I manage to screw up a baby sweater. And fall in love. And have my heart broken. So. A big week for me.
Roses ’round the front door and a stream in the garden? Yes, I fell hard for this one. Don’t get attached. It’s gone. The listing is here.
The Toasty Mitten and Hat Set, by Kate Atherley looks like the warmest mitten imaginable.
You’ll find a good selection of iconic Welsh blankets here.
Please enjoy this thing I forgot to mention in the podcast that is very British, and made me laugh: A Totally Objective Ranking of Every Local Authority Logo in Britain Hat tip, to Katie, for sharing.
166: Exquisite Corpse
IN THIS EPISODE: A baby sweater gone wrong. Why? They are small, how do you even have time to screw that up? How? I don’t even know! I’m reknitting most of it, and it’s a gift so I am freaking out about the timeline. Plus, love at first site.
Greetings, knitsib! How ya doin? I am well.This week I’ve been working on several projects, and thinking about life, and growth and change, and, unsurprisingly, home. I have much to share with you today.
First up, the yarn I shared images of last week are mini skein sets by Etsy seller TuMekeYarn. One of the sets was a one of a kind, and featured two shades of teal, a dark purple, a hot pink and a soft grey. The second set, Autumn Rainbow, contained orange, yellow, green, blue, violet and indigo. The yarn is super wash merino, and is in the process of becoming toddler sweaters for grandchildren. I cast on the first for my grandson, David, because that one has to get mailed fairly quickly if it’s to make it to the US in time for Christmas.
That means, I guess, holiday knitting has officially begun. I’ve scaled my knitting projects way back the past couple of years, for a number of reasons really, the main one being that handmade gifts take a lot of time, and time is finite, and man, or woman in this case, is mortal, and our time here is brief, and wow, that got dark very quickly.
Point being, when I’m making something, for myself, or for someone else, I need to be in the process of the project with my whole heart. It’s not about the worthiness of the recipient of the gift. It’s about the time itself that I give to the project being worthy. And I using my time well? Is this how I want to spend my time? These are the questions I ask myself before taking on a new project.
The adorable mini skeins are in the process of becoming adorable toddler sweaters. The pattern I’m using is called Skyscrapa. It’s a free pattern, by Madelaine Linderstam, and I’ll link to that in the show notes. The garment is a top down raglan, with a stranded design worked below the yoke on the body and the sleeves. The stranded pattern is a four stitch repeat, and it’s really just a stripe variation over ten rows, where two colours are worked in 2 columns for several rows. So you work in colour a and colour b, for five rows, then drop a, and work in b and c, then drop b, and so on. It’s a simple and effective design, totally cute. There is a main colour in this design, and it’s the colour you begin with. The main colour requires more yarn than the 270 metres in a mini skein, but happily I was able to find two skeins for these projects that work really well with the minis in my stash.
There are six minis in the set, and I thought I really only needed four of them, but after I completed the body it looked too short to me. David is a big boy. He looks so much like his father did at that age. I was worried the sweater would be too small too quickly, and what is the point of all that time if the kid wears it for a month? I knew I had to make the garment longer. I was also really not happy with the colourwork choices. See, this is how you screw up a tiny garment. You make choices too quickly, and you don’t swatch, and it all ends in tears.
I began with the strongest contrast in the set, and worked my way through the pattern, pairing the yarns with regards to the greatest contrast and that were complementary if possible. So, red with green, Orange with blue, etc. And it was only just okay. When I realised it needed to be longer, and I was down to the last two minis in the set, and I wished that I had paid more attention to the order of the colours, because the last two did not work at all.
The main colour is malabrigo rios, super wash worsted, in colour way Jupiter, which is a sort of orange red. I used this same yarn for the Cat Bordhi Anemone Hat that I knit for myself last year. I bought two skeins, and the hat only took one. The colour is really nice with the mini skein set, and also rounds out the rainbow.
After the yoke, I began working one of the arms, using the same order of colours as I had on the body of the garment. Why? I think was down to sunk cost. I had already knit the body, and the lower ribbing and bound off, and I decided I could live with the results, even though you and I both know that was not going to happen. I was probably four colours into the arm when I realised that not only were the colour choice on the body unlovley, the stranded section pulled in a bit, so that it was narrower than the single colour yoke. If you look at projects page for this garment you can see this is a problem with a lot of the finished objects, and I knew this going in, I used needles a half size larger, and they were not large enough. And this is why I ripped everything back to the yoke. I know, I should have swatched. But a kid’s sweater is so small, I tend to think of them as the swatch.
This of course gave me a chance to reorder the colours in the standard roygbiv rainbow. As I knit I worried about the yellow and orange being very very close in value, and I did wish the green a little lighter and brighter, but overall I am quite pleased with the garment this second time around.
The magic of traditional colourwork is that the foreground colours and background colours are often quite close in value, so the stitches seem to blur in specific places of the pattern, and that is what’s happening in the reworked Skyskrapa now. And I very cleverly took pics of version 1 before I ripped it out, so there are before and after images of this sweater in the shownotes. So have a look, and see what you think.
The second set of minis are for the exact same sweater, for Lilly, and this set is in the nameless colour way that is a one of a kind, and a mix of all the pink and purple and teal colours that Lilly loves. When Lilly was born I swore to myself that I was not going to knit anything pink for my granddaughter, because I just don’t buy into that pink is for girls, blue is for boys nonsense. I have decided to concede this argument, because it’s not a hill I’m prepared to die on. Lillie’s mummy loves pink, and I remember I went through quite a pink phase myself during my misspent youth. So Grandma will knit as many pink sweaters as Lilly would like to wear.
Now that the colours are sorted, progress on David’s sweater is going along at a good clip. I began the yoke last Sunday afternoon, and managed to get most of the yoke completed by bedtime. I probably could have finished the yoke in a single afternoon, but I was making sourdough bread at the same time, and there were interruptions. I made it to the final colour change last night, as I was watching telly, and will be on to the sleeves this weekend. I managed this, even with the colour change and the tight deadline, largely because I didn’t choose stupidly fine yarn for this project. And if there is one take away from this project it is this: don’t knit for kids using fingering weight yarn.
My yarn weight rules are as follows: For babies, fingering weight is fine. If you must. But they will grow out of it so quickly you will wonder why you bothered. Between the ages of birth and five, DK to worsted is your friend. After five, I just don’t know. You tell me. Do kids want to wear hand knits after the age of five. If so, then Aran weight is the next logical step. Surely by the age of ten they’ll be completely over the lovingly hand made by grandma stage of clothing. I’m kind of thinking they’ll come round again when they’re in college, and that is when you break out the lopi.
I’m also knitting a couple of hats or socks for David and Lilly’s parents, but these are the only holiday projects. And they’re all small, so that’s good. And here is your annual reminder that you don’t have to knit gifts if you don’t want to.
That said, Kate Atherly released a new mitten pattern this week that comes with a hat. It’s called the Toasty Mitten and Hat set and it’s knit with a strand of fingering weight and one strand of a soft and fluffy lace weight. And there is a lining worked just in the lace weight. These babies look incredibly warm and I can imagine they will be extra soft inside.
I have yet to knit a single pair of mittens. Wait. Is that true? It feels true, because it’s just not cold enough in Wales for mittens. For the Minnesota branch of my family, Toasty mittens might be just the ticket. Yes, I did just say that I am not knitting many gifts this year, because I think time is going to be at a premium through the winter, but I might knit a pair of these mittens for my Mom, as her birthday is in January.
I’m also looking longingly at some project kits I’ve created from stash, for things to add to my own capsule wardrobe this winter. I am wearing the heck out of my Graerrup vest/waistcoat. Vests are just so easy to knit, and when the colourwork is kept below the armscye, you get a lot of very impressive looking knitting, with relatively little trouble.
Lately I’ve been looking at some colourwork stitch patterns I created ages ago, based on the traditional Welsh double weave, or tapestry blankets. I’ll pop a picture of these in the show notes, and some links to a few Welsh companies that are still weaving these blankets in the old way. I think some of the traditional motifs would work really well for stranded knitting, as they’re all quite geometric.
I’ve been thinking quite a bit these past ten days or so about Welsh history and heritage and Welsh textiles because, as it happens, Tonia and were at the Welsh Wool Museum on Wednesday. The museum is in a small village called Drefach Felindre, and we were there to look at a house. It was our first in-person viewing – we’ve only been looking at houses online – and this house was the first house I’d seen in two months of looking that felt worth going to see in person.
It’s a traditional stone cottage, with a slate roof, and actual roses growing around the front door. and they were still in bloom, in November. Could have used a good pruning, actually. Inside, the rooms were tiny, and we knew this from the images online. We thought it would be a good idea to go and see a proper Welsh cottage with very tiny rooms, to see if we could live in one. It was one of those cottages right on the street. The front door opened into the lounge. There was a small wall beside the door that could sort of act as an entry, which is on my wish list for the next place. A front entry, some sort of hall. Just a little transition from inside to outside. The front room was, predictably, very small but it had a working inglenook fireplace. There was a place for Tonia’s office on the street level, just beyond the lounge in a sort of wide hallway that had a window overlooking the garden. There were a couple of bedrooms on the next floor up, and then up at the very top, and a converted loft, or attic, that could have become my studio.
On the lowest level there was a sort of basement kitchen, with no windows, but the room did get a lot of natural light from the dining room, which had gorgeous wood floors and large sliding glass doors that looked over the garden. And just outside the sliding glass doors? A stream. An actual stream just outside the door. You had to cross a bridge to get into the garden. No garage, but there was a shed at the end of the garden for Tonia.
The estate agent didn’t know the date it was built, but I’m guessing early Victorian, maybe even 1840’s, because the ceilings were low with open beams everywhere, and the rooms were really small. The first owner of the house was the local cobbler, whose shop was just a short walk away in the village. There was a slate plaque on the wall, with a man’s name and his birth and death dates. Kind of hard to see behind the climbing roses. I took a picture and we looked up the name when we got home. Turns out, he was a bard. And actual bard. A winner of the Welsh Eisteffodd for his poetry and recitation. We couldn’t find much more about him than that, because everything written about him was in Welsh.
It was, in short, the perfect house, in the perfect village, and I fell completely in love with this house in approximately 30 minutes. To be honest, I knew there was a high probability of falling in love with this house, just from the pictures. I was so excited to see it in person.
After the viewing, Tonia and I walked through the village, and we talked about things like flood risk from the stream in the garden. We stopped someone walking a dog to ask about places to walk dogs. Apparently there is a network of footpaths in the hills around the village. We popped into the whole food shop, and bought a loaf of fresh bread, and we walked as far as the wool museum, and had a good look at the village.
On the ride home and into the evening we discussed the house at length. Tonia was worried about the practicalities. The number of stairs and our advancing years, of course, flood risk. I was sold on the place before we’d left the garden. I was already knocking through walls in my head to create a master bedroom suite, and an upstairs laundry cupboard, and space for clothing. I was arranging our furniture in my head, realising the wardrobe is probably too tall for those low ceilings. I was deciding between fitted carpets in some rooms, or bringing those old wood floors back to life, and buying some really good rugs. Mentally redesigning two of the staircases that are generally well built, but very poorly designed. I don’t want to be the design snob, but for goodness sake, don’t let your builder design things. Unless you have a Geraint in your life, builders are generally good at building, and pretty bad at design. That’s all I’m saying.
By the end of the day, Tonia had researched a couple of companies specialising in flood risk mitigation solutions. The house has never flooded, but with climate change you do have to think about these things. And we decided to make an offer on the house the very next day. I rang the estate agent at 9 am, on the dot, to find that someone else had already made an offer the day before, that had been accepted. I offered more money, and the agent said he’d pass along my offer, but he rang back a few minutes later, and said the buyer whose offer had been accepted had already sold his house, and the seller was eager to move. It wasn’t about the money for him. He just wanted to go.
I cried for two days. Not all the time, obviously, but my heart did break a little. There was something about this particular house, in this village, that the loss of touched me deeply. It wasn’t logical or practical. I had an utterly romantic notion of this house in my head, with Tonia and I being the most recent links in the chain of occupancy that began with the village cobbler, included a bard, and eventually a doctor, who happens to be selling quickly in order to move back to London. All that history, and I was so hoping that Tonia and I would be a part of it. I wasn’t thinking we’d be plaque on the wall people, just another in a long line of unremarkable people, quietly living out their lives in this small stone cottage. I still get a little misty just thinking about it.
There is something in my notion of what constitutes home that is different from Tonia’s. We’ve talked about this in the days since we viewed the cottage. Tonia liked the house, but she didn’t love it. Yesterday I asked her if she had ever fallen in love with a house, and her answer was brief and to the point: No. She is not a person who falls in love with houses, and it rather surprised me to discover that not everyone is. It’s a bit like being a kid and your family feels normal, until you meet other kid’s families. what can I say, I am a lover of houses, and I can’t be the only one.
If you are a person who falls in love with houses, then you understand the deep longing, and the ephemeral idea of home that’s in one’s head that is satisfied by bricks and mortar, or stone, and slate, or timber frame and clapboard siding, arranged in a way that speaks to you, draws you in, and delights you. And if you’ve ever hunted for a house in which to live, and found The One, you understand the gut punch that is being told you cannot have the house that, for you, satisfies your every notion of what constitutes a perfect dwelling.
I was talking with Geraint about this yesterday and he posited that falling for a house is a bit like an infatuation, in the early stages of a relationship, when you don’t really know the other person and you project all your fantasies upon them. The day to day reality of relationship with another human being is not at all like one’s projected fantasy. And as he said that, I realised that he was right. You see why Geraint and I are friends. He’s like a very wise, and annoying little brother.
The cottage was charming, and losing it was disappointing, but my fantasy of the place was simply that. A life projected onto this particular canvas, in a small Welsh village. I looking back on this past week I realise I went a bit mental over the place, and so I’ve let it go, happy that I had a chance to see in side, and wishing the new owner joy and a happy life in his new home.
The marvellous and ordinary history of this house will continue without Tonia and I, and Pendre Cottage will live in my heart until we find the house in west Wales that we know is out there, somewhere, waiting. Waiting for us to arrive and move some walls, create an upstairs laundry cupboard, tear out a hideous kitchen, or redesign an awkward staircase.
Later last week, when I was finished weeping bitter tears over a house I will never own, which seems ridiculous to me even as I say the words aloud, my friend, Laura reminded me of that game called cadaver rex key, which is French for exquisite corpse. This is a collaborative parlour game,, in which players begin drawing a body on a sheet of paper, which they then fold to conceal what they have drawn, and pass it on to the next player. At the end of the game you unfold the paper to reveal the exquisite corpse. It was invented in 1925 in Paris by the surrealists Yves Tanguy, Jacques Prévert, André Breton and Marcel Duchamp. Laura suggested that we play this game to create an idea of our exquisite house instead.
Tonia and I sat together at the table with a large sheet of paper and played our own version of the game, with inspiration gleaned from A Pattern Language, by Chris Alexander. Together we drew a house made of circles, to represent different zones of a house. A large circle for the public zones that included the kitchen, the dining room, the living room. We drew a couple more circles off the main circle to represent the master bedroom suite, the marital zone, our private space. A few more circles to indicate areas where guests could stay and be comfortable. Because we love it when people come to stay. All of my best friendships formed over the last two decades have happened because I said at some point, why don’t you come and stay? We drew two circles for work zones, placed as far away from each other within the house as it was possible to place them.
We sat at the table talking about houses for what seemed like hours. On the margins of our exquisite bubble house, we sketched floor plans of houses we’ve seen online, or those particular to a specific area.
The bubbles and sketches that comprised our exquisite corpse are largely indecipherable to anyone else, and we know this because we tried to show the paper to a real estate agent, and it was very clear from the puzzled look on her face that she had no idea what she was looking at. The agent’s name is Amy, and we signed the papers with her yesterday morning, to get the ball rolling and get our house on the market. I don’t mind saying that I am a woman who falls in love with houses, but looking at house hunting as a series of infatuations, and not great loves, will make the process easier, I think, in the weeks to come.
On of the happy accidents of not podcasting last week, is that I get to wish my colonial cousins in the US a very happy Thanksgiving week. If you’re a long time listener you know that secular pie eating week is the US holiday I miss the most. My friend, Katie, is coming from London this year for the feast, which has become something of a tradition. And Geraint will be here as well, to finish painting the house and hanging the new garage door, and then joining us for the feast.
That’s it from me this week. Except of course for my heartfelt thanks to Patrons, for supporting my work, and to welcome Leigh Anne, Kathryn, Cynthia, Boyd, Eliot, and Cheryl into the fold. I don’t know what I said in the last episode that made six people sign up this week, but whatever it was, let’s pretend I’m saying it again now. It was really lovely to see so many new people this week. Thank you all. I know I owe a few welcome messages to my new patrons, I plan on catching up over the coming long weekend.
Thanks, as well, to you my dear knitsib, for squandering another perfectly good half hour here with me. Where ever you are this weekend, I hope it feels like home to you. I’ll be back with more of knitting and nonsense the first week in December, and until then, if you’re cold, put on a sweater. That’s what they’re for.