Aran Knits

Oh, how I have wanted an Aran sweater. Not just any cable knit pullover, but a cozy oversized wool beauty. Not too soft, not too itchy, enough ease for comfort, not enough to look frumpy. I always imagined knitting myself one as a memory piece after my sister and I took a trip to Ireland. We have no such trip planned, and I am years behind on other memory pieces, so it’s fortunate that my mother-in-law took the trip for me and brought me back a cardigan. Knit in a blend of undyed wool with a loose gauge, this cardigan is everything that I have always wanted in an Aran sweater. I have truly worn it for part of almost every day since Christmas and plan to continue doing so until April.

There are enchanting stories about Aran sweaters and the provenance of their patterns. The stories say that these sweaters have been around for generations and generations. Families and clans have their own signature cable patterns. Aransweatermarket.com claims, “On the Aran islands, sweater patterns were zealously guarded, kept within the same clan throughout generations.” Alice Starmore unapologetically explains in her book Aran Sweaters that these stories are fictions and the sweaters are products of industrious folks capitalizing on a tourist market. I am inclined to believe Alice, as first of all, there is no way to keep a sweater pattern guarded, since knit stitches can be read and expert knitter can recreate cable patterns they like. Secondly, Aran sweaters with their larger gauge yarn and looser knit are comfortable and warm but not nearly as practical for fisherman, the supposed traditional wearers, as ganseys. I regularly catch this sweater on my ring, my bag, drawer knobs, etc. If I chose a practical sweater for a manual career like fishing the north Atlantic, it would not be an Aran sweater.

I don’t find Aran sweaters less special if they have been developed for the purpose of sale. I think their true story is just as interesting. And Aran sweaters now seem to be part of the islands as surely as if they were many generations old. Like the Icelanders and their Lopi and the Danes and their Maurus, the Isle of Aran knitters have developed a model that allows for maximum productivity without compromising quality. The knitter used a cable cast on and simple cables. My sweater body was knit flat and the vertical button band was knit right along with it. There is no additional finishing on the bad edge. If I had knit this myself, the button band would seem unpolished, but I don’t mind it at all on a sweater stitched by someone else. The sleeves and the generous collar are connected with by machine-sewn thread. I would never think to do this, but it seems to work well and was surely efficient. Perhaps it is a technique worth trying someday.

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A Thank You Hat

G and I are learning to juggle our responsibilities to Baby, our careers, our relationships with friends and family, and our personal needs. Thank goodness for the friends and family that have helped us every step of the way – especially our parents. They have supported us emotionally, physically, and financially without hesitation or complaint. It is impossible to express enough gratitude to my family, but knitting for them helps.

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Goldenrod Vest

The yarn that I bought from the crowded Margaree Harbour Craft & Gift Shop on Cape Breton Island is thick and sturdy and wooly. The wool comes from Canada’s Atlantic providences and is spun by MacAuslands Woollen Mills on Prince Edward Island. We stuffed all six large hanks into our panniers and biked with them for over a week. Months later, I dyed it a pale yellow with goldenrod from my mother’s garden.

The night before this purchase, G and I stayed at the Cheticamp Motel. We arrived there late in the afternoon and found just one vacant room remaining. The elderly proprieter slowly added us to a handwritten logbook with a shaky hand. We paid in cash, and, as he counted our change, I admired his handknit vest. It was a natural-colored v-neck vest of stockinette stitch with a simple knit one-purl one rib. Comfortably fitted. “Did someone knit that for you?” I asked loudly. “Oh, probably. A long time ago. I don’t remember,” he responded.

I have been planning to knit a vest for G based on hotel proprietor’s simple well-worn garment. As a swatch, I worked up another basic baby vest for my child. Knit on size 10 needles, it still came out a bit stiff, so a swatch on 10.5’s will also be needed. I like this aran weight yarn and think the baby vest will wear nicely (better than his last of Lion’s Brand Fisherman’s wool), but a collared shirt underneath might also be required. The pattern (my own) is simple, with the stockinette body knit in the round and the garter stitch chest knit flat, allowing for straight stitch the whole way. An extra stretchy bind off at the neck makes it easy to get this on and off my squirmy little one.

Oregon and a Wee Vest

Oh Oregon, beautiful state.

In early October, we travelled to McKenzie Bridge, Oregon for a friend’s wedding. It was a short vacation, especially considering the time spent in airports and cars, but it felt worthwhile. The flights went smoothly and we had excellent views of the Grand Tetons and the Cascades. Seen from above, the forests of Oregon were dark green with bright yellow bursts of autumn aspens.

In the three days we were there, we celebrated love between two good people, ate delicious food, visited with family, and walked in beautiful forests. We were able to identify most of the trees, but the forest understory plants were unknown to us. Being in a place where we did not know the flora was both fun and frustrating. Why didn’t we pack all those field guides for the west that have been gathering dust on our shelves?! (Answer: no room between all the diapers.)

The understory plant with compound leaves shown in the photo below was abundant at the wedding venue and along every trail. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, even after we retuned home. Searching internet photos led me to an answer. This plant is dull Oregon grape, also known as Cascade berry (Mahonia nervosa). Hurrah.

In preparation for our trip, I knit a wee vest for my child. I improvised the pattern, with careful consideration to fit and features as well as ease of knitting. It came out perfectly and, oh goodness, does he look adorable in it. Now I see why baby knits are worthwhile even if they are only worn for a few months or even weeks.

The Perfect Backpacking Sweater

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It is coming on ten years since I starting packing for my through hike of the Appalachian Trail. I had completed college in May and was home until beginning my journey in March. My dad and I took over my parents dining room to lay out all of the “essential” items for my adventure. It looked like an awful lot to carry on my back and it felt that way too, but surely I had already parted with everything that I could do without! Of course, my story is the same as most thru-hikers. I mailed home a heavy package of gear within a week. Then, with help from a discerning friend, another package a month later. The longer I was on the  trail, the less I needed. Two t-shirts (one at a time) got me through five months of camping. I still wear the same outfit that I had for the second half of my thru-hike on backpacking trips. The synthetic shorts were purchased in Waynesboro, VA. A size too big, but comfortable and with pockets. I found the mostly cotton-partly wool Mountain Hardware shirt at a specialty store in Delaware Water Gap. With well over 100 wears each, I am impressed by how well the shorts and t-shirt have held up.

Now I am on a mission to knit the perfect sweater for backpacking. It must made of light but strong wool. Warm but not too warm. The fit must have enough ease for a shirt or two underneath, yet slim enough to fit below a jacket and a backpack without bunching in the armpits. Raglan or yoke? Quarter-zip, three buttons, or a crew neck? Opinions on what makes the perfect hiking sweater, please!

Goldenrod

DSCN9221September has arrived and the goldenrod is glowing. I spent my morning admiring its abundance at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island.DSCN9253

Last summer I tried my hand at natural dying using goldenrod from my mother’s back garden. There was not quite enough goldenrod left in the garden by the time that I got around to picking it,and the wool came out a soft yellow. Paler than the plants blossoms. I have enjoyed looking at it for the past year, but must admit that yellow is not a color that I wear. Fortunately, G looks excellent in yellow. Someday he will receive a goldenrod vest. Someday distant…

Replacing Memory

I just completed listening to About This Life – Journeys on the Threshold of Memory by Barry Lopez, one of my favorite authors. Replacing Memory, written in 1999 or earlier, was notably topical and I keep thinking about.

Lopez explores how photography – the act of capturing photos and the practice of looking at them later to invoke memory – affects first hand experiences and memories of those experiences. The topic of this essay is something I think about a lot. I spend my share of time browsing photo posts on social media, but it bothers me how many people seem to feels that experiences are not worthwhile unless they have been capturing on “film”. A while back, I starting limiting my social media posts to knitting-related shares because it gives me a sort of freedom. I take many photos (too many?), but my No Posting rule releases me from the burden of wanting affirmation of my daily activities and allows me to focus more on the present.

Earlier this year, my mom took photos of the most important event of my life – the birth of my baby. These photos were taken with the intention of being just for me. I wrote a journal entry about my experience shortly following the birth and then waited a month to look through the images. The photographs have stuck in my mind. My memories shifted to include a view from outside myself. I haven’t looked at my birth photos a second time but am glad to have them to return to if and when I am ready. For now, I want to recall the experience through my eyes and my hands and my ears.

Do you love to take photos every day? Only of important events? Rarely? Do you think taking and reviewing photographs improves or detracts from memory?