Writer, Textile Artist, Plantswoman

Year: 2024

Needlecraft Updates

Knitting productivity is rampant! I’ve blocked three shawl-scarves and started another shawl with Stolen Stitches, Cois Farraige (Seaside). I literally knitted myself out of a migraine last night with working out this pattern. Sometimes, when you’ve taken everything in your medicine chest for the thing, deeply concentrating on something other than your headache will get you some relief.

Two of the shawls were 1 skein projects I found on Ravelry when I looked for what I could do with two skeins I had bought when the yarn shop in Warren, RI folded. That was probably over 15 years ago and I finally was able to do something with them. I finished knitting them around Christmas but, since I didn’t have anyone in mind, they just sat there, unblocked, unfinished. Talking to a neighbor today, I learned that her sister, Patricia, is in hospice and I asked would she like anything… maybe one of these shawls. My neighbor thought it would cheer her up no end so I went straight to work with blocking it. It should be dry tomorrow and be ready to be sent up when my neighbor goes to visit her sister in Waterford city. That is the trick, for me, of getting something finished—figure out who will get it.

I’m not sure who will get this one, but since I was doing the one, I may as well do both. Normally I would block using the interlocking mats, blocking wires and pins, but that was being used for Patricia’s shawl, I took a leaf out of Carol Feller’s method of using interlocking exercise mats… more than twice the size of my fancy blocking mats. Well I didn’t have those but I did have my yoga mat! I just unrolled it and set everything up on the floor. My studio is DEFINITELY a NO GO area for the CAT now!

Finally, I have my Grianchloch shawl all blocked and finished. It is so lovely and light and soft. I can’t wait to wear it. I have bought MORE yarn for another just like it in blues for my dear friend June who is almost always wearing something around her neck 🙂

March may be half over but it can be a very long month if there’s no knitting to do. I don’t think that’s going to be a problem!

Signs of Spring Garden Post

While the weather is nothing to boast of—3 1/2″ of rain over the past two days, much of it last night—the temperatures are rather mild. A quick gander around the garden shows signs of spring that gladden the heart.

I planted 16 seed potatoes in two of the raised beds outside my studio so we could just nip out and dig some up for dinner in June. I might do a few in bags. I’ll be sowing peas in a week or so, as soon as I get fresh seeds from Quickcrop.

I’ll probably sow some lettuce in the greenhouse along with some Bishop’s Children dahlias and a few other flowers. It’s just getting warm enough to spend some time out there, although not dry enough to clear everything out and get things in order. Lots of things to pot up (dahlias, pelargoniums, and some peonies I got on sale that we’ll want to plant out in a new area.) But all that can wait until the end of the month. March is still too soon I think. Too much rain and too many weather surprises.

Grianchloch MKAL shawl done!

To be honest, the finishing of a knitting project is hardly ever my favorite part. Blocking, weaving in the tails of the yarn, all a bit fussy and laborious. And yet, on a misty, rainy day, with no new project on the needles, what else can you do? So, to the sink to wash and wet the garment, wrap it in a towel and squeeze out any extra moisture, and on to the floor to open it out with long wires, pins and interlocking blocking squares.

It took a few hours but I’m happy with how it is shaping up—literally.
I carefully closed and latched the door. If there’s anything the cat likes more than going to sleep on the quilt stretched on my frame, it’s finding T-pins (or ANY kind of pin or needle) to play with.

And now, I need a nap.

Doing an MKAL with Stolen Stitches

MKAL = Mystery Knit Along! Where you make something based on the written directions in the clues that are published periodically. No pictures. Kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle without the box cover.

A little over a year ago I knitted a shawl (actually 3 of them now) that was originally a Mystery Knit Along kit from a favorite wool site, The Fibre Co. I loved how much I learned from it. But it was never a mystery for me because I bought the kit well after the Mystery/Clue phase was done.

Recently I started viewing tutorials from Carol Feller and found a treasure trove of projects and MKALs, past, present and future! And the bonus for me is that Carol and her studio/shop are right next door in Cork! No more dealing with import VAT and duty and the long wait for stuff to arrive.

The MKAL I’m doing now is called Grianchloch (Irish for quartz I think—”sun rock”). The yarns are “scrummy”, to use a favorite Mary Berry term—rich colors and gorgeous textures. I’m just about done with the first clue. The second clue is issued on the 27th.

In May, I’ll be starting another MKAL—a throw blanket from a collaboration between Carol and Thea  Colman—Queen of the cables! I’m looking forward to that one, but the work will have to be squeezed in between the demands of the garden. Two years ago, I was away in August and September and last year I was away in April and May and again in September. I’m afraid my vegetable garden paid the price.

I’m going to be more focused this year and try to enjoy whatever bit of summer we get. So far nothing has matched the standard set in the summer of 2020. But I’m hopeful that this year will make up for the wet miserable summer we had last year. And if it is wet and dreary, I’ll just keep quilting and knitting.

Quilting Crazy

The rain is drumming on the skylights. The sky is leaden. It feels like ages since the sun has had a full day out. It’s the kind of February day that could really get you down. But I have the antidote—at least for me. Read on…

I have come to the conclusion that I’m in my “happy place” most when I’m sitting in my comfy chair, my earbuds in, a great narrator reading me a wonderful book, and my quilting hoop on my lap. Added pleasure is a cat lying across my foot. There are days during this rainy winter when I find myself just filling in time until dinner is done, the plates cleared and all is tidied up so I can lose myself for the evening in the gentle order of stitches making patterns across the patchwork of whatever quilt I’ve put together.

Putting the actual quilt top together has its own rhythm and energy. Sew two pieces of fabric together, add that assembly to more pieces and you’ve created a fabric building “block.” Sew two or more blocks together and you create a new visual landscape.  Every time I go to the ironing board to press the seams it’s a magical reveal of a new patterned fabric unfolding like the twist of a kaleidoscope. But most of that work happens during the day. It generates excitement and anticipation. It is not conducive to relaxation and unwinding. For that I need to don my earbuds and thimble, enfold myself in a good story and stitch myself back together from whatever I’ve been doing all day.

This is especially true on days when I’ve been dealing with things like paying bills, reconciling bank statements, preparing for the tax return or deleting over 7,500 malware posts from this blogsite. (The good folks at DreamHost have cleaned out all the bad code and we’ve reset passwords and installed other safety protocols. But the most important thing I can do, I think, is get back to doing, at a minimum, a post a month. So this is February’s post.)

To catch up with what I’ve been doing  since August, here’s a little gallery of the Quilts I’ve worked on since my last post:

Well, I know that’s cheating a little… because I finished Cath’s Coastal quilt in May. But I didn’t get to see it on her bed in her new condo until September. Aiden’s quilt is deceptively simple. I used a sea themed “layer cake” I thought I might use for Cath’s quilt but the collection was a little too subdued. The challenge came in creating something a 19 year old male would like (and hopefully treasure.) And in giving each 10″ block some interesting geometric quilting in black thread for contrast.

Nicki’s quilt was a major challenge, each block of symbolic significance (Sister’s Choice, Storm at Sea, Slip Knot, Trip Around the World) and each needing a different quilting pattern. The border, because it was so wide, needed special attention—a balance of geometric lines and curves. I found a stencil for a spiral seashell that worked perfectly! The decision to use only fabric (for the top) that I already had, including some batiks that Nicki had brought me (decades ago) from Indonesia, also put me on my current path—I’ve resolved to use (as much as possible) whatever I have in my stash in various kinds of “scrap” quilts.

What is a scrap quilt? It’s a quilt where you use, as much as possible, fabric leftover from other projects. New fabric can be bought for the background or borders, but you get an extra thrill when you can keep that to a minimum, or not use “new” at all! My first scrap quilt is the one we have on our bed. In it are fabrics I used for other quilts and my daughter’s little dresses. It took 20 years to finish because I had several twists and turns in my professional life as well as a move to a smaller house with no room to set up my big frame, so it stayed rolled up under the bed in the spare room. It was the specter of having to move it unfinished YET AGAIN that goaded me into finishing it before we came to Ireland in 2017.

That’s what led to Mick & Paula’s Anniversary Quilt—a log cabin quilt made of scrap fabrics. I even carefully stitched together the batting from leftovers. The backing was some fabric I had bought yards of thinking that I would make curtains when we moved to Bristol, RI, but never used because I was in a new job and then decided to go back to school for my PhD. It’s interesting that the fabrics I’m drawn to tend to be 100% cotton (and the yarns tend to be luxurious wools!). I’ve also been known to buy the rest of the bolt if there’s only a yard or so left.

I’ve discovered the constraints that come with only using what you’ve got have actually push me to be more creative and daring in my use of color and shape and I’m really pleased with the outcome. The quilt I am now working on has, as its focus, a panel I bought over 35 years ago. I actually bought two identical panels. The first was quilted into a wall hanging for my friends, Brian and Lindsay, who love everything Christmas. The second was intended for ourselves but, alas, I never got around to it and it sat in a bin of UFPs (Unfinished Projects) until now. The images on the panel are charming and I’m totally immersed in them. Each picture in the panel gives me a new treatment challenge—how much or how little to quilt to emphasize the shapes within the pictures needs careful study. And sometimes my stitches need to be very small indeed!

It’s been a miserably wet winter so far and this month hasn’t looked much better. But it can rain all evening and I won’t complain. As long as I have my hoop, my thimble and and something to quilt, I’m more than content—I’m at peace.

© 2024 Roxanne O'Connell

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑