Botanicals

japanhydrangeasview

What you are looking at is hydrangea flowers above Kawaguchiko, in the the foothills of Mt. Fuji. I took this picture in July 2003, the summer I spent living in a Buddhist monastery in Japan. All the books about Buddhism that I’d read for my religious studies classes in college said that you needed to practice meditation seriously in order to really understand what it was about, so I decided to go do that for awhile. The monks and nuns gave us western acolytes one day off a week to explore the surrounding countryside, and on one of those days my friend Naberay and I took the bus to the nearest town, which was Kawaguchiko.

I’m showing you this because I’ve just finished knitting my mother’s Christmas present, and the colors of the yarn reminded me of nothing so much as those Kawaguchiko hydrangeas. Observe:

hydraneascarf

The hydrangeas were literally everywhere. Naberay and I took a gondola to the top of a small mountain in the shadow of Mt. Fuji and hiked back down, among hundreds and hundreds of these flowers. The picture below will give you a sense of the scope, but blue predominates in this particular patch in a way that doesn’t match this scarf quite as exactly:

japanhydrangeasme

That’s me down there, surrounded on all sides by hydrangeas. So you can understand why they have been burned into my brain, and why this particular range of blues and purples would bring them instantly to mind.

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Here’s a shot where you can see the stitch pattern of the scarf more clearly. The yarn is Malabrigo Silky Merino, a 51% silk, 49% merino wool yarn. The folks at Malabrigo call this colorway “atardecer,” which is Spanish for “dusk,” which certainly makes sense, but I’m going to call this project “Hydrangea Scarf” on Ravelry for obvious reasons. It’s a La Novia scarf — yet another pattern by Anne Hanson, whose work I cannot get enough of. The pattern is a little tricky, partially because there is patterning on both right- and wrong-side rows (so I had to remember how to read a chart backwards for the wrong side), and partially because it contains the dreaded p2tog tbl stitch — but after the first couple of times through the pattern repeat, I got the hang of it. For the first night or two I needed to do a lot of looking at the chart, which is annoying because I do all my knitting in front of the TV, but once I got used to it, this pattern just flew by. I was a little worried that the Silky Merino yarn would be too slippery to hold the shape of the pattern, but it turned out perfectly. The scarf is not even blocked in these photos, and I’m not sure that I’m going to block it at all — I think my mom will like the density that it’s got now, and she’s not really in the market for a particularly open, airy scarf anyway.

I’ve also gotten started on this hat for my brother:

botanichatwip

It’s a reversible Botanic Hat by Stephen West, an up-and-coming designer of knitwear at least theoretically aimed at men. I say “theoretically” because not too many guys I know are eager to wear shawls, no matter how manly the color choices are. But I like this hat a lot, and I like the reverse side even more (which you’ll get to see next time), and I think it’s exactly the sort of thing my brother will like. The yarn is Malabrigo Merino Worsted, in the “marron oscuro” and “vaa” colorways.

Co-starring in this picture are Sprouty and Sprouty Jr, two baby sunflowers that I am currently trying to grow from a “grow-your-own-sunflower” kit that Pat won in a game of dominoes about three years ago. Pat is preternaturally good at dominoes; my friends and I more or less all learned the game at the same time (about three years ago), and from that very first day Pat has won about 90% of our games. Now, dominoes is not a very complicated game, and the strategy seems pretty straightforward to me, but the sheer number of his victories indicates that Pat must be operating on a strategic level far beyond my comprehension. This sunflower kit had been sitting on our kitchen table for several months, having resurfaced when Pat moved in with me in April, and finally one day last week I decided to plant the suckers. I had a streak of bad luck with plants when I first moved to southern California after having a pretty green thumb back east; I chalked it up to the dry climate and my inability to remember to water them as much as they needed, but I gave up on plants altogether back then. About three years ago I inherited a peace lily from my ex who was moving away, and I’ve managed to keep it alive since then only because it’s a very hardy and very forgiving plant. Like Holly Golightly and her cat without a name, I’ve been reluctant to name this peace lily partially because I feel like it’s just a stray that I happen to be looking after and partially because I’m afraid that if I do, it’ll up and die on me. But back east I was a big plant-namer, and I’ve already gone and named the Sprouty brothers, and watching them grow is starting to remind me of the joys of gardening, so there may soon be more green friends in my life. We’ll see.

Brown and Orange

damson2

My Damson is finished! It’s quite a fast knit, and very easy, but it got sidelined while I was working on Matthew’s scarf (which I’ll show you in a minute) and got started on my Christmas knitting. As every knitter knows, if you don’t start your Christmas knitting in October you are going to run into trouble in December. But I resurrected it this week for my knitting circle, because it was the project that lent itself most to socializing-while-knitting, and I got close enough to finishing that I shelved my Christmas knitting for a day or two in order to do the edging and block it. Here it is blocking, and kind of reminding me of the Millennium Falcon:

damsonblocking

It fit perfectly on my Knit Picks modular blocking boards, which was handy. The forward-curving points make it very wearable; it seems like it might stay put without a pin provided one wasn’t doing anything too strenuous. Observe:

damson1

I guess I’m sort of holding it here, but you can see how nicely it curves over the shoulders. All in all I was very happy with this pattern, another gem from Ysolda. It was easy to knit, but you do need to pay attention, especially in the beginning, to make sure that your YOs line up — precisely because the pattern’s so easy, there’s a high danger of spacing out about them. I read several reports on Ravelry of people needing to start over two or three times, and I laughed smugly to myself, imagining they must be shawl-n00bs who didn’t understand the garter-stitch-tab cast-on or something, but then I messed up the damn YOs (after executing a perfect garter-stitch-tab) and had to start over twice myself. And you needn’t fear if you’ve never done the garter-stitch-tab cast-on, by the way — Ysolda provides very clear instructions! This would actually be an excellent first shawl for the lace-curious.

damson3

The yarn is Malabrigo Sock in the Arbol colorway, which I was very happy with. Which is good, because as you may remember, when I went to buy the yarn for this shawl I “accidentally” came home with three skeins of Malabrigo Sock in three different colors.

damson4

Here I am demonstrating to you how well this shawl matches my skirt, which was my devious plan all along. When I saw this skein in the store, I knew instantly that there was a place for it in my wardrobe. I was intending to make it in a brown/gold, but the brown/gold/green was better than I could have hoped for!

I also finished Matthew’s scarf last week; here it is lying seductively on my patio table:

mattscarf4

I took this picture on a cloudy day, but the color came out fabulously. Sometimes the beating southern California sun is actually detrimental to photography, I think. This was knit in Shibui Knits Merino Worsted, which was very soft and springy. I ended up knitting this on US 9s, I believe, after swatching with 7s (which the ball band recommended), deciding the fabric was too stiff, and then starting the scarf with 8s and still feeling like it was too stiff & dense. But maybe I shouldn’t have worried, because the fabric relaxed a lot with blocking, resulting in a lovely, drapy, soft scarf. Matthew got to meet his scarf when he was in town last weekend — it was finished being knit but not finished being blocked, but we got a few pictures nonetheless:

mattscarf1

Pat & I took him to our favorite taqueria, El Granjenal on 19th street in Costa Mesa. Above, Matthew is greeting the minorly notorious mural that decorates the side of the taqueria, and looking dapper in his scarf and jacket.

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Aaand here we see why the mural is minorly notorious. The guy in the hat beckons to you, the viewer, as if to say “hey, man, check it out!”. The ladies to the left of Matthew used to be fully nude, until about a year ago when they got string bikinis — I guess somebody complained.

(Last Year’s) Christmas Knitting

I have made the objectively poor decision to knit for my family again for Christmas this year. I’m about 95% sure that they don’t read this blog — they know of its existence, but they think the whole concept of a knitting blog is a little nuts — but before I go blithely posting shots of their presents in progress, I thought I would regale you with tales of what I knit for them last year. Family, if you’re out there, please leave a comment or forever hold your peace. If I don’t hear from you in a week or so, I’m going to start spoiling surprises here.

Last year was the first year I attempted to knit gifts for my family members, despite having been knitting for about five years. Gift knitting, as many of you know, is risky business — you put zillions of hours into a project, and if it’s just a little bit outside of the recipient’s tastes, it never gets worn and you both feel kinda awkward about it. So last year I sent my family members a survey asking them what sort of knitted articles they would wear, what fibers they prefer, and what colors they like. Here’s what I made:

mikescarf1

My brother asked for a scarf, since he’d never really had one before. We were both raised more or less scarf-free, despite the freezing east-coast winters — our family just never really owned or wore them. When I went away to college in upstate New York, though, I made friends with scarves real fast. My brother had started to hear rumors that there was a way to keep the wind from freezing your neck in the winter, though, and was interested to try one. He left the color choice up to my “artistic decision,” so I figured Noro was about as artistic as you can get. This is a Noro Striped Scarf, where 2 different Noro Silk Garden colorways are striped together. One of the colorways I chose was basically shades of gray, to avoid competition with the more colorful yarn and to stay sufficiently muted so that a heterosexual man could wear the scarf and still feel reasonably heterosexual. I think I succeeded pretty well, and he seemed to like it.

My dad asked for a hat and informed me that he was allergic to wool, so I made him this:

dadhat1

It’s a Catawampus Cap, but I kind of messed up the mosaic pattern — it was supposed to be more pointy. But I still think it looks fine. I knit it out of Caron Simply Soft, which is basically the only acrylic yarn I recommend — it really is soft, and not at all scratchy or plasticy like most acrylics. The hat is here modeled by Pat, who is very patient with my various knitting needs. In the background you can see my erstwhile bed, which I painted myself and referred to as my “Leafy Bower,” which is a halfassed Keats reference. When Pat moved in we needed a larger bed, so we dismantled the Leafy Bower and bought an identical unfinished bed in a larger size from Ikea and painted it together in dark blue with an array of gold stars. It’s pretty awesome, guys. In fact, I may as well show you a picture of it while we’re on the subject.

starbed

The flash makes the blue look a little brighter than it in fact is; it’s not quite so 5-year-old-boy blue, I swear. After a lot of trial and error, we decided that the technique that was going to give us the coolest stars was spraypaint & stencils, so there you go.

Anyhow — my mom never responded to my damn gift survey, so rather than make her a garment that she might not like or ever wear, I decided to make her a thing to decorate the house.

hempdoily2

This is a Jameson doily. I decided to make it because I’d just taught myself to crochet a few months earlier and I wanted the practice, and I was excited about the wide word of crocheted doilies. (Shut up.) This is a pretty basic pattern as far as doilies go; it’s written for self-striping sock yarn, which makes the color changes random and wacky, but I decided I wanted control over the color changes so I used three different colors of Hemp for Knitting Allhemp 3. It worked pretty well; the hemp yarn softened up a fair bit upon washing and blocking, and it’s very sturdy. My mom was pleased with the doily, but she got scarf-envy when she saw the Noro scarf I knit for my brother, and she demanded one for herself. But when I questioned her about what she specifically wanted, she said “well, what if the yarn were all silk? And could it have a more interesting texture? And what if the colors were a bit more intermixed?” Sigh. So she footed the bill for some Artyarns Regal Silk (which is delightful, by the way), and I spent most of January making her this:

momscarf

This is a Prismatic Scarf; I liked the way the bars break up the color pooling, but I also really liked the way the colors pooled in a zig-zag. I added a crocheted scalloped edging because it looked like it needed something.

This year, however, I have decided to throw caution to the winds and just use my family members’ previously-stated preferences to come up with some surprise gifts for them. What could possibly go wrong? Find out next time!