Adventuring

Friday, 10am: The journey begins on a clear June day. Some clouds pretending innocence are loitering in the west, no threat to a beautiful summer’s day in this mild, maritime climate. The ferry poots a warning to the lesser boats, leaves Friday Harbor and rumbles northwest. Sea lions have rafted up to bask on a rock off Yellow Island, warm and tawny in the sunlight and still as driftwood. It has been an unusually dry spring and the islands are showing their golden flanks and shoulders—their August plumage. The sea is sparkling and the kelp beds wink and glisten. A flock of gulls is squabbling over a little run of fish.

Down on the car deck, my blue station wagon holds a tent, a sleeping bag, an LED lantern, a rain jacket, and three clear drum liners stuffed with North Country Cheviot wool. We’re nearing the international border now, crossing from the San Juans into the Gulf Islands, one archipelago with two names parted by an imaginary line drawn by a German Kaiser at the end of the 19th century to resolve some armed bickering over a dead pig. To the north is Salt Spring Island. It’s only about 14 miles from my island to this one as the orca swims, but today I’ll set foot on Salt Spring for the first time. My three bags full are bound for the Gulf Islands Cooperative Spinning Mill.

11:30am: It turns out Americans don’t try to breeze through Sidney Customs with carloads of agricultural product very often. Or ever. Three agents consult on what’s to be done with me and my wool, asking questions about the state of my tires and shoes in the friendliest of manners. They are relieved to hear I don’t drive the family car about the sheep pasture or into the barn. They are ever so pleased to hear about the hours I spent picking seeds and manure out of the fleeces and charitably decide it must be mostly clean. They wish I had a firmer figure for the value of three bags of fleece, but in the end they nicely send me on my way.

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This post is photo heavy so I scaled them smaller than usual. Click for better!

1:30pm: Salt Spring’s topography is more amplified than I had realized. My island works up to its heights, so I wasn’t prepared for big hills rearing right out of the sea. Roadwise, it’s completely different from home. Beaver Point Road swoops and veers; every corner is blind. It seems possible that this route was engineered by barn swallows. Noted: If you don’t have a farm stand at the end of your driveway, you’re certainly not keeping up with the Salt Spring Joneses.

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2:00pm: I’ve parked at Ruckle Provincial Park and trotted down a woodsy path toward the sea with my tent under my arm to claim a campsite. This tent dates to my childhood and is looking a bit sun crisped. The rain fly is sporting some duct tape, but it’s better than the one to my tent, which disintegrated last time I pulled it from the sack. I’m grateful to my parents for the loan. And the dead earwigs are mostly on the outside, anyway.

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3:17pm: I didn’t know what to expect of the Gulf Islands Spinning Mill, but it’s a surprise to find it nestled within a kind of living agricultural history exhibit. Antique tractors rust nobly on the green. No one is around except a blacksmith, who is sure enough beating a piece of glowing metal into submission with a soundtrack of punk bagpipes. The mill is locked up, with a sign posted that recommends calling John in such a scenario. I can’t call from my American mobile here, though. The blacksmith directs me to find Barry, who oversees this place and is working on a bobcat over yonder. From Barry I learn that Bob, who gave me the green light to deliver the wool today, has gone to Ontario because his mother-in-law died. Barry calls John’s wife and learns that luckily John is on his way to the mill right now about another matter.

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John arrives and shows me the other matter: the pin drafter is broken, and he’s spent all week sending photographs of various parts to the company in North Carolina that built it 70 years ago and then awaiting their suggestions about what to try next. He’s finally isolated the area where it’s jammed and hopes to have it back in action within the next week, but for the moment all he can spin is a truly Rubenesque singles. John has been running this mill for 20 years. He likes Cheviot.

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My visit is brief; I need to wait until Amy comes in on Monday and takes a look at the wool so I can have a conversation with her about how best to spin it. The options are not many; it is a very little mill, after all. But it suits the modest scale of this particular adventure and I’m delighted to have seen it in person.

4:30pm: Back in downtown Ganges, I putter through the busiest area to see what’s what. Ganges is a little bigger than my town but feels familiar, brimming with summer weekend tourist traffic. I park near the Coast Guard station because I spy a bookshop and imagine this will be a good place to ask for dinner recommendations. Also, it’s called Black Sheep Books, and when you put sheep and books in the same name you’ve got me firmly in your tractor beam. Black Sheep Books is a second-hand trove of antiquarian oddities and greedily thumbed romances and everything in between. If I were feeling less hungry and more decisive I could do real damage here. After about forty happily aimless minutes I settle on In Deep, Maxine Kumin’s essays on country life, and the bookseller points me to the nearby Treehouse Café.

6:30pm: One grilled halloumi sandwich wrapped in naan with a side of kaleslaw later, I am ethnically and calorically replete. There is live music starting, but I am sleepy and also keen to veer and swoop my way back through the forest to Ruckle Park while it is still fully light.

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Fence envy is a real condition, folks.

8:00pm: Back at the campground, I’ve shuttled necessities down to my tent and located the potable water supply. I pass a brace of bucks browsing at the trail’s edge. They regard me peaceably from beneath their velvety antlers. I spread my sleeping bag, gather up my knitting, and settle on a little shelf of igneous rock still warm from the sun with the waves lapping near my toes.

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It’s not exactly a quiet spot; there’s a steady parade of ferries to and fro on the Vancouver run, and some of those vessels make our Washington State ferries look like bathtub toys. But the throaty purr of those big engines melds lullingly with the soundscape of the strait. I watch three families of geese ply the waters. A lustily supping otter rolls and dives and surfaces, subduing something with a lot of unmannerly chewing. He trolls the shoreline for a long while. The liquid arc of his back and the furthermore of his tail hardly leave a ripple. The sky is lit with lilac and apricot; it is also loosing a spatter of rain. I retreat to the tent to write and listen.

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One anniversary mitt down, one to go.

Epilogue: It will rain all night. I will learn I’ve grown old enough to want a cushier sleeping pad, but I will be wryly thankful to have packed the extra-long impermeable ridged variety, which will have protected me perfectly from the impressive lake forming under and inside my tent even while rendering half my limbs numb by turns. In the morning I’ll laze awhile, then drive back to Ganges to hunt up breakfast at the farmer’s market, where I’ll happen upon a glorious rug woven and naturally dyed in Oaxaca. It deserves its own post.

Interview

Wearing my Brooklyn Tweed Copywriter hat, I had the pleasure of interviewing five of the Wool People designers for the BT blog. All are first-time contributors to Wool People and it was interesting to learn more about their designs and their various points of entry into the knitting world. Since Haro was my second WP design, I didn’t interview myself for the feature, but then I thought it might be fun to answer my own questions anyway!

What’s your favorite detail of your WP10 design contribution?

I think I’m going to have to go with the way the Fir Cone lace pulls the final ridges of garter stitch into gentle waves. You can just see it in Jared’s photo below:

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A close second is the way you can subtly change the look of the edging depending on where you pin it. I opted to pull out the little details between the tree forms; they actually look even more tree-ish if you pin the bases of the “trunks,” but I decided I liked the more abstract effect. Try your swatch both ways!

Any interesting techniques in the design you’d like to tell knitters about?

The cabled cast-on is often dismissed in favor of fancier and stretchier options, but sometimes you want a good firm edge—especially against garter stitch, which will totally man-spread if you give it a stretchy cast-on. In this case, the cabled cast-on really helps the shawl hold a crescent form. It’s easy to work and the slender, rope-like roll it produces looks particularly classy as a base for garter fabric.

What’s your favorite place to knit?

Oooo, let’s get personal. I knit absolutely everywhere—waiting rooms, faculty meeting, red lights—if I don’t have at least a sock in my handbag I feel naked. I knit in bed with Masterpiece Mystery! a lot after my kids go to sleep. (I should start a series of designs inspired by English detectives, I really should. I can’t believe I let Amy Herzog beat me to a sweater named for DCS Christopher Foyle. Though I’m strongly considering that sweater for my Tour de France project, if I can only choose between the pullover and cardigan versions.) My favorite, though, has to be the kind of knitting I did last night: on the porch swing on a warm but breezy summer evening, with a Hendricks G&T + cucumber spears and a knitting sister for mellow company.

Who inspired you to start designing knitwear?

I think the itch to depart from the beaten path is innate. Almost as soon as I could knit I was tinkering with other people’s patterns to see what would happen if I altered one detail or another. Mothers of the revolution like Elizabeth Zimmermann and historians like Priscilla Gibson-Roberts piqued my interest in the wide variety of possibilities for sweater construction and gave me the confidence run the basic math to figure things out myself. Coming into knitting just as independent designers were beginning to use the internet to sell their designs directly was wonderful, too—the more I see, the more I imagine. I love following other designers’ processes and seeing their careers blossom. And I’ve never been to school for fashion or design, so everything I’ve learned about fit and construction has been from knitting other people’s patterns. I have such appreciation for designers like Ysolda Teague and Amy Herzog, who go to such painstaking mathematical lengths to write patterns we’ll all enjoy wearing as much as we’ve enjoyed knitting them.

Matchy-matchy

When I finished knitting the Haro crescent, I had extra yarn. Really quite a lot of extra yarn. This gives a knitter some flexibility: if you like a deeper shawl, you can merrily add extra repetitions of the Fir Cone section. Or you can work the edging chart a few more times. You’ve got plenty of runway. But I wanted a narrow shawl—a scarf, almost—just a little something around the neck for adornment and a bit of coverage for bare shoulders in summertime. And all that leftover Brooklyn Tweed Plains was really giving me the eye: use me, dummy.

Plains is special. There isn’t much of it in the world and there won’t be more, and for many folks it’s an indulgence to buy yarn at this price point. So I was feeling guilty about writing a pattern that require two skeins but uses only a little of the second. And I hatched a plan.

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Now there’s a matching cap. It’s a free pattern, because I like to publish at least one of those per year in gratitude for the generosity of the worldwide knitting community in sharing wisdom, techniques, and encouragement. Like Haro, the Fir Cone Lace cap begins with a curvaceous short-row crescent in garter stitch and then breaks into a simple openwork pattern.

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Unlike Haro, the cap is worked in the round. To avoid a jog in the garter stitch, there’s one jaunty little fir cone placed within the brim itself. I initially thought I’d wear it with that wee detail at my temple and let the garter crescent fall asymmetrically to the side, but found I like it more centered on my forehead. (And please do excuse the fact that these photos look like I’d just spent three days in bed with a fever. I’d just spent three days in bed with a fever.)

Since I had all that yarn to play with, I knit my cap long and slouchy. If you prefer a close-fitting beanie or something in between, the pattern contains directions for working to two shorter lengths. Plains is very springy, so I made this a one-size-fits-most in terms of circumference. The sample measures 19 1/2″ and easily stretches to accommodate my rather large 22 1/2″ noggin. If you have a small head or want to knit for a child, I’d recommend casting on 10 fewer stitches so you’ll have one less repetition of the lace motif. (Your garter crescent will come out proportionally a little wider, but I doubt this will affect the fit.)

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You can download your copy of the Fir Cone cap on the Free Patterns page or from the link in the sidebar. I hope you have a jolly time knitting it and wearing it. Plains is very soft with a pleasant dry hand; the cap is weightless and just a little bit warm. (Read: a good solution for bad hair days. Or no hair days.) I like mine with Carhartts under the oak trees, but you could dress yours up a bit more if you prefer.

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Thanks to everyone who’s written in with kind words about Haro! I so look forward to seeing it in the wild as you share your versions. (Fun fact: my kids pronounce that word “virgins.” I can’t read or write version without substituting theirs in my head and tittering like an elementary schooler. #arresteddevelopment)