Thursday, October 27, 2011

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time Department

Roz Chast is one of my favorite New Yorker cartoonists, but this time, she delivered an insult.
"Crap somebody knitted"?  Crap?

Roz must not be a knitter, or she would have more appreciation for the artistry, effort, and dogged determination required to produce a significant knitted creation.

I'm just now finishing a knitting project so time-consuming it makes the labor of Sisyphus look like taking out the trash.  Roz, this is no crap, this is a creative effort requiring extensive commitment over a period of many months.

It was the winter of 2010, and I had pneumonia.  I couldn't do much, but I could knit.  

Lucia had been bugging me about knitting her an afghan.

"Julia and Leah got theirs when they started college."  (Lucia had just started at the University of Vermont).  "How come I don't have one?"
"Because I like Julia and Leah better!"

Still, despite the fact that Lucia and I sat down on several occasions to look at patterns and try to make some decisions about what I could make for her, there were too many choices, and our discussions always ended inconclusively.

So when the pneumonia sidelined me in the winter of 2010, I decided to use this period of inactivity to go ahead and start an afghan and surprise Lucia later with the finished product.  I knew that this afghan had to use a lot of her favorite color, purple.  I chose size six needles for all the blocks.

This is the book I decided to use.  My goal: 48 afghan squares.

Squares were such an easy choice at the time.  One square knits up so quickly.  Sitting in my glider rocker, I could knit up 48 easily. 

So I did.

Here's a look at a few of them:
This one's my favorite: colorful, sturdy, and easy to execute.  My book calls it Up and Over.

This one took a whole lot of paying attention.  The book calls it Lace Chevrons.

This one also took a lot of attention.  The book calls this pattern Shutter.  For it, I worked a color pattern by the intarsia method.  For the first time.  Whoo hoo! 

This is another intarsia method block requiring a lot of attention.  The book called it Big Heart. 

This one's my favorite:  Embossed Twining Vine Leaf, a block adapted from a different book, Vogue Knitting.


I think not.

The creation of these squares required a lot of skill.

Still, I have to say, sewing them together required a lot of determination, and that's where a good idea under pneumonia circumstances turned out to be a labor-intensive pain in the ass later.

That's why I'm calling this blog entry "Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time Dept."

Roz, you have to  respect the effort required to sew these 48 squares together, first, into pairs, then into eight rows of six squares each.

Did I mention the Sisyphus part yet?

I'm not a knitter with a whole lot of techniques in her tool pouch.  I know only one way to sew two knitted items together:  the mattress stitch.

Many thanks to Judy Perodeau of the late, great Needleworks, Newington, CT, who taught me this sturdy but time-consuming stitch.

The mattress stitch uses the concept of the shared hole.

Are you with me?

A shared hole is  one through which the yarn and needle have already passed and will now pass again.

This is a shared hole:

To execute a mattress stitch, you insert a needle into a shared hole, like so:

Once the needle goes into the shared hole, then it has to go up two stitches of the ladder.  This is what "two stitches of the ladder" means.

Once the needle and yarn traverse these two stitches of the ladder, they have to go over to the other side, into the most recent shared hole on that side, and the journey begins again.

Once the squares and rows are laboriously sewn together, I have to deal with the fact that the reverse side of this afghan is a welter of hanging threads.

Did I mention Sisyphus?

This is how I feel as I drag this project to completion:

But who's complaining? 

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Volunteer Garden in its Glory

In the world of gardening, a volunteer is a plant that grows spontaneously, as opposed to one planted intentionally.  I suppose weeds are classic volunteers.  But weeds are in the eye of the gardener.  Some weeds are otherwise known as wildflowers, and like goldenrod (solidago), they can be lovely blessings in places where nothing else will grow.
Thus, the volunteer garden.
Along the side of my driveway, there's a hellish strip about 10 inches wide, backed up by a wooden fence, and flanked by a similar strip in our neighbors' yard on the other side of the fence.  Both strips are bordered by the asphalt of our driveways, and as such, they're undergirded with gravel and topped with an inch or so of the unforgiving clay that forms our soil here in CT.  Whatever can grow in a narrow strip backed up by a fence and based on clay and rubble?
I wondered that myself. I wanted to plant something there, but what the heck would grow in such a forbidding zone?
Nature showed me. 
A few years ago, some thyme plants leapt over from my nearby raised bed and established themselves there, followed by some lambs' ears.
If those volunteers would grow there spontaneously, then maybe I could plant other hardy plants there intentionally--plants that cheerfully grow wherever they land.
Realizing that, I decided to plant, in that nasty strip, some of the plants that are the biggest, most invasive pains in the ass in an intentional garden.  Solidago Fireworks, otherwise known as goldenrod, is a hugely invasive plant in places where you don't want it.  Here's a look at its tenacious self, last spring, when I was uprooting it from another small garden in my yard where it wasn't wanted:
The leaves sprouted on the two ends, left and right, but they were joined under the ground by fibrous roots so tenacious that I fell on my ass more than once while trying to pull them out.  Until I fell on my ass, I had been planning to separate these plants, pot them, and put them on my front steps, with a sign, inviting my neighbors to take them.  But when they knocked me over, I decided they were far too impolite to be treated so nicely, so I put them in biodegradable paper bags and took them to our town landfill, where they would become compost.
Still, I recognize the virtues of goldenrod, and its very tenacity is the exact characteristic that makes it an excellent candidate for the volunteer garden.  I'll say the same of Eupatorium Colestinum, a plant provided by my gardening friend Paula Mooney, and the Grandpa Ott morning glory, a plant that reappears every single year in my garden for at least 10 years since the one single time I planted it intentionally.
You have to love plants that tenacious.  Especially if  they're  beautiful.  And especially if they'll grow in a harsh environment where nothing else will.
Grandpa Ott morning glories, Eupatorium Coelestinum, and Solidago Fireworks--the volunteer garden in its glory

Nothing else will grow here!  But goldenrod will.