Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Fresh Start to the New Year

Each member of my family skis with a distinctive style that reflects his or her personality. Steve skis athletically and elegantly, skis chattering in his narrow old-fashioned stance, Eva skis gracefully and always solidly in control, and Isabel is fast, with a wide racer's stance, impatient to get down the mountain first. I tag along behind, somehow getting the job done, enjoying the company, the scenery and the freshness of being in the outdoors. I have occasional moments where everything clicks and I can glide effortlessly through new powder or swoop around a big mogul, drop smoothly down the steep side, and then repeat again and again until the burning in my legs makes me stop. What a rush!

Looking back along the route to "The Crags"

Last month Jackson Hole served up the best Christmas skiing conditions I can remember. Days of low visibility but lots of fresh powder where we stuck near the glades for their enhanced perspective alternated with sunny days in which we carved up open slopes.

In spite of all the great skiing, my most vivid and enduring memory of the week was waking early to watch the snowy peaks of the Teton range brighten in the morning light. As Annie Proulx might have described it, "I stepped out into the grinning morning" and took a few photos.

Teton Sunrise

I brought home some of that exhilaration and energy and am using it to work through projects and chores at home in addition to working on quilts and various pieces of needlework.  One of those projects was the pile of mending that has been nagging at me for months. It turned out to be a matter of less than half an hour to deal with the entire thing. This old pillow case with a hand-crocheted edge, one of a pair my mother gave me years ago, needed only one long seam to repair the edge that had frayed completely through. I love that I am able to continue to use it and know I will sleep well when I put my head on a pillow clothed in that beautiful and crisply ironed pillowcase.

As promised in my last post, here is the pattern for knitting in the round a tiny sweater for a toy bear.  I made the one pictured here for my daughter's roommate, who was recently accepted by the University of Chicago.  Congratulations Noa!

Top Down Knit Sweater for Beanie Baby Bear:

  • Worsted weight yarn in white, cream, or color of your choice (I'm not sure how much you really need, but it isn't much).
  • Worsted weight yarn in contrast color (scraps should suffice).
  • Set of five US 4 double point needles.
  • Stitch holders.
  • Small button (optional).
  • Needle for weaving in ends.
  • 6 stitches per inch.
  • 8 rows per inch.
Begin by working back and forth (not in the round).
  • Cast on 28 stitches in main color.
  • Rows 1 - 3: work in Knit 1, Purl 1 (K1 P1) rib.
  • Row 4 (wrong side): Purl.
  • Row 5 (right side): Knit.
Arrange stitches on four double point needles as follows, with the first 5 and last 5 stitches on the same needle:  5 - 4 - 10 - 4 - 5.  The first 5 and last 5 will be the back, each set of 4 will be a sleeve, and the 10 in the middle will be the front.

Join the stitches to knit the remainder of the sweater in the round.
  • Round 1: Knit, increasing 1 stitch at the beginning and end of each needle (except for the middle of the back) as follows:
    • K4, M1, K1 (half of back)
    • K1, M1, K2, M1, K1 (sleeve)
    • K1, M1, K8, M1, K1 (front)
    • K1, M1, K2, M1, K1 (sleeve)
    • K1, M1, K4 (other half of back)  - 36 stitches on 5 needles
  • Round 2: Knit.
  • Round 3: Knit, increasing 1 stitch at each end of each needle (except for the middle of the back) in the same manner as Round 1 (44 stitches).
  • Round 4: Knit.
  • Round 5: Repeat Round 3 (52 stitches).
  • Round 6: Knit.
  • Round 7: Repeat Round 3 (60 stitches).
  • Round 8: Knit.
  • Round 9: Repeat Round 3 (68 stitches).
  • Round 10: Knit to end of 4th needle (end of left sleeve).
Divide 14 left sleeve stitches onto three needles; place remaining stitches for back, front, and right sleeve on holders.

Left sleeve :
  • Join stitches into round . 
  • Knit 8 rounds.
  • Join contrast color and Knit 1 round.
  • Knit 1 round with main color.
  • Knit 3 rounds in K1 P1 rib.
  • Working in K1 P1 rib, bind off loosely.  Cut yarn, leaving several inches to weave in.
Right sleeve:
  • Join main color yarn and work same as for left sleeve.
  • Place remaining 40 stitches on 3 needles and join into round.
  • Work same as sleeves.
  • Weave in ends. 
  • Using contrast color overstitch letter of your choice on the center of the front.
  • If desired, sew a button to the back neck edge and work the yarn tail into a small loop.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

I have had a wonderful holiday, and hope that you have too.

My elder daughter received what seemed like an early Christmas gift:  acceptance to Cornell University.  She will begin as a freshman in the fall. I think it is a wonderful fit for her and am looking forward to having excuses to visit my alma mater.

Sprawling over 2300 acres at the southern tip of Cayuga Lake, one of New York's Finger Lakes, Cornell has one of the country's most beautiful campuses.  To keep our June visit about my daughter and her learning about the university, I stopped only a couple times for photos.  I will remedy that on my next visit, but in the meantime here are a couple of shots of the original library which stands at the heart of campus, both literally and figuratively.

McGraw Tower at Uris Undergraduate Library

Andrew Dickson White Reading Room in Uris Library

Ever since our daughters were infants we referred to them fondly as our baby bears or our little bears.  I guess now we can call Eva a Big Red Bear, which is Cornell's mascot.  For Christmas I made her first bit of college paraphernalia, sweaters with which to dress the little Beanie Baby bear she has had as her personal mascot for years.

The first sweater, which I made by mostly following a published pattern, entailed making four separate pieces and then stitching them together.  Cute, but the seaming was tedious.  Here it is modeled by a Beanie Baby bunny so I know it fits.

I made a second one by working from the top down and in the round on double point needles.  It was much, much faster and required only over-stitching the "C" and weaving in yarn ends to finish.  Thanks to Eva for the lovely photos!

I will update this post in the next day or two with my directions for working the sweater in the round.  In the meantime, I wish everyone a wonderful New Year!

Friday, October 31, 2014

What Happened to October?

How is it that October has come and gone and I have yet to write a single post?  I think it must be because I haven't made significant visible progress on any big projects.  Nothing really jumped out as being worthy of a post.

Instead I have been gathering ideas, planning new quilts, experimenting on new things, and working on lots of bits and pieces. The highlight of the month though was a trip to New England to visit the girls.  In addition to catching up on their activities of the last six weeks, we watched them play volleyball, met teachers, and enjoyed brilliant fall colors and crisp air.

The bits and pieces include a pile of "broken dishes" blocks made with scraps. Assuming I alternate them with solid squares, I am halfway to a twin-sized quilt.

Broken dishes

I made lots of pieces for a string quilt, ultimate design still to be determined.  Right now they are of so many different sizes that I suspect they will turn into multiple quilts.


For a quilt with a more precise and traditional design I began a set of Ohio Star blocks.

Ohio Star

I also began a portable knitting project, Rowan's "Peggy" pattern with Debbie Bliss Rialto 4ply 100% Merino wool, which I work on in spare moments. The front, shown here, looks oddly small, but it is very stretchy due to the ribbing.  I guess I'll know if it is stretchy enough when I join it to the back and try it on.  The directions aren't much help because the gauge is described as "28 sts and 36 rows to 10 cm measured over rib when slightly stretched using 3 1/4 mm needles." What does "slightly stretched" mean?

"Peggy" by Rowan

New England in mid-October was certainly a feast for the eyes.

Looking east from the NMH campus

Eva took us for a carriage ride around campus.

Memorial Chapel

I must say that an open carriage is a wonderful way to take in the colors.  I hope that I can match nature's exuberance in my quilts.

Eva and Kara

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Gentle Side of the Tetons

The Tetons are probably America's most easily recognized mountains, a row of peaks shaped like shark's teeth. (Note that the Tetons were named for their resemblance to something else, but that is because it was men, no doubt starved for female companionship, who did the naming.) Bounded by steep faults in the rock, the mountains rise sharply along the western edge of Wyoming's Jackson Hole valley.

Teton sunset from Mormon Row

Hikers who venture into Paintbrush, Cascade, Garnet, Avalanche, and Death Canyons, the main routes into Grand Teton National Park's back country, quickly find themselves amid enormous boulder fields with canyon walls towering up on both sides.  Although some of the hikes are daunting, gaining thousands of feet of elevation over only a few miles, spectacular scenery and easy proximity to the road naturally draw many hikers.

Hanging Canyon

The west side of the range is a very different story.  Most of the trailheads are miles beyond the highway, at the ends of poorly maintained gravel roads.  The trails themselves tend to be much gentler, climbing open slopes that reflect the underlying westward dipping rocks.

Along the trail towards Grizzly Creek

Last month I spent five days on this gentle side of the Tetons as part of a geology field trip. Beginning at Coyote Meadows trailhead we hiked up Bitch Creek to the uppermost reaches of Grizzly Creek, just outside Grand Teton National Park (GTNP). It was a lovely spot, though thankfully it didn't live up to its name.  No bears, grizzly or black.

Our second camp, about five miles south of the first, was a greater challenge to reach as the trail crossed over two steep ridges and several times disappeared entirely in lush meadows.  Picking it up again took sharp eyes and good map skills.

The difficulty in finding the trail reflects just how little frequented this area is. Not counting a few people very close to the trailhead, I didn't see a single person outside of our group for the entire five days.

Another advantage of being on the west side of the range is seeing dramatic sunsets over the plains of Idaho.

But best of all are the enormous high meadows that, even in late summer, are filled with wildflowers.

For an even tamer side to the Tetons, here is my now completed quilt made with vintage blocks that I acquired at a Jackson Hole garage sale years ago.  I finished piecing it last summer, but waited until I was a little more sure of my skills with a long arm machine before attempting to quilt it.

The blocks were foundation pieced (by hand and by machine) so the finished quilt has a little more heft to it than most quilts. As I mentioned last summer, I used vintage scraps to complete the blocks.  The funny thing now is that I can't positively identify all of the pieces I added.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Wild Side of Florida

Silver Springs State Park is not the first place that comes to mind when I think of Florida.  And yet, when I visited last month, it felt like the real Florida, Florida as it was before Disney and Universal re-shaped thousands of acres into theme parks, hotels, and all things entertainment.

I must confess that I did spend a day at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and it was fun (as it should have been for $90 a pop), full of thrilling roller coasters and animal displays that are guaranteed to give you a good view.

Female gibbon

Asian tiger

The following day, when, for the first time, we visited Silver Springs, I found it a quiet and relatively unspoiled slice of Florida, and much more appealing than Disney. On the 90 minute boat tour of the springs and the Silver River our knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide filled us in on many facets of the area, including geology, history, and wildlife.

It is one of the largest artesian springs in the world, with over half a billion gallons of water flowing each day. Wow! Although the water is clear, nitrate pollution from cattle operations has promoted significant growths of algae on the spring's bottom and in the Silver River, which is fed by the springs.  At the moment, one can only catch glimpses of the sparkling silver bottom which gave the springs and river their names. Florida State has recently taken back control of the springs from private interests and one can only hope that their plan to clean up the spring proves effective in protecting this National Natural Landmark.

In spite of the algae, the springs and river support a large population of alligators.

As well as turtles and birds.

Anhinga and turtle on the Silver River

Although Silver Springs may be best known as a location for filming movies - six Tarzan movies, Creature From the Black Lagoon, and Rebel Without a Cause are among the films made here - the area's history is long and rich. In the sixteenth century Spanish explorers found the springs inhabited by Timucuan indians, during the eighteenth century English raiders killed the Timucuan, and eventually Seminoles moved into the area.* According to displays in the small on-site museum, from the 1920s through the 1960s Seminoles produced crafts, including their distinctive patchwork pieces, to sell to visiting tourists.

Seminole patchwork

Note that on this item the piecing and attaching of rick rack were done by machine, a quick and cost-effective approach to production.  I too rely heavily on sewing machines as I can make things very quickly and am able to experiment on a lot of things in a small amount of time.  Still, I really like the look of handmade pieces and I enjoy the process and quiet of stitching by hand.  Over the course of the summer I finally completed all four pieced borders for my compass quilt.

I am now working on the corner stars.

The next step will be to assemble all the pieces.


Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

One of my favorite places in Austin is the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, partly because it is beautiful, and partly because it helps to make me feel truly at home in Austin.  I had the good fortune to work at the center as it was moving from its original location on the eastern edges of the city to its current location. Having seen, and indeed helped with, the birth of the center as we know it, and seeing it now, as though it has always been there, makes me feel like I have grown up along with Austin and am part of it now too.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Johnson on several occasions and was impressed by her kindness and graciousness. Her words, though softly spoken, carried great weight. I think all of the volunteers worked even harder after meeting her. She has left a wonderful legacy with the Wildflower Center and other open spaces around Austin, the state of Texas, and around the country. She was truly a great lady.

Since opening on 43 acres at its current site in 1995, the Wildflower Center has grown to 279 acres, been renamed in honor of its avid founding patroness, and become a research unit of the University of Texas at Austin. Its original, distinctly Texas-styled buildings, demonstration gardens, and extensive rainwater collection system remain.  The center's message is clear throughout the property: native plants offer myriad beautiful, yet practical, options for our gardens.  Given severe droughts in Texas, California, and elsewhere, I suspect their audience may be listening a little bit more closely.

A good place to begin your visit is the top of the tower, which surrounds one of the rain barrels and affords views of the major areas of the center.

The seed silo with the tower in back

If you are looking for ideas for your own garden, be sure to visit the theme and homeowner inspiration gardens.

Theme gardens

New acreage has allowed inclusion of several additional facilities, such as an arboretum of Texas trees, hiking and running paths, large meadows dedicated to research, and a family garden and children's play area.

In the Arboretum

Entering the Luci and Ian Family Garden

When I visited, a mud pit in the children's play area was clearly a big draw for the ten and under crowd.  Hoses were available for clean-up afterwards, but it is advisable to have a set of clean clothes.

The gardens and plantings seemed particularly lush to me during my visits this July, due to plant choices that are well-suited to the site and to some recent well-timed rains.

Purple coneflowers (Echinacea purpurea)

Purple coneflowers

Butterflies were plentiful in the butterfly garden.

Queen butterfly (Danaus gilippus) on Simpson's rosinweed (Silphium simpsonii) 

And throughout the center.

Queen butterfly on purple coneflower 

Speaking of butterflies, I have been butterflying the corner seams of the border for my compass quilt. With only four thicknesses of fabric at any part of the corner, quilting will be much easier.  I must give credit to Jan over at Bemused for reminding me of this little, but important, trick.  I am making steady progress on these borders and will have more photos in my next post.