Post #3186: The new favourite (sweater)

As evidenced by the photo up top from the google photo archive (May 15, 2015), I have been knitting for nearly five years. This was my first finished item; a washcloth made of cotton. I thought cotton washcloths were a natural starting place in knitting as they are in crochet, but it turns out that cotton is much harder to knit evenly than stretchier fibers like wool. By my very next project my knitting had improved in every single way.

A scarf made with Sweet Georgia Yarns wool, for my step-daughter who still wears it to this day.

That year I was a knitting fiend and went on to make many things, including my first and only completed knit sweater (in fingering weight yarn with size 3 needles). It fit *okay* and I still occasionally throw it on around the house, but the sleeves are too long and because of the softness of the fibre the buttons don’t stay done up. Since they I have made attempts at another sweater for myself and one for Brian – both of which languish in the unfinished objects pile for various reasons. The sweater for me was flat knit which means knitting all the pieces separately and then seaming them together. I got to the point where all the pieces were knit, but they turned out to be different sizes and so! In the case of Brian’s sweater, the sleeves are different widths and I need to frog one back and redo it with greater care.

But, as I so often do, instead of finishing one of the many projects on the go, I started a new sweater this fall. The pattern is Mycroft by Isabell Kraemer (I love all her patterns so much), and the yarn is nothing special – a basic black worsted weight. But even though this is a straightforward pull over, I am totally in love with it and have worn it five days out of the last seven. It’s the perfect garment for these chilly late-winter days, goes with skirts or pants, and it fits!

While it is a bit oversized, I like the look of it that way, and it’s so far not stretching out at all beyond what I blocked it to. The main issue for me is that it stay on my shoulders, and so far, so good. This is definitely my favourite me-made sweater knit or crochet, to date!

Because I’ve had such success with Isabell Kramer patterns (I’ve made a couple of cowls and the first sweater I ever knit was also one of hers), I am going to move on pretty quickly to the Chauncey using a fingering weight four-ply wool from John Arbon textiles. The skein on the left represents the main colour, the darker “pomegranate” shade will be used for the colourwork in the yoke. I plan to make the sleeves 3/4 length to give the sweater a lighter look and knit a size smaller than this most recent one.

I haven’t started this next sweater yet though because I had to order new needle tips for my interchangeables. I am forever losing size 3, 4, and 5 tips – I suppose because they are the ones I use most often and then they drown in the bottom of project bags, never to be seen again. While waiting for the new tips to arrive, I am working on a palate-cleansing infinity scarf made from wool my Mom gave me for my birthday (and it will indeed be a gift back to her since she loves connected scarves that don’t get lost by falling off).

Though sweaters take some time to complete (the Mycroft was a three-month project) they are the most satisfying to finish – so although I recognize a sweater in fingering weight is going to be a bit of a slog, I’m excited to get it on the needles next week.

Post #3185: Another year, another pair of pants

Photograph of me wearing Pietra Pants

I no longer have any pants that fit me, which is a nice problem to have because it highlights some changes to my body that I’ve been working on in the last few months. Truth is, I didn’t have that many winter-worthy pants in the wardrobe to start with since I have a tendency to wear leggings, tights, and skirts in the colder months. I’m not a huge fan of how full-length pants look on me, though in the summer I’m all over the mid-calf look.

To that end I have declared February “pants” month at Birdsong Studio and I am dedicating myself to sewing a few pairs of long pants to take me through the spring. A part of me doesn’t want to sew for my current size, as I believe my body is still in flux. On the other hand, I need stuff to wear now.

Enter the Pietra Pants by ClosetCase Patterns! This pattern has the feature of a flat front with an elasticized back waist. This means I can wear these through more than one size up or down which seems about right these days.

Because pants are somewhat challenging to fit, I started out with a muslin made of shirting fabric (inexpensive and in the stash). Even though I made my normal adjustments at the outset (taking an inch out of the crotch, and an inch out of the bottom leg), they still turned out to be too baggy for me around the crotch and hips. I altered the pattern again, leaving the waist at a size 16 and grading down to a 14 in the hips and legs in an attempt to get a better fit.

The pair in the photo up top is the result. These are made from a lightweight denim, and while they fit better, all my fiddling with pattern pieces earlier made leg length and the waistband facing a bit wonky. Also, it turns out I don’t need a 16 waist so the next pair will be a 12 or a 14 all through, keeping the crotch and length adjustments as they are. I’m still getting used to my current body and I do find Closet Case patterns fit a tad big against my actual measurements.

The really important thing is that the Pietra Pants have easily accessed flat front pockets that are large enough for a cel phone – this was the other feature in addition to the elastic backwaist that attracted me to the pattern.

In other news, I turned 47 this past weekend which involved a house concert @Birdsong, a nice dinner in Comox, and a little away trip to Lund, BC (a tiny harbour which is pretty dormant in the winter, but bustling in the summer). There was a lot of cake, and also quite a few drinks had – I’m in a bit of recovery this week as I return to my normal work life and no sugar until the next big celebration.

I plan to cut out my next pair of pants tonight as I’m on a bit of a roll to find the right fit and the hint of spring in the air turns me towards notions of a new wardrobe. Once I have my pants sorted out, then I’ll throw a few tops and tunics in the mix for springtime wear. Nothing too fancy, just some new basics for a new season.

Post #3184: The life-changing magic of heavy lifting

A funny thing happened yesterday when I was riding my bike: I fell off for the first time in my life. I was cycling on a muddy trail and having trouble getting much propulsion going when I spotted a stick across the trail. It wasn’t a big stick and I figured I could jet over it no problem, but because of my slow speed, my bike tripped on it, and fell over, pitching me onto the ground. I was going pretty slow, so really it wasn’t much of an accident, but it *was* surprising, and I had to laugh at myself as I sat there in the muck feeling myself over to make sure I wasn’t actually hurt.

My biggest fear about trail riding, and the reason I’ve stayed away from it all these years, is the potential for accidents like this one. I’m really a city rider, preferring pavement to packed earth, which explains why I’ve barely ridden since moving to this rural island. Lately though I’ve been itching to get back on my bike and I realized that in order to learn to love riding here, I’m going to have to get over this fear of falling so I can get off the windy (dangerous) rural roads and into the places the cars don’t go. Falling off my bike yesterday was a liberation of sorts, a demonstration that one can walk away from a small accident smiling, and a reminder of what to watch out for when navigating narrow footpaths.

Getting back on my bike has been part of a trajectory that started this summer with some changes in diet (lowering the refined carbs and moving to an intermittent fasting schedule) and a return to the gym. I started working with a trainer in a group setting in October and as part of that process I had to submit to an interview that included questions about when I had felt my best physical self. As out of shape as I was feeling at that moment, I instantly perked up when I talked about riding my bike to and from work every day, and my long distance backpacking trips of the past.

So I started this program with my instructor Tasha and a group of other women who were all at varying fitness levels. She started us off simple, with the goal of giving us a workout program using fitness bands, blocks, and body weight that we could do at home or anywhere, and incorporating core and recovery work into every session. At week three though, Tasha asked to see a show of hands for how many of us middle-aged women wanted to learn about lifting heavy weights: dead lifts, weighted squats, chest presses. Though a couple of the women were sure they *couldn’t* do dead lifts because of physical issues, everyone expressed some interest, and so the next week we showed up early to learn all about proper form.

I won’t bore you with the details except to say that even the people who had hesitated in the beginning found a form and a weight level that worked for them, and pretty soon everyone was coming early to fit in a heavy lifting session before the regular class. It’s been 3 and a half months since, and my body shape has really changed as a result. I’ve firmed up all over and lost close to 3 inches on my waist. When I flex my arms the muscles are noticeable, when I engage my abs I can see the contraction, my back is stronger than ever and when I’m steeling myself to dead lift my thighs are – well, they are solid!

This is not my first time at the exercise rodeo – I have a history of hiking, cycling, weight lifting and more – but this is the first time I’ve seen such dramatic change in so short a time period. I’ve been using yoga practice as a bit of a barometer as it’s one activity I’ve done pretty consistently for the last three years – and I have seen vast improvements in poses that require balance and strength in the last few weeks that I can only chalk up to the change in my weight lifting routine.

My weekly workout circuit includes walking, cycling, yoga, heavy weights, free weights and machines, and floor work for a total of six out of seven days doing something. Sometimes the something is a single yoga class (like this morning) or a walk, other times it’s power lifting. My workouts feel balanced and because my interview with Tasha was such a jolting reminder of what I’d been missing, I’m making sure to incorporate outdoor play a couple of times per week, rain or shine.

Until recently I had been holding tight to the believe that at my age (nearly 47) weight loss was pretty much impossible and my metabolism wasn’t supporting any great fitness improvements either. And though I’d been interested in power lifting in the past, I kept hearing the echoing voice of my last trainer telling me that “at your age, lots of people injure themselves with that kind of activity”, which put a fear in me, similar to the fear of falling off my bike on a trail, that injury now would mean I might never recover. Better to stick to the safe things: yoga, pilates, cardio machines, right?

These are the kinds of messages and fears that hold us back increasingly as we get older, as we experience more injury in our bodies, and as we absorb other people’s expectations of our bodies. One of the owners of the local gym (who is a weight lifting champ) says, “how much weight you can lift is in your mind as much as anything else.” And though I’m not sure that’s exactly true, I’m aiming to dead lift 200 pounds this year, and I’m pretty sure that I’ll meet that goal. Even at 47, and even though I’m sometimes afraid I might hurt myself. I feel good these days, I feel strong – and if I can just keep remembering that on the days I don’t feel like going to the gym – perhaps I’ll be fitter at 48, 49, and 50 than I am right now. That’s a goal worthy of getting over my fears for!

Post #3183: Snowy days

We are getting our annual three days of snow here on Gabriola Island, and since I know it will be mostly gone by the weekend I can say – sure is pretty. (If it were to go on any longer, I would become irritated – so it’s a good thing I live in a mild climate zone).

The photo above is from my studio, looking down at the house, the sauna and our California lilac bushes. When I look out the window from my work desk, this is what I see in front, to the left I get a peek-a-boo view of the grey ocean. Either way, it makes me glad that I work from home most of the time and that I have no plans to go anywhere today (except maybe the gym if the roads aren’t too bad this afternoon).

Since the Christmas holidays I’ve had a really hard time getting back to my regularly scheduled meditation and writing in the mornings, not to mention the fact that work is a big ole’ drag and I’m procrastinating on a number of things I need to get going on. The only thing that seems to have my attention at the moment really is weaving.

This is my warping board clamped to the back of my Julia loom. If you are looking for small space weaving – this takes up a floor space of 32 x 32 inches only for 26 inches of weaving width and the warping board can get stashed in a closet instead of taking up wall space.

On Sunday night we had a ferocious windstorm which took out the power,, phone and Internet. While our power came back by Monday morning, the phone and Internet were out until yesterday (Tuesday) morning. That gave me a bit of a work reprieve which I used to finish winding the warp chains and get the shafts onto the loom for my latest project. I am in the process of putting heddles onto the shafts now – and then I will get to start dressing the loom for….. Sauna Towels!

This is a bit of an epic project for me as it involves all 8 shafts, the full width of my loom, and 780 ends that all need to be threaded through the reed and heddles. At 26 inches wide, these aren’t even as wide as I would like them to be, but it’s an experiment in what kind of lightweight toweling I can make that would be appropriate to a sauna. I’m using 16/2 cotton, finer than what I use for tea towels, and am setting it at 30 ends per inch in a twill pattern which will make sturdy but drapey cloth – or at least it should. I’m guessing at the weight inspired by a Turkish bath towel I was gifted (my husband is jealous of it whenever we have a sauna together and really wants me to weave him one).

Experienced weavers will tell you that if you don’t enjoy the process of setting up and dressing the loom, you can’t really enjoy weaving; after all, dressing the loom with a warp can take more time than weaving it off! Since taking up weaving again these last couple of months, I have found a mindset that really works for me in this regard which includes:

  1. Taking as long as it takes. I find if I break the loom set-up and warping into manageable chunks (of less than 1-2 hours at a time) it’s a much more relaxed process. It can take me a week or more to get a warp on a loom, and that’s just fine with me as it saves me the stress of rushing, and the backache of too many hours in a row.
  2. Getting my process down. I now understand how to set up my loom in a way that works best for me and I approach it consistently each time. I no longer consult books about the best way to warp and set-up, I go to the processes that worked last time.
  3. Incorporating one new tip each time. Having said that, I do read lots of weaving books and articles, gleaning them for tips to help make my process more efficient. When I find something that makes sense to me, I try it out. This time I’m going to be trying a new way to tension my warp when I beam on. I don’t try all the tips at once because that would screw up my aforementioned process to much

For all that weaving is thousands (perhaps even tens of thousands) of years old, it is still a strangely experimental process for the individual weaver at home. There are so many differences in equipment, fibre, what works for the individual body, set-up and so on – that pretty much everything in the weaving books and articles is just a guideline. A lot of it comes down to figuring it out yourself. This is something I did not realize in the beginning and was frustrated when things didn’t come out “just so” each time. Now I see that with persistent practice, I am getting a much more consistent warp and ultimately, a more consistent weave.

So as the snow falls here I am going to return to the side of my loom where I am counting out the last two shafts worth of heddles and then perhaps this evening, if the power doesn’t go out again, I’ll start to sley the reed. Given my measured pace, I might have this warp on and ready to go by Sunday.

Post #3182: Rooted in 2020

Last week, on January 2nd, I did my Year Compass to close out the old and ring in the new year. This was the fifth year I’ve completed the booklet either before or just after the new year, and I definitely find it a helpful framework for thinking about my life.

The culmination of the workbook is a word to guide your year. Last year my word was Radiant. This year my word is Rooted. While last year I wanted to put myself out in the world, this year needs something different: my feet planted firmly where I stand, my hands reaching out and up, deepening my connections and feeling the connection with the elements. “Embodied” was another contender this year, as I’ve been so physically focused as of late, but rooted feels more encompassing of what I want and need to work on as we collectively face some pretty challenging times.

What follows are twenty goals and projects I will work on in the next year. Some are very specific (my dead lifting goal), others are more general (walk weekly). Some are space clearing/fixing while others are about technique and form. What I wanted to do was come up with a list of achievable items, within my control, that help deepen my relationship to people, my body, my spiritual and creative practices, and my home. Let’s see how many of these get done as we move forward from these early days of 2020:

  1. Write 100 pages of memoir
  2. Dead lift 185 pounds (I currently do 3 sets of 135 weekly)
  3. Perform three sets of 15 properly executed push-ups
  4. Host three open studio events for weavers/sewists
  5. Give a “Way Seeking Mind Talk” (I’ve been invited by my Zen teachers)
  6. Participate in at least one (maybe two) 6-day meditation retreats
  7. Replace the heater in my zendo with one that doesn’t blacken the wall
  8. Sell/give away the large loom in my studio
  9. Sell the Ashford Knitter’s loom I never use
  10. Learn double weave techniques by completing a sampler project for 4 and 8 shafts
  11. Do two 30-day yoga challenges
  12. Weave one huck lace project
  13. Sew one pair of fitted blue jeans
  14. Sew 5 pairs of underwear for myself
  15. Learn three new songs to sing and play
  16. Set aside one Saturday per month for Brian and I exclusively
  17. Purchase bike rack for car (to facilitate riding more often)
  18. Walk with a friend weekly
  19. Make one new recipe bi-weekly and write about it here
  20. Put at least ten woven or sewn items into my Etsy store and market them

There are of course other goals for 2020, like eleven more issues of Comfort for the Apocalypse, daily meditation, working out 3-4 times per week – but this list focuses on specific things with more intention. Simply doing this exercise (and the year compass) is a reminder of what it is that I value and need more of in my life, as well as what I can let go of.

So here we are 2020, let’s see if we can plant our feet firmly to withstand what’s coming.

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