Monday, August 17, 2020

Knitting for babies and fighting with yarn

This bird comes daily to take a bath in our pool and meditate upon the frailty of life. It looks melancholy and contemplative and we call him Professor. No, don’t tell me his scientific name because I am not interested. I like our Professor and he likes us (at least I think he does since he comes over every day – no one else does!) even though he expressed a pronounced dislike of being photographed. As soon as he hears a click of a gadget he flies away.
Lately, not only I’ve spent long time observing the Professor, I discovered several other birds’ rituals and habits, learned to distinguish different birds’ cries and songs. Am I becoming a birdwatcher? Hopefully, the answer is "NO", because I still refrain from learning birds’ names. Yet, this is something that I’ve never done before…
Another thing that I suddenly started doing is making jams and marmalades. This year we had an abundance of starfruit (aka carambola) from two starfruit trees.

I used some of the fruit to make starfruit jam for the first time in my life and the rest – to make starfruit chips. Yes, I spent 6 hours in the kitchen making these chips – I couldn’t believe my own culinary zeal.
 One day we put mangoes in our InstaCart order and got a whole lot of lemons instead. What do you do when universe (or an InstaCart shopper) gives you lemons? Right, you make lemon marmalade!
I don’t even remember when I made jam or marmalade for the last time – 25 or 30 years ago most likely. When I needed some jam, I usually would buy it in a supermarket. Yet, now, stuck on a beautiful but isolated subtropical island I perused several recipes and ended up mixing two of them to make this beauty.
Now the starfruit chips are all gone (6 hours in the kitchen!!!), one jar of the marmalade is also gone, we have one more jar though and some leftovers of the starfruit jam. I wonder what other culinary endeavors are ahead of me because it looks like we are going to stay put for a long while.
Among all these “firsts” in my life, I made a baby blanket. Normally, I don’t knit for babies. Babies rarely appreciate our knitting – they are ungrateful creatures. Most of the time their mothers also don’t appreciate hand knitted gifts – they are so proud of themselves having produced a new live human being that everything else they see as not important.
I know and admire lots of knitters who make mostly baby clothes for charities. Even though baby clothes are easy and fast to make, I still prefer to knit for adults.  Because babies are messy, they outgrow these handmade clothes only too fast, and because, in all honesty, babies in general are overrated. Here, I said it; you can throw stones at me now. 
Before we moved to the United States, I never even thought about making something like a baby blanket by hand. It seemed a lunacy to me – why would one spend many hours lovingly creating something that would get a seriously rough treatment: be constantly cleaned, washed, and dried, plus constantly abused by a baby? Maybe my children, when they were babies, were exceptional? Anyway, the idea of knitting a baby blanket never even popped into my head. Until I started going to various knitting groups. I would say half of my knitting mates in all the groups that I frequented over the years were making baby blankets. Of all possible sizes, colors, and shapes. I am not sure I’ve seen as many babies in my life as I’ve seen baby blankets.
This year – exceptional in many ways – I began listening to birds’ songs and making marmalades so the headway into knitting a baby blanket came quite naturally.
Since my own children refuse to reproduce I decided to adopt someone else’s baby. My daughter’s friend is expecting and I had some amazing yarn – Mungo by Rosa Pomar – that could be used for a blanket. What a happy coincidence! Then I found the pattern – Baby Honey Blanket by Craftling Designs – that looks striking (at least to me), and the rest is history.
This blanket was finished quickly. It was such a joy to work on it! The hexagons are positioned randomly, there is no order or symmetry in the pattern which is why it is written row by row and you’ve got to pay attention and count your rows to succeed.
I don’t like sugary pinks or blues for babies, I think that babies rock neutrals (and look cleaner in them).Plus, babies are super-cute and adorable (at least, at first) and need no extra embellishments. This heathery grey is appropriate for a baby, don’t you think?
I got a bit carried away and also made a tiny hat from the yarn leftovers and baby booties in beige (see on my Instagram). Now I understand the lure of knitting for babies – it was hard to stop and not make something else. These tiny 
garments are so easy to make!
Since working on the blanket required constant focus and attention, I started another project to work on while talking to people on Zoom. This is my only source of communication with the world now and I am really grateful for its existense. Otherwise our life in isolation would have been much less bearable.
This yarn –Maggi’s Multi Llinen from MaggiKnits Irish MK Collection - was given to me by one of my knitting buddies our first winter in Florida. Honestly, I would never buy a yarn like this myself – too fancy for my taste. But I couldn’t refuse such a generous gift and I sort of felt bound to knit something from it. After all it was presented to me with a request of making something beautiful out of it.
A tough ask! I looked everywhere and tried many patterns with this yarn. My swatches were so long I could use them as a scarf. Nothing really worked and the yarn didn’t agree with any pattern. It is part cotton part linen, a bit shiny, variegated (mix of blush pink with bluish greys), thick and thin non-plied yarn. It produces an uneven fabric with rustic vibe and is difficult to work with since it is non-plied. Basically, there are three different strands of yarn to knit with, they don’t stick to each other, and have a tendency to separate and slide from needles on their own volition.
If you think that working with this yarn is nothing for a person who makes jams, marmalades, spends several hours in a kitchen, and listens to birds’ songs, you are totally wrong. It was hard, painful, and frustrating.
The pattern I picked is from an old Pingouin magazine. It is knit in one piece sideways from sleeve to sleeve and has only two side seams. This kind of short batwing sweaters used to be fashionable in the 70s and 80s but I think they are getting back into fashion now. Anyway, big sleeves are all the rage nowadays, aren’t they? And this sweater has ginormous sleeves.
Believe it or not, I was attracted to this pattern mainly because of its jumbo sleeves (plus the main design with slipped stitches – it looks pretty in this yarn). Silly me, I was hoping to use up all the yarn on this oversized sweater, didn’t want to deal with leftovers. In reality, the yarn turned out to be rather long and the sweater – rather short. Fortunately, my other knitting buddy agreed to take all the leftovers from me so I don’t have to deal with this yarn ever again.
Working on this sweater was painful and frustrating but not difficult. The pattern is easy and straightforward. I modified it just a bit – made cuffs larger, used tubular cast on and cast off everywhere, worked the ribbing through the back loop to make it look neater, and went down several sizes in needles for the ribbing. The best part about this sweater is that it is light and airy, made out of cotton/linen mix, and can be worn in Florida (starting October, I hope).
I think the main attraction of finishing a garment nowadays is the subsequent photoshoot and the possibility to wear normal clothes (unlike my daily uniform of t-shirts and shorts). This time I decided to fully enjoy the experience and even included a change of pants (unfortunately, it is too hot for pants here now).
My quasi-rationale for the change of clothes was that it allowed demonstrating the versatility of my new sweater that can be worn with all sorts of garments. But let’s be honest. I really wanted to wear “grown-up” clothes at least for a little while, even in this scorching heat.
Actually, this sweater looks great with shorts as well as with a skirt because it is short, but not too short and could be worn both ways – tucked in or untucked.
I called it Pink # 1 because I am planning to knit a series of pink sweaters. I was surprised to discover several pink yarns in my stash: the shades of pink are different, yet, they all belong to the same color family. The inspiration comes, as usual, from the environment.
This time of the year in South Florida pink is the king. In the evening everything looks pink here – the ocean, palm trees, clouds, sand, even the moon.
So…get ready for more pink knits. I hope that one day I’ll have an opportunity to wear them not only for a photoshoot.