Forum Holitorium

Category: Knitting

Complementary Carrots

Since orange complements blue across the color wheel, it is fitting to eat orange while knitting blue. Orange was on the menu this week in the form of soup made of leftover roasted pumpkin, carrots, and red lentil pasta. Lentils gel when cooled, so each time I reheated the leftovers, I added some water to thin it to soup consistency. The pot ended up lasting the entire week and to be honest, I threw away the last spoonful because after five days, I just couldn’t stomach any more creamy orange soup.

Now that the soup pot is empty, I can start over again. The next batch will be Simple Soup – not creamy and pureed but a spartan yet substantial broth. First, heat the water. When it has come to a boil, add sliced carrots and diced potatoes. When they are done, throw in tiny pasta shells or orzo plus a teaspoon each of marjoram and thyme and boil until the pasta has cooked. Salt and pepper to taste. That’s it.

What is that on the left? A ball of charcoal merino/alpaca seems to have wormed its way into the knitting bowl of blue! Ah yes, those delicate cabled mitts I’ve been meaning to knit for the past three years are taking shape. Here’s to discovering a skein the right color and texture in the sales bin yesterday. The teal socks are stalled as I reconsider knitting spiral socks. My feet are warm in my pair, but the socks sag around the ankles, making me wonder if it is a good pattern to give as a gift after all. The indigo yarn decision has been made: a pullover is in the works. And the merino/silk cowl is a good practice of patience; you can’t beat having to frog and redo 280 stitches to correct a mistake in the lace pattern. I tried something new: I wound my first center pull yarn ball by hand. It looks goofier than the result with a ball winder, but I like it. The teal really brightens my day.

May you enjoy a nourishing bowl of soup and a dash of complementary color this week!

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Indecision in Blue


October is blue yarn month by personal decree. Look closely at bowl and you’ll see a silvery blue merino/silk cowl that shimmers in the light and spiral socks for a friend who looks radiant in teal. And then there is the indigo alpaca, a serendipitous find on the sale rack, which is earmarked for a cuddly warm sweater for me. Pullover or cardigan? That is the question. The gauge is no help because it is spot on for both of the patterns under consideration.

I have been trying but not always succeeding in buying yarn for specific patterns. Yet it’s not just about the pattern, and the luxurious texture and deep color of this yarn were irresistible. In my knitting file there is a pullover pattern saved from a magazine six years ago; I justified buying the yarn to knit the pattern. But then I found a pattern for a cardigan that would match nearly all my fall and winter long sleeved shirts. My hope was that by the time I settled down to start the sweater, a clear sign or intuition would have tipped the scales one way or the other. Well, last night I had a dream about yarn. It was about a skein of blue and white 100% Portuguese wool sock yarn spied in a yarn store a few doors down from where I recently took a shibori workshop. How should I interpret that?

Shibori is a Japanese technique for dyeing fabric by binding or tying it so that the dye does not penetrate the entire cloth. The result: an infinity of patterns. Though indigo is traditionally used, the workshop made use of synthetic dye. Still, it was interesting to try my hand at dyeing and see the patterns that emerged. The artist conducting the workshop complimented me on “my” patterns. This is odd, because what is there of “me” in the cloth samples that remain? The real work was done by the dye, wasn’t it?

I have had indigo on the brain since I read Catherine E. McKinley’s Indigo: In Search of the Color That Seduced the World this summer. McKinley spent time in Africa on the trail of cloth traditionally dyed with indigo. Along the way, she learned that a respectable woman has cloth, which is second only to children in importance and even more valuable than land. What most people don’t know is that indigo-dyed cotton cloth was part of the transatlantic slave trade, leading American abolitionists and Quakers to boycott indigo and cotton cloths.

Cotton still remains a controversial fiber today. Its cultivation has led to the disappearance of the Aral Sea, which I first learned about in Tom Bissell’s excellent Chasing the Sea. Buying organic cotton is better than buying conventionally produced cotton, but it is still a thirstier plant than linen or hemp. Like many people today, I am trying to be more deliberate in my choices of what clothes to buy and make, going for fewer, high quality items that I can mix and match. That is one reason my choice of pullover or cardigan is such a strategic decision. In the meantime, the spiral socks are finished and there is no danger of cold feet.

May it be easy to make any decisions you face!

Fall Checkup

The previous post was about sickness and waiting for spring. Now it is fall, the season of marvelous kitchen still lifes, of breakfasts of an apple sliced and stewed with two heaping tablespoons of rolled oats and a teaspoon of cinnamon, of dinners of baked squash doused in thyme served with rice. On the mend from an obstinate cold or “grippaler Infekt,” I am experiencing an inexplicable yearning for winter, snow, and darkness. It started mid-August. While perusing Ravelry, I fell in love with a knitting pattern, and it soon became clear that the Slovene wool that had impertinently refused to become several different sweaters had just been holding out for The One. The cardigan flew off the needles and was finished just in time for the first dip in temperatures.

This project was a turning point for me. This was the first time I experienced deeply that it is not about the pattern alone (which had previously been my focus – I like the pattern, therefore I will knit it); it is about the interplay of fiber and pattern, of what happens when they come together, of how they complement each other like yin and yang or night and day. I swear the yarn called out to me and said something to the effect of “Make me into a Wheatsheaves. If you knit me into that pattern, I will finally behave!”

Convalescing on the couch, I had ample time to peruse a bunch of magazines and select a few recipes to try out. It wasn’t until yesterday that I had the stamina to tackle the first one: a German take on Tuscan cookies, vegan and chock full of raisins, walnuts, and pine nuts. The recipe included wheat bran, something I don’t remember having encountered in a recipe since the eighties. (Readers of a certain age, remember the bran muffin?) The cookies got the thumbs up from my resident food taster.

Outfitted with a garment to keep my upper body well wrapped and snug in the damp, cold October weather to come, I have shifted my focus to my feet. There is just enough yarn left over from the two pairs of socks I knit last winter for a pair of no heel socks. They are supposed to remain hole-free longer because the heel doesn’t rub the exact same place each time. (And yes, the two skeins like the color of the other and are intrigued about being socks without heels.)

Enjoy the fall and take heed of any messages from your yarn!

 

April Braid

A cold clouds my mind. I puzzled a few days over how to tie together pictures and thoughts into a coherent blog entry. How about braiding together three strands of my preoccupations in April: baking bread, knitting neck warmers, and walking in the woods?

The leftover wool wrap in brioche stitch is finally done and protecting my neck and shoulders as I write. It was a good exercise to improvise a pattern, to go through the steps of envisioning what I wanted, researching and learning a new technique (two color brioche), and bringing this vision to life. It had been months since I last made a garment for myself. This is one I will get a lot of use out of; I have already worn it every day since finishing it. Along with one blue sock, my knitting bowl now holds yarn for two cowls – one thick, one thin – that will match most of my spring wardrobe.

It is finally warm enough to open the windows and let in fresh air. Despite my cold, I have gotten out walking every day and can’t get enough of the sunshine and milder temperatures. Tuesday I visited St. Radegund again, my favorite forest near Graz. It has been weeks since I was last there. Fresh air, sunshine, a circling kestrel, eight deer. I am learning a lot about the forest in Germany and Austria from Peter Wohlleben‘s book Der Wald: Eine Entdeckungsreise (The Forest: A Journey of Discovery). Over the course of his career as a forester in Germany, Wohlleben has turned his back on practices he learned during his training and is attempting to forge a more sustainable forestry practice by moving away from the status quo of spruce and pine monoculture (spruce and pine being trees common to the taiga further north) to the restoration of the beech forests that originally covered Central Europe.

One great obstacle to the restoration of beech forests is the overpopulation of deer brought about by the absence of natural predators (wolves and lynx) and their protection by hunters. Yes, you read that correctly. Hunters want their hunting grounds to be full of deer, so they feed them. Yet they do not kill enough deer to keep the population in check. Instead of a sustainable density of one deer per square kilometer, the density today is more like 40 to 50 deer. The result: the deer eat up the young deciduous trees. More deer also means more ticks and thus more Lyme disease. Lots of questions about “my” forest in Radegund are forming as I read this book. Since it is in the Alps, I wonder to what extent the spruce and pine there are native – where the beech forest ended and the conifer forest of the Alps began. There is so much to learn about trees.

There is a lot to learn about baking bread too. Since I will soon be on the other side of the Atlantic for some time, I am putting off working with a sourdough starter. Inspired by Fanatic Cook’s recent no-knead whole wheat bread experiment, I have made two loaves with yeast and long fermentation (40 hours plus) that have turned out tasty. Since I don’t have a special pot for bread, I have just plopped the dough into a square cake pan and let it take on whatever shape it wanted. The elongated hexagon of the latest loaf is quite elegant.

May April bring you fresh air, fresh baked bread, and a warm neck!

Putting the Finishing Touches on Winter

As of yesterday, it is officially spring: daylight will soon trump darkness. Thick wool scarves should give way to thin scarves and hats and knee high socks should disappear until fall. In three months’ time it will be all linen and sandals. After a week of spring temperatures and sunlight that sent me out on many a walk in the clement weather, nature has thrown a bit of a wrench into the order of things. It’s cold again, and yesterday was one of the coldest first days of spring on record. I’ve been making the best of being back indoors by finishing up a few winter projects. Pictured above is a small purse I will use to hold business cards and other desk supplies that size; below is a close up of the button band of a large cardigan that after three months of sporadic knitting is finally done. Since the weather was too cold for a nice walk, I celebrated the start of spring by learning a technique for sewing buttons onto knitwear.

For thousands of years, buttons served as decorations. Though the ancient Greeks and Romans used buttons as fasteners, it wasn’t until the Middle Ages that buttonholes and functional use of buttons became widespread in Europe. I never really learned how to sew buttons well and have winged it in the past, often choosing to secure cardigans with a wooden pin made by a family friend. But as an inveterate cardigan wearer, I figured it was time to expand my finishing repertoire. In most cases, a buttoned cardigan keeps out the cold better than a simple pin. And it was time to bring the winter cardigan project to a close in more ways than one.

Lemon slices are round like buttons. My palate is ignoring the cold and has spring fever, yearning for the freshness of herbs, lemons, and leafy greens like spinach, arugula, and dandelion greens. Last week I discovered a delicious recipe for focaccia with rosemary, olives, and lemon slices. Prepare your favorite focaccia, oil bread, or pizza dough. Drizzle the dough with olive oil and top it with 1 Tbsp dried/4 Tbsp fresh rosemary, a handful of olives, and one or two sliced organic or unsprayed lemon (with the seeds removed). Sprinkle with coarse sea salt and then pop it in the oven for as long as the bread recipe requires.

Happy spring!

The Long Winter Week

The long winter week started out last Saturday with dinner guests bearing tulips and a bottle of Rioja. Knowing that temps in Graz would drop to normal Wisconsin winter temperatures, I had made preparations, buying food to last five or six days. The grocery store is only a five minute walk, but a five minute walk at -4° F / -20° C is to be avoided if at all possible. Been there, done that enough in college. Working at home is a definite plus in winter. I was looking forward to a cozy week. The red-orange of the tulip blossoms were a wonderful companion at the kitchen table and provided a good contrast to the bright white of the moderate snowfall outside.

To get in the mood, I pulled Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter off the shelf. It tells the story of how she and her family survived an unusually harsh winter in the Dakota Territory. Though they lived in town, there were so many blizzards that the trains couldn’t run and bring supplies. By mid-February, most of the food was gone and only thanks to a risky run by two of the town’s young men to buy seed wheat at a distant farm is the town saved from starvation. How easy I have it today in comparison. No need to twist hay to burn because the coal ran out, no need to go to bed early because there is no more kerosene for light, no need to sleep in an unheated attic where the snow blows in. Though there are days where most of the calories I consume come from bread and potatoes, that is my choice and not because that is all that is left.

There is much talk of wool wraps, mufflers (in the older sense of the word as in something that covers the throat), and shawls in the book; making your own clothes and knitting were what everyone did. I started knitting a wrap for myself that will use up leftover blue and gray bulky yarn. Reversible patterns interest me because they look good regardless of what side faces forward. I decided on knitting three panels in brioche stitch. The end panels are single color while in the center panel, I am trying out two color brioche.

Pioneers need to be industrious, keeping things in good repair and being able to fix whatever needs fixing. This week I finally took time to mend clothes and hand wash scarves and wool socks. For the first time ever (and with the help of the internet), I actually darned socks. And they weren’t even my own. Since I have nearly knit through my yarn stash and thus the dream of a future in which not more than 10 skeins of yarn lay dormant looks like it will soon come true, I have started to think about What Next. A major in sock knitting and a minor in lace weight neck warmers are at the top of my list.

The cold spell has broken and above freezing temperatures are working their way in my direction. The snow will soon be gone and it is time for white to be replaced by green. I couldn’t resist a pot of basil at the grocery store. What a difference a few leaves make as a garnish. A shot of color in the kitchen is also very welcome.

May you find the patience and the right technique to repair what needs fixing!

Aunts and Blankets

A week ago I had a dream about my aunt who has been dead for nearly eight years. I was standing in my grandparents’ kitchen and saw her sitting on the couch in the living room watching TV, bundled up in an afghan as if it were a cold winter evening. She appeared as she looked in the early eighties, slender and with short permed hair that had recently been cut. She turned her head and saw me and a smile spread across her face. A tremendous yet calm joy began to radiate from her. We smiled at each other awhile, and then I woke up.

I am lucky to have four aunts – three of whom are still here. They are all very different and special in their own way. The aunt I dreamed about liked to knit and crochet. Her specialty was afghans. When I was a child, she crocheted me a pink and lavender afghan. Though I can’t stomach the colors any more, I have held onto it because she made it for me. Funny to dream of her right after I finished making my first throw blanket. After a few attempts at knitting various cardigans, I decided the heavy alpaca-wool mix might be better as a blanket. It needs a good blocking, but it is nice and warm on my lap. It is quite different than the colorful cotton blanket with Celtic designs that has followed me around from apartment to apartment since I was a teenager.

Last summer I knit an eggplant colored merino wool baby blanket for my cousin, who was expecting her first child. Since she and her husband do not have siblings, their daughter does not have any aunts. I have always wanted to be an aunt and especially to have a niece, but that is also difficult as I don’t have any siblings either. When I lived in Poland, I learned that many of my friends had a “ciotka”, and auntie, who wasn’t technically the sister of their mother or father but simply a woman who was close enough to have this title bestowed on her. So maybe one day I too will be called aunt. At any rate, I have already behaved like my aunt by knitting a blanket that is now keepiny my cousin’s daughter warm. The cabled blanket below was a gift from a woman who you might say is an unofficial aunt of mine.

The days are getting longer, but it is still blanket and afghan weather. Since I have enough to keep me warm inside, my focus is now on jackets and cowls for staying warm outside.

May you enjoy and appreciate your aunts and blankets!

Tying Up Loose Ends

Powdered sugar

It started snowing last night in the city, more cosmetic than anything else. The street and pavement are clear, but the plants and roofs are coated nicely. It is a very peaceful backdrop to the genesis of my first blog entry in 2018. Energized after a peaceful break over the holidays, I did what many a knitter does in January: assess all the unruly yarn that has accumulated and see what I can do to tame the leftover skeins. Having turned most of the larger balls of yarn into hats a few months ago, I decided to conjure up bags and containers and a sachet. The two larger baskets still need to be felted.

Stashbusting

It is amazing how much you can make out of small bits of yarn. When I started knitting, someone told me to save all the scraps, no matter how small, and I have. After nine years of knitting, I have quite a collection. A week ago, I went on a word fast for 24 hours: no phone, no books, no computer. One of the many benefits that emerged from this fast was an impromptu organization of all those loose ends. After emptying the ziplock bag full of yarn ends (which no longer seals) and corralling all other leftover wool in my stash, I divided the ends into three categories: 4 inches/10 cm or shorter, medium lengths that could be used as ties of some kind, and longer pieces of yarn that could be wound into mini-balls and still be used for knitting.

Loose ends

The ziplock bag is now full of the 4 inch or less ends. So nothing goes to waste, I plan on using these ends to stuff a small pillow that I will knit at some point in the next few months. (Family and friends: anyone want a 7″ x 9″ pillow?) The tie length yarn is organized by color and put in the cardboard container shown above. And the mini-balls of yarn that could still become part of a collaborative effort are neatly placed in a tin (which now closes easily, without me having to push down hard on the lid). Invigorated by this action, I knit nearly a project every day in a frenzy of industriousness that Benjamin Franklin would surely have found laudatory: “Be industrious and frugal and you will be rich.”

Industry and frugality are the catchwords for January and extend into the kitchen. Over the holidays, I found my groove again with cooking and baking, two activities that were more of a chore than a joy in 2017. January is a good time to look at the best by/expiration dates on dried goods and use them up. A large pack of raisins inspired me to bake a Gugelhupf, to which I added a shot of Italian wine and two teaspoons of cinnamon to jazz up the basic buttery yeast leavened dough. The recipe called for a glaze of rum and powdered sugar, neither of which I had in the pantry. Now I can look out the window at the snow while I eat a slice – that is enough powder for me.

GugelhupfMay you enjoy the fruits of industry and frugality on the needles and in the kitchen!

Septentomology

Tuesday as I was eating lunch on the terrace, I felt something on my arm. It looked like a cross between a yellow pipe cleaner and a multicolored toothbrush. But it was as alive as me: a male caterpillar that one day will transform into a rusty tussock moth (Orgyia antiqua).  My new friend received a free ride from the table to the mint, where I presume he felt a bit more at home than on the polyester tablecloth.

A few days later I was visited by another small creature, this time one that landed on my thigh. He seemed to be quite comfortable and unbothered by the movements of my arms as I worked on my knitting, so I let him stay until he left of his own accord. Can any readers identify what type of bug it was?

Yesterday I received a third visitor. The last name of one of my great-great-grandmothers was Mosca, the Italian word for fly. I recall this when pestered by the nervous comings and goings of a fly, trying to muster up compassion and understanding for its erratic nature and establishing a link between my life and that of my nearly least favorite insect (in unpopularity only surpassed by the mosquito). Rosa Ausländer wrote a poem entitled “The Fly” that has started to rehabilitate this insect’s status in my eyes. The poem ends with the following lines:

ihre unermüdliche Sucht    /     its untiring obsession

nach Flug und Flucht         /      to fly and escape

Wiederkehr und Verweilen    /    Return and stay

ihre Liebe zur Wiese deiner Haut – / its love for the meadow of your skin –

rührt es dich nicht            / doesn’t this move you

The dry season of little knitting is over; every week a new project leaves the needles as I try to use up my stash of yarn. The shawl above matches the stowaway eggplant that somehow managed to hitch a ride home from the market amid the heads of lettuce. The cowl below turned out to be much larger than I expected and is in search of a good home – but what a nice pattern.

Friday I would have had a perfect front row seat to view the penumbral lunar eclipse, but for the first time all week there were clouds in the sky that obscured the view of the harvest moon, the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox (for a song about the full moon, listen to this one by Robyn Hitchcock, who incidentally is known to sing of insects). Two nights before, I had captured the following image of the nearly full moon.

Wishing you pleasant encounters with insects of all kinds and clear skies to see the moon!

The Summer of Unexpected Events

This summer has been marked by a number of unexpected events. A particularly momentous one was this week’s delivery of three monster zucchini that may have crossed with other squash in the vicinity: 7.25 kg / nearly 16 lbs. I sense that August’s menu will be green.

The Paul Robeson tomato plant I bought on a whim in April has produced exactly the same variety of tasty heirloom tomato that I normally buy at the market. I am not adept at matching name with appearance because most full grown tomatoes are not identified by variety at the market where I do my shopping. This surprise is a pleasant and tasty one.

There has been a severe drought in knitting this summer. The only project I have finished is a linen purse that matches everything and brings me joy whenever I look at its simple form. I wish I were skilled enough to put in a lining to help it keep its shape better. Maybe it’s not so bad after all – I am putting fewer things inside so as not to stretch it out, which is ultimately better for my shoulders!

If you had told me in May or June that this would be the summer that I finally started seriously reading poetry, I don’t think I would have believed you. It’s not that I haven’t wanted to devote more time to the lyric literary genre – this wish goes back to my teenage years. I just never seem to be able to break out of the mindset of prose and make time for poems.

There is a receipt in my copy of the Duino Elegies by Rainer Maria Rilke dated May 30, 2009. It reminds me of what I had forgotten: I bought it at Libreria Minerva in Trieste, less than an hour away from Duino Castle where Rilke was inspired to write the ten elegies. How fitting. While walking along the cliffs above the Adriatic Sea, he heard a voice say what became the first line of the poem: Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen? Who, if I cried out, would hear me from the orders of angels? Ten years, one world war, and several bouts of depression later, Rilke finished the work in 1922.

There have been moments when I wanted to cry out in frustration at the challenge of moving back and forth between the literal meaning of the words and the images Rilke uses in the hope of coming up with an interpretation of the verse. Poetry is truly another mode of using language to describe the world that is radically different from everyday speech and prose. As I learn to read poetry, I am practicing another way of deciphering the world.

Rose Ausländer, another poet I am reading intensively this summer, wrote the poem below that features the following insect spotted in my flowering savory. I had thought this would be the summer of feasting on all the herbs growing on my patio, but I have rarely taken the time to pick anything but a few leaves of mint here and there to put on top of bowls of strawberries. At least the bees are happy.

May the unexpected events you encounter be pleasant ones!

Dienen II

Ich habe Flügel und

viele Gestalten

 

bin Biene und Mensch

suche Blumen und Worte

 

Ich diene meiner Königin

der zärtlichen raubstarken

im fleißigen Spiel

 

Ich kann liebkosen

und stechen

taufrisch-himmlisches

Erdengeschöpf

 

Service II

I have wings and

many guises

 

am bee and human

seek flowers and words

 

I serve my queen

tender strong as a robber

in a busy game

 

I can caress

and sting

dew fresh heavenly

creature of earth