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Winter Isle

I’ve been busy! The Madrona Retreat is the best kind of busy for knitters: all that learning, connecting, experimenting, making… maybe a little drinking later in the evening… It’s enough stimulation to tide a girl over for quite some time! This year was different for me. My Madrona mate of nearly a decade had her hands full managing the first inaugural Brooklyn Tweed booth in the marketplace, so I stayed on my own in an Airbnb room rather than at the hotel. I signed up for just one class (Amy Herzog’s Advanced Sweater Modifications; can’t tell you how excited I am to draft my own set-in sleeves!) to keep my experience more mellow, and that left me with buckets of free time. Luckily, there are always friends to meet at Madrona. Kathy was down for Thursday night and Friday—I can’t believe it was only last year at Madrona that we met for the first time. I chatted with llama farmers and sheep keepers and dyers and spinners and (obviously) knitters, many of whom attend this event year after year. It’s the first time Abundant Earth Fiber Mill has had a booth, though, and I’d cooked up something special for the occasion.

Lydia spun a light fingering-weight yarn from the natural colors of Shetland fleece grown on three local farms. It’s a worsted three-ply and very strong despite its dainty appearance. That yarn said MITTS to me, so I made a pattern and Lydia made adorable wee kits. I used part of a Scandinavian pine bough motif, which you’ll often see radiating out from a large floral center to fill the corners in Selbu mitten designs, and paired it with some wild waves from Shetland. Behold the Winter Isle mitts:

Martha was a sport and modeled them so you can see how they look on human hands. The pattern goes all the way around, which means there’s no designated right and left mitt, although the charts are mirrored. You can see that the length is a little longer than many fingerless mitts; I like enough coverage that I can curl my fingers down inside if I’m out for a walk, so that’s how I design ’em. They’ve got a thumb gusset for mobility and comfort (the only way I roll) and a cuff in half-twisted rib. The corrugated rib at the finger edge uses both contrast colors, and the detail of the two-color bind-off never ceases to charm me.

Want a pair of your own? The kits were a one-time special for the Madrona market (unless Lydia decides to make more), but you can substitute any fingering-weight wool and grab the pattern from my Ravelry store (link in the sidebar). You’ll need 110 yards of the main color and just a few yards of each of the contrasts. I hope you like them! I may have to make another pair to keep for myself now, because I’m hearing that winter isn’t done with the PNW quite yet. Snow again this week? Truly? Okay!

To the lighthouse

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As I’m writing today, we’re in Portland watching the clouds lower and waiting for the cold sizzle of freezing rain. My daughter has seen the inside of a school building exactly once this year and has logged a total of nine days of education since December 1. Our world has been snow and ice and sledding and baking and free play and Swallow and Amazons for so long I can hardly remember the shape of our standard routines. This wintry dreamtime has been such a complete holiday from real life that I dread the return of early rising, school lunches, and long commutes in dreary weather. If our thaw works quickly and we aren’t glazed in a fresh layer of ice, that day might be tomorrow, so I’m looking backward instead.

At the turn of the year, natured graced us with a golden day. I swept the children out of the farmhouse and into the car for a quick walk before the sun set. The wind had calmed; Mr. G stayed behind to enjoy the respite from its teeth as he set new fence in our most exposed corner, where the breeze comes in boorish from its romp across the Pacific. At the southeast tip of the island is the little Cattle Point lighthouse, built in 1935. The surrounding land is part of a conservation area crisscrossed with pleasant walking trails—as long as you’re not nervous about the rather abrupt plunge down to South Beach.

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A fellow walker watched my children and dog pelting ahead up the path and kindly asked if I was familiar with the lay of the land. Indeed, there’s been enough erosion here that the trails we walk today are not the trails of my childhood, and in some places they wind very near the edge of the cliff. As tempting as it might be to climb atop that stone the boy is passing above, the sandy soil is scooped out beneath it and I wouldn’t care to test whether an extra forty or fifty pounds might be enough to send it on its inevitable tumble to the sea. The kids stay clear. But I believe the only way to grow agile and surefooted and canny in risk assessment is to test yourself on trails such as this one from an early age, so I let them run.

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A gentler slope here

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Darn, I wish this hat were something I needed to photograph for a pattern release!

The lighthouse isn’t grand or terribly iconic, but its stout little octagonal tower and drum lens go on keeping the shipping off the rocks of Cattle Pass. The Coast Guard allegedly intends to do some restoration work here to shore up the building before it slithers seaward.

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Two bald eagles reign over this territory and we crept near their tree to watch them awhile, because that was the sort of magic on offer this day. The sea was full of splashy ducks and cormorants. The homeward trail got a wee bit tiring…

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…but the beauty and the docile weather made a rather dribbling pace no hardship. All the mountains were out—Mount Rainier, about 120 miles away, is just visible on the horizon at the right edge of the frame in the photo above—and the road home provided a close look at this handsome fellow in the twilight:

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My parents chose this home, crossing the continent years before I was born and setting down new roots. I had the freedom to leave; I’ve visited many beautiful places and I hope to see a great many more, and I could have stayed for good in a few of them, but this island has always called me back. On days like this, I think the greatest gift I can give my little ones is to infuse their growing and becoming with this same landscape. Who knows where they’ll fly? But if they carry this place in their hearts, they’ll know what they’re looking for when they find it.

Knitter on the Road

2016 was a peculiar year for my knitting. It was a year of odd whims and obsessive loops. I knit FIVE Littlewing baby vests; why such a simple little shape should have captivated me to that extent is a mystery, but I was determined to hone the geometry and somehow the prototyping never got old. I buckled down at last to write the Lalita pattern, which is in the testing phase now and ought to be ready to publish in a few weeks. I started my Bohus Stickning Wild Apple, completed the colorful yoke, and then had an uncharacteristic crisis of confidence about the short rows and set it aside. (Nothing an evening’s focus can’t resolve, but somehow when evening rolls around I find it’s easier to add a few rows to my Scalene shawl.) Just lately someone asked about my old Minaret sock pattern and I thought I really ought to overhaul it for independent release—and somehow that led to designing a whole new sock that’s similar but better. (And then knitting it twice at different gauges.) In the midst of it all, I decided to drop several holiday gifts of reasonable scale to bust out a sweater for my sister-in-law.

Let’s blame Michele Wang, who can’t seem to design anything I don’t want to knit, especially when it’s in Brooklyn Tweed Quarry. I mean, Snoqualmie and Auster in the same year? She’s killing me. Being BT’s copywriter, I get to see the new collections ahead of time, and on a total impulse I snagged six skeins of Quarry in Alabaster the day before Thanksgiving and cast on a sleeve for Mei on the drive to Cousin Walt’s house in Olympia. At this gauge, it wasn’t long before I had all the pieces of a sweater, and I just managed to sew them together before we left for a pre-Christmas visit to Texas. Luckily, making this trek involves many, many hours of travel. I tackled the collar, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, in the way-back of the minivan while my offspring sang “Charlie on the MTA” and quite a few self-composed nonsense variations for 220 miles. It took a couple of sessions of porch knitting (poor me) and late-night scotch knitting (while my in-laws did show and tell with their gun collection—I had the epiphany that this branch of my husband’s family loves their arsenal in exactly the same way that I love my knitting tools), but I finished in time to pop it in the mail for delivery in NYC on the 24th.

How about some pictures? The light was flat, the camera was my phone, and the wind meant business.

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Next up? More Littlewing vests. I got my hands on a couple of skeins of Stone Wool Cormo (send me all the Cormo!) and I’m going to try a worsted-weight + smaller size hack of my own pattern. And I’ll introduce those new socks sometime soon. Tomorrow’s another travel day — the kind where I’m not at the wheel all the time — and the race to the toe is on.