Friday, November 25, 2016

Knitting weekend

YES! It's Friday, which means that very soon, we can all pretend there is nothing more important than parking ourselves in a chair and knitting.  Of course for our US friends, it's 'Black Friday' which means you are probably already so parked, and more power to you.

I can probably get away with this only for the one night, because there are a lot of rather important things that exist whether or not it's the weekend, but I am grateful for having that much.  Even though I am guaranteed to lose some of what little there is to food prep because I decided it's the right day for Comfort Soup.

saute chopped onion, celery, and peel-thin strips of carrot in butter
add a litre of chicken stock
add chopped tomato
add a TON of Worcestershire sauce
bring to boil
add pasta stars because some days, it's important to be six years old
boil on low until the pasta stars are soft and yummy
serve in your favourite bowl

Obviously: not a complicated recipe.  But surprisingly delicious!

Tonight I am considering roasting garlic cloves, too, for smearing over toasted whole wheat bread produced by a Montreal bakery and sold in the grocery store downstairs (which has apparently purchased said Montreal bakery, how interesting), but I'm not sure how that will taste.  It may not matter to Pete though, because all he really cares about is that we have garlic cooking on a more regular basis.  One of our neighbours does garlic-related meals often and every time Pete walks past their door he comes home in a half-swoon, with a sad regret that we are not producing a similar aroma where he can enjoy it from a comfortable chair.

yes, it's new yarn! (Vesper, Zoinks, October club, not yet caked.)

Blogger has changed its layout this week and it took me until today to find the list blogs I follow, but once I did, I read Lucy's praise for her Life Planner adventures and considered whether I might benefit from such a thing.  If you're not familiar with this product category, it's basically an agenda, thoughtfully organized to include space for stickers and motivational messages, which helps you to remember things like bills, birthdays, and taking time to work toward your personal dreams.

So I spent about an hour down that particular rabbit hole instead of being responsible or productive.

Things I noticed about the YouTube videos I watched on Life Planners:  the presenters all had beautiful, colourful nail polish on their perfectly shaped fingernails and seem to enjoy bright, cheerful pages.  Also they are younger than me and apparently not renovating a house or juggling three long-term careers plus a temporary, though full-time, interior design hobby.  Would my current life even fit into a Life Planner? 

Things I noticed about the Erin Condren Life Planner shop: the covers are all in designed within one style category, which is Not Mine.  Lucy got a great cover by photographing something herself and paying extra, so it's possible to do one that would be me, but... time/money.

Things I noticed about the insides of various planners: they are very, very busy and section off different areas for you.

Things I learned about myself while researching Life Planners: I am much happier without a schedule anywhere in my day, even on a written page; I want my planning materials to lie flat and stack rather than stick up and out with a coil binding; I feel freer with low-contrast, low-traffic pages that make it easier for me to focus on what needs to be done; I am the sort of person who notices, with relief, that most of what I would record in a bulky Life Planner fits neatly into my cell phone.

Conclusion: my beautiful, disposable-page Fabriano notebooks still work best for me.

Another exciting development here at Hugs: I've discovered that the grocery store downstairs isn't just selling sensible whole wheat bread from the Montreal bakery, but irresponsible chocolate chip/cranberry bread.  I would show you a picture but I ate it.  Anyway: 'chocolate chip and cranberry' says it all, don't you think?

And to go back to today's lead picture, I was quite excited to unwrap this new Zoinks yarn after a trip to my mailbox.  There was a time when I was sad to find a white stripe in my Vesper yarn, but I have come to love the calm contrast it offers brighter colours and now it's quite exciting to find a new colourway that has one.

You know what else I don't have a picture of but appreciate, is the way a handknit sock falls (not on the ground, but like a length of drapery) after it's been worn once. The stitches form a collective decision to hold the basic shape of your ankle and heel and foot, and to retain the softness with which they hugged them to keep you warm.  It's very comforting and pleasant and not at all like when you take off a cotton athletic sock after a long run or something, which is usually just Ew.

And on that pleasant note (ha! I laugh, but you know I'm going to obsess now about capturing the recently-worn handknit sock phenomenon on camera and sharing it with you) I bid you a charming, knitting-filled weekend. I typed 'stitch-filled' at first but I don't want any of your personal fate cues getting that wrong and sending you to Emerg with a nasty cut or something.

Take care of yourself and I'll see you next week!

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Getting sidetracked

So here's what happened when I finally got the energy to clean up the knitting mess that's accumulated around here over the last year or so: I found some great yarn to match up with my new alpaca sock supplies from the Royal Winter Fair!

I am completely in love with this pairing of some leftover, long-discontinued Duchess-from-Twisted-Fiber-Art blue, and my favourite blue/yellow choice from this year's haul.  The scale is a little off - the Duchess is much heavier than the alpaca - and I will have to do this as a true colourblock to cover the necessary shift in stitch count.  Still.  So in love.  (or maybe I should make a much-needed hat instead of socks?)

I'm also quite happy with this combo:

This one is a little less obviously awesome but in addition to the yarn weights being the same this time, the purple in the alpaca is present in the mohair in long repeats.  You can't help but love that and I think it will be really fun to knit.

But the light green alpaca gave me some trouble.  I mean, it's baby blanket green.  What do you pair with that but baby blanket yellow, which is not a colour I ever buy?

I tried it with the purple's partner because I have enough to do both, but it's kind of Meh, isn't it.  It's like somebody paired a baby blanket with all the fabrics in a fashion-cool teenager's going-out ensemble, and then threw neon spotlights on it.

So I tried it with another mohair yarn and...

Much better.  It's still off, but it's good enough if I do the heels, toes, and cuffs - if there's anything I learned through my interior decoration odyssey, it's that you can make anything look deliberate if you repeat it enough.  But this solid green is supposed to be a main colour for a different pair of socks, and I can't be sure I'll have enough left unless I knit those socks first.  So naturally...

I cast on those socks instead of providing myself with a hat.  Furthermore I am now completely obsessed with these socks and can barely think of anything else except maybe the whereabouts of the needle I dropped while turning the heel last night. 

Knitter's Tip: reclining armchairs are NOT YOUR FRIEND.  Though I did find a long-missing cotton sock inside the backing just now, which was kind of a bonus.  And no, I have no idea how my chair managed to eat a sock.  It wasn't mine and it wasn't my missing needle and that's really all that matters for the purposes of this story.

Now of course, I think that the real best friend of the baby blanket green alpaca is the accent for the green sock, and not the green sock at all... but I won't know till I finish my obsession project so I think it's best that I wrap up this post now, use the needle from sock #2 to knit some more, and hope the missing one turns up soon!

Sunday, November 20, 2016

I had ONE JOB this weekend

Okay as I type this, it is snowing outside. and not just 'snowing', because hard pellets of the stuff are hitting the window next to my head.  That's right - we are not talking about the cute snow that made our old porch so welcoming in January.

I knew this was coming because I am a compulsive weather-checker, and I had promised myself I would knit a new hat in time for the start of another work week.  One that actually matches my bright red walking parka, because I can't find any of my red or red-friendly hats and the ones that don't scream NOooooo when paired with red.  But did I do this?

Well, I got partway.  Over the past few days I dug out a lot of yarn (more on this later in the week) and I paired up a lot of yarn and even caked skeins and divided them for socks (again: more later).  I found sock yarn remnants that will be perfect for knitting up another pair of fingerless mitts so I can finally share with you the super easy pattern I made up last winter, hopefully with enough knitting time left before Christmas.  I found things I'd knit for presents and then misplaced, so that I couldn't give them away after all, but now I can.  I found the black and white yarn I want to use for a hat.  I found the hat I got partway through by the time the weather finally warmed up last spring, and saw that there are not so very many hours standing between it and a warmer Me.  And I ran in so many sock ends, which you already know.

But I didn't cast on the black and white hat, because I couldn't find the right needles for it.

And I didn't finish the mostly-done hat, because the needles I was using are lace tips and just so painful, I couldn't stand it.

So I guess I'll be pairing an orange hat or a green one with my red parka tomorrow.  Or maybe my grey and brown stripey one? 

Or maybe I'll pop over to the discount department store and check the men's section for another cashmere watchcap like I found last year, and misplaced last spring.  With my hood up, so I don't freeze.  And wishing I could sneak in another day of weather like this, sigh.

la la la la... Well.

I think we all know what really happened here.  I mean I am a procrastinator but knitting is knitting and the only true reason not to knit a hat when the weather is about to drop below freezing is because you got totally absorbed in some other very exciting project.  And I would show you but that would mean waiting to go back to it and I simply can't bear not to go on knitting it another minute!

Here's hoping you're also immersed in a fabulous project and that your head stays nice and warm tomorrow, especially if it's because you are somewhere too toasty to need a hat.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Sheets: the forgotten textiles

Okay, this is not going to be the most glamourously illustrated post you ever see here at Hugs, but it does feature real live time capsule never-used vintage sheets, also known as giant pieces of unbroken cloth.  And the packaging does feature some colour!

This is a still-packaged pair of new bed sheets from France, made from high quality linen/cotton metis, dating back as many years as it takes for the adhesive on the red 'Fleur Bleue' sticker to dry out and adhere near-permanently to the weave.

Yeah, you looked innocent, didn't you red sticker.  Grrr.  (there was another one on the back of the parcel, too, and it was even more stuck.)

The eBay shopkeeper who sold me these sheets had two sets, and I agonized about them for a while before deciding to buy only one, which was impractical because you know what?  100% linen sheets are really expensive.  I've been researching a bit and there are only two or three sources for them (none of which are in Canada) that people who love linen sheets deem purchase-worthy.  You're looking at more than a hundred dollars for even one sheet, for a small bed like a twin or a double.

Vintage metis sheets, on the other hand, blend cotton with linen and cost less than half the price.  Plus there is the element of 'earning their love' which creates a bond and also, an opportunity to use them for heavy drapes or upholstery.  I'm talking about the fact that metis fabric is as stiff as a board when it's new, and a heavy flax colour to boot.  Here's the new, never-washed metis lying on the much-used metis sheet I spent my summer airing out from its exposure to scented fabric softener, which lives on our white leather sofa to keep everybody from sliding off the darned thing because MAN leather seats are slippery.  There's quite a colour difference, huh?

Incidentally, I took the wise suggestion to buy Nok Out for the original sheet and used some of it to get rid of the slightly musty smell of the new sheets.  Instant success, and no new odor added.  Nok Out Rules! (I got it at my local pet store, so I guess it works for accidents on carpets too.)

Metis sheets get lighter after many many washes and sunny afternoons spent drying on a clothesline, so I expect these new guys will be cream coloured for some time.  Which is okay.  It wouldn't matter for my decorating purposes if they never lightened, because this colour goes very well with the backround of our drapery fabric.  In fact if I didn't want to sleep on them, I could quite easily hand them over to our upholsterer to recover the sofa I have to keep in our bedroom since there's no other place for it, and the sofa would look gorgeous.

But I do want to sleep on them, or at least, under one of them.  We've used cotton sheets for years and they are lovely, of course, not to mention readily available in discount department stores, and colourful and pretty.  Mostly I'm just creating drama by thinking it would be fun to switch over to something new when we move back into our house.

Except for this one small thing.  Linen has this wonderful property when it comes to temperature control.  I've noticed it with the linen clothing I've been buying more and more often the last couple of years - it's cool in summer, but it's warm in winter, too.  Surprisingly warm and, because well-woven linen fabric is quite strong, it's long-lasting, so there's no end to the bliss. 

Aren't those pencil marks adorable? they washed out the first time they went through the machine.  Even this blue ink noting that the fabric is top quality has washed almost all the way out, already.

And yes, I am totally using Hugs to record what new metis sheets looked like back whenever, because I felt so guilty about opening them up to use them after all this time.  Sorry (sort of.)

It turns out that the properties I admire about 100% linen are true even with these new metis sheets, now that they're soft enough to use.  Yes, they still feel like somebody dragged a rough tarp over your shoulders, but they hold EXACTLY the right temperature.  Since we've been trying these out, there's been no tossing off the blankets in the middle of the night, only to drag them back on again just before the alarm goes off.  Which means no waking up two or three times every night, either.  Maybe this is not a problem for you but wow, is it ever a big deal for us!

So we love the vintage metis sheet idea, even if these giant flat pieces of fabric require hospital corners and are oddly shaped (very long and not very wide) and still quite stiff and not-white.

After a couple of nights, even Pete wondered whether I might be planning to hunt for more and I was way ahead of him - I mean, how could I not click Buy It Now on a well-washed top sheet that's elaborately embroidered with an M and a P?

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

At the fair

Once again, Pete has taken me to the Royal Winter Fair.  I wasn't keen to go this time because I felt it prudent not to bring anything more into the condo, especially yarn, but he really didn't want to miss it so off we went.  And... well.  You can guess what happened, right?

I bought yarn. I mean HONESTLY, who can resist amazing alpaca/merino yarn?  Plus, just the night before it was cold out, and I'd worn socks I made from a previous year's yarn purchase from this farm's shop. In my defense, you can't get more vulnerable than that, with a fresh reminder of how fabulous the yarn is both to knit and to wear.

The thing about this particular source of yarn though is that none of the skeins quite add up to 100 grams.  They're just not enough for a whole pair of socks, and when I run into that problem I either plan to pair the new yarn with scraps of old yarn in complementary colours, or else buy my yarn in groups of three so I can mine one to eke out the other two.

Which is why I bought two more skeins, neither of which have any colour relationship to the first, or even to each other.  SIGH

That's all right.  I can pair them all up with yarn scraps from earlier indulgences and I have a feeling I will need some seriously yarn therapy in the weeks ahead.  That's really the thing for me with the Royal: I try to shore up comforts, the way squirrels bury what they hope will be enough nuts to get them through till spring.

And it wasn't just yarn that caught my eye.  There was also a chicken...

and I think you can forgive me that weakness, after all the agonizing I did over dishes for the new house.  Henny matches the dishes perfectly, is sporting a bit of much-loved red, and is super soft as well.  What's not to love?

Most of all though, I am a sucker for something warm to put around my shoulders.  I've seen so many women with beautiful lambswool wraps that you can buy from the British shops at the Royal, and this year I spotted one I thought would be perfect for me:

As it turns out, it's really perfect for my knitting chair.  The colours are flattering on me, and it's incredibly soft and cosy, but it's one of those long pieces that hangs over you like a poncho, and only really works if you pair them with heels (not really my thing) or if you're quite tall, which I am not especially (and less so every year it seems.)  Still: at home, knitting, it is the pinnacle of safe and warm.

That's really what I want this winter, if only in practical terms.  I've heard it will be much colder than last year, and I would like to creep through January and February feeling safe and warm, at least while I'm at home.  So: cuddly wrap, comfort knitting, and a Kitchen Chicken on her roost of dishes.

What more can you ask from a Fair?

(the answer to that is fudge, and yes, we bought some of that too.)

Monday, November 14, 2016

All the socks and all the loose bits

And here we are, with a big bowl of handknit socks that need finishing.

It's a huge, huge comfort to know that the knitting is done for all these socks but the loose ends to run in take a few extra minutes that I always need to make myself sit down for, since I seem to be quite stubborn about not doing it as I go along.  I can't look at the fabric I'm running my needle through and watch TV at the same time, or read the news, or walk around.  It's audiobook (meh), chatting (if somebody's around), or just sitting still and concentrating.  Fortunately, this past week was the best possible time to sit still and concentrate on yarn moving through some nice, even stitches.

I mean it really was the most extraordinary and emotional few days there.  Watching America get out and vote, waiting for the election results, reacting to the election results.  I don't see how anybody in or out of the U.S., for or against whichever candidate, got through last week without intense emotions in one direction or another.  Too intense to expect them to clear up in a short time, and in fact, it looks like they're just getting more intense now, doesn't it.

So: knitting.  Thank goodness we have that.  I've noticed this skill crosses so many different world views, haven't you?  And it unites us to a point as well. Knitters are by definition creative, resourceful, and inclined to make productive use of our time, and that is a huge number of character traits to share.  We're generous too.  Well, you guys are - you already know I am very selfish and find it incredibly difficult to give my knitting away to other people.  But so many of you knit chemo caps for local hospitals, or knit presents for friends and family when it's not even an official sort of gift giving day.  Just for the sake of making something and sharing the love that went into it.

Even if we're different people and see things differently, which is to be expected given that we are different and live in different communities and have different life experiences, we all have quite a bit in common, like these three pairs of stripey socks.  The colours aren't the same, and neither is the energy that comes off the colour combinations, and in fact they aren't all the same size, but they are all socks.  They are all warm and soft, and they will all be loved for their excellent qualities, and great care went into the making of them by a lot of different people - from sheep to dyepot to needles.

You know, when I'm spinning fiber I think MAN this is a lot of trouble to go to for a warm head or hands or toes.  But when I look at these socks, which I knit almost effortlessly from self-striping yarn...

It's the same thing.  So many people had to have their hands on these socks before they were socks. And thanks to them, and my working with them, there will be a few more sets of warm feet this winter.  That's cooperation and collaboration, and that's something knitters have in our corner to get us through times like these.

I'm Canadian, and Hugs is meant to be a respite from current events be they inside or outside your home, so I don't feel it's my place to comment on what's happened.

Still... after a week of not knowing what to say instead, I felt it was time to come back and offer you something.  I hope you are, all of you, well.  And I hope you stay well, and I hope I will see you here again tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Kidnapped by good knitting TV

I have been knitting all week instead of writing friendly missives here at Hugs:

It started last Saturday night when I thought, H'mmm, why clean up the teetering stacks of paper on every horizontal surface when I could watch TV and knit?  It's a novel thought these days - for months now I've been lucky to get one or two days a week with enough time to knit for 45 minutes.  So there I was, scrolling through Netflix for something worth sitting down for, and I spotted something called 'Shetland'.

Within ten minutes Pete had joined me in front of the TV, and in the seconds between the first episode and second I was texting Carol, who moved to Toronto from Scotland as an adult, to say DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THIS SHOW, and she texted back, Oh Mary, did I not tell you about that?? I've seen every episode and loved it all.

I am not mad at Carol though, because it would have been a disaster if I'd been taking every spare minute to watch just one more episode while under pressure to choose floor tile or something.  I mean it's not just the story/character/production value thing with this British crime drama.  It's set in the Shetland Islands.  The landscape is AMAzing, and everybody is wearing





It makes me wish I could move somewhere cold, where wind whips up off the ocean, and messes up your hair so horribly that the standards for beauty-related grooming are lowered universally to the point that a good ponytail and a great sweater are all you need to feel good about yourself in public.

(also, Carol tipped me off about another crime drama she's enjoying, the name of which I have just forgotten for the third time, so maybe I will shift her out of the doghouse and into the Maybe Getting A Knit For Christmas box.)

Anyway I have been sneaking back to the TV at every available moment so it will not surprise you to know that quite quickly, I was wrangling a Chompy Sock.

I do love this stage.  Chompy Socks are just so rambunctious, in a cute way.  You feel they will eat anything.

Except probably this.

That's an organic Rice Pilaf mix I picked up a the grocery store downstairs.  I find the combination of whole grain and wild rices and black eyed peas and lentils and so on to be very pretty, don't you?  But the minute you put it all in water, it's just a dark purple morass of soft shapes and aggressive healthiness.  What chompy sock wants that?  Any chompy sock worth its stitches would much rather eat a linen bag.

Thankfully the pilaf tastes pretty good when you stir it up with onions sauteed in butter with a little salt, both of which kind of defeat the purpose of an uber healthy pilaf.  I'm okay with that though, especially since I've once again banned sugar from my immediate vicinity.  Well, most sugar.   My tea is still getting honey and I'm still eating cookies, but they are of the Very Sensible And Spartan variety.  I was overdoing it, especially once a box of halloween candy crept through the door and then sat, eyeing me, on the kitchen table.  I wonder whether I should just set a series of chompy socks on guard when Christmas comes and I fall back into temptation...

But it won't be this sock, which I finished last night so I could start its mate.  Four more episodes to watch this weekend, folks!  How much closer will I be to Christmas-ready at the end of all that?

Hope you have a wonderful weekend yourself and I especially hope that I escape after Shetland is done so I can post more, next week.