endless. I see at least a couple more of these in my future.

Do you have certain fibers you usually shun? Ever change your mind about a yarn or fiber that you previously didn’t like? Do you have a yarn “comfort zone?” Tell me about it in the comments!

 

 

Free Pattern: Bruntsfield Cowl! Plus Edinburgh Yarn Fest Highlights

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new Bruntsfield cowl in Daughter of a Shepherd Hebridean wool

One of the many perks of living in Europe: I was within reasonable proximity of the Edinburgh Yarn Fest! What an amazing treat to be surrounded by such talented crafters, and such beautiful wool, for a whole weekend.
Highlights: I took a class with Karie Westermann on pattern writing. Karie loaded us up with a ton of great information; she didn’t hold anything back. She also has a great teaching style: she’s organized, she’s encouraging of students, and she had prepared some handouts which I’ve found myself referring to a few times since the class. If you get a chance, definitely take one of her classes.
I saw some great people I already knew, including Sonya Phillips, Ysolda Teague, and Stephen West. I also met some people who I’ve been admiring from afar for awhile now: Bristol Ivy, Thea Colman, Kirsten Kapur, Anna Maltz, Tom van Deijnen, and (OMG sooo exciting) Cecilia Campochiaro. My husband and I both got to chat in-depth with Ellen Mason. What a rad lady. I love her laid-back style and I’m obsessed with her new smock pattern (I got to see her smocks in person and they are so frigging cute).
I was too chicken to introduce myself to Kate Davies. She just looked so unbelievably intimidatingly gorgeous at her booth, and she was undoubtedly quite busy the whole time.

My funds were limited, so I shopped very carefully. I spent a lot of time at the Black Bat Rare Breed Wool booth, and my big splurge was 3 skeins of Whistlebare 4ply (it was just so shiny and pretty!). The surprise sleeper hit of the fest was Rachel Atkinson’s Daughter of a Shepherd, made from her dad’s Hebridean sheep. The breed and the story are captivating enough on their own, and the yarn bewitched me (and a lot of other festival-goers) with its deep natural black color, fuzzy halo, and intoxicatingly sheepy aroma (there were a lot of yarn-huffers wandering around).

From one daughter of a shepherd to another: thanks, Rachel, for sharing your beautiful yarn with us, and I’m so glad I could meet you and chat with you.

I came home with a single treasured skein of DoaS, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. I wanted a project I could wear where everyone could see it, in a relaxed gauge that would allow the the fibers to lay flat and bloom a bit. For the Bruntsfield Cowl, I used a stitch pattern called Portcullis Stitch from Barbara Walker’s Second Treasury…, which doesn’t curl at the edges, and has an open-textured, almost crocheted look to it. Plus, it’s easy to memorize.

Bruntsfield Cowl

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Materials
1 skein Daughter of a Shepherd July 2015 Clip
1 pair 4.5mm (US #7) needles (or size needed to obtain gauge)
Waste yarn
1 4mm crochet hook (size isn’t super important, just something reasonably close to your needle size)
Extra needle one size bigger than knitting needles for 3-needle bind-off
Tapestry needle

Gauge: Approximately 25 stitches x 21 rows= 4” in Portcullis Stitch
Cowl measurements: 28” circumference and 10.5” wide
Notes: Cowl is knit flat, starting with a provisional cast-on. The cowl is finished by knitting the open stitches together with the cast-on edge, using the 3-needle bind off technique.

Abbreviations:
K: knit
P: purl
K2tog: knit 2 stitches together (1 stitch decreased)
SSK: Slip next 2 stitches as if to knit, slip them back to the left needle and knit these 2 stitches together (1 stitch decreased)
KYOK: knit 1, yarn over, knit 1 into same stitch (2 stitches increased)
SK2p: Slip 1 stitch as if to knit, knit next 2 stitches together, pass slipped stitch over (2 stitches decreased)
RS: Right Side
WS: Wrong Side

Cowl:
Using one-step provisional cast-on, waste yarn, crochet hook and main needles, cast on 65 stitches. Break waste yarn. Using working yarn, begin stitch pattern:
Row 1: [WS] P all stitches
Row 2: [RS] K2tog, KYOK, *SK2p, KYOK,* repeat **’s to last 2 stitches, SSK.

Repeat these 2 rows until work measures 28” from beginning edge. Repeat Row 2 once more.
Very carefully, remove waste yarn from beginning edge to expose open stitches. Place open stitches on size 7 needle. You should have 65 stitches on each needle. Turn work so that WS is facing out, with both edges of open stitches lined up side-by-side. Using extra needle and 3-needle bind-off method, knit both edges together.

Weave in ends and definitely wet-block! This yarn blooms and softens very nicely after being soaked in warm water. I added a splash of apple cider vinegar to the water.

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Emi says, “Thanks for the new bed”

Riff #1: Salt Spray Cowl

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snuggling up to the new cowl

I promised more free, easy patterns, and February seems like the perfect month to make good on that. There’s really not much going on, and despite this brief warm spell, real spring is probably still a ways away. Our cold snap ended awhile ago, but outside is muddy and covered in dog poop (seriously, Sofiantsi, clean up after your dogs). Since I work from home, the incentive to go out is at an all-time low.

Which makes this the perfect time for what I like to call “riffing.” Riffing, to me, means creating with an emphasis on quantity over ambition. Instead of devising elaborate, complicated designs, riffing might mean just fixating on one detail, maybe a really fun stitch pattern or a lovely yarn, and not really adding much else. The key to proper riffing is momentum. Bind off one project, and cast on your next project before the needles are cold. I usually find my riffs are enhanced by keeping really odd hours, watching the same movie over and over again, and probably wine.

Riffing is vital to my creative process, because I’m someone who succumbs to creative blocks very easily. Like many people, I’m irrationally afraid of failure. Sometimes I go months without making something original, because I’m afraid I’ll “waste” yarn on something that doesn’t turn out right. So this month has been Fearless February, with my only goal being to keep the momentum. I’m cranking it out, just for fun, without much of a plan.

Riffing, by the way, doesn’t have to mean knitting. You can go on your own riff, by writing, drawing, embroidering, scrapbooking, cleaning behind your appliances, really whatever the wine or coffee or tea or old movies tell you to do. Really, the only rule is to keep it up and have fun.

photo 1
Salt Spray Cowl

Since Christmas, gansey motifs have been my main riff fuel. They are trendy right now, maybe because they go so nicely with all the farm yarns that are finally getting the recognition they deserve. I adapted the stitch motif in my new Salt Spray Cowl from one of the many lovely charts in Dutch Traditional Ganseys.

The ripples in the gritty off-white reminded me of the bleakest winter of my existence, in northeastern Bulgaria in 2012. My Peace Corps apartment was on the first floor of a small concrete block, with enormous old windows that whistled at night. Any condensation that gathered inside the apartment froze solid to the inside of the windows. I used to have dreams that snow was falling on me in bed.

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photo by Stefan Vasilev Vasilev

link to photo

That year, a brutal ice storm hit the Black Sea coast, pushing the waves all the way up the beach to the shuttered bars and seafood grills, and freezing them in place. A friend and I took a walk on the Varna beach, admiring trash cans that had morphed into lumpy white stones, and lampposts heavy with salty stalactites.

The only break in the empty, frozen coastline was the Varna mineral springs, a teeming sulfurous haunt of barrel-chested old men. The regular bathers had decided that this, the coldest weekend of the year, was the perfect time for cleaning out the baths. Steam rose out of a break in the frozen seawater and icy rocks. About fifteen grandpas in speedos, wool beanies, and plastic sandals, were scrubbing the concrete pool, which had been drained down to about a foot of hot, slimy water. They were rosy and cheerful, shouting and working briskly, as if the ambient heat from the springs kept them warm but not that warm. I was awestruck by this show of industry, a group riff in its own way, putting those dark times to good use.

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like the hat? it’ll be in a future post!

Salt Spray Cowl

350-400 yds worsted weight yarn. (I used one skein of Green Mountain Green wool/mohair, and about ½ a skein of Abundant Earth Fiber Aviary).

24” circular needles in US #8

stitch marker

tapestry needle for bind off and weaving in ends.

Cowl measures 32″ around and 9 3/4″ deep from cast-on to bind-off.

Gauge: 13 1/2 stitches x 27 1/2 rows= 4″ in gansey stitch pattern

Cowl:

CO 105 stitches using long-tail method. PM and join in the round. Begin gansey stitch pattern at Round 1. Gansey stitch pattern can be worked on any multiple of 7 stitches:

Round 1: [p4, k3], repeat to end of round.

R2: [k4, p1, k1, p1], repeat to end of round.

R3: [k5, p1, k1], repeat to end of round.

Repeat Rounds 1-3 21 more times, or until desired length. Repeat R1 once more. Bind off with EZ’s cast-on-cast-off. Weave in ends and wet block (if you used a fluffy, halo-y yarn like I did, this step is not to be skipped!).

 

New Year’s Craft Resolutions: How’d I do?

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my 2015 in a nutshell

To tell the truth, I was seriously considering skipping this post. Is there anything more uncomfortable than looking back at your New Year’s resolutions at the end of the year? I had nearly forgotten what they were, since I made them last January, and I was afraid I’d open the old post and re-read it to find I’d totally failed at my goals.

Like most things, though, it wasn’t as stressful as I thought it’d be. I had been judicious in my choice of resolutions, and for the most part they were obtainable, and helped me grow as a crafter. So, how’d I do? I decided to assess my progress and give myself grades. Like they were back in my Peace Corps-teacher days, the grades are completely subjective and hastily decided on based on no numerical criteria whatsoever.

1. Stick to a Yarn Budget: B. At the beginning of the year, I resolved to spend no more than $35 per month on yarn. That works out to $420 per year. In fact, I came in under budget, at about $405! I found that this wasn’t a restrictive goal for me, and I probably could have pushed myself to be even more discriminating and spend less (although, when I look at everything I bought/knitted, I can’t imagine what I would have chosen to go without.) The state of my wallet after this exercise is middling, as usual, being as I am lazy about waged labor, and not much of a budgeter in general. But this resolution did help me consider my purchases more carefully, and reflect on the yarns that I like and am attracted to. I did very little magpie shopping in 2015. Instead, I bought almost entirely sweater quantities of yarn that I would not only definitely knit, but definitely wear.

This year, I’m not going to set a cap on my spending, although I’d like to spend less, maybe more like $300 for the year instead of $400. Instead, I’d like to knit from my stash before buying anything new. What I focused on in 2015 seemed to be sweater quantities, and I have the yarn for at least four sweaters sitting in my stash. I’d like to turn those piles into actual sweaters before buying anything new. I also want to give myself permission to be a tiny bit more frivolous, and experimental, with my yarn purchases. This means more single skeins of yarns I’ve never worked with before. So, in addition to knitting down my stash, the idea is to get maximum learning, and enjoyment, out of one or two skeins, instead of adding to my sweater collection.

2. Blog More: C+. This resolution was easily the one I was least successful at. I didn’t blog anywhere near once a week, let alone twice per week. However, I did publish a few posts, and a few designs, that I’m proud of, and that helped me grow tremendously as a writer (and a knitter).

I don’t know what my 2016 blogging goals are, exactly. Maybe I’ll never be the kind of blogger who posts multiple times per week, and that’s okay. The posts that I liked the best– and that generated the most heartening response– were long, and took me several days of work to finish. So, maybe I’m someone who gets, and gives, more as a writer when I give myself permission to write longer posts, but fewer of them. I won’t push myself to blog more often in 2016. What I will push myself to do is design more. This means more patterns, especially patterns like Toroni that will be easy, and available for free.

3. Define my color palette. A. Of all the resolutions, this one was the biggest success. It helps that it was fun. I love organizing my wardrobe, browsing photos and blogs for style inspiration, and navel-gazing about my own style and color choices.

Like I said a year ago, I’ll never be a head-to-toe neutrals kind of person. However, I’ve found it enormously liberating to narrow my color choices. In the past, I mistook “variety” for “style,” assuming it was necessarily boring to wear the same silhouettes, or the same colors, over and over again. 2015, though, was a big year for “capsule wardrobes,” minimalism, and “uniform dressing,” and I wasn’t immune to the bug. I found this blog extremely helpful in thinking about color, and started to conceptualize my look as radiating around a few main colors that I always love, that look good on me, and that can be combined nicely. For me, they’re dark blues, burnt oranges, tans and charcoals, with accents of pale pink, coral, and red.

colors

This doesn’t mean I’m only “allowed” to buy these colors. Rather, these are the colors I’ve always gravitated towards, and I’ve given myself permission to honor that whenever I feel like it. If it means having a pile of accessories and sweaters that are all orange, why not? The color gets me compliments and makes me feel great. Same with navy or marine blue. Since making this switch, I’m finding it easier to let go of old clothes that aren’t working for me anymore, to resist impulse purchases that I know won’t fit my aesthetic, and to wear what I do own and love more often, and in more combinations.

books

4. Grow my library. A. Fun fun fun. Budgeting more money, and time, for good books has been an investment in my creativity, knowledge, and well-being. I added about a dozen books to my craft library this year, thanks in part to my awesome stepfather who works at Powell’s Books (if you’re ever there, go to the 4th floor and say hi to John!). My most recent additions have been Dutch Traditional Ganseys (so many knits and purls!!!), by Stella Ruhe, and 200 Fair Isle Motifs (such a beautiful book, and so intuitively organized!), by Mary Jane Mucklestone. Next on my list: this one and this one.

How’d everyone else do for their 2015? Any new goals for 2016?

Feeding Refugees in Fortress Europe

my latest venture, knitting for refugees. You can help.
my latest venture, knitting for refugees. You can help.

 

This weekend, my husband and I went with Act!on Food to a stopping point for refugees, to provide free food, tea, donations of warm clothes, and basic first aid. You can read Act!on Food’s tumblr post for more info on logistics. The five of us volunteered for two nights shifts in a row, from 10pm to 6am. Here are some things that happened.

photo from Act!on Food
photo from Act!on Food

 

We heard plenty of stories about police violence, and saw ample evidence of same. Most of the refugees were boys aged 16 to 20, from Afghanistan. A nice fellow with nerdy glasses and a big smile showed me his fat lip where he’d taken a stick to the face several days before. Another guy had scabbed-over dog bites on his wrist and ankles. There were lots of crushed purple fingernails, apparently from one particular police force’s special technique for forcibly taking fingerprints.

Afghans do not like oatmeal, and they claim to not like cinnamon in their tea, although if I snuck some in while they weren’t looking they seemed to like it just fine.

I learned that Bulgarian and Pashto share a surprising number of cognates. Conveniently for us, two of them were “soup” and “socks.” The popular hangover cure here in Bulgaria is a thin, tangy, beef tripe soup called shkembe chorba. As I served up vegan lentils on Friday night, a group of guys getting soup were talking in Pashto and I heard them say “shkembe chorba” repeatedly. “Shkembe chorba?” I asked them. They looked at me and laughed. “You mean beef tripe? This?” I motioned to my stomach and mooed like a cow. The guys went absolutely nuts, clapping and laughing.

photo from Act!on Food.

 

A young man was helped to our tent by some friends with worries that his leg was broken. He and a large group had jumped two stories to avoid being captured by police. The red cross tent was closed since it was very late, so I called an ambulance. The dispatcher listened to my request, and then without warning, transferred me to someone who began interrogating me. He asked if I was a journalist, why was I calling, was I with an NGO, what nationality I was. I asked if they were really sending an ambulance and when he confirmed that they were I hung up. The ambulance came surprisingly fast, in about ten minutes. An hour later some police rolled by, asking us questions. I wonder if the person who questioned me was a police officer.

Saturday night, even at a refugee checkpoint, can still be festive. Once they got soup and tea, plenty of young men just stood around by our tent, smoking, sharing stories. A few who spoke English ended up hanging out with us all night, which helped to pass the time and was extremely helpful to us. Lots of them asked us which country they should go to. We didn’t know how to respond but gave them a card with websites and resources on it.

Both nights, we saw one young man who smiled a great deal. He didn’t speak English and had a bandage on his face. Someone told us that he’d gotten his document already, which gave him the right to travel to the next checkpoint. This document can be had quickly, if you have money. Those who can’t pay might wait two or three days, sleeping outside and eating nothing but the lentil soup, bananas, and tea that us grubby leftists are handing out. There were rumors of people in the checkpoint, who were helping other people navigate the system to get their documents faster, in exchange for money. The guy with the bandage, someone told us, was doing it for free. He was free to go but decided to stay a couple extra days to help out other refugees.

The guy with the bandage sat next to our tent for a few hours on Saturday night, playing Afghan pop music from his phone. Some guys bobbed absentmindedly while they talked, a few sang along. A teenager who spoke English jokingly scolded, “This isn’t the time for dancing! It’s the time for crying!” But he smiled as he said it.

One guy we met had been an interpreter for the US Army. He spoke perfect English and told my husband and I that he was “glad to see Americans again!” He was very nice, and stayed for awhile to translate for us. He asked us if we knew which country in Europe would help him. We didn’t know. He told us that he left Afghanistan after someone from the Taliban threatened him. He didn’t go into detail, but the threat was serious enough that he left then and there, without going home to say goodbye to his family. He felt it would be safer if he didn’t.

During one busy period, a man came up to the side of the tent and got my husband’s attention. He handed him a bag of Afghani flatbread. The only bread we had was European-style white bread. We put out the bag of flatbread and it was gone in minutes.

Another refugee pressed a ten euro bill into Lorenzo’s hand, insisting he take it. We donated it to the volunteer group we were collaborating with, who will use it towards rent for their cooking space.

Plenty of people had harsh criticism for the Taliban. Lorenzo met two Kurdish men from Iraq. He overheard one of them say the name of the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, as the two men were talking to each other. Upon mention of his name, both men scowled and stomped their feet on the ground, cursing him.

I learned some basic first aid skills from another volunteer. I watched her rinse someone’s eye, after he was scratched by a tree branch. She washed her hands, put on gloves, and stepped out of the tent with a plastic cup of warm water. She asked the guy to lie in the street, where the streetlight was brightest so she could see what she was doing. The most common ailments were sore legs from running in the mountains, diarrhea from eating too much soup after a few days without a meal, and hands and feet that were cracked and swollen from dry skin and overuse. One person’s foot was particularly bad, after walking a long ways in old tennis shoes with no socks. Another young man translated for him, and washed his foot with warm water and a clean, disposable diaper that we gave him. The diaper gave everyone a laugh. Then the volunteer covered his foot with diaper rash cream, bandaged his toes, and gave him clean new socks.

I saw plenty of people without warm socks, coats, or hats. Many had blankets wrapped around their shoulders. A 16 year-old boy named Bilal spent lots of time with us at our tent. He was very sweet and spoke good English. He was skinny, and all he had was a thin turtleneck sweater and a peacoat that was much too big for him. He turned down the food we offered, but stayed to talk with us. Finally, one volunteer convinced Bilal to take a coat from our donation box, a sporty ski jacket with a hood. He thanked us, but offered the jacket to a man who was shivering, to drape over his knees. The next morning, though, we saw Bilal in his new jacket, smiling and looking much warmer. A volunteer sat him down in a chair, and despite his objections, forced a cup of soup and a few bread slices into his hands. We all snuck glances and noted that he was eating happily.

If you want to help, I’m knitting warm hats to bring to the checkpoint next time we go. With every purchase of something from my new shop, Balkanite, I’ll knit one item to donate. If you just want to donate a hat, you can do that too.

WANT: Lora’s amazing hand-dyed sweater

My dear friend Lora Angelova, who introduced herself on Ravelry, is one of my knitting role models. Not only does she have impeccable taste, but one look at her Ravelry projects and you can tell she’s someone who sweats the details, which I really admire. Every one of her projects is beautifully finished and fits perfectly. Take a look at her most recent FO and you’ll see what I mean.

lora_dessinemoiunmouton

Lora modeling her masterpiece
Lora modeling her masterpiece

The pattern is one I’ve loved for awhile, called Dessine-Moi Un Mouton. The designer describes it as “something cropped to wear over my everyday uniform of leggings and long tops,” which is already pretty irresistible.

DessineMoiUnMouton-21
original pattern photo from La Maison Rililie

Lora, though, really went deep with her version of Dessine-Moi un Mouton: she dyed the yarn for the stripes herself, using 100% plant-based dyes (and apparently, some strawberry-flavored high-fructose corn syrup, LOVE).

lorasweater4

Happily for the rest of us, Lora took beautiful photos of the entire process, and documented her work throughout on her Rav project page.

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all photos courtesy of Lora Angelova, used with permission

Lora is a scientist who specializes in art restoration. Her writing is featured in the latest issue of Pom Pom Quarterly, where she talks about her job as something called a “Heritage Chemist.” Awesome!