Sunday, November 19, 2017

More Printing, a Bunny, and a Spotted Lamb

"It's so dark right now, I can't see any light around me."
"That's because the light is coming from you. You can't see it but everyone else can."  --Lang Leav
Sunday again. I had a week where lots of things I didn't expect to happen, happened. And I find myself standing here blinking, wondering how I got here. But here I am.

We had last Monday off in lieu of Remembrance Day, and I took the opportunity to make my way down to the print studio to work on an experiment that has been brewing in my brain since I did the woodblock printing workshop a few weeks ago.

I loved the results from the workshop so much that I wondered what it would look like with a coloured background. Since then, I've been playing around with washes of watercolour paint on medium weight watercolour paper. You're supposed to stretch your paper before you paint on it, but each time I did I only ended up with a mess, so I didn't bother with it for my final versions. Besides, I've spent a whole life doing things the "right way," thinking I'd somehow get rewarded. Turns out, it wore me out as I watched other people who skipped the rules all getting ahead.

I went into the studio with these sheets. You can't really tell from the photos, but the paints I used are pearlescent, so each sheet has a pearly sheen to them when you stand in the right light:

There, I met two women I'd never met before, but who were so welcoming and happy to see me that they helped me test out my idea on some scrap newsprint and gave me pointers for how to ink my block better. I ended up walking out with these:

I got a few accidental ink smudges, and they're positioned both landscape and portrait because I was a bit flustered with having the keep one of the more experienced printers waiting. She was extremely helpful to me, probably partially to get me moving faster, but also because she was so kind. I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with them. Right now, I'm just enjoying looking at them:

It was my birthday on Friday. My parents sent me these beautiful flowers the night before:

We went to Victoria this weekend for a short getaway. We got lucky and got a dry weekend, possibly the only dry one we'll get for a while:

We met with a friend for a lovely dinner, and then the next day, we did a lot of walking, had a nice lunch, and looked around at some shops. That afternoon, we walked down to an open house at a gallery called arc.hive. There, we met lots of interesting artists showing off their workspaces and their current projects. Whenever I go to these things, someone always asks if I'm an artist, to which I never know what to say. This time, someone asked me, "Are you a maker?" and all of a sudden, I felt very confident about saying, "Yes, I am."

Because yes: I make things. And I make them not because I need them or want them. I just have to make things because I must.

But the real reason I went to the gallery was to pick up this box:

... to take this little guy home:

He's one of a litter of five made by a wonderful local sculptor and illustrator named Karina Kalvaitis. The creatures she makes speak to my soul... when I look at them, I get the same feeling I get when I see shelter animals: I want to give them all homes.

I think his name is going to be Remiel, after the archangel: Angel of Visions, the Angel of Hope, and the one you are to call if you are depressed... because sometimes, you need reassurance that things are going to get better:

He's one of her Secret Nest Animals, a species called a Nocturnal Spotted Lamb. I like lambs, and I like him. And he has a look on his face I've felt often on my own:

And he also came with his own Certificate of Authenticity, which completes the wonderful-ness:

Meanwhile, I am still knitting away. I have a hat in progress, which as of yesterday has been ripped out three times while I get the gauge and cast on sorted out. In between all of this, I whipped up this little bunny for my friend's son who also had a birthday last week:

He's made from one of those patterns where you knit a square and then use some clever stitching to fashion various animals:

But I'm most impressed with the pom-pom I made for his tail. I've never been much good at them, so I hope it lasts:

And well, that's all I have to say today. Have a good week.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Holy Sheep, I Made Two Cushions

The rain began again. It fell heavily, easily, with no meaning or intention but the fulfillment of its own nature, which was to fall and fall. --Helen Garner
We are engulfed in rain... I can't understand why I can never remember how much rain we get on this island every year, yet here I am after four years of living here and I am still amazed at how little it rains in the summer and how MUCH it rains all other times of the year.

Good thing I know how to knit:

I had a day off today in lieu of Remembrance Day, which was last Saturday. It was a good day to finish these two cushions off. Here's my Jacob Cushion, complete with stuffing and a happy ram on the front. For such a hardy fleece, it is surprisingly soft to the touch, and even after giving it a wash, it still smells mildly sheepy, which is the best scent of all:

I played a lot of "yarn chicken" while finishing these two cushions off. Last weekend, I played around with knitting a panel to put on the back. I tried using a larger gauge and a bit of moss stitching to make the most of my dwindling yardage:

And then, while that panel was blocking, I picked up the Geoffrey and Marmite panel and decided to play around with a lace pattern to make the most of the even smaller amount of cream-coloured yarn I had left. I paged through loads and loads of lace motifs until I remembered this pattern that I used when I made my Sonata shawl a couple of years ago. In this yarn, I think it looks like a flock of sheep... almost like a fuzzy mirror image of the other side:

A couple of days later, I put this one onto the boards to block and went back to the other panel again. Incidentally: I'm really liking these blocking pins from Knitters Pride. I've used them a bunch of times now, and while I still think blocking wires are excellent, these things are great in a pinch, and even better when paired with the wires. I've used them enough times to think that I might invest in another set soon:

Anyway, I went back to my Jacob cushion and sewed the panels together with an interlocking stitch, then sat and stared at it for a while to try to figure out a way to close it up. I attempted to set a zipper into it and failed miserably. One of these days, I'm going to have to figure out how to do that without it looking like I've installed a roller coaster track into my knitting. 

Then, I remembered this lot of vintage buttons that I picked up for $10 a couple of weeks ago:

So, I did some thinking... got out some spare mercerized cotton and a crochet hook and made a band with some button loops along one edge:

I set the loop band in with a crochet slip stitch along the inside of the open edge of the back panel:

And, hey look: a closed cushion! Those buttons are way more red in natural light than they were when I was sewing them on under the lamp by the couch. I'm not so sure about them, but I think they'll do for now:

I liked that method so much that I used a similar method on the Geoffrey and Marmite cushion, except I crocheted the band directly onto the edge. I'm very happy with the result:


Here it is from the front:

And the back:

I am really pleased with myself that I was able to use all of three of the skeins of Jacob yarn I got during our trip to Devon in not one, but TWO sheepy projects. I did have to cheat a bit and use some merino to seam up the Geoffrey and Marmite cushion, and I did have to use the cotton for the button loops, but I'm still quite impressed that I was able to stretch those skeins out the way I did. I'm not normally driven by "theme knitting," but it's been great having a focus for my creativity: it really helped me make decisions to get closer to the vision I had in my head.

I guess the lesson here is: when in doubt, think of sheep. Not a bad motto.

I will admit that I'm really glad these things are finished. I am a TAD tired of thinking about them all of the time, but that's just what happens when your projects become an obsession. I have cast on for a new hat because I was in the mood for a quick project...

... except I've had to rip it out twice now because I keep messing it up. Hmm... I wonder if I'll ever figure out that speed is not my forte.

Onwards to hat weather... if it ever stops raining, that is...

Sunday, November 5, 2017

November, Geoffrey and Marmite

November is the pearl-grey month, the changeling between warm crimson October and cold white December; the month when the leaves fall in slow drifting whirls and the shapes of the trees are revealed. When the earth imperceptibly wakes and stretches her bare limbs and displays her stubborn unconquerable strength before she settles uneasily into winter. November is secret and silent. --Alison Uttley
November is always the month that creeps in slowly through the back door, like a silent cat that shocks the heck out of you by - BAM - just being THERE. Whoa. How the heck...? When did you get here?

The festivities of Halloween came and went for us like a rumor. We don't get trick-or-treaters in our neighbourhood, so apart from the single little bag of candy I always buy "just in case," I barely thought about Halloween at all. And it wasn't even good candy. I mean, it's candy, I will not waste good sugar treats, but I'm slowly dispersing it via my candy bowl on my desk at work. Nothing stops complaints better than being confronted by a bowl of Tootsie Pops.

November is oven-warmth time... the time when I look forward to dinner because it means I get to bask in the rush of warmth from opening the oven to reveal roasted good stuff. It's the time when I feel like making cooked breakfasts on the weekends... except they usually get so involved that I'm starving by the time it's all ready to eat. I tried a new pancake recipe this morning, and it resulted in the lightest, pillowy, fluffy pancakes I've ever made. Kind of like a pancake meringue, without the chewy sugar. It was like eating air, which is why I felt pretty good about eating four of them:

And then for lunch, I made a batch of tomato soup, plus a batch of these scones, except I had to use frozen blueberries and dried cranberries. They were so good that I'm very much obliged to make more:

Meanwhile, on the couch, I sit cozily under my knitted shawls and blankets as I work away on other warm, wooly things. I finished this panel the other day, and it's currently sitting out to dry. The sheep turned out pretty well, apart from the ones I put too close to the edge. I think it'll be ok once it dries and I put some kind of edging on it:

These two on the end are my favourite. I call the dark one Geoffrey and the one on the end Marmite. Why? Because I think those are their names:

I am trying to figure out if I have enough yarn to knit squares that I will be able to sew onto the back of this one to make it a cushion, but it looks like I might be cutting it pretty darn close. And since I'm pretty sure I'm doomed to fail, I'm not knitting particularly quickly. Heh. Nothing quite like procrastination to make the inevitable suck even more.

However, I got some news today that prompted me to knit this:

It's a dove. For peace. And for sending love to those who have lost loved ones. I hope he helps.

So here we are: November. The geese are flying away, the snow is slowly drifting in, and the darkness is coming. And here I am, sitting in the comfort of wool and scones. They're not the answer to everything, but I've been looking for answers for a long time, and these are the best ones I've found so far.

Happy Sunday.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Inky Sheep, Stranded Sheep

The Lord sets a hard road for those He entrusts with a talent. But a hard road is easier with a friend. --Father Brown
A couple of weeks ago, I visited the local art gallery with a friend. It's a small gallery: just large enough for a nice show of work, but small enough so as not to be overwhelming. I only started visiting it recently, but I always enjoy myself seeing what people are doing, especially since all of the artists are local to me. You never know what dreams are lurking in your neighbour's head.

Anyway, while I was at the gallery, I sat down with the gallery magazine and flipped through the pages and found the workshop and classes section. There, I found a workshop entitled, "Woodblock Printing," and it was on the following weekend in the print shop at the gallery.

I've often walked past the print shop and longed to go in, but most of the beginner's classes tend to be during the weekdays and I usually can't make it. Years ago (decades ago!) I did some silk screen printing in a graphics class I took in high school, and ever since then, I've had a fascination with inks. As soon as I saw this workshop was available, I pulled out my cell phone and registered on the spot.

I spent the next few days trying to think of what I wanted to try to print, as I was supposed to bring "inspiration" along with me. I did some searching and finally settled on something with a sheep in it. It seemed like the thing to do.

We arrived at the class and sketched out our ideas on some newsprint:

And then we transferred it onto our wood blocks. Others did a transfer using pastel chalks, but  I decided to re-draw it freehand, which was a bit time-consuming:

And then, we all sat down and carved out our blocks. Mine took ages because of the detail, and everyone else was already printing away while I carved out the last few lines. I was really rushing at the end, and I was really, really worried that I was going to be disappointed with the result:

But I was absolutely thrilled with my first proof:

And I printed several more on the "good" paper to be sure:

I'm so proud of them. I would love to put one of those in a frame sometime, and I already have some plans to try another few prints with a wash of watercolour paint in the background. It feels good to have some creative fun.

I walked home through the trees and was mesmerized by all of the colours of the autumn leaves. We're having a spectacular autumn here... a mixture of rain and warm temperatures and sunshine is making even the most sanguine person stop and stare with the show:

It's as though all of the trees got together to give it their best shot before the winter comes:

Even the butternut squash soup I made yesterday seemed to be glowing with colour:

Meanwhile, I have been on a sheep-kick for the last few weeks. I have been playing around with the skeins of Jacob yarn I got while in the UK, and the most suitable projects for them seem to be sheep-related. I took this dishcloth pattern and decided to add some moss stitches around to mimic the crimp of sheep's fleece. I think I am going to make it into a cushion if I have enough yarn left to make the back. I'm very pleased with how nicely it blocked:

This sheep reminds me in particular of the spectacular Jacob rams, even though it doesn't quite have the horns on it:

I still have lots of yarn left, so I'm continuing with the sheep-thing by playing around with the stranded sheep from this pattern ("stranded sheep" always sound like sheep that missed a plane). The colour work is challenging, but I am really enjoying the results so far:

Meanwhile, I'm looking around for more opportunities to be around creative people. I so enjoyed being with the others during that workshop... I always do at these things. It's like we pass around a bowl of inspiration that we all get to sip from, and it breathes enough life into me to lift me up for the next few days. Maybe I'll go and hang around in the print shop until I spill enough ink on me to be considered a fellow printer... though it might be more reasonable for me to just go and hang around a flock of sheep. 

That's not a bad idea at all. Happy Sunday.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Wading in the Estuary

And the sun took a step back, the leaves lulled themselves to sleep and Autumn was awakened. --Raquel Franco
I think I've said it many times before, but I love autumn. I love the cooler days, the sleepy, cozy nights at home, and the colours... how I love the colours. I always think I love the reds the best, but I know how much I am drawn to the oranges and golds this time of year. I find myself stopping and gaping at the trees each day. Indeed, these days, anything red or orange or gold gives me reason to pause, and to take a deep breath.

And of course, there is the food... all of the hefty root vegetables and squashes, round and heavy with their deep-seeded nutrients, waiting to be roasted or made into the warming soups that I crave. I was wandering around a grocery store the other day and saw this amazing squash, which made me grin with delight. I nearly took it home, but I couldn't think of a thing to do with it. I found out later it's a turban squash, which is a pretty good name. I think it might be in the running for the coolest vegetable I've ever seen. I think others thought so as well because as I walked around the block, I noticed a few of them in the window decorations of a cafe. It's quite simply the most interesting vegetable I've seen in a while:

I finally finished my Estuary shawl. I actually finished knitting it last Saturday evening. I decided to soak it and block it out that night, and I thought it would be ready to photograph the next day, but it's been so damp that I didn't think it was dry enough to take it off the blocking boards until Monday afternoon. It was a big, big blocking job. I don't think it's technically the largest I've ever blocked, but I'm pretty sure it's the longest one. I sure as heck didn't want to waste all that effort by taking it off the boards too early:

My original plan was to use up two full skeins of the Indigo Moon BFL Fingering Weight I had, which would have been 860 yards, but after having to fix mistake after mistake, I lost track of where the centre of the shawl was. I ended up wimping out on trying for the full yarn finish and instead took heart in knowing that, for once, I was sure I wasn't going to run out.

I must say: I can't stop looking at it. The colour continues to mesmerize me:

The colour varies in different lights. It's actually quite difficult to photograph because of the warmth it imbues into its surroundings:

And dude: it's a long shawl. I'm glad I didn't try to use up both skeins. It would have been so long that it would be bordering on ridiculous. It's so long that I didn't even bother to stretch it out to full length for any of the photos because I knew I'd get tired after a while:

I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to figure out how I might actually wear such a thing. Most of the time, anything this long usually ends up getting twisted around and around my neck, which I think is a shame because the lace pattern is so beautiful in its simplicity. Luckily, it's deep enough to cover my back, which is perfect for when I sit in my frigid office at work:

And it's not bad wrapped around my front:

And long enough to get twisted around my neck without losing the lace pattern in all the folds:

But I'm pretty sure this is how it's going to get worn the most: just wrapped around me while I mosey around:

I find it interesting that I finished this shawl at this point in my life. In the pattern, it says:
An estuary is a fertile place, a junction between riverine and ocean habitats, where the mixing of fresh and salt water creates a graduated ecosystem which nurtures thousands of species.
And, right now, I do find myself at an in-between place in my life, not quite here and not quite there and not quite sure what is next. And yet, here I stand, with lots of things streaming past, full of things that may be opportunities or things that may sweep me away. And right now, I'm just learning to stand up in it all, and to be patient that I'll know when it's time to wade in and see what's there for me.

Despite what the photos show above, it's been raining here... raining all of the rain that the ground has been yearning for all summer. The ground is drinking it in, gulping and gasping and swallowing it up like a man staggering in from a long race in the desert. I find myself yearning for comfort, softness, to sink in and to be held.

I decided to pull out three skeins of Jacob yarn I got in Devon last month and do something with them. I searched and searched for something that would suit the wool, but as I paged through patterns, I had the distinct feeling of having "seen it all before." Everything seemed a bit too ornate, a bit too... much. In the end, I decided to experiment with stitches that would show off the heathered fleece of the yarn and would pay homage to the sheep it came from. So far, I'm liking it, but I won't give away what I'm doing until I'm sure it's going to work out:

For now, I'm content to test out the waters around me in as many ways as I can. I signed up last-minute for a workshop on Sunday that I'm hoping will be another way to stretch the creative side of my brain. I'm not sure it'll amount to anything, but I'm grateful to get the chance to try something new.

Sigh... autumn... so glad to see it come around again....