Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Oriental Rug Ideas

I'm looking at oriental rugs for color ideas for the next rag rug. I have two full spools of cotton rug warp in red and deep purple and two smaller amounts of the eggplant and chartreuse from the first rag rug.

Here's what looks to me like the traditional grouping of reds, blues and greens. I have dark blue, dark green, light blue, and some print sheets in shades of lavender, grey, and light blue for the rag wefts, and these are the colors I had in mind.

This one is beautiful, though more orange in the center than red. And this one might be the best model - lots of red, with touches of gold and blue.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Sweater that Fits

The photographs are not much to show, but I have finally managed to knit a sweater that fits me. Sigh of relief and happiness. I owe credit to Ann Budd's The Handy Book of Sweater Patterns. And to my knitting teacher, who suggested the book.

Perhaps for most knitters, but especially for me, who knit very loosely, struggle to get gauge without going down to the tiniest of needles, and wear a smaller size, this book was a savior. I could start with wherever my gauge was - and then figure out from there details such as the length of the sweater, how long to make the sleeves, and what kind of neckline or button band I wanted. My goal was for this sweater to be a tutorial: a chance to see how the basic pattern worked up, whether it fit or not, and from that information, be better able to make the adjustments needed to get to from the sweater in my imagination to the finished object.
I worked from the master pattern for the Set-in Sleeve Cardigan. I tried to stick with the program, but did end up using a few details from the Cropped Cardigan, such as a longer ribbed border, bracelet-length sleeves, and a black edging against the heathered brown yarn of the main parts of the sweater. The buttons are black, also, to pick up the edging detail.
It's warm, comfortable, and best of all, I'll be able to wear it (in fact, I have it on as I write this). Next up, I'm thinking of trying a V-neck with lace edging on a bell sleeve or perhaps a colorwork effect of doing the sleeves in orange and the body in pink. Here are the details on this sweater:
Pattern: Set-in Sleeve Cardigan
Yarn: Cascade 220 Heather, 5 skeins of heather brown; 1 skein of black (of which I only needed about 25% of the skein)
Needles: size 4 and size 5 Addi Natura
Notions: 6 buttons
Size: 36 (allows some ease, for a comfortable but not oversized fit)
The only other thing to mention is that this is a full sleeve, especially at the cap. If you like a slimmer look, you may want to figure out how to leave out a few increases and still have the sleeve fit the armhole. (I'm not there, yet.)

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Prasantavahita: a great peace flows.

Happy holidays to all. Eat something good, laugh, enjoy whatever celebration you make for yourself, whether it's dinner with 30 of your relatives or take-out Chinese and a video. Light a candle and relax for a day!


For the next rug, I've been thinking about the quiet tones of the Japanese saki-ori style rug, made of recycled kimono fabric.

And the appeal of the muted browns and blacks of the Japanese textiles versus the happier colors of a Kaffe Fassett piece. Oh, the choices. How can one person have such diametrically-opposed tastes?

But I do love this site - Sri Threads - a Brooklyn gallery that sells Japanese and Indian textiles. And the blog: one beautiful textile after another (especially this Ralli quilt).

Monday, December 21, 2009

Rag Rug

A rag rug for the front hallway.

Pattern: Finnish Bird's Eye, variation #2
Source: Davison, Handweaver's Pattern Book (the classic stitch dictionary for weavers)
Warp: Maysville 8/4 Cotton Rug warp in a deep purple and a chartreuse, warped in stripes based on the Fibonacci series: 3" chartreuse, 1" eggplant, 2" char., 17" egg., 2" char., 1" egg, and ending with 3" char.
Number of warp threads: 216 (this includes a doubled floating selvage on each edge, to keep the borders straight)
Weft: one set of full size sheets from the resale shop (may be a cotton/poly blend, I'm not sure); ripped into 1" strips and sewn end to end on the sewing machine before use
EPI: 8 (ends per inch for you non-weavers - this is the number of warp ends, or lengthwise threads, that go onto the loom and capture the weft, or horizontal threads)
Width on loom: 27"
Finished size: 25" x 45"
I decided to hem the ends, which use the carpet warp rather than rags, for a cleaner edge. I zigzagged the raw, cut edges once I'd removed the rug from the loom, turned the ends under, and machine-stitched the hem. One pattern from Handwoven suggested hand stitching the hem, but I'm all for practicality and this rug is to be used in the winter and then thrown in the washing machine and dryer for cleaning.
The next time, I'll use more warp ends per inch so that the rug has a sturdier feel; this one is a little too drapey, but still, not bad for a first effort. I'm thinking of something that emulates an Oriental rug for the next one: deep blues and scarlets and greens in the warp, and something wider to have more presence in the little front hallway to our house.
In the meantime, I'm trying so hard to Make Do and Mend...I have 4 oddball amounts of 10/2 pearl cotton, which I threw onto the kitchen scale to ballpark the amount of yardage left. I'm trying to talk myself into experimenting with a scarf in the Finnish's Bird's Eye, with stripes in the weft so that there is some colorwork interest.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


I'm weaving a rag rug, while listening to an audio version of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, read by Simon Vance. It's a perfect novel to listen to: a crazy combination of romance, Gothic horror, and psychological thriller. I've tried to read it several times, but hearing Vance do the slightly crazed, somewhat Transylvanian accent of Victor Frankenstein, seemingly the creator of a man-shaped monsters from bits and pieces from the cemetery and the morgue. I say seemingly, because I began to doubt his reliability pretty quickly - he does that eighteenth-century thing of being ill for several months at a time, overwhelmed emotionally and psychologically, only to rally and then see the monster in incredible places, such as suddenly showing up in the Alps as Frankenstein is taking a tour of the sublime, overcome, yet again, by guilt, passion, fear, and beauty. Oh, those eighteenth-century Romantics.
But about the weaving: the great thing about this rag rug is how quickly it is weaving up. Two and half discs of the book and I'm ready to cut it from the loom, knot the warp ends for fringe, and take a look at it close-up. Below, a view showing the interaction of the warp colors and the pattern, though the colors are more accurate in the photos above.
I'm enjoying putting a short warp (about 100-125") on the loom, weaving something, and then starting a new project. I'd get more accomplished, in the long run, if I put a much longer warp on and I would waste less yarn (you lose at least 35" from each warp end to the mechanics of attaching to the back beam and front beam of the loom). But it's nice, for a change, to see something different coming off the loom at periods closer together than one year, my previous average for weaving a project.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Happy Hanukah

Indian oil lamps.
These are brass, though you can find less intricate shapes in lesser metals. The wick is a cunning device: a round, cotton-ball center that sits in the oil, with a short wick that lays in a small, funnel-shaped tip. You pour a small amount of oil into the base (in this case, extra-virgin olive oil, which my husband advocates as the Only Oil to Use, including for oil lamps), light the wick with a match, and it slowly burns until the oil is used up.
During Diwali, the Indian festival of lights commemorating Rama's rescue of Sita from captivity, you see these little oil lamps placed along the top of walls, clustered in front of open doorways, and along the road. (The word Diwali is an abbreviation of the Sanskrit term for "row of lights.")
While we celebrate Hanukkah, I liked the idea of adding to the menorah lighting something more ancient than candles to commemorate the Jewish festival of lights.
As I watched them burn, I wondered what it would have been like to try to accomplish anything after dark in the world before electricity. How did the colonials get anything done? And what does whale oil look like when it burns? The things that we will never know.
One thing that I will know, however, is how to start a fire with flint and steel! Below, my Hanukkah present from my husband:
I'm looking forward to weather warm enough to test it out. First, I have to create some charred cloth by burning the fabric in an empty soup can. Even if I never achieve my hope of going on Survivor (at this point, I believe I would be voted off first for falling into the category of too old and female), I'm going to learn to start a fire. No idea why this appeals to me, but I am now the owner of both a rugged knife from one daughter and a fire starting kit from my husband.
And something very different: Pretty Thing, designed by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Brooks Farm Solo Silk - the perfect combination of wool and silk.
Unfortunately, knit without swatching and much too big, even without blocking, and lace opens up a lot. May decide to rip it out and use it instead for a scarf. With Chicago winter in full force, I'm craving something long to wrap around my neck and nose when I walk the dog.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hawaiian Greenery

Protea from a plant shop at the base of Haleakala.
Buckets of other, other-wordly Hawaiian flowers at the same plant shop.
Below, a silvery shrub growing on Mount Haleakala, the site of the (currently) extinct volcano. Silver plants, in this very clear light, literally glow with a very white-silver light. The difference between the look of this plant - a little twiggy, misshapen - and the feel of the leaves - velvety, soft - is intriguing.
Another silver plant: this one is called Silversword. I believe that it is extinct in most regions of the world, and is being carefully cultivated at this high-altitude elevation in raised beds or planting areas carefully restricted from people's footsteps.
Because Hawaii is geographically separated from most other land masses on the planet, it has a restricted number of biological and botanical species. For example, there are only two butterflies indigenous to Maui, and there are a vast number of species - according to the information at Haleakala - that become extinct because they are unable to present sufficient numbers as well as prolong their existence until some sort of diversity develops. Very interesting: this barrenness in the midst of all of this plenty.
The summit, with a few visitors looking at a sign about the Science area that is closed to the public. How often do you see a picture like this: no buildings, no power lines, no streets, no crowds - just land and sky and a few human beings?
While the plants look green and lush as you hike the lower trails, many of the growing things- to the touch - have the fleshy feel of desert plants holding onto to water.
Ferns, brown and dry, along the trail.
For contrast, a view of a trail off the road to Hana. At sea level, many mountain streams and waterfalls, next to the ocean, and a more temperate climate. Here, lots of beautiful carpet-soft moss.
And sun. Oh, sun and sky, where have you gone in Chicago? Today there is a tiny glimmer of blueness, but otherwise, it is winter in the Midwest: overcast, sodden, grey skies; no sign of sun; no mountains or oceans; and the rapidly accelerating slide toward the winter holidays.
My plan is to try to counterbalance the rest by dosing myself a bit, each day, with something enjoyable - photos from Maui, some knitting, some cooking, some reading (The Invention of Air - about philosophers/scientists/politicians in the 18th century, including the redoubtable Ben Franklin and Joseph Priestley - and Dorothy Sayers' mysteries, especially anything with Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey), some watching of good, sitcom television (Third Rock and The Office and Scrubs), some old movies (Arsenic and Old Lace) and the lighting of lots of candles. Here's wishing you some light and some laughter this season. Without a sense of humor, how would we bear it all?

Friday, December 11, 2009


Haleakala. The summit at 10,023 feet above sea level. Land of the Sun in the native language. The fourth-clearest air in the world (there is a Science area not open to the public, where Dept. of Defense and academics can view an object as small as a basketball 20,000 miles into space.) Also, the drive up to the summit: one of the two quickest rises in vertical elevation within the shortest amount of time, also in the world. At this level, the air is thin, and you are warned to walk slowly up flights of stairs to the viewing platform. There are no guard rails, and I had a sense that one could walk slowly off the edge, into the clouds, which are below you because you have driven above their level to get here. The ground looks brown and gravel-like: the lava is very lightweight and crumbles when you rub it between thumb and finger.To get here, you drive up. And up. And up. We decided to take a pass on the sunrise viewing, which brings many tourists to the park. And I was glad for several reasons: no 3:30 am rising on my vacation, no lines of cars inching along as everyone stressed about reaching the summit before the sun, and that we wanted to do some hiking while in the park. Currently, the park has discontinued the practice of allowing tourists to ride down from the summit en-masse: too man accidents. Still, we passed several bikers going up on their own steam, including a woman from Utah and her companion, who were having absolutely no trouble peddling up the mountain. No puffing. No straining. No visible exertion as they rode up, and up, and up, and these are steep inclines and a gradual decrease in altitude, and thus, available oxygen. I once rode my bike in Switzerland, through the mountains, and that was nothing compared to the steepness and twisting of the road. We saw them again at the summit, and still, not even winded. Unbelievable.

I did all of the driving, except for a short span when I asked my husband to take over. I immediately saw that without the distraction of focusing on the road and the speed and the bikers, I was not a happy passenger. Car sickness and a sudden sense of being afraid of heights can come on very quickly when you are ascending an extinct volcano by automobile. Nor were reassurances such as a reminder that the driver had never before sent us off the edge of the road and over a cliff, or that it looked like even if one did go over, accidentally, that it was not a sheer drop but more of a gentle descent, of any consolation. Next turnoff, I was back to driving.
We stopped partway up to hike the Halemau'u Trail. Here's the path.
Very rocky, but nice big rounded rocks that you could step from one to the next on. I had sturdy running shoes on, but could see why wearing hiking boots and carrying trekking poles was a more common approach. At this point, you are at 8000 feet above sea level and weather conditions can change rapidly. We hiked with a pack full of water, rain gear, camera, extra batteries, and I wore my fleece, which came on and off depending upon where we were walking.

The plan was to hike down for about 30 minutes, then turn around and head back up, which the tour book warned would take twice as long. We went a little further, just to be able to see the crater, which has been used to train astronauts for doing moon walks, I read somewhere.

The foliage reminded me of Arizona. Lots of succulent-type plants with thick, fleshy leaves or sharp, spiky branches. And the ferns are much thicker than those in Illinois. Must be drier here than I'd expected; we speculated that the rain in the 'Iao Valley gets stopped by mountains in the way between there and Haleakala.

A view of the crater, from this trail. You can go all the way down to the cinder trails and then back up. We met a couple back at the trailhead who'd done the whole path in about 4 hours, and if I'd had boots and more time in Hawaii, I'd definitely do it.

Back up to the summit, in the next pictures. To the left, in the picture below, is the gap where lava poured and broke through the edge of the crater.
Another view. Toward the right, not quite visible, is a second gap where lava broke through. One of the gaps occurred only 200-400 years ago, which is nothing, compared to, say, the writing of the Declaration of Independence. Hawaii is over one million years old.
And the clouds. To the right, a view of the Big Island as well as a second island, over 100 miles away. Up this high, it is silent. No birds. A bit of wind, but no trees to rustle. Tourists speak quietly, and there is a sense of having made an effort and seen something not quite of this world.
It reminded me of the Grand Canyon: nature, and at the same time, not of this world.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Maui, Day Three

Even the underside of the flowers are beautiful here.
Today, we got up and out by 6:30 am to go kayaking and snorkeling. A quick cup of coffee and a bagel, and then in the car with lots and lots of gear. Someday I hope to learn to travel light, but I'm so far away from that goal.
We had our snorkeling gear - flippers, wet-suit booties to wear inside the flippers, masks, snorkels - in a duffle bag. The booties are quite the fashion look: ankle high, black, with industrial zippers - and just at that height where you look like an old man wearing socks to the beach. We also had a knapsack with water bottles, sunblock, hats, tour book, map, and a Balance Bar (because you never know when you might get hungry.) Another bag with dry clothes to change into after the trip. A fleece, because even though it stays in the high 70s to low 80s year-round, I am a Midwesterner and you never know when a cold snap might strike. And when I say "we," I really should say "I," because of the two of us, I am the one wanting to be able to micro-adjust to each and every change in climate. I keep thinking: Amazing Race...what would they do? One small rucksack for weeks on end, and no backsies.
More to the point, the trip was great. We kayaked off of a beach near Maaleaea Harbor ( does the Hawaiian version of Scrabble have extra A's and M's?) for about 45 minutes. You use a double-ended paddle and do sort of a dip of the end, with a slight twist of the upper body, and one hand pushing away as the other pulls toward you. Then you immediately switch to the opposite side of the craft and do the same movement. I was in the front, thus had less responsibility than my husband, who was in charge of steering us as well as this complicated maneuver with the paddle. At first, it felt very foreign and I was using my arms much more than my upper body. But by midway through the trip, it started to feel smoother, and we could glide pretty quickly across the water,
After heading into the wind and making our way up the shore, the guide lowered an anchor. We all connected to the main boat, and then dropped off the left side of the kayak and into the water. So clear, you could see down from the surface to the bottom about 15 feet away. We saw a large sea turtle sunning himself, lots of yellow and blue and black fish, and could hear a male whale sounding when we dove down under the water. An eerie and beautiful sound, very melodic. We didn't see the whale, but hearing it alone was almost more mystical.
My favorite fish of the day was the Spotted Pufferfish: football-shaped and sized, white dots all over a black body, and so docile. He let me swim right up next to him a few times as he patiently looked at me. A very stuffed animal kind of fish. Also the Yellow Trumpfish: long, narrow, with a platypus-kind of nose - apparently a member of the Seahorse family, as if you took a seahorse's nose and gently straightened it out.
More kayaking, and then back into the water. Molokini Crater is often the snorkeling spot of choice for the big tour boats, and today, we found our site home to a few boats, as the weather has been rough on the north side of the island and too choppy for good visibility. We toured past the big boats in our little kayaks and felt very virtuous for being under our own power. The second time into the water, I managed to dive down several feet and see the coral reef and fish up close. No underwater camera, so no pictures, but honestly, you have to see this stuff yourself to appreciate how unusual and beautiful even the tiniest underwater creature is.
The rest of the day, I napped and read and knit, then went for a long walk on the beach. We watched the Maui Canoe Club at practice - cross-country, aquatics version, including several of the kids walking instead of running to warm up, until they turned around and got close enough to the boat house and their coach for him to notice, and then they started jogging again. And a very happy Golden Retriever fetching his tennis ball in the ocean. I bet Parker would love it here.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Maui, Day Two

Maui is reminding us, in a good way, of India.

Scenes of beauty. Scenes of things falling apart. That sense, when you come off the airplane and get to the baggage area, of heavy humid air, warmth when you're accustomed to feeling cold, people suddenly wearing flowers and shorts and sandals and seeming both ready to tackle challenges (one mom pushing a GIANT pile of luggage on a cart with one hand and a stroller with a toddler with the other, back and forth, a little forward with the luggage, then a little forward with the baby) and people happy to just hang out. High-end living. Places where the houses are tiny.

Yesterday we drove west from our condominium to check out some of the beaches and snorkeling areas. This is Secret Cove: a tiny, lava-rock beach where many come for weddings or pictures. I saw a young woman in a beautiful, long white hippie-style dress having her photo taken. And the water and the rocks, just beautiful, too.

It' is amusing me to see houseplants from Chicago living at full force in this climate. Below, philodendron. A LOT of it. Leaves, very, very big. Perhaps the kudzu grass of Maui?
And the colors of the flowers. You could spend years just photographing the flowers. I definitely saw orchids today, but they are very shy, and no matter how I tried, it seemed that the blooms were turning away from the camera. Also, re the philodendron and the flowers and what looked like the pencil cactus that my aunt grows (even though she has a very green thumb, hers are nothing on these tree-sized specimens.) My favorite: a giant, peach colored, trumpet-shaped blossom hanging with the opening facing toward the ground on a tree-sized plant. No idea why it would have developed that way: perhaps birds flying upward from a nest on the ground?

A banyan tree. Another friend from India.
Other people seek out gardens. Or shopping. Or eco-tourism. We seem to find ourselves, over and over, in collections of indigenous houses. Williamsburg-Around-the-World. This place is called Kepaniwai Park and Heritage Gardens: a collection of structures that pay tribute to the many different ethnic groups that came to the Islands over the last two centuries. Below, a shrine decorated with tributes, part of the Portuguese area.
There was an incredible, wood-burning beehive oven in this section, which made me wonder if the Portuguese helped give Hawaii its sweet, egg bread or if it was the other way around?

The missionary house. Of course.

But before this, our destination was the 'Iao Valley and the 'Iao Needle. Created, according to myth, when Maui forbade his daughter 'Iao, who he had sheltered away in a beautiful, mountainous valley, to become involved with a half-man, half-merman. When 'Iao swore that she could not live without her love, Maui consented to turn him into a needle of stone so that she might always have him with her. This is the Lonely Planets version. At the park itself, it notes that the Needle is a phallic form - which is, again, reminiscent of India, where lingam, or phallic forms, commemorate the various gods. (The Needle is the first picture in my post.)
It was misting and raining as we walked the steep path, almost up into the fog. And then, a rainbow came out. Not just your average rainbow, but one with very distinct ribbons of color. And, unlike most rainbows that you see at home, with this rainbow, we could see both the beginning AND the end of the rainbow.
And the day started with snorkeling at Ulua Beach. No pictures of that, but definitely on the top of my list of Things to Do. You can put on your flippers and mask and snorkel and walk right into the water (backwards, so that your big, clown-feet flippers don't trip you onto your nose), and immediately, you are over a coral reef and seeing black, spiny sea urchins and very long, very thin, blue needlefish with a neon stripe and bandtailed goatfish (my favorite, wide stripes of green, blue and orange), and raccoon butterfly fish and an eel and lots more. You lay on your belly, breathe through the snorkel, and just stare down into this beautiful ocean. I even dove down a few times to get closer, because I had a hard time convincing my mind that I was actually a hand's distance away from all of this.