Posts filed in: Crocheting and Knitting

Making Progress

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Autumn here in Portland has been cold and crisp and brilliant, but it's freezing in the house today and I am rather cranky. Mimi and I took a walk around Reed College over the weekend and I am missing her (at school) and Andy (at work) today. The wind is whipping about out there and the car thermometer said it was 35 degrees when we left for school. Gusty wind is unnerving to me and always has been. I feel like I'm clenching my jaw and trying to ward off a shiver. My heart is breaking for everyone affected by the wildfires in California. Having a cold wind here is nothing compared to a burning wind, and I truly hope they catch a break in the weather that can help with these fires soon.

Thank you ever so much for your thoughts about how (or not) you use the yarns suggested in patterns. That was so fascinating to me, and I seriously love reading about peoples' personal experiences around these things. I would say the vast majority of people do not use the suggested yarn but substitute something they already have, or buy something they know they already like. I guess yarn, like fabric, is just one of those things that is so personal, and there are so many different types of it available (generally speaking, especially if you're buying it on the computer) that choosing it is just a further part of the creative process. Some people did say that if they like the photo on the pattern they want to make it exactly as pictured, because that's why they liked it in the first place. I totally get that, too. I don't know, I just like reading all of these little quirky details about everyone. I've been knitting along on my little flower sweater pattern for kids. This little sample is the six-month size in Cascade 220. I finished all of the grading for sizes (from six months to twelve years) on Friday and have the pattern out with a couple of testers right now. I'm currently knitting the size 8, this time in Berocco Ultra Alpaca, for which I get the same gauge as 220 (20 sts x 27 rows over 4"). I'm enjoying everything about this process so much. This is my first attempt at writing knitting patterns that are graded and there is so much math involved. I have always liked math a lot, for an English major, and I am finding that everything about this is exciting to me, even if I do have so much to learn. :)

I made my mom's chicken paprika (which we call "chicken and dumplings") the other night. It is very rich but it is just delicious at this time of year. I have been in a cooking slump lately — about the only thing I can do consistently is make tacos on Tuesday. It's Tuesday. I'll be making tacos. I need a good book and some good recipes right now. I have nothing to read and no idea what to cook.

Swatch, Swatch, Swatch

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I'm swatching yarn samples like crazy, trying to decide what yarn to use for my little kid sweaters. The doll sweaters use Nature Spun Sport. I wanted something slightly heavier for the kid sweaters but I wanted it to feel the same-ish. Right now I'm leaning heavily toward using Cascade 220. Huge palette of colors, light worsted—/DK-weight. It has the kind of halo I like, and the "yarniness" I like — I liked plied yarns without a ton of twist, and I like yarns that aren't too smooth and round. Just round enough. It feels old-fashioned and rustic-y, but it really softens after blocking and it is durable. It's affordable and very readily available, and this was really important to me. Downside, it’s made in China. :(. Originally I was totally going to use acrylic for these, but it just was not working for me, no matter what I did. It just wasn't make me happy when doing colorwork. It just wasn't giving and stretching the way it needed to. As soon as I switched back to wool it was just like . . . yep. There's a superwash 220, too. I'm getting the same gauge for the superwash and the regular, which is apparently a bit unusual, as the superwash is supposedly lighter. I'll do samples in both, just to see.

This brought up a conversation at the yarn store yesterday. When you knit a pattern, do you use the yarn that is suggested? Do you just go to your own personal favorite? How much does the yarn used by the designer influence you? Can you see past that if you don't like it, or is it a major factor in whether you can visualize your project? Do you just go to the store and pick something out and then try to find a pattern for it? Tell me everything. I'm really curious about this now. I almost never use the yarn that's recommended. I have no idea why. Rebel.

***By the way, for you non-knitters, "swatching" is the process of working up a little 4"-square sample of knitted yarn, generally in the stitch pattern the design calls for, to see exactly how many stitches you get per inch, and how many rows you get per inch. This is your "gauge." All patterns should have a gauge, and it is super important. One stitch short on a 4" gauge swatch can add up to being several inches off on your finished piece, so it really matters. Number of stitches across is more important to match; matching rows can be trickier. Usually patterns will tell you how many rows (or rounds) to knit and also give you the length in inches and centimeters you are aiming for (on a yoke, sleeve, or body, or an amount of ribbing, etc.). If you know how to knit and you've heard about gauge but you still think it's kind of confusing (I did, too, when I was first learning), leave me questions and I will answer them. And also by the way, if you are interested in writing knitting patterns, The Beginner's Guide to Writing Knitting Patterns by Kate Atherley is excellent. I highly recommend it.

Wildwood Walk

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***T H A N K  Y O U  so, so much for your kind words and the Dovegray Doll orders!*** I am so excited about these and we are working to get everything organized and starting to assemble the parts and pieces of the kits. The pattern has been sent off to the printer and now we are just waiting for supplies to be delivered. We are on track to start shipping in November and I will keep you posted on our progress! I will refund excessive shipping costs after we ship; I have my eye on this and will adjust. Also, I had a question about skill-level needed to make these dolls. You do need a bit of hand-sewing and machine-sewing experience to make these dolls and clothes. I would not say they are beginner projects, though it depends on your determination, of course. I had plenty of people tell me that one of my little animal dolls was the first thing they had ever made and it went just fine — but they really wanted to make it! :) So it just kind of depends. Practice makes perfect, as they say, and it's true here, too. Doll clothes ARE a bit tricky because they are small and can be annoying! But if you're in the right mood, they can also be really, really fun. You just kind of settle in with it and take your time. The pinafore is the hardest part of any of these projects but it is quite fancy and needs some patience. I'm always here to answer any questions you have if you get stuck, so just email me and I will always help you if you run into problems!

We have a super busy month coming up and things are buzzing around here. I'm spinning plates and juggling at the same time. Mimi has her "friend" birthday party here next weekend and then her family birthday party the weekend after. She has invited ten kids to her friend party and the house is small. I don't know most of the kids or their parents, because, new school, new friends, etc. EXCITING! Mildly terrifying. Small house. She wants to play Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Bozo's Buckets (she's never played either of them, I don't think), have a pinata, and decorate cupcakes. Any advice on having a kid party at home GRATEFULLY RECEIVED. Tell me everything. All I care about is that she and the kids have fun. I'm going to try to get the parents to drop off, first of all. Does that seem rude? I have no idea. I just literally don't know where they will stand. . . .

The photos above are from a walk we took last weekend on the Wildwood Trail. They re-routed my favorite little part of the walk (the beginning, by the archery course) but it was still just so nice. Mimi wore her Shimmer cowl that I knit a few weeks ago. This is the third time I have knit that cowl and for some reason I never enjoy knitting it. I love having them, but I don't enjoy knitting them. I think it's because I find it almost impossible to count my rows when I'm doing cables if I forget to put one on the counter. I just can't figure out how many rows go in the cable. I don't know why.

After the walk we stopped at Vista Spring Cafe and this is one of my very favorite places for a Saturday-afternoon lunch in Portland. I had this lasagna and it was literally the best lasagna I have ever had besides my mother's in my life. I could only even finish half of it. I highly recommend it after a lovely autumn afternoon in the woods. You may even get to watch the guys washing the firetruck at the tiny little fire station right across the street as we got to one time. I love that place.

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River Resting

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River days and river ways. They're slow and steady and golden, like the river. The river rolls past the house like a shimmering ribbon, day and night, night and day. At night, the crickets come out and it's loud. The screened windows look out toward the river, and they are black with night. It's quiet, just crickets, occasionally geese, far off, honking in a group. One night at dusk a flock of them swooped over the house and Andy ran out to see. There are a lot of trees, so you can't always see. One night at dusk, in the rain, I watched a giant charcoal-gray bird (eagle?) glide down the river like a highway. He flew low and near the shore, right above our chairs. He was in no hurry, but clearly going somewhere on his highway. Trees block the view far to the left and far to the right, so you literally watch things come into view on the river and then go out of view, like a filmstrip. On sunny days, lots of people float by, some in colorful rafts tied together in flotillas, beer coolers floating, tinny radios playing. Some come in pairs, and they're serious, in serious kayaks, with khaki hats with chin straps and long sleeves to protect from sun. Some come in silent groups, senior citizens on a tour, perhaps, in rafts being manned by young men, and everyone's quiet, looking forward. You can hear conversations on the river, even from the house. It takes each group a long time to float past the house. That's how slow the river is there. That's how I like my river: lazy.

When we get there at sunset on the first night, Amelia changes her clothes goes right down to the river in a nightgown. She did this years ago and she does it now. Many things she does at the river she does because she's done them before. She remembers the fairy house she built last year and she builds one again. She remembers the crayfish she caught last year and she looks for one again. She sets the table with flowers and napkins. She falls in the river and changes her clothes three times a day. I read and read, not happy with any of my books but so happy just to be there, doing that. Hour after hour, passed in the chair, basket of tricks (yarn, books, camera) and iced tea by my side, watching the river and knitting or reading. The river shore and river bed are made of giant, round, slippery rocks that my bad foot likes not at all. I watch from the sidelines as usual but here I don't mind. High above, turkey vultures, eagles, and hawks circle, and ducks diving and bobbing keep me company. Swallows. Bees. The sun moves across the sky and I move my chair along with it. Andy takes Mimi on adventures to Paulson Island and Mimi Beach, pulling her in the raft. Oh I love them so. They find a beaver den, crawfish claws, rocks and walking sticks. I can hear them upriver even when I can't see them. It rains on the second day and she and I take a two-hour bath, playing in the water with our only toy, the travel toothbrush holder, and lazing so long my fingers wrinkle. There is little to do, and our needs are few. We plan menus and bring groceries and forget half of them, so meals are a funny abbreviated version of the meals we know from home, too. Pasta, prosciutto, and peas without the peas, still at home in the freezer. At night, we make popcorn and watch rom-coms on Amazon and go to bed at 10. I would not change one single thing.

***I finished her pink sweater literally minutes before we left and it was worn constantly and is now filthy. Success!!! It's Karoline's Cardigan by Trine Bertelsen made from Schachenmayr Bravo (acrylic). And I highly recommend both.

A Revelation, of Sorts

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The summer days roll on by, an ice-cream swirl of open swim and lazy mornings, library books and watering the flowers, Ikea trips and riverside afternoons. It's already August, and time is about to enter super-speed. At night, I knit, and knit, and knit, listening to the sound of evening traffic and neighborhood noises through the open windows. Never has there been a more perfect summer to knit, as the weather here still continues to be entirely civilized in every respect, while the rest of the country and the world is more or less on fire. Not here. Here it is cool in the morning, hot in the afternoon, sometimes cloudy. Occasionally it even rains. It’s vacation weather, come to life.

One fine day, Amelia and I went to JoAnn's to get yarn for a new ballet sweater. I've made two in the past, and both went unworn due to "scratchiness." I didn't think they were scratchy, but she did. One got given away and one sits unused in the sweater basket. Thought I, "That's it." Off to get some very soft acrylic yarn we went. She needed black (there's a dress code) so it was not hard to find. We settled on Premier Yarns Everyday Baby. I had two 50%-off coupons, and got two skeins of yarn, totalling $4.99. I knit the sweater and — great experience. The yarn was nice. It did not annoy me at all. It says it's anti-pill. She deemed it soft enough. I was PSYCHED that it cost five dollars.

Amelia is almost seven and has no sweaters that fit her. I went zooming off to my computer to find more yarn. Everyday Baby comes in colors I don't like. I wound up ordering Stylecraft Special DK and Paintbox Simply DK and Schachenmayr Bravo. The color palettes of each were huge, and I could make a sweater for, again, about $6. This was astonishing.

I spend, in general, a lot of lazy time late at night or with coffee at 5 a.m. browsing Ravelry for patterns. For me, the browsing is a huge part of the creative process, and I love it. The new yarn came, and I started re-looking at every sweater pattern ever written for kids in DK-weight and worsted-weight yarn. I'm not kidding. I looked at hundreds and hundreds of sweaters. It was weirdly relaxing. I knew what I wanted. Naturally, I could not find a pattern for it. How is this possible. Hundreds and hundreds, literally hundreds, of sweaters. Oh, Alicia. . . .

I thought back to 1995, when I was trying (again) to learn to knit. I wrote a long blog post about that here. I still find it very moving to read, if I do say so. I think part of why it moves me is that I hadn't often done things in my life that I wasn't good at, or that didn't come naturally to me. Knitting did not come naturally to me. I tried to learn to knit several different times, many years apart. The fact that I stuck with it mystifies me; it was not my style not to quit. I must have really wanted to learn, and I don't know why I did. I didn't really know anyone who knit, it was years before there was any sort of internet community around crafting, Pinterest didn't exist so there were no pretty pictures to be inspired by, and . . . I don't really know why it was so important to me that I kept trying to do it.

If you read the post I wrote in 2010, you'll see that I took a beginner class at a knitting shop in Missoula, sometime around 1996, and it didn’t go well. In retrospect, it affected me profoundly. The teacher was super intense, and went so fast. I remember thinking at the time, "This is seriously the last person I would think would be a knitting teacher." She was like a hummingbird. She had a frantic, edgy energy. I was a frantic, edgy person. I fumbled, exasperated. Her voice was high and fast. She wasn’t trying hard. She made hats for Andie MacDowell's kids! She knew so much and I was lost. Her knowledge came flying out, making the room spin. And her first rule of knitting was only ever knit with wool. Only wool. I was so intimidated by the whole experience that I think I internalized that directive on command. Only ever wool. (Years later, when I finally learned to knit here in Portland, the first thing I made was a baby sweater for my niece out of a super fluffy mint-green acrylic novelty yarn, and I remember that there was freedom — my new teacher had told me to pick anything! — but also guilt in that choice.) I have hardly used 100% acrylic since. Not that I have always used wool, far from it. I've gone through phases. Alpaca is okay but stretches out of shape. I don't like cotton at all. Bamboo and silk are much too shiny — I hate any kind of sheen in my yarn, generally. Ease of care has never motivated me — I'm always knitting and blocking something around the house, so hand-washing stuff is not a big deal (if I wash it at all, quite frankly). I think I was used to thinking that acrylic would be 1) too shiny and 2) not have any give to it, and so not feel that nice to knit with. Also: There are microplastics produced by synthetic fiber, and that is a major downside; I never feel good about consciously choosing to consume plastic and try pretty hard otherwise to do it as little as I possibly can. Hmmmm. Not really good. 

I was never a big Elizabeth Zimmerman fan, for no other reason than it feels so hard to just access the patterns and the writings somehow. Is it just me, about that? Maybe. The format, layout-wise, is totally daunting. I keep thinking that someday I’ll relax and dive in. People love her, and with good reason, I know. I have The Opinionated Knitter and I did try to read it once, but I just got so confused by both the crowdedness of the page layout and all the references to various newsletters that were out of print (when you wanted to follow the thread on something, for instance) or other books I didn’t have. I'd missed the EZ trend and kept stumbling, trying to catch up (go back?) afterwards. It's both charmingly and frustratingly analogue, in a way. Also, I'm still not a very intuitive knitter at all. She is the thinking-person's knitting teacher, and I don't like to be a thinking person when I knit, apparently. I like to be a direction-following robot so I can continue to stay with the plot of whatever episode of Vera I am on. Ravelry says I have knit over a hundred things. I would guess that almost none of them have deviated from any pattern more than the slightest bit to accommodate whatever yarn I had or, I don't know, something else small. I can follow a knitting pattern. Now I even write (doll) knitting patterns, even though I said I'd never write knitting patterns. Going off-trail does not come easily to me.

But I ran into this sweet little sweater by Adele Louise and I just had to make it. I literally became obsessed with this sweater for Mimi. That happens sometimes. It's a heady feeling. There's desperation involved, some mild bewilderment. Whyyyyyy do I care about this? I once spent hours in the middle of the night trying to track down a pattern for a pair of gloves I'd seen on a Norwegian Instagram account, with no reference to the pattern at all. I. found. it. Silly "problems." I specialize. Adele Louise mentioned that she used the percentage system to calculate her cast-on and then all of the other counts for making a round-yoked bottom-up sweater. My eye twitched. I Googled "percentage system" and saw that it was an EZ–invented thing. And suddenly I remembered that first knitting class in Missoula, and how, for our first sweater, our teacher was having us make a sweater based on the percentage system. I didn't realize that that's what it was — the Percentage System, a thing — at the time. I was so confused and overwhelmed by it all. This is how you have to make something? She took my gauge and my measurements and did the percentages and the calculations and literally nothing was coming out right. My sweater, in my fraught, anxious, self-defeating hands came out miniature, practically felted from go. It all seemed much bigger than knitting. It was much bigger than knitting. I never finished the sweater. I have no idea why it wasn't working, or what I was doing wrong. I threw it in a bag and never looked at it again. (Also, the sweater was made from Lamb's Pride Worsted, which is wool and mohair and is what I use for my doll hair. I would literally never be able to wear a sweater made out of this yarn. It is way too scratchy for me [personally]. But it was wool I could afford.)

2019. Adele Lousia's knockoff, then: I got my gauge with the copper-colored Stylecraft (4.5 sts/in) and took Amelia's measurements. I did the calculations and wrote them in my notebook. I worked out the lace pattern from my dear Nadia's original pattern on my cast-on number. I had a plan. I kept going. I figured out how to join the sleeves to the body at the yoke and still stay in lace pattern. I kept measuring. The yoke should decrease at a specific rate, three times, and wind up a certain length (5 3/4"). I kept going. I kept going. I finished it.

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It's a weird, sort-of full-circle knitting experience (that apparently took twenty-five years), with major thanks to not only Elizabeth Z. but Adele Louise and Nadia Crétin-Léchenne, who has inspired my knitting for years and years. And even my first teacher in Missoula, whose name I have no idea of anymore. The yarn blocked out soft and drapey, with nary a shiny highlight in sight, and fits my darling child like a dream. I am so proud of this.

Fireworks and Flowers

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Slow day, today. Meems and I have decided to just stay home, which we don't often do. I think it can be stressful to stay home all day. I'm not sure why, exactly. It always surprises me. Parenting an only child can be seriously bonkers sometimes. You don't get much of a break. My days are long — Andy is gone from 6:00 a.m. until almost 9 p.m. three or four days a week, so I'm on my own a lot. It's a lot. When he's home he's super hands-on, but we also then, all three of us, do a lot of stuff together. So I don't get much time to myself. Most of the time it's fine, but sometimes, when the days have really stacked up, by Day Four I'm fried, no lie. The cooking and cleaning gets old, too. Mimi is easy to feed — veggies, rice, fruit, chicken, yogurt, tofu. Granola. More fruit. But during the day, we eat out a lot. Self-care, Alicia-style, I guess. We eat a lot of simple Thai food out. She's been ordering for herself since she could talk and, aside from spilling entire glasses of water almost every time they don't have lids, she is pretty great in restaurants. And I like to just sit and catch my breath. I frequently read my book while we eat lunch together. People think that's weird, but what can I say. Introvert mothers gotta do what we gotta. She draws, I read, someone else cooks, we eat, someone else cleans up.

Today, apparently, we're going to bake a cake. Vanilla with vanilla frosting and flowers, I'm told. She's downstairs watching Secret Life of Pets. I'm procrastinating watering the garden but I will do it, because I really am sticking to my resolution. It's been nice. My silly little garden, bringing me so much joy. We got the giant, 100-foot-long hose, which makes it easier to take care of things. The weather has STILL been cool and cloudy and occasionally rainy and, yes oh yes oh yes, just plain glorious. When it's so nice like this you can actually go to a park and play right in the middle of the afternoon. It's amazing! It's not 95 degrees! It's 75! Life-changing. No exaggeration. I’m so sorry for those of you sweltering in heatwaves right now. It’s so hard.

I made the sweet little romper for the @knit.beyond.borders auction that's running right now to benefit @raices.texas . It's from the Billie romper pattern from Strikdet. It is 100% merino and has sweet little buttons on the back. I used snap tape, hand-sewed in, on the crotch. I love these little rompers and I wish I had made more for Amelia when she was little. I have a lot of knitting projects going on right now, and a future lot going on in my head. I just sent off the last batch of new-doll knitting patterns to Laura, my tech editor, so there will be probably ten or so new knitting patterns for dolly sweaters, skirts, stockings, cowls, and other things coming out this fall when the dolls are launched. All of the knitting and new sewing patterns (also coming) will fit all of my animal softies, as well; they all, dolls and animals, have the same bodies. After I sent off the tiny samples, I started thinking about what Amelia needs for fall. First up was a new ballet sweater. I've made this one and this one so far, and she wore neither of them, claiming both were too itchy. New sweater is being knit off of the same pattern, which is perfect. But this time I'm using very soft acrylic yarn because 1) cheap and 2) soft. Cheap and soft are now my guiding priorities when knitting for Amelia. It's a relief, on some level, to finally realize how much going Cheap-and-Soft is increasing my joy in knitting for this kid, at least for stuff like this which is worn close to the skin! I had two coupons for 50% off two separate items at JoAnn's, so we wound up spending $4.99 on the yarn, total. The sweater is black (she's moved up to the next class, so black-leotard dress-code) so choosing pretty colors, which a lot of acrylic yarns, I've found, do not come in, at least in my opinion, was not a problem here. The yarn is also washable and anti-pill. The best is, though, that knitting with it is not as annoying as I was worried it would be. Acrylic notoriously doesn't stretch or give or feel that nice to knit with. But this really is not so bad! I'm quite pleased. I need to find the yarn label to see what the yarn is called because I can't remember. But I will post a picture here and details on Ravelry when I'm done (and I'm almost done). I have a lot of things to put on my projects list, I think. I'm behind with that.

At night I knit and knit and watch episode after episode of Gardener's World and Monty Don (on Acorn TV, I think?). It is literally the most relaxing television show in the history of the world. I love it so much.

Showers of Flowers

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There's a mysterious, melancholy beauty that is so specific and to this time of year in the Pacific Northwest. The skies are dark and flat, matte gray, or like a frosted light box, glowing and opaque. The wind is cold, blowing cold rain into your face. The ground squelches and sinks, and you slip, sliding on the skanty grass while trying to fill up the bird feeder. The birds come, bright flashes against the dark afternoon. The wind blows water from the new leaves. Some daffodils have already faded. The branches that haven't yet budded out (and there are many) are dark and wet, their patches of lichen and moss (and whatever else it is that creeps across their spongy bark) bright with chlorophyll and optimism. Everything is tender, and cold, and vulnerable. Nothing, absolutely nothing, wants for water, for water is everywhere now — in the wind, in the air, in the ground, in the leaves above your head as you sit on the porch and listen to the birds sing, and watch the squirrel that is probably the same squirrel that lives in your ceiling air duct eat sunflower seed for four hours from your flat feeder. He's content as a kitten, sitting there right in the pan with his tiny hands held up to his mouth, nibbling daintily but constantly at the black seeds.

This is the best time of year for me, with all the cold and rain of winter but also all the best flowers, the daffodils and forsythia and tulips and bluebells; the enormous, suede-like pink magnolias; the ornamental flowering pear trees lining every street, and the petal-heavy cherry blossoms, and her dirty hands holding bouquets of grape hyacinths to bring to the ballet mistress. The sidewalks are covered in bruised petals, and piles of browning petals collect in the gutters and gullies. Everywhere there are petals and buds and things still just beginning to start, which is my absolute favorite state of being.

Yesterday was a hard day, teacher conferences with Amelia's sweet, darling, angel of a teacher, hard because we have, with some relief but mostly with somewhat broken hearts, decided not to return to our lovely school next year. Simply, we just can't afford the tuition or the very long commute. Andy and I sat in Mimi's classroom yesterday, filled with gratitude for all of the amazing things she's learned this year, listening to her teacher talk about her with so much affection and humor and love. She told us stories so similar to the ones we live daily with Mimi, and we laughed with joy and wonder at the silliness and the amazingness and just . . . all the cool things that she and her classmates are doing right now. Learning to read is pure magic, sitting with her each night as she earns every single word she reads out loud, whispering the phonograms to herself, sounding out the letters, asking me whether a vowel is going to be long or short or silent in any case, restricting herself from using the pictures to guess at the words. I've never told her to do that, but it seems to come naturally, and I watch and listen in constant wonder at the mysteriousness of this process, and marvel at how, in just one week, a kid can go from not really reading to totally, suddenly reading. Is it not a miracle of human development? And what, honestly, isn't a miracle? I'm beginning to think absolutely everything, everything is.

We hugged the teacher and I got choked up in the hallway as we left the conference, saw one of my friends around the corner who knew how I was feeling (she's been there forever, and knows very well what we're leaving), and I said, red-faced and blotchy-necked, "Conferences," as explanation. "It's hard to leave everyone. . . ." She said, "I know," and nodded kindly. Already, in just one year, this has become Mimi's place, where she has loved and been loved and nurtured and encouraged and guided, where the Montessori pedagogy has been perfect for her, where everyone has been just so kind. I fervently hope that transferring to our neighborhood public elementary is as good an experience as this has, in almost every way, been. I'm so grateful it has been so good, even just for this year. We are definitely looking forward to being back in our own neighborhood. But I do wish there were more public options for Montessori-type education. 

Back at home, Kady and Andy and I are finishing up the final projects for Secret Garden. We've started to ship embroidery kits and will start shipping knitting kits next week. Apothecary boxes will be the last to go, as I still need to make all of the wax sachets for that. But that's almost the last thing. Packing these will be an adventure! The boxes are big and heavy. Everything looks so pretty and smells so good. I'm proud of all of this but I will be very ready to be done by the time we get the final order out the door at the end of the month. Next up for me will be a new cross stitch kit, and then I'll be working on my dollies this summer, for release sometime in the fall.

I recently finished two mysteries that I absolutely loved called Missing, Presumed and its sequel, Persons Unknown, by Susie Steiner. I read the first one and listened to the audiobook of the second one. (If you don't have your library card hooked up to the Libby app, I recommend it; Libby is not great for browsing, but if you know what you're looking for you can check out audiobooks [and place holds] and listen to them right through the app.) I loved the narrator for the Persons Unknown audiobook. It's really the first audiobook since Secret Garden that I have totally gotten into. I really like detective characters. These mysteries are wonderful for me because they have so much character development. I'm now in that weird phase that sometimes happens where I only want to read something exactly like what I just read, and nothing else will do. I've started seven other books and three audiobooks since and they've all been . . . meh. I'm sure they all would've been fine books if only I'd read them before. . . .

***The lovely painting of Amelia is one I had done several years ago by Olga Bulakhovska of OliFineArt on Etsy. If you were reading this blog back in 2014 you might remember the photo in this post that was used to paint the portrait, and Oli couldn't have done a more perfect job of it. I love it so much.

The Work of Spring

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My baby girl is growing up. She frequently would like me to make her a cup of chamomile tea. She sets her little table with a tablecloth and the good china and wants to sit there by herself for dinner. She climbs trees higher than I feel comfortable with, and I try to remind her of the rules (you don't climb higher than you can get down from by yourself) without my voice going up in pitch just that very little bit that says I'm nervous. She tells me she's careful. She wants jeggings but she doesn't like how they have pockets in the back instead of the front. She brings me countless dandelion bouquets, and it is very hard for her to have the self-control needed to let all the tulips and daffodils now blooming in the yard stay in the ground, uncut. She is reading the very early reading books (but tells us she "already knows how to read"). Her baby teeth are falling out right and left. She's pounding nails and digging holes and knows all the words to songs I've never even heard. She is so thoughtful, so joyful, so quick to assist, so eager to play. She can take your toes off if you're not careful, dragging her footstool over as fast as she can to help you at the counter, to climb up to get a glass, to reach the water. She's busy. She's very, very busy, always drawing, always stapling, always cutting stuff up, always gluing, always arranging her nightstand or making a book. Today is the first day back to school after spring break, and it's my first time having a couple of hours all to myself in well over a week. It's been a whirlwind, and we didn't even really do much, or go much of anywhere. But it was so nice. The weather was gorgeous, the garden is starting to bloom, and we spent a lot of time cleaning up our spaces and uncovering the flourishing new growth of spring.

I spent some time at a bread-baking class with the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist in the Columbia Gorge. I drove out to the convent one morning by myself on the recently opened historic highway and wasn't prepared for the devastation. It is still very, very raw in our beloved gorge after the Eagle Creek forest fire, started by one teenager with illegal fireworks, burned 50,000 acres back in the fall of 2017. The fire, miles wide, went right across the historic highway. Everywhere the trees are still bare, brown, broken, the cliffsides denuded of green, now nothing but brown dirt and crumbling rock. Occasionally, you'll drive through a few dozen yards of road that the fire missed, and you'll see exactly what is missing: the green is gone, the layers and layers of moss, tiny filaments of green branches creating a haze overhead and through the woods, all the gauzy layers of greens, creating a complex web of new growth, small growth, old growth, so much green, depths of green, like green tulle tumbling upon itself in frothy layers of lichen and lace. It's all gone now. The spring sun blazes down there now. The slanted March light is harsh and unfiltered, and everything is brown. It's mostly just rock, and the blackened backsides of tree stumps, and the violent jumble of rock and log that comes right to the edge of the road, and starts up again right on the other side. It feels, as you're driving, that there should be many more guardrails; without the comfort and cushion of trees and leaves, the road feels like a hair's width, clinging to the side of the cliff without a spotter. It was startling. I wished I had not been there by myself. I was late, and the going was slow, winding and winding, rocks on the road, everything feeling like a landslide about to happen. I was disturbed, thought about calling Sister Rose and sending my regrets, and turning around. But there was nowhere to pull over, so I kept going. I couldn't not think about our many drives through the years, drives through what was once a cathedral of green, Wilco playing on the car stereo, sunlight dappling through the leaves, the air cool and clean, Amelia in her car seat on the way to her birthday lunch, or Andy's birthday lunch, at Multnomah Falls. It's different now. I wasn't prepared. It made my heart ache. Next time, whenever that is, we will go together, and I hope that spring and summer and time will start to have worked their magic once again on that aching and injured place.

Sister Rose taught us to make a lovely, homey white loaf, and that weekend I taught Amelia how to make cinnamon rolls. They were delicious. We used this recipe (and cut it in half). I don't like brown sugar so I did all cinnamon sugar. They took hours to make, which felt perfect for that rainy Saturday morning, and we at them for brunch. It felt good to knead the dough, and I had to knead it, because the Kitchen Aid is broken. The big screw that holds the mixer up came out somehow, and the whole thing is listing into the bowl. I need to take it to a repair place. Is there even such a thing?

Slowly but surely, all of our Secret Garden projects are coming together. We have candles to pour and wax sachets to make, and fifty more skeins of yarn to dye, and then just a whole lot of assembling and packaging. The soap is cured and wrapped, the patterns are printed and waiting, the floss is pulled, the duplicate stitch yarn is dyed. The lotion bars are half done. The bath salts need to be made. The labels are in my hands and the jars are on their way. The hoops — I almost forgot about the hoops. The hoops arrived from Denmark (after the embroidery kit patterns were printed) and they are a bit smaller than the hoop I used in the photo. There was some confusion about measurements, as I measured 6" from the inside of the hoop, and the manufacturer was measuring from the outside. Nevertheless, everyone here agreed that the smaller hoops actually look even better than the sample I'd photographed, so we are using them (and attaching a note about this to the kit). Things like this seem to happen. It's kind of the risk of taking pre-orders. I'm making peace with that. Very luckily, I really think this is actually a better option and one I would've chosen for it myself if I'd known. So hopefully that will be okay.

Our neighbors cut down a small birch tree on their property this morning. I asked them if I could have several of the limbs to use to make some edging for our raised beds, which we've cleaned up but haven't planted yet. So I have a pile of branches in the driveway and now need to teach myself how to make a simple woven border. I have an idea but I have no idea if it will work. I'll keep you posted.

Right now I'm listening to the purring of three baby squirrels that have taken up residence in a duct pipe above the exhaust fan in the crawl space about my studio. They are bustling around in there quite a bit today. We suspected they were there because I've been hearing something for a while, and Andy sent his phone (taped to a stick and recording video) up into the duct to see what was going on. Yup, three of them, all balled up together in a nest of fluff. Dang. They're so cute now but they can't stay there forever. I've been assured they can't fall through the exhaust fan into the studio, but I'm not sure I believe it. They literally sound like they're right there. Right above the fan duct. Time to make some calls.

***Amelia's new sweater is the Summer Rain Cardigan. I used leftover Purl Soho Cashmere Merino Bloom, which is baby soft, because I really wanted to make sure she would wear it. And she really does. It came out just how I wanted. For her new slippers I used this pattern and leftoever Lang Yarns Merino+ Superwash. Trying to hit that stash yarn hard these days. It feels good.

Early, Early Spring

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I absolutely love this time of year. I was thinking today as I passed a winter garden that had been cleaned up and was starting to sprout daffodils and tulip spears how much I love this time of year — the time before things begin. The time when it's still winter but spring is ready and waiting. The time when things are just swelling slightly, just barely beginning to break the surface. Our plum tree has only a handful of blossoms on it, and that's a couple of weeks late, for it. It usually blooms closer to the beginning of March. It had a severe chopping this past summer; the tree trimmer probably took 1/3 of it (which was dead) away. Still, he said the whole thing was only 40% dead and it needs to be 60% dead for the city to allow you to take it out. It looks absolutely horrible now. Huge limbs needed to be removed so it is now very obviously patchy and uneven and wrecked. Poor thing. It's also leaning at about a 30-degree angle. It's ancient, covered in big knobs and warts. It is a great, hideous, gnarly beast. I both love and hate it.

I looked on Instagram this morning at dolly quilts, intending to make one or two for my darling little boo, who loves to sweetly tuck things in and put them to bed. I haven't sewn in ages, and I miss it. There are a couple of reasons for it, I think. One is that it hurts my back. The way I sit at my sewing machine really kills my back. This has been happening for about ten years, actually. A couple of years ago I had an ergonomic specialist come out and look at my work spaces, and watch me sewing, and check out my chairs and my work table, etc. She essentially said I was sitting up too straight at my machine (irony). She wanted me to slump a bit more, but that's really impossible when you're sewing. You know. I just couldn't see unless I was right on top of the stuff, but somehow that seeing is also hurting my back when I sew at length. And that's the way I tend to do it — massive blitz, and get it all done at once. I power sew. I don't go in there and stitch a few seams, or press a few pockets. No. I BLAST through it. That's what I have time for. Blasting. It is not relaxing, but it is satisfying. Nevertheless, it's not great for my back, and if my foot is painful, I'd rather put it up and knit (or crochet). So that's what I have been doing lately.

The other reason I haven't been sewing is that I think I, and probably every other serious Portland-area sewer, have been in a strange mourning phase over the loss of Fabric Depot here in town. Fabric Depot was one of our two (the other being Mill End Store, which is still open) old-school, full-service, enormous independent fabric stores here in the Portland area (and serving all of northwest Oregon and southwest Washington in general — I don't really even have a clue from how far people came to go to Fabric Depot, but occasionally you would see actual tour buses in the parking lot). It carried, in addition to hundreds of quilting fabrics from every different fabric line and manufacturer, all sewing notions, supplies like scissors and rotary cutters and boards, all kinds of batting, wedding fabrics, gobs of trims and ribbons and buttons, lots of upholstery stuff, various apparel fabrics, embroidery supplies, and I don't even know what else. Serious stuff. Whatever you needed. It wasn't half-filled with crap for your house or seasonal decor or stuff with inspirational words on it or scrapbooking stuff. It was a fabric store that was truly for sewers, and it was old, and it had janky cash registers and they still hand-wrote all of the cutting-counter tickets, and it had a big area with all of the pattern books, and you still needed to write your pattern number down on a little piece of paper and find someone behind the counter to get your pattern for you. It was where you would wander and wander and wander, up and down aisle after aisle after aisle, pushing your cart with your kid in it but more often not with your kid in it, just looking and looking and looking for something that was perfect, something that you needed, something that would work. I can't count how many hours of my adult life I spent doing that. I can't count how many yards of fabric I bought or how many thousands of dollars I spent there or how many things I made from the stuff I bought there. I don't know how many tears I quietly circumvented there, as it was my happy place, the place I went when things were bad, when everything felt horrible, wrong, shaky, sad, or hopeless. It always worked for me, and it always had. All my life I've wandered fabric stores, plotting and dreaming and choosing and hoping. Fabric Depot was my place. I almost always went alone. I almost always had as much time as I wanted. (I wouldn't go unless I did.) I almost always went with a plan, and I almost always came out better for it all. It had what I needed. Almost every single time.

It closed, quite suddenly, last October. I didn't go to the big close-out sales they had before the last day. In the weeks and months before, it had been slowly emptying out, and I think we knew. I didn't want to see it picked over and desolate, could not, somehow, participate in the collective grief that was sure to be inside. That might sound dramatic. I guess it does. But its closing seems somehow to signal larger truths about the state of retail, or the state of the world, that I can't even get my mind around. It felt, and still feels, just painfully localized. Our store. I don't think any of us think there will be another place like that in Portland again. It was too big, and it held too much, so much random, obsolete-seeming stuff that you didn't know you wanted (grommet setters, lacy lingerie elastic, a covered belt kit) until suddenly, one day, you wanted it. But because of that it also felt unsinkable. The ladies there (in their twill pinnies, with scissors in their pockets) had been there forever. They were not arch. They were stable and reliable. Experienced in fabric and life. They knew answers to your questions. They asked you what you were making, and always listened to you ramble on about it. There was always music, there was always a sale, and there were always other people like you, hanging around, laughing with each other, talking about sewing, doing the same thing you were, making things with joy, and sewing away every sorrow. I miss you, friend.

Keep It Together

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Hello! Guys!!! Thank you thank you for all of the Secret Garden orders! I'm so grateful — seriously, thank you. I've been here for the past week and a half, watching them roll in and now we are getting organized, placing orders for packaging and labels and materials. So things are happening here, and all the crazy parts and pieces of these projects are starting to come together, and I thank you, so, so much, for all of your kind comments and your orders! I'm really excited, and just so grateful for your support. You can't imagine. Thank you.

This week has been pretty discombobulated. We had two two-hour snow delays, and one totally cancelled snow day. The snow day was lame because there actually wasn't any snow. There was ice, and some wind, and a bunch of minuscule snowflakes that whirled but never really landed or stuck. Mimi and I had been in each other's pockets for days and days. By the time school got cancelled yesterday, I was pretty much wiped. I would've liked nothing better than to sit and watch twelve straight hours of Fixer Upper. Instead I just let her do whatever she wanted. It was too icy cold to play outside. I made breakfast, and then cleaned up. I made tomato soup, and slightly burned grilled-turkey-and-Swiss sandwiches, and then cleaned up. I made a snack, then cleaned up. I made fish sticks and broccoli for dinner and then cleaned up. When I wasn't cooking and cleaning up I read Missing, Presumed while lying diagonally on the sofa while Amelia tried to catch a fly with a handled strainer for forty-five minutes. She painted and drew. She dumped everything out, looking for some random thing. I don't remember what. She found fifty other things she needed. We've been reading eight books a night at bedtime. I put another comforter on her bed last night because it's been so cold and the kid was asleep like a bug in a rug the minute her head hit the pillow. Cabin fever, caught in only a matter of hours, is for reals. 

Only children. They can really wipe you out sometimes. When I come careening back downstairs in my nightgown after putting her to bed I swear I'm one almost-sob away from sobbing with relief. If any of the animals happen to be sitting on the sofa, they see me coming, hair streaming behind me and my eyes ablaze like a bird of prey, focused on my spot, and they get the hell out of the way stat. MAKE. WAY. MOTHER IS FIFTY.

Evening project: Using up my yarn stash. My stash is made up of a million partial balls yarn. Almost nothing has a label. Totally impractical stash. Good for making nothing but stuffed puffins, pears, and hot water bottles.

About Alicia Paulson

About

My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com

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Photography

Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.