Saturday, December 26, 2015

All is Calm, All is Bright

Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home. --Edith Sitwell
I've been looking forward to coming home to Winnipeg this Christmas. Each day this past autumn, my eyes kept wandering over to the calendar to see how much closer I was to December. And then, in a flash, it was here.

I've been feeling the darkness of winter more keenly this year: waking in darkness, and then arriving home again in darkness. Such is life in the Northern Hemisphere, and I am certainly not a stranger to it, but this year... this year seemed so DARK. And I mean "dark" with capital letters and booming, echoing voice.

We boarded a plane on Tuesday morning to come here. It was an early flight. We got to the airport shortly after 6:00am to depart for 7:20am. It was dark and frosty... and DARK. I was yawning and sleepy, even with the cup of coffee I downed before I left the house. We boarded the plane, where the flight attendant was a jolly, middle-aged man with a beard, a red Christmassy tie, and a white beard... for real. And when it came time to do the safety briefing, he sang it to us to a medley of Christmas songs in a deep, gentle voice. It was the best safety briefing ever: friendly and welcoming, and not remotely brash or annoying. We were all smiling.

We had a brief stopover in Vancouver airport, where they had turned the cart that ferries people to each gate into a red sleigh, complete with Santa, waving and ho-ho-ing and making people smile. It made me smile, too. I wish I'd gotten up the nerve to get a photo with him.

And then, I came home to a snowy winter - one of the few white Christmases in the country this year. We arrived in the afternoon, and when it was time for bed, we switched off the light, and I remembered what makes winter here so different from everywhere else I've lived. It's not just that it's so cold here...

... it's so BRIGHT.

There is nothing quite like the whiteness of snow to light up the place, both day and night. The light of the streetlights and the brightness of the full moon bounced off the show to light up my bedroom so brightly at night that I had to keep checking that I hadn't left a light on somewhere.

We went to the park today in the frigid weather to get some exercise after all of the food we ate on Christmas Day. When we got there, we found we weren't the only ones who preferred being there over the madness of Boxing Day shopping at the mall:

It wasn't so bad once you go in direct sunlight. As we stood looking over at the Red River, I was feeling quite comfortable in my double layers and wooly hat, mittens and scarf. You can see a trail there in the snow. I couldn't tell if they were animal tracks or someone snowshoeing from their house to the park:

I had plenty of choice for woollen warmth today. I finished my Cliff Hat the day before we came here. I only did three repeats, and then added a little pop of colour at the top that almost looks like a pompom. I was so excited about it that I soaked it that night and hoped desperately that it would dry by the morning... which it didn't. But luckily, the air in planes is so dry that it was ready by the time we landed:

And I liked it so much, that I made another one, this time starting with a green band and knitting it in opposite sequence. I finished it much more quickly since I had already mastered the alterations from the original pattern:

I thought I liked the one with the blue band better, but this Indigo Moon yarn is so nice, they both look fantastic. They are super comfortable, too. I gave the blue-banded one to my mom, and I took the green one. They both have had plenty of wear already:

I've started on another little project while I'm here: a pair of Cappio Fingerless Mitts. I brought along a skein of Malabrigo Rios that I've been hoarding in my collection for a while. The colourway is called Candombe, which is like a muddy watercolour palette. It's really hard to photograph. This skein has a distinct smoky green tone that I just couldn't capture. Bright days or not, I think I'll need to do some additional photos to really show these in their true colours:

The problem is that this project is going so quickly that I think I might run out of yarn to play with before I go back to the Island. Guh. Do I need an emergency visit to the yarn store when I already have an overwhelming stash at home? Oh dear... dilemma...

Still, things could be worse. I am so very, very grateful to be home with my family this year, what with my father's health being so poor. Maybe that's partly why the days also seem so much brighter: every day seems like a bonus. Even mundane things such as sitting and watching gameshows together seem like a relief... especially Family Feud...

... but let's not mention THAT, shall we?

You've probably noticed that I also spent some time working on the layout of this blog. I'm pretty happy with it, and I'll likely keep fiddling with it over the next few weeks until I'm satisfied. While I was working on it, I couldn't help but feel sad at how few posts I have written this year. I'm trying not to feel too bad about it: if there's anything I've learned recently, life is all about ebbs and flows. Maybe now that the blog is looking all spiffy, it'll inspire me to be a little more prolific with my writing next year...

That sounds suspiciously like a New Year's Resolution. Oh man. Here I am in my stretchy leggings and full belly and I'm already working on the resolutions. Maybe I better take a few deep breaths and enjoy each bright and sunny day one at a time. Yes, that seems like a good idea.

Happy Holidays, all.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Merry Fishmas, Elf

My idea of Christmas, whether old-fashioned or modern, is very simple: loving others. Come to think of it, why do we have to wait for Christmas to do that? --Bob Hope
I had a weird week. I was sailing along through the last week of work before the holidays, when on Tuesday, I was hit with kind of a 24-hour bug. It's not the first time this has happened. I felt chills, then fatigue, and then I just felt all-out terrible. I went home. I took a hot bath, gave myself a foot scrub, took a nap, woke up with a headache, then took another nap...

And then, I felt fine. So freaking weird.

I decided to stay home on Wednesday, just to be sure I was ok. We're going home to my family over the holidays, and since my mom is immunosuppressed, I can't bring home any bugs. I slept a lot, drank a lot of water, and sat on the couch under blankets.

While I was home, I made this fish for a friend of mine who helped me out of a bind. I should have named him. I think we should call him Cliff. I think that's a good name for a fish: 

I used this pattern, but used some leftover worsted weight Patons Classic instead of sock yarn, and therefore, larger needles. I also reversed the direction of the dorsal fin, and fiddled with the tail to give it more of a tapered look.

I crocheted some lips onto him. And yeah.. his fins are a bit crooked, but that seemed to help him sit on my desk a bit better. Sorry about that, Cliff. The fact that I realized I was doing the head decreases wrong (and therefore, saved him from looking like a sturgeon) was a miracle. I guess I should knit toys more often.

In a rare fit of holiday spirit, I sat down yesterday and decided I'd crochet this elf. I'd been thinking of making it since last year when one of my Google+ friends shared it, and I thought he'd make a cute little gift. It took some hunting, but I eventually tracked down the pattern here. It's in Italian, and I thought I could wing it by making myself a strong coffee and reading it with the best Eat-Pray-Love accent I could muster, but it was the hubby who reminded me that I can upload files to Google Translate to get it into English. That wasn't as fun, but probably a lot more productive. I took me a couple of tries to make sure I understood what was happening, but the result is so darn cute that I put him on the couch next to me while I watched Jimmy Fallon. I think he enjoyed it.

He was actually a bit of a distraction from this hat, which I am basing on Shellie Anderson's Cliff Hat, except that I keep screwing it up. I've ripped it out at least four times in the last two days. I figure I'll either end up with a hat, or a really big pot holder. At least the yarn is holding up with all the ripping. It's hand-dyed worsted weight Merino from local yarn artist, Indigo Moon.

At least the elf is impressed:

It's only today that I'm getting the chance to take photos of my finished Svalbard. In truth, I wasn't really sure I liked the finished result, but I think it has grown on me over the week. I am happy with the colour, and with the way it hangs:

I am not in love with the way the button holes turned out. I hate making button holes in general - I am just not good at them. I might fiddle with them a bit more to make them better, but I'm going to leave it for now. It's enough to make me want to knit a pullover next. 

I am, however, very happy with the buttons. I actually went out and found three different options for it. I laid them each onto the sweater, hmm'd and hahhed, squinted my eyes at them, and even walked away to look out the window to refresh my eyes to make sure I liked them. And yeah, I really do:

But the part I like the best is the back. Bristol Ivy truly is a genius:

I was worried I'd be too cold with the short sleeves, but I wore it out for lunch today, and found I was warm enough with my alpaca shawl wrapped around my neck. It's certainly not the best for a true Canadian winter, but it'll do for a cafe lunch on Vancouver Island:

Given that I had that weird health blip in the middle of the week, it's been an oddly productive project week: quite possibly the most productive yarn week I've had all year. Huh.. interesting.

Perhaps it's because I don't usually knit for other people. I am a self-proclaimed Selfish Knitter, and I'm really protective of the time I spend with my yarn. Maybe crafting for other people makes me go faster. It's an interesting result, and it's a nice thing to be able to do, and it makes me feel good, but I think I'll keep the yarn project gifts as a rarity. Yarn is not to be rushed, no matter who it's for.

We're off to my family on Tuesday morning, and I'm really looking forward to it. People keep asking me if I'm ready for Christmas, and yeah, I really am. Our family holiday has never been about the gifts. It's always been a day of visits from friends and family, and sitting together and enjoying food and conversation and company. Am I ready for that? Oh yes, I really, really am.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Brain-Tipper, Finger-Tester

One tends to give one's fingers too little credit for their own good sense. -- Elizabeth Zimmerman
I like to think of myself as a pretty confident crafter. Once I know what I want to make, I can usually wander my way through a project until I get what I want. It usually means a lot of squinting at the ceiling for me, because that's what I look like when I'm trying to figure something out in my head. I guess I'm hoping that the answer is going to be written up there somewhere, or maybe I'm tipping my brain backwards in the hopes that the answer I'm looking for is going to trickle down through the mess that's in there. Either way, I'm usually pretty good at fumbling my way to the the goal...

... until this sweater came along.

I've spent a bunch of time fretting over this sweater. I realized this weekend that I really haven't knit myself many sweaters recently, and so my ideas of sizing and yarn allowance is really skewed. As a result, I'm still really not sure about this project. Is it too big? Too small? Too long? Too short? What ho, Goldilocks? Is it ever going to be just right?

But, as with anything you do, you can either give up or keep on going. And I'm nearly there.

I've learned a few things while knitting this:
  1. You need a lot more yarn than you think if you're knitting anything with a ribbed pattern.
  2. If I'm worried that I'm going to run out of yarn, I knit faster.
  3. When I knit faster, stop a lot more often to look up other patterns for plans in case this project doesn't work out.
  4. When I look for other patterns, I knit faster still, because now I have other things I want to make.
Knitting is a terrible affliction at times.

I had to keep re-imagining what I wanted this sweater to be as I worked away at it. Having abandoned the original pattern, my final goal was still somewhat hazy. At first, I thought I wanted it to be a fitted sweater with a tall collar with buttons that went all the way up to the neck... except, I realized this weekend that my fingers had actually knitted a v-neck sweater that would probably fasten at the bust, at best. 

Well gee, fingers. Thanks a lot.

That meant I had to ditch the tall, ribbed collar and knit a ribbed edging along the fronts and the neckline, which is pretty, but I'm still getting used to the idea.

I also had to re-imagine the sleeves from the long, wrist-length sleeves I wanted into a three-quarter length (or, if I'm honest, two-thirds) sleeve, because I was rapidly running out of yarn. The option to get more was out of the question, because this is a discontinued colourway of Cascade 220. The final bind off for the second sleeve was a bit of a nail-biter, because, as of the final stitch, I had 5 inches of yarn left.

Note to self: Stop buying discontinued yarns.

Second note to self: You've got a couple of bags of discontinued yarn upstairs that you probably don't have enough of either. Ya big dummy.

The whole thing is currently drying after a long soak to block out all my uneven stitches. Oddly, it shed a lot of dye in the water: I had to change the water three times before it looked like it was going to stop, which is odd for Cascade yarns. I'm still not sure of it. I'm debating whether or not it needs buttons, and if so, what kind it needs. I looked through my button jar, and the only ones that looked close to suitable were these ones I got at an antique mall a few months ago. I think they might be a bit too red, I don't know. I might have to have a wander through one of the local yarn shops to see if there's anything better. I'd appreciate an opinion or two here, really.

But there are still some things about it that I think I've done really well. I liked the way I bound off all the edges using Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off, which I've used so often that I can now do it without looking. I actually do it with a crochet hook, which makes it easier for me to keep it even. Yup... the fingers did a nice job with this one:

So, here I sit with a wet sweater that I'm not sure of. What now?

I think I'll plan a project with this yarn. I've got five skeins of it. I think I'll make a sweater out of it. And, oh yeah... it's a discontinued colourway, too.

Looks like I'll be doing a lot of brain-tipping and finger-testing again. Yay me.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Markets and Dinosaurs: Getting Into the Holiday Spirit

I have never listened to anyone who criticized my taste in space travel, sideshows or gorillas. When this occurs, I pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room. --Ray Bradbury
I like snow. A lot of people hate it, and, growing up in Winnipeg and then living in Alberta for six years, I totally get that. I'm not a fan of the cold air hurting my face, but I do miss the snow. People who grew up here on Vancouver Island often look at me like I've got two heads when I say that I miss snow. I'm entitled to my own likes and dislikes, and I'm learning to pack up my dinosaurs and leave the room when people criticize me for it, as Ray Bradbury says.

I'm having a hard time believing that it's nearly Christmas, due to the lack of snow on Vancouver Island. I'm actually ok with not having snow here, because I find that, when it does snow here, it's that wet, sticky snow that turns into treacherous icy conditions that make me want to stay off the roads and hide at home under blankets until it's all over. But, as a prairie girl, I'm used to the arrival of snow to trigger my holiday spirit.

So, to try to trigger it for myself, I've been trying to stop in at Christmas markets whenever I hear about them. There has been one going on for the last couple of weekends at a place near here called The Community Farm Store. The market is called Drift: A Winter Artisan Market, and I was especially interested because all of the vendors there were indeed artisans, selling their handmade wares. For me, a market is not a market if there are no artisans there.

This week, I entered a draw on the Facebook event page for this market and was lucky enough to win this lovely hand sewn pouch by a vendor called Drift and Nest:

Draws like these are such great ideas because 1) people will spread the news about the event and 2) if you win, you have to go to the event to get it. And well, twist my rubber arm and tell me I have to go to a market, why don't you. 

While I was there, I met Elissa, the artisan behind Drift and Nest and got chatting with her. I found out she'd only learned to sew a few months ago, which totally blew me away. Learning to sew, then learning to set zippers, and then making pouches and pillows and cushions for sale to the public, all in a few months? I was so, so impressed. Her fabric right now comes from  South America and Mexicoall over the world, brought back to her by her family from their travels.

I bought this pouch as well, both because I wanted to support her, and also because I'm also a closet stationery addict who is always on the hunt for the perfect pencil case. It's difficult to be a stationery addict in a world that pressures me to do everything on my smart phone, but again, I'm quite ok with packing up my dinos for that argument and enjoying my pencil case instead:

And, anyone who bought a pouch, got a free ornament as well:

While I was there, I strolled around and met and chatted with the other vendors. It was there that I met Lawrence of Wood Bee Designs, who makes items out of vintage postage stamps. He knew I was from Winnipeg when I stopped and smiled at this Portage and Main stamp. "Sometimes, when I make things, I know it's for one specific person out there." And it turned out to be me:

I got a few other things that I can't share here because they're gifts for people, but I feel happy that I got a chance to go and support some artisans and get a little festive spirit going:

In the meantime, I'm still working on my Svalbard. I'm loving this sweater, but I'm still nervous about it. I completely disregarded the instructions to knit the swingy fronts and am making a more traditional cardigan, but I'm feeling a little wary that this blatant disregard of the rules is somehow going to come back to haunt me. Maybe I shouldn't have packed up the dinos on this one...

I'm still unsure of the sizing. I want to call it the Incredible Illusion Sweater, because when it's lying flat, it looks incredibly small due to the way all the ribbing pulls the fabric inward. People ask me who it's for, and I tell them it's for me, they look at it, and then look back at me, and put on that sympathetic "oooh, she's crazy" look, and nod. I have to keep stopping and measuring and trying it on, because even I'm not so sure that it's right:

This is the back. You can see that there are variations of ribbing there as well, and when I try it on, it looks amazing, honestly it does.

I think what I love most about it is that it's completely the opposite of what I've been finding in the stores this season. Every time I wander into the shops, all I see are racks upon racks of grey, white, or black sweaters, mostly oversized, mostly boxy in shape, and mostly acrylic. And they're pretty, and yeah, I bought one, but I feel like it's a uniform right now that I'm a bit tired of seeing.

So, a pink fitted sweater for me. And if I stick out like a sore thumb, well so be it. I will be a lady in a pink sweater with a special love for snow and artisan markets and pencil cases. If anyone needs me, I'll be over here with my Happy Meal playing with my dinos...