Cleaning out the WIP basket

There is nothing more that I like than working my way through a big project. What can be more exciting than finishing that new sweater or gigantic, endless, Find Your Fade shawl after watching it slowly grow day after day, week after week from a pile of skeins to a beautiful finished project? The drama of the whole thing: is there enough yarn, will the colors go together, is my gauge correct, yarn chicken, and all the other questions and worries of the large project are part of the fun.  A little stressful, but a labor of love, each and every one.

So, it was a little bit of teeth gritting that I pulled out the basket of unfinished projects (UFOs) down from the top of the bookshelf a couple of weeks ago.

Basket
My goodness. Now I know where all of my knitting needles have been hiding out. 

I wrote about cleaning up the UFO pile a year or so ago and got trolled by people who hoped I was writing about aliens. Nope. I guess I should follow Ravelry’s lead and call them WIPs. Fine. This is the WIP (works in progress) basket. It is full of smaller knitting projects that should get done in a couple of knitting days each. Check it out:

WIPs
There is a half pair of socks (I did cast on the second sock, but I still put it aside…), and three pairs of fingerless mitts. 
UFOs
I also found a scarf that was half done and a cowl that had just been cast one night when I was curious about how that great Night Hawk colorway from MadelineTosh would knit up.

Well, how long can all of this take? Time to jump in and clear the basket, I told myself. I pulled out the socks (hey, it was snowing outside!) and got started.

Yarn Chomp
MacKenzie helped as much as he could. 

Now, after two weeks of steady work and cat entertainment I am happy to report that I have made real progress. The basket is almost empty, needles and stitch markers are returned to their proper places, and I have gained a number of small knitted accessories.

Finished knitted items
Here they are. I have finished a shawlette, the socks, two small pairs of fingerless mitts, and a pair of long beaded fingerless mitts. 
Socks
The yarn in these socks made them turn out really cute. This simple pattern for a vanilla sock with deep ribbing at the top and a traditional heel is called “Dave” by Rachel Coopey.
Mitts
The long mitts are Akiko MItts by Sivia Harding and the short mitts are my own simple “Scleroderma MItts” pattern that I recorded in the project notes here.
Shawlette
The finished shawlette is the Riverbed Shawlette (this is MacKenzie’s favorite) by Grace Akhrem. I wore it this week to my knitting group and it was quite a hit. 

Now I’m down to the last item in the basket, a cowl. Wow. I thought that this may take me all month, but I should have the basket cleared by the end of the week. Well, there was that one pair of socks that I couldn’t help casting on while I was working on the WIPs, but still, the end is in sight.

Excellent. I have some large projects all kitted up and ready to go.

Wait until you see these sweaters and shawls I’ve got lined up!

Have a good weekend everyone!!

Shawl Study: A Trio of Fades

 

What can I say? A few months ago I was sucked into the “Find Your Fade”  (by Andrea Mowrey) vortex and spent days and days dreaming of color combinations for shawls. I shopped the stash over and over putting different color combinations together. I agonized over strategies to make the colors work in the shawl; should the colors be connected across the shawl (like a quilt) or just cleanly feed into the next color in the sequence. What would happen if I used monochromatic colors? Would it work to use colors more than once to continue to anchor the shawl? Why did I not have more speckled yarn in my stash?

This got to be really bad. I would get out of bed in the night to hunt for a skein that I suddenly thought about. I settled on color sequences again and again only to abandon some of the yarns that I loved the most. I took yarns to the LYS to get help from my friends. More skeins were bought and I finally settled down with three sets of yarn hopping up and down demanding to be made into one of these shawls.

I took pictures of the yarn sequences and wrote the knitting order onto the labels of the yarn. I started the Ravelry project pages and committed to the Fade study project. Early in February I cast on the first one, and late last week I finished the three shawl project.

Shawls
Here they are!

So what did I do different with these three shawl? Check out each shawl’s story below.

Shawl Collage
The first Fade out of the gate…

This shawl really put me through the wringer. I had some great fall-colored yarn from Dream in Color, so I decided to use it to center the shawl. Every yarn that I used matched to the Dream yarn (the middle yarn between the red and purple in the close-up shots above), and to make it all work I used two skeins of that yarn to make two sequences. I started knitting with a lovely brown, and then ripped it all out, bought a dark red Tosh merino light called Heartheat, and used that instead. Later on I tossed out another yarn that I just loved and used the Heartbeat again in the middle of the shawl to keep the continuity with the Dream yarn. At the end of the shawl I had used only 5 colors of yarn and tossed out even more contenders. I think I needed to stop thinking about the concept of a “Fade” and did better concentrating on what would make a truly lovely and useful shawl for me. My Ravelry notes and yarn sequence is here.

Shawl Collage
March knitting found me hard at work on the second Fade.

The second shawl was so easy to put together. I had three amazing silk/alpaca yarns in  shades of gold, brown and deep red that I bought at the Interweave Yarn Fest last year. They went nicely together, but they were really monochromatic. Digging in the stash I quickly found a blue that wanted to play with the golden-brown yarn, and the dark gray yarn linked cleanly to the blue. Great. I had 5 yarns, and wasn’t quite sure how to link them. Oh, wait. Speckled yarns!! I looked at Tosh Merino Light online and realized that skeins of Yoko and Marfa would make the transitions work cleanly. Ta-daa. Not a gradient, but every yarn gets along with the ones next to it. This shawl is great with almost everything that I wear, and even better I never questioned my color choices while knitting it; no struggles or dashes back to the LYS. My Ravelry notes and the yarn order are here.

Shawl Collage
April knitting was the fun spring/summer shawl. 

My last shawl is the one that is most like a “Fade” in that the colors cleanly connect from each skein to the next, but there is a lot of continuity between the colors across the shawl.  The difference in the textures of the shawl yarns became another type of study as I knitted. The Alegria was wonderfully squishy and bouncy. I loved the way the Dream in Color Jilly showed off the lace (the detail in the picture above with MacKenzie’s paw on it) and while the color of the Hedgehog Fibers yarn was beautifully rich, it was a nightmare to knit as it had the life of string and was splitty to boot. The Ravelry notes and yarn order is here.

So, there they are.

Shawls
Now that you’ve “met”each shawl, here they are again without those flowers in the way. Each is unique and I’m so happy that I made all three of them. I am, however, done with shawls for awhile.

Yep. Time to get to work on finishing up all my little (emphasis on little) abandoned projects that have been lurking in a basket waiting for me to get back to them. No more shopping the stash for awhile. No decisions. All I have to do is pull out a bag with the yarn, pattern and half finished item and get to work. Even better, these are quick to finish projects like socks, mitts and scarfs. Woohoo! Compared to knitting these shawls it is almost like instant gratification.

MacKenzie is looking forward to having my lap all to himself again, too.

Have a great weekend everyone.

MacKenzie Speaks: The End of Fades

Hi. I’m MacKenzie.

Cat  with knitting
I’ve been helping the Mother of Cats knit this shawl for ages…

The Mother of Cats was sucked into the “Find Your Fade” vortex weeks and weeks ago. Yellow Boy and I did everything that we could to save her, but it was hopeless. She has been neglecting us for forever while this has been going on. It has been awful! So far she has knitted up THREE of these shawls.

Cat sleeping on knitting
Do you see how stressed I am?

Finally, finally she finished up all of her silly knitting and took the shawl outside to grab some pictures yesterday.

Shaawl
Not bad for a human, right? I think that she picked some nice colors for this one.
Shawl
I know that humans can get distracted by my wonderfulness… so here’s another picture that she took (ahem) WITHOUT ME!! I don’t think that I get the respect that I deserve. Anyway, here is the shawl. I just can’t understand why she pushed me out of the picture,
Cat on shawl
…so as soon as she put it down to take some other pictures I moved right in for a little nap. Wow. This is sure nice and squishy. Don’t you think that these are nice colors with my fur? These fade shawls are really nice and big, just right for my cat bed, but they take up ALL the room on her lap while she is knitting them. Seriously, all of this Fade knitting has Yellow Boy and me a little concerned. It is time for some little projects again.

You can imagine our relief when the Mother of Cats told us that she is done knitting Fade shawls for now. Finally!! We have made it to the end of the Fades tunnel. She got out her basket of unloved and abandoned old knitting projects (she calls them WIPs; Yellow Boy thought that she was talking about a new kind of kitty treat and came running. Boy, was he disappointed!) and told us that she would be finishing some of these up before she starts a new project. Right. We’ve heard that before.

Basket
This is her basket of little projects that need finishing. She keeps it up high on top of the bookcase so I can’t sleep in it. Why does she do things like that? Doesn’t she love me?
Snow on flowers
Look at what happened overnight!

Today there is too much snow on the ground for us to go outside so we are hanging out inside again. The Mother of Cats is knitting on a pair of socks from her basket and Yellow Boy and I are playing on our new cat tree.

Cat Tree
Look at this!

About time we got a new cat scratching post!! I’ve been forced to use the knitting chair for weeks, and the Mother of Cats just gets upset every time I put a claw on it. She is so emotional. I’m glad that she finally understood that she needs to focus more on my needs.

I’m such a good boy.

Can I have some cookies now?

>^..^<

Notes from the Mother of Cats:

  • This is the third Find You Fade shawl that I’ve knit. The project notes for this one are located here on Ravelry.
  • My first Fade was done in fall colors. You can find it here.
  • The second Fade, one that would look nice with denim, was finished last month. Its Ravelry notes are here.
  • I am now finishing a pair of socks I started months ago. I am going to work through the WIP basket for sure. Really. I’m totally going to be able to ignore that shawl yarn that I kitted up this week with its pattern… I am strong!
  • Should I show off all three shawls together in a post?
  • I also did some beading this week. Wait until I show you my BKB’s bead stash!! (BKB = Best Knitting Buddy)

April Updates: Sjogren’s Syndrome and ANOTHER Fade

Hi. If you’ve been following my blog for very long you already know that I am an out-of-control knitter owned by a self-absorbed and bossy cat named MacKenzie. You have probably detected that I am a science-oriented geek, an obsessive reader, and a casual gardener who loves her roses. You may have also realized that I have some serious and chronic health problems that I am trying to keep from taking over my life. I’ve been pretty up-front about the more serious of my autoimmune duo, systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), but I hardly ever mention the lesser of the two, Sjogren’s Syndrome. After all, since the diagnosis came in, all of my doctors (I have a six-pack of docs…) tend to focus on the scleroderma, so I almost forget that I also have Sjogren’s.

Except for this: of the two autoimmune conditions, it is the Sjogren’s that has pretty much taken over my life in spite of my efforts to keep control. Since April is Sjogren’s Awareness Month, I decided that I would share with all of you some information about this disease and how it has impacted me.

But first, the Fade!! I’m cranking out another Find Your Fade shawl that I hope to get done before the end of the month. Look at these colors! Look at how great this shawl is going to be! Color me happy! My Ravelry project notes are here.

Shawl
I’ve just started the 4th color and I can’t stop knitting because of the happy turquoise color. Must keep knitting. The 5th color will be even more wild!
Yarns for a shawl
See what I’m talking about? The color sequence for the shawl moves from right to left in the picture, and the next color will be that Hedgehog Fibres yarn. Then there will be that electric violet. Woohoo!

The weather has been nice this week so the cats have moved outside to bug hunt and I have moved into major knitting and house cleaning mode. OK, there has been more knitting. It’s important to have priorities…

Back to the Sjogren’s Syndrome. I know that you are just dying to know more about this little know and hard to spell disease. Sjogren’s isn’t as rare a disease as my bad-boy scleroderma (about 4 million Americans have it), and it isn’t usually life-threatening, but it is still serious and exceptionally life altering. Check out this symptom chart. This is one crazy-ass autoimmune disease; basically my immune system is attacking all of my moisture producing cells. That doesn’t sound all that bad, does it? As it turns out, the impact of this damage affects an awful lot of my body’s ability to function properly, and for this reason Sjogren’s is considered to be a systemic condition. Its most obvious feature is extreme dryness. Let’s take a little walk around my house as I explain this to you.

Lotions
Even I was shocked to realize how many types of lotion I have on my bedside table. There are 11 types of lotion here, and another couple of lotion bars in the drawer. I also have lubricant eye drops that I put in at least twice a day. I absolutely have to stay up on the eye drops every day or I develop cloudy vision. See, dryness. Dry skin, dry eyes. 
Bathroom
Dry mouth too. I never knew this before, but your saliva is necessary to fight bacteria in the mouth; without it things get out of control quickly.  I was producing no saliva when first diagnosed and I did have lots of dental issues. Things are better now, but I have to be very careful to keep my teeth as clean as possible, and I use the rinse nightly to help protect my teeth.
Sunglasses
The struggle to protect my eyes and skin continues every time I leave the house. I need lip balm and sunscreen before I go out, and sunglasses are a must since my eyes are really sensitive to sunlight. Because my mouth is so dry I don’t move anywhere without some type of fluid to drink. It’s such an issue for me I usually keep a case of ice tea in the car so I won’t ever run out. See the cute fingerless mitts? Sjogren’s causes Raynaud’s  (which I have) so I need to keep my hands and fingers warm at all times. If you think I’m crazy about managing fluids you should see how many pairs of fingerless mitts and gloves are riding around with me in the car with that case of ice tea…
Steamer with hot pack
Combating dryness makes sense, but there are lots of other annoying symptoms that I’m dealing with too. My joints and muscles hurt all of the time. I start every morning with chemical hot packs on my knees and leg muscles. I recharge them in this steamer each evening so that I’ll be ready to use them as soon as I wake up. This is my routine: make a morning latte, and then go back to bed with the hot packs and coffee.  Usually there is a cat added. Cats love hot packs!
Inhaler
My Sjogren’s antibodies also cause small airway disease (asthma). I notice blue lips quite often these days, and I have to monitor my blood oxygen levels and use the inhaler if my levels get too low; I’m trying hard to stay off oxygen. Darn. Just another couple of items I need to fit into my knitting bag.
Blender
and then there are my gastrointestinal issues. I developed gastroparesis this fall and now I am rocking a low fiber diet of easily digested foods. Check out my lunch. 

Now for the things that I couldn’t take picture of: fatigue, neuropathy, and concentration/memory problems. The fatigue that comes with Sjogren’s is not the usual “feeling tired” stuff. This is true crushing fatigue that makes me feel buzzy, numb and like I’m walking through concrete. The neuropathy means that I have feet/hands that are always falling asleep; more trouble walking. Then there is the memory stuff. When I’m in a flare all kind of crazy things can happen. I got lost on the freeway once; now I always use the GPS to give me driving directions. I have gone out to run an errand and then couldn’t remember where I was going. I have big problems with vocabulary recall, and I forget things like my phone number at the most embarrassing moments. I lose my ability to read because I can’t concentrate…

Good grief, I pretty much have my life arranged around my Sjogren’s needs. I thought that MacKenzie was running the show around here, but it looks like he needs to take a back seat to Sjogren’s.

Cat
MacKenzie: Not happening. I am the man!!

Which brings me to the good things for which I am grateful. Most people with scleroderma/Sjogren’s struggle with anxiety and/or depression. I do not. I think that I am so very lucky in my wonderful, supportive friends and my son. I am lucky to have good neighbors, health insurance, and a pension that meets all my needs. I am lucky to have cats that pile on and purr through all the sad times. I am lucky to have the immensely meditative and calming art of knitting to carry me through each and every flare of my disease.

Knit on, my friends. Knit on.

…and another baby Fade enters the world.

It has been just crazy for the last two weeks. We have had really warm weather, blizzard warnings, a broken water heater, more medical testing, and another trip to the hospital. March has been a bad, bad boy. Tomorrow March will be going out like a lion as there is a rather major snow storm on the way that promises to gift us with either 2 inches or a whole foot of snow. As usual for this time of year, we won’t really know for sure until the snow stops falling. One thing is for sure, the roses are going to come out of this looking a little worse for the wear…

I have been dealing with all the stress and commotion in my usual manner; lots of knitting.  My latest “Find Your Fade” shawl has been growing at an impressive rate.

Cat helping knit shawl
The shawl became so large while I was working on it that I just spread it over my legs to make a nice bed for MacKenzie (ever helpful as always) to lie on while I knitted.
Shawl
By yesterday morning I was into the last section of the shawl. Look at those colors!!
Finished Shawl
Tonight I got it done while watching the evening news. The light is a little dim as I took the shot indoors, but you can still get a good idea of how the colors play together.
Shawl
Here is the other side of the shawl. I love, love, love this. My project notes can be found here.

Tomorrow I will be (surprise) casting on the start of a third Fade shawl just in time for the snow storm. This is addictive. I just need to see how the colors will go together.

MacKenzie, how do you feel about purple, magenta and turquoise yarn?

Immigrant Story

Today is St. Patrick’s Day. It’s kind of a fun day here where I live. People wear green, there are parades, bodies of water (and beer) get dyed green, and there is some serious partying that can occur.

I’m Swedish-American, so I don’t really get wrapped up in the whole wearing of the green thing. In fact, when I was in grade school kids would pinch me black and blue on St. Paddy’s Day because I wasn’t wearing green; the teacher would give me a little green shamrock to pin on my dress so I would be safe. People acted like this was normal, but it made me a little cranky, to be honest. Why was it OK for me to be pinched because I wasn’t like the other kids? Why did I have to pretend to be Irish when I wasn’t even a little bit?

I knew I was Swedish. We had stinky lutfisk at Christmas and really great cookies. I didn’t foist lutfisk on anyone else (if you’ve ever been exposed to this stuff, you will understand that only the worst of the worst should be bullied with lutfisk…), or even share my cookies, so why should I have to wear green? I was Lutheran and the Irish kids were Catholic. The Jewish kids had candles, dreidels and chocolates instead of Christmas. It was all good in my eyes; everyone was an immigrant as far as I was concerned.

Years later I gave my grandmother a blank journal and asked her to record our family’s story. Wow. As it tuns out, it is a pretty good one, so I want to share it with you.

Anderson Family Portrait
The Anderson Family in America. From left to right: my grandmother Irene, her father John Alfred, her sister Alphild, and her mother Selma. My grandmother Irene was the first person in her family to be born in America.

My great-grandmother’s story is one that is not all that unusual; she came to the USA as a young women, worked in service, met a young man at her church, married, raised a family, and had a good life. My great-grandfather’s story is the one that I want to share.

John Alfred Anderson (known as Little Al) was brought to the USA by his parents when he was 4 years old. I’m not completely sure of the date, but it would have been 1862 or 1863. His mother died soon after they arrived, and his father returned to Sweden leaving the children behind. Little Al was left with an older, married sister and his brother was adopted by another family. When he was 11 years old his sister could no longer support him and he became a child on the streets of Chicago. He was on his own during the Great Chicago Fire and lost his most precious possession, his bag of marbles, when he buried it for safekeeping on an island in the Chicago river. To make things worse, Little Al was a Swedish child, and there was prejudice against Swedish immigrants; chances are he did not speak English.  The odds were not in his favor.

Believe it or not, it all worked out. He became active in a Lutheran Church and was supported by that community. He somehow came to the notice of Julius Rosenwald, the great Jewish philanthropist, who “helped him acquire his engineer’s license and then hired him to provide the steam-power for the sewing machines in one of Mr. Rosenwald’s garment factories”, as my grandmother related. My grandmother remembered getting a new coat twice a year from Mr. Rosenwald; he would have her mother come to the factory to pick out the fabric and he would personally select the lining and buttons. Later in life Little Al became a citizen, started his own business, the girls grew up, they both married, and they all lived good American lives.  There were amazing adventures later on in the family, but those are other posts.

When I said that I was Swedish-American, that was the literal truth. I’m half Swedish (on my mother’s side), and on my father’s side my ancestors have been here in America for over 300 years. They settled in the original colonies along the Atlantic coast, fought the American Revolution, and lived during the time when our constitution was written and the USA was born.  They eventually left the coast, crossed the mountains, and settled in a western wilderness known as Tennessee; their story is truly an American one. But each branch of my father’s family all started as immigrants, every single one of them.

Today immigrants are under attack here in America, and there have been numerous bomb threats and instances of disrespect directed towards members of the Jewish community. People are confronted for speaking a foreign (non-English) language or for dressing in clothing that reflects a different culture or religion, and they are told that they should go back to “their country”.

We are a nation of immigrants. My mother’s family here in America was saved by the kindly intervention of others and by a man of a different heritage and religion who reached out to help him. Just as it was not OK for me to be bullied as a child for not being Irish, or for others to insist that I needed to pretend I was Irish, it is not OK to marginalize or discriminate against others who are different from us or who are just now arriving on our shores.

My father’s family fought so that this would be true.

This is our story.

This is America.

 

 

 

MacKenzie Speaks: Still Fading After All These Weeks…

Hi. I’m MacKenzie.

The Mother of Cats is still going off and leaving us for a few days at a time, and when she comes home again she spends her days lying around with a heating pad on her knees knitting away on another huge shawl.

Cat and Knitting
Do I look happy here? No, I do not!!!

See what I’m talking about? I can barely squish myself onto her lap with all of that yarn in the way. I mean, I ABSOLUTELY need to be on the heating pad, and I also expect to knead my paws on the balls of yarn, and you know that knitting without chomping hardly counts at all. Right? You’d think that if I purred loud enough the Mother of Cats would understand and she’d make allowances to ensure I had enough room, but she just keeps whapping me with the shawl. On my head!! Sure, she always says that she is sorry, but really, don’t you think that she should concentrate on my needs and put the knitting well off to the side? Is that too much to ask?

Shawl
You have to admit that the shawl is growing pretty quickly. This is the way that it looked this morning. By this evening she had started on the 5th color. Yellow Boy and I were playing outside so we missed a lot of the knitting with that gold color. I really like that yarn, too, as silk and alpaca are kind of my chomping favorites. Have you ever tried yak? That is pretty yummy too…

While we were outside taking pictures we checked out the garden.

Cat and garden ornament
The garden squirrel come through the winter in good shape, but the flowers are still all dead looking.

I think that the Mother of Cats kind of misses the flowers because she planted some outside in the big planters this week. She says that these flowers can survive a snow storm. Snow? NO!! Cats do not like snow!

Flowers
Aren’t these flowers nice? They aren’t the kind that we like to eat, but at least she is trying. We really want the catmint to start growing…

I think that these are her favorite colors because she put together the yarns for ANOTHER one of those Fade shawls and it looks a lot like the flowers!

Yarns for a shawl
Somehow she thinks that she will wear this shawl in the summer. It will look a little like her garden. It would be better if it looked like mice, garter snakes and cat cookies. Just saying…

The Mother of Cats has clearly lost her mind. Doesn’t she understand that all things should be done in moderation? (That doesn’t apply, of course, to cat cookies…) When is she going to make my cat hoodie? How about some socks? I never have any trouble sitting in her lap when she is knitting socks. She has these UFOs sitting around the house, but she is just ignoring them too. Maybe she could just read books for awhile with the heating pad on her knees so I could just hang out with her for a couple hours at a time. The heating pad works better when I’m purring on top of it…

I’m such a good boy!

Can I have some cookies now?

>^..^<

Notes from the Mother of Cats:

I continue to spend a couple of days a week with my sons helping out, who are dealing with ongoing health issues. It’s hard on the kitties, but such is life.

The shawl pattern is “Find Your Fade” by Andrea Mowrey. My project notes for the second shawl in the series are here. Each of the shawls lets me explore a different way to approach the colors and how I let them fade across the shawl. I’m having fun and busting my stash at the same time. Sorry MacKenzie!

March and April are the snowiest months of the year here in Colorado.  Just because it is nice and warm today doesn’t mean it won’t snow next week… Sad news for cats.