Happy May Day!

Here is a bouquet of Joseph’s Coat roses…

and fluttering white irises…

… a little visual feast while I’m off-duty this week.

I’ll be back soon!

Garrrden Grrrl

While I’m away from home this week checking in with my parents and doing a Brave New Knits signing at Katonah Yarn Co., I thought I’d share some of what is blooming in the garden.

It is definitely iris season, and they are spectacular this year.

It took a solid 2-3 years for them to begin spreading, but they are well entrenched by now and each spring the display is better.

Gardening has taught me patience much as knitting has – it takes as much time to get the various elements just right, from color placement and composition, to the texture of the leaves and flowers themselves. The delicacy of irises never fails to captivate me.

And all of these varieties are incredibly fragrant; they are the plant version of the perfume counter at my favorite department store, only I never experience the sensory overload that happens pretty quickly when I’m sniffing perfumes. It has become a pleasure to sit outside with my knitting when it’s warm enough, waiting for the various fragrances to waft around me whenever the breeze picks up. Truly a little bit of heaven.

Upcoming Brave New Knits Event at Katonah Yarn Co.

On Tuesday, May 3rd from 6 – 8 pm, I will be visiting Katonah Yarn Co. during their weekly knit night, to sign copies of Brave New Knits and to share all the wonderful projects from the book with a complete trunk show.

If you’re in the area and have been having a hard time deciding which project to make first, this is your chance to see the projects in person and choose your favorites. Shop owners Jennifer and Rae will help you select the perfect yarn.

Katonah is not far from where I grew up, and I am so excited to be able to spend an evening with a great group of knitters from my old stomping ground! Katonah Yarn Co. is located at 120 Bedford Road, Katonah, NY. See you there!

Introducing More Knitting In The Sun

Designer Kristi Porter’s brand-new sequel to her Knitting In the Sun is all about warm-weather knitted clothes for children. And I am honored to have a project included in it: the Matilda Tunic.

The projects are whimsical and fetching in all the ways that appeal most to the kids who wear our knits: colorful, comfortable, and loaded with cute details. For us knitters, they are also sized across a generous range and made of (mostly) easy-care fibers.

Here is my Matilda Tunic, modeled by a child who – with her blonde hair and red glasses – is a dead-ringer for me as a child (according to my husband). Only, I have to say that this child model is much cuter than I ever was…

…though no less inclined to mug for the camera, as you can see.

My tunic (made in the requested sample size 6) was a snap to work up with 5 skeins of KFI’s Sublime Bamboo and Pearls DK, even though it is knit on relatively small US Size 5 needles. I had such fun working out the details of the side panels, which give the tunic its flare.  And that sweatshirt pocket – what kid doesn’t love a pocket for stashing treasures collected over the course of an average day?

This project can definitely be made longer and worn as a jumper over a tee shirt, or as a sleeveless dress on a really hot day.

There are lots of other projects in More Knitting In the Sun that I’d love to make, and I’ll share some of those in my next post.

Feeling Brittle

Every year I am asked to make the same contribution to the Passover seder we attend at the home of friends.

Matzoh brittle, with its buttery-caramelized crunch and chocolate-almond (and sometimes shredded coconut) toppings is as delicious as it is easy. In years past I was reliably guilty of consuming way, way more than my fair share.

But not anymore. Oh, sure, I still make the matzoh brittle – several batches, in fact. But being on a gluten-free diet means I no longer eat it. This could be considered a new form of culinary torture, if you ask me.

So knowing about my legendary sweet tooth, you are no doubt wondering if I was able to find a substitute gluten-free and yeast-free confection that would be an acceptable Passover treat.

Oh, yes. Yes, I did.

After making a triple batch of these light yet chewy almond macarons (though not as fine and fluffy as the Ladurée version from Paris that is showing up on every trendy dessert menu these days), the proverbial lightbulb went on. I borrowed the Ladurée macaron filling concept…

… and dug out the jar of Nutella that had been languishing at the back of a kitchen cupboard just waiting for its close-up.

Nutella is the ultimate mouth-gasm, in my opinion, and it spread with perfectly unctuous smoothness across one flat side of my macarons.

At our seder, I snagged a couple of these decadent treats for my dessert and left the matzoh brittle to the others.

And you know what? I did not feel at ALL deprived.

Baby Caps – On An (Endless?) Roll

I’ve been on a lot of car trips lately, and I’ve been watching Lark Rise To Candleford among other long-running BBC television series. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. There’s something satisfying about completing one of these:

… while a passenger on various trips hither and yon, or while watching some very fine actors on tv as they maneuver through Victorian daily life. And since the girls’ baby caps were so well received, I decided I’d better get busy making some for boys, too, because a couple of my friends have recently become parents of sons.

And now that Upstairs Downstairs is on – for one more week, at least – I foresee a couple more of these little stash-busters in my near future.

How many people realize that Claire Foy, the actress playing impetuous and headstrong Lady Persie:

is the same person who played Little Dorrit with such heartbreaking sensitivity and intensity?

Baby Caps: Gilding the Lily

Those baby caps were looking just a bit too plain to me. Back to the stash for inspiration I went… and came up with the following solution:

These pink crochet flowers are worked in some 100% wool that has been in my stash literally since I first learned to knit 30 years ago. Obviously, the passage of time has done nothing to compromise its thoroughly girly pinkness.

Whipping up the flowers was the work of less than 2 hours total. The exploration of my button stash for the right center buttons took almost as long!

These are vintage plastic buttons from around 1930, in pristine condition, that I scored from Jodi at greenrayprod on Etsy.com. She always has a wonderful selection so I seldom leave the site with an empty shopping cart.

I stitched the buttons VERY securely to the center of the blossoms, in hope that the new mommas won’t consider them a threat to their little ones’ safety.

Pre-blooms and buttons, these caps felt a little blah to me. Now I’m really happy with them. Sometimes a little extra effort pays off in a big way.

Mad-cap Knitting

Stash-busting is a goal of mine this year. Never let it be said that I don’t put ALL of my yarn to good use.

The left-over yarn from my baby cardigan was burning a hole in my knitting bag, so to speak, and I had enough of it to make these three little baby caps. Each one required somewhat less than a single 114-yd. skein of Koigu Kersti, knit on size US 5 needles, and took me a couple of hours one evening to knit.

Even when I’m not designing an original project from scratch, sometimes it’s fun to take a basic pattern and put my own spin on it; these caps are perfect examples. The only element I changed is the cuff of each.

As you can see, each one is different, and each one will go to a different newborn baby girl.

When I mentioned in an earlier post that all of my friends seem to be having babies or new grandchildren, I was not kidding! These caps put me a little ahead as far as the girl babies are concerned. I have to make a few for boys as well – more pleasurable rifling through my stash will undoubtedly turn up just the right yarn.

And in the garden, the poppies are up. Although most of them are neon orange, every year we get a few lovely mutants that are either a pale creamy yellow, or a delicate pink (see below). We make an extra effort to spread those particular seeds around to encourage them, but they seem a bit more temperamental than the orange ones and only take root where the conditions are exactly to their liking.

Lots of new daffodils this year; I love buying a bag of mixed bulbs to plant in the fall, and then seeing what comes up in the spring!

And the first irises are up as well; these stunning white ones smell like grape candy, and are as fluttery and fragile as a Victorian lady’s handkerchief.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad

Today is my parents’ 55th wedding anniversary… quite a milestone for any couple, but perhaps especially so given that the last year has been a difficult one for Lily and Herb. Their health has suffered, and they have endured a seemingly endless winter. But they are still alive despite the odds, and still together.

This photo was taken in 1968 or 1969, by which time they had already been married for about 12 years, already had their three daughters, and had already built their dream house. Inside the cover of this photo, my mom had written “Best looking couple at the office party,” and I do not doubt her word.

Their first decade together was during the “Mad Men” years, and my mother was every bit as lovely and put-together as Betty Draper (but so much nicer and more loving that there is no other basis for comparison). How she managed to do this with three little girls demanding her attention, I’ll never know.

My dad worked on Wall St. rather than Madison Ave., but he was home by six o’clock every evening secure in the knowledge that dinner would be on the table fifteen minutes after he walked in the door. And my mother never failed to run a brush through her hair and freshen her lipstick a few minutes before his arrival. It was another era to be sure, but it worked for them.

Happy Anniversary, Mom and Dad!

Some Choices Are Harder Than Others

But we have a winner nonetheless.

Down to two options (nobody seemed to care for the clear cut glass buttons), the brass bunches of cherries or these green resin ones, I finally settled on the green.

The brass ones seemed like overkill once I decided to applique the little crocheted bunches of cherries to the fronts of this cardigan. And the green ones, in their simplicity, do not detract from the crocheted appliques in any way. In addition, I really like the way they pull the green out of the variegated yarn; they keep the pinks and lilac colors from overwhelming the knitted fabric.

So thanks to all who weighed in with their choices. It helped, it really did!

In and around the garden over the weekend, the ranunculus continued to glow in that amazing saturated golden color, catching my eye every time I pass them.

To my amazement, the first of the artichokes are already up in the vegetable garden. They seem really early this year! Because we have so few of the plants (they take up a LOT of space in the raised beds, and I had room to plant only 5 of them), and they seldom ripen all at once, there are never enough of the large globe ones for everyone, and often just a handful of the secondary babies. Rather than fight over them, I buy a package from Trader Joe’s to supplement those from the garden, and that way everybody is happy at dinner time.

Of all the old-fashioned flowers planted in the garden, I confess that these bleeding hearts are among my favorites. Not only are they gorgeous in a delicate way, bu they return year after year.

And now to plot out my evening, the highlight of which will be the first episode of the new Upstairs Downstairs (yes, I miss that comma from the original series, too.) Having watched all of The Cazalets (based on a wonderful series of 4 novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard), and now working my way through the DVDs of Lark Rise to Candleford – both charming period drama series that serve to enhance an evening’s knitting – I am ready for a fresh, new series to begin.

Choosing Buttons: Help Wanted

I find myself on the horns of a dilemma (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase, “horns of a dilemma,” but never had an appropriate occasion until now. Just what does horns of a dilemma mean, anyway? I envision a gigantic rhinoceros and some poor hapless individual – me, in this instance – sitting astride it holding on for dear life.). This particular dilemma is vis-a-vis the buttons for my little baby cardigan.

I raided my out-of-control, barely contained, too-much-of-a-good-thing-is-wonderful stash of vintage buttons and came up with three different options.

The “problem” is that I like all three options equally, for different reasons. These cut glass buttons are sturdy – nothing fragile about them. Because they are clear, they take nothing away from the rich colors of the cardigan yarn.

Now these muted green resin buttons, on the other hand, pick up the exact shade of green that appears in the yarn variegation.

That could be a good thing, right? I like their shape, their smoothness, and their utter lack of cutesiness (is cutesiness even a word? I’m talking about all those brightly colored plastic buttons designed specifically for baby clothes and shaped like little duckies, or crayons, or trucks. You know what I mean…).

Finally, I also rediscovered these molded brass buttons that feature a swirling bunch of cherries. They have a lovely dimensional quality and a warm patina.

They stand out from the knitting, but not unattractively.

And they play off of the crocheted cherry motifs I’ve sewn to each front panel of the cardigan. These little bunches of cherries are special to me (but not necessarily baby-ish, nonetheless) because I found them in Paris six years ago when I went with my family for the first time.

I had read about a place called La Droguerie, and spent a happy hour there browsing its unbelievable abundance of knitting and craft items. The little bunches of cherries came back to the U.S. with me, and I’ve been saving them for the right project ever since.

And just to keep you up to date on what is happening in the garden, it looks like we might have a few pears this summer! Last year’s blossoms drowned in all the rain we had in April; this year’s deluge was in March, thankfully before the pear tree blooms.

So last year we had (literally) three pears on the entire tree; this year, I suspect it will be hard to count them all. Pear butter, anybody?

And the one of the two new baby peach trees is showing signs of life. I doubt we’ll have any fruit this year – that twig is basically the central trunk of the tree, all of half of an inch in diameter. The trees need a couple of years to settle in, and then they’ll begin producing fruit.

Peaches fresh off the tree are my absolute favorite summer fruit, however, so I’m willing to wait even though July seems awfully far away.

Baby Cardigan, WIP It Good!

Although at first I thought I’d make a simple stand-up collar for this little cardigan, I was having so much fun working strategic increases (along the center back of the collar so it would spread a bit more and lie a bit flatter) that ultimately I worked collar points to frame the top button that will close this little gament at the neck.

Here it is, close up (and regrettably blurry):

And of course, working outside as I’ve been for the last few days, I keep getting distracted by the garden. This bright yellow ranunculus began its life in a 4″ pot from the drug store about 3 years ago. I stuck the entire plant into one of the garden beds, not really expecting it to survive, but here it is, year after year.

And here is more of the mysterious spreading plant the name of which I can never remember.

They bloom in white, pink, deep red, and orange, and the centers often differ from flower to flower.

Baby Cardigan WIP, continued

This little baby sweater is coming along swimmingly; taking full advantage of our glorious spring weather, I’ve been knitting outdoors and working on my tan absorbing vitamin D as I whip through the rows.

Loved working the little texture stitch. Although the yarn’s pooling tendencies show up in these photos, in person it’s much harder to see because the texture stitch is so forgiving. Plus, I did a little “cut and paste” with the yarn to break up the color runs more effectively. I hate having to do that, but I hate pooling even more!

Knit in one piece to the armholes, I’ve just stitched up the shoulder seams. My next task will be the collar, after which I’ll ease the sleeve caps into their armholes and stitch down the arms to the cuffs.

Meanwhile, the garden is really coming back to life after our long and very, very wet winter. The camellias have never been so full of blooms, and the flowers below (the name of which always escapes me) are popping up in new places in addition to where we had them last year. Being an economical gardener, I take this wanton spreading around as a good thing – one of my favorite things about gardening, in fact.

Plant a dozen daffodil bulbs, for instance, and in following years they will multiply. If only knitting multiplied as easily and quickly!

April WIP

I really hoped to post on April 1st, but the day got away from me. The only “fool-ish” thing about it was when I went to a lunch get-together for a friend’s birthday, only to discover that the guest of honor didn’t show. Her daughter had gone into labor the night before, and my friend wound up spending most of her birthday on a plane to meet her new grandaughter on the opposite coast. 

Bleeding hearts – later than usual this spring

This friend’s own mother passed away several months ago, and so I was very touched to read her email announcing that the new baby has been named after the great-grandmother. From all I’ve heard (and seen, since I was fortunate enough to meet her a couple of times), Harriet was quite a pistol – her new great-grandaughter will have a lot to live up to!

 Blueberry blossoms – foretelling a bumper crop this summer!

Only two days earlier, I went to the funeral of a different friend’s mother.  Another vibrant, feisty older woman, much loved by her family and friends, who was taken suddenly from them by a freak fall and head injury. No one was ready to say good-bye to this woman.

During the funeral service, my friend and her older brother and sister-in-law spoke movingly of their mother’s life. The services, both at the synagogue and at the graveside, were brief but very touching and powerful.

Sometimes the cycle of life, its fragility and its renewal, hits home with greater force than usual.

Knitting baby clothes takes on a particular hopefulness at times like these. While I knit, I imagine the tiny recipient wearing my gift, and hope the child will feel all the love and joy that went into every stitch.

As you can see, I’m making speedy progress. Since this photo was taken, I’ve completed one side of the front up to the shoulder. I love working baby garments in one piece up to the underarm – feels like I can see the end in sight so much sooner.

Next post, I’ll share the button options I’ve come up with. I might need some help deciding – they all work, but each gives a different effect!

Signs of Spring

There are some things even the latest downpours have not been able to wash away.

Between storms this past week, I’ve been outside trying to capture the brave little spots of color around the garden.

Although I have not been successful at capturing on film any of the rainbows I’ve seen (why do I always seem to be driving when they appear?), the flowers are bright enough and hold still long enough for me to snap them.

I adore these crocuses that pop up along the front walk. They have a sprightly delicacy that never fails to captivate me. Whenever I see them, I envision a scoop-necked cardigan knit in narrow stripes with these three colors, or perhaps stripes of violet and cream piped with the golden yellow.

And these; that divine egg yolk yellow paired with rich violet is beyond gorgeous.