Monday, March 3, 2014

March 3

Of all the customers, the dads are the funniest. They walk through the door of the yarn store with the same tentativeness that other people show climbing aboard a boat for the first time. They're unsure of their footing, out of their element, suffering from sensory overload, surrounded by unfamiliar colours and textures. They don't know the vocabulary and they aren't sure where to put their hands. There is so much to see and touch but they aren't sure what the tools do. They are wary of being out of their depth.

I know how they feel. Twice a year I make a pilgrimage to one of Toronto's hobby shops to buy my dad a gift certificate. It's way out in the east end, far from my own neighbourhood; an unfamiliar landscape. I spend my weekends in a store surrounded by soft, colourful yarn – a veritable rainbow on every wall – but in the hobby shop, fluorescent lights reflect off shining linoleum floors, and the aisles are lined with utilitarian shelves in gunmetal grey. The shelves are stocked with boxes in shades of brown and green, dun and khaki, mud and dust and camouflage. When I walk into that world, I can feel the rocking of a boat on unfamiliar waters. 

I don't mess around. I walk straight up to the counter, wait until the clerk is finished wondering if I'm about to ask for directions to the subway, then plunk down my debit card and walk out with a gift certificate in record time. On the way home I examine my purchase: a slip of buff card stock, gold embossed printing, my own handwriting in goopy blue ink from a dubious ballpoint pen, my penmanship crabbed from too much time clutching knitting needles. A passport to a parallel universe.

This weekend we saw more dads than usual. There was a long-suffering father there to buy yarn for himself at the behest of his sock-knitting daughter ("Do you have anything that she could use to make me support hose?") and fathers who were there to replace the flimsy hooks that came with their daughters' rainbow looms, the ones that barely make it out of the package before snapping. ("It's a hook thing, with elastics?") There was a man in search of a gift certificate. (I always smile at the gift-certificate buyers, my kindred spirits). There was the dad whose patience is rewarded with peanut butter cookies at the rate of one cookie every half hour. And there was Mr. Parallel Universe.

"Look at this!" he said, walking through the door. "Look at all this colour! Look at all these people! Look at all this stuff!" He gestured widely, talking to anyone; talking to everyone. His young daughter was engrossed in choosing between three shades of pink; he was engrossed in amateur sociology. He leaned in close to examine what people were working on in the knitting circle; he took in the wall of knitting needles and the racks of notions. "I had no idea," he exclaimed. "This feels just like when I first took her to riding lessons, and realized there are people who spend their whole lives taking care of horses. Imagine that! Horses! They live on farms! Can you imagine?"

We nodded, imagined, smiled. Someone ventured the idea that there are all sorts of communities we never see, all sorts of people connected to all sorts of interests we've only ever considered in passing, if at all.

"Parallel universes!" he said. "Horse lovers and knitters and golfers and..." He could have kept going (fly-fishermen! certified accountants! balloon artists!) but his daughter, choice made, interrupted. On the way out the door he thanked us for sharing our strange, colourful little universe with him. 

We laughed about it later, but his words echoed as I made my way home at the end of the day, packed into a subway train cheek-by-jowl with 1,500 people each headed somewhere different. Sometimes living in Toronto feels like being locked into a series of parallel universes, and sometimes it feels like being wrapped up in a ball of rubber bands.

My universe is feeling a bit constrained these days. Everything seems old, dirty and over-familiar; the parallel universes so close and yet impenetrable. As the snow continues to fall, I'm daydreaming of the summer, when I'll head east once more and find myself by the sea. I'm ready for some unfamiliar waters. 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

February 20: A growler cozy, just because

My favourite kind of project is the one that involves making something just for the joy of figuring out how. It used to be a big part of my work as a craft editor, and now it's something I get to do just for fun.

I've got a friend who's as enthusiastic about brewing beer as I am about knitting. (Hi Andy!) Over Christmas, we got to comparing our hobbies, and as a result of that conversation I started thinking about beer cozies (and, of course, beer mitts). He countered with another idea: what about a growler cozy?

(This is where we pause for some context, in case you think I'm about to embark on knitting a sweater for an angry dog. This is a growler: 

A growler holds 1.89 litres of beer. They're usually available at microbreweries; they cost about $15, with a $3 or $4 bottle deposit. It's a pretty good deal, especially if you are a fan of delicious, delicious beer.)

So I Googled a bit and Ravel-ed a bit and didn't find much to inspire me. I thought a bit more, and then I discussed the idea with the wise ladies of the knitting circle, most of whom were a bit confused about why on earth I could possibly want to keep 1.89 litres of beer warm. 

(They've obviously never had to deal with having two growlers clinking around in the back seat on the way home from the brewery. But I digress.)

Anyway. So. Plain stockinette seemed a bit flimsy; growlers are heavy and plain stockinette just isn't up to the task. A felted cozy, on the other hand, would be just the ticket.

I picked up a couple skeins of Cascade 220, some 6.5 mm needles (they were like tree trunks; a full 4.25 mm bigger than my preferred needle size!) and duly made (and felted) a swatch. Who needs a gym membership when you have the option of standing over a sink of boiling water pummelling a scrap of knitting for an hour? Not this knitter.

At this point in the process, I was working with my swatch and a photo that Andy sent me of a growler with a construction measuring tape laid in front of it for scale... a couple quick measurements made on the fly using a ruler app. Easy, right? Right!

There followed some math. Rather a lot of math, actually, including some pi*r^2 action, which is some pretty serious business in my world, and extensive plotting of graduated increases.

 I'm pretty pleased with myself that my numbers even approached making sense. 

I started at the bottom, casting on 14 sts using Emily Ocker's circular cast-on (double-stranded yarn made for a super-sturdy knit, even pre-felting). Then I worked spiralling increase rows on alternate rows, continuing until the bottom reached 70 sts. A purl row indicates the bottom edge. To accommodate the shaping of the bottle, there is one final increase row an inch above the purl row, and a tapered double-decrease row (k2tog, SSK) an inch from the top. I finished things off with an i-cord bind-off: simple and clean.

The knitting was pretty straightforward and proceeded very quickly over a weekend at the yarn store, despite the fact that I took a break every 10 minutes to put it on my head. I got lots of compliments as it proceeded from pillbox hat to fez to floppy tuque. I'll happily spare you any photographic evidence of this part of the process.

At this point I toddled off to Mill St. Brewery to acquire a growler of my own for fitting and modelling purposes. You can see that it's practically dwarfed by the cozy, which was enormous pre-felting. I used every single inch of the red skein and about a third of the yellow.

If I thought that felting the swatch was hard work, I had another think coming. Using boiling water, lots of soap and even more elbow grease, it took almost two hours to felt the cozy to the point where it fit the bottle snugly. It could be a bit tighter at the top but I was reluctant to keep going – I didn't want to felt it too much and face the prospect of having to start all over again.

After an overnight on the radiator, it was ready for finishing. I needle-felted the end of the i-cord to the wrong side of the cozy to make a loop and then sewed on a toggle. The i-cord loop goes through the handle and loops around the toggle to hold everything in place.

Et voilĂ ! A felted growler cozy, a happy knitter and a happy brewer. What a satisfying project.

In case you'd like to make your own, here are the "pithy directions." (I like to think that Elizabeth Zimmermann, as the wife of a brewer, would be right on board with this project.) Please note that these directions are taken from my notes and haven't been tech-edited. You might choose to make your cozy shorter or narrower – feel free to improvise or adapt. Happy knitting!

Felted Growler Cozy – Pithy Directions
To ensure proper felting, make sure you use regular (not superwash) yarn that is 100% wool for this project.

MC: 1 skein Cascade 220 crimson (100 g/220 yds, colour 9404)
CC: 1 skein Cascade 220 gold (100 g/220 yds, colour 7827)
6.5 mm DPNs
6.5 mm 24” circular needle
Darning needle
1½” long toggle button (or other button)
Needle and thread to match

15 sts and 20 rows = 4” in St st* on 6.5 mm needles with yarn held double
*This is the gauge pre-felting. Gauge is not essential for this project.

Stitch glossary:
CO – cast on
K – Knit
kfb – knit front and back (increase)
k2tog – knit 2 together (right-leaning decrease)
P – purl
pm – place marker
psso – pass slipped stitch over
sl – slip
SSK – slip 2 sts as if to knit; insert left needle into front loop of both sts and k together through back loop (left-leaning decrease)

·      Working with MC and DPNs, with yarn held double, use Emily Ocker’s Circular Cast-On to CO 14 sts. PM to mark beginning of round.
·      Knit 1 round. Pull yarn tail tightly to close up hole.
·      Next round, set up increases and place additional markers as follows:
o   *K1, kfb, pm; repeat from * to end of round. (21 sts)
·      Next two rounds:
o   Knit, slipping markers as you come to them.
o   *K to 1 st before marker, kfb, sm; repeat from * to end of round. (28 sts)
·      Repeat last two rounds 6 more times – 70 sts on needles – switching to circular needle when necessary.
·      Purl 1 round.
·      Knit 5 rounds.
·      Final increase round:
o   *K9, kfb; repeat from * to end of round. (77 sts)
·      Next 35 rounds: K all sts.
o   To achieve stripe sequence shown:
-  K 10 rounds MC.
-  K 3 rounds CC.
-  K 2 rounds MC.
-  K 5 rounds CC.
-  K 2 rounds MC.
-  K 3 rounds CC.
-  K 10 rounds MC.
·      Decrease round:
o   *SSK, k7, k2tog; repeat from * to end of round. (63 sts)
·      K 4 rounds.

·      I-cord bind-off:
o   Using 1 DPN as working (right-hand) needle, CO 3 sts onto left-hand needle.
o   K 2, k2tog (knitting last CO st together with 1 st from circular needle).
o   Slip sts from right-hand needle to left-hand needle.
o   Repeat last two rows until all sts have been cast off and only 3 sts remain on needle.

·      I-cord tie:
o   Using two DPNs:
o   K1, k2tog.
o   Slide sts from one end of needle to the other.
o   Repeat last two rows until you have approx. 4” of I-cord.
o   Sl 1, psso; cut yarn (leaving 6” tail) and pull through.

·      Felting:
o   Using your preferred method of felting (by hand or machine), felt your knitted piece. (Fabric will shrink by approx. one third.)
o   Press out excess water and shape cozy by placing it on an empty growler and leaving to dry.

·      Finishing:
o   Sew or needle-felt end of i-cord into loop.
o   Using darning needle, sew in ends and trim.
o   With needle and thread, sew toggle button onto cozy approx. 1” from bottom of I-cord.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

February 16: Warm and bright

Bright spots in my week:

A new bunch of tulips. Better than red roses any day. 

An exceedingly cheerful tuque. Pompoms are the best.

A new sweater in the mix. I've finally finished my gift-knitting.

More later...

Monday, January 27, 2014

January 27: Care for the careworn soul

Being of solid Canadian stock, I try not to mind the winter weather, but today the cold and the snow and a variety of events conspired to get the better of me. Since I'm not really a fan of spending my only day off moping, I eventually just togged up and headed out for provisions.

I bought some new beeswax candles to light in the middle of the afternoon. (In a fabulous repurposed tin baking mould from Sherrie, isn't it neat?)

I also stocked up on the ingredients for homemade granola, which is in the oven now, redolent of maple, cinnamon and ginger.

These tulips cost a whopping $10, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. They practically glow in the dark.

Home again, I dug around and found a bit of sunshine in my yarn stash. These bright yellow socks and a variegated rainbow toque on the needles mean a bit of sun even when the clouds roll in.

 That's better! Hope that some colour (and some chocolate) found its way into your day today.

Monday, January 13, 2014

January 13

The city is dirty and grey these days: last week's deep freeze and its attendant brilliant blue skies seem to have disappeared with the warming wind, a wind that brought clouds and fog and rain along with it. The sidewalks are like luge runs, although markedly less pristine. I walked through the park on the way to the post office this afternoon, head bowed against the rain, dodging puddles. I'm uneasy on that path now; the branches overhead whistled and groaned in the wind, and the stacks of branches that came down during the ice storm weren't exactly reassuring. It doesn't look like a single tree was spared, and I'm afraid there's more where that came from.

All I could think of this afternoon was visiting Point Pleasant Park the spring after Hurricane Juan, walking around one hot breathless day in early May, staring listlessly at tree stumps, standing in what should have been a forest but with hardly any canopy to shelter us from the sun. We're in for something similar this spring, I fear.

But that is months away, and trees, like humans, can bounce back from much worse. Meantime, I'm stocking up on amaryllises and lilacs and tulips to stave off the the winter grey-blues, and collecting recipes to give me reasons to turn the oven on when the weather turns cold again. I'm in the mood for something tart and bright – what's your favourite lemon bar recipe?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

January 7: frost

I don't think I've ever seen frost like this on the windows in this apartment. It's C-O-L-D out there.

But there is a bright side – the brilliant blue sky and sunshine that accompany temperatures like this are something to be relished.

Already the days are getting longer, and though it doesn't seem like it right now, spring is around the corner.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

On reading cookbooks

Today I had the pleasure of being a guest contributor over at my friend Shari's blog, The Art of Seeing Things. If you're interested, I'd love it if you headed on over there to read about my favourite book of 2013. Thanks!