Friday, August 31, 2012

The Waiting Room

I sit in the waiting room, crocheting. Mr. M has just been taken through the double doors for a routine test, and I am left alone with my yarn and my thoughts.

Waiting rooms, like airports, are good places to craft and to think. Mundane tasks like dishes and laundry have been left behind, and can be safely (and honourably) forgotten. "Normal" life is suspended, however briefly, and in this temporary limbo there's a certain freedom.

A crafter is doubly blessed when faced with a period of waiting. For some, it's a precious opportunity to pull out a bit of quilting or knitting or crocheting - to complete a motif, add another few rounds, or work out a design detail. For others, making is a way to spin beauty out of pain; to soothe the mind by keeping the hands occupied; to tame the ragged tempo of life with rhythmic, measured stitches.

As I sit and wait and crochet, I think of the crafting I've done in hospital and waiting rooms. Sitting with my father this June, as he awaited surgery for skin cancer, while in my hands a hat took shape for a friend undergoing chemo. Crocheting round after mindless round of a tote bag last summer while my mother lay in a nursing home bed, her mind wandering in and out of reality. Working on a lovely Doris Chan pattern a few years back, while my mother-in-law underwent an uncomfortable procedure. Sitting at the foot of my sister's hospital bed, quilting a wall hanging destined for a charity auction, while she recovered from emergency surgery.

I remember the grandaddy of all waiting-room craft sessions, eighteen years ago now: the day Mr. M's brain tumor was removed in a 14-hour surgery, when one by one all the other families left the waiting room as their loved ones came out of recovery, leaving me and my sister the sole occupants. As the hours crept by and darkness deepened outside, I fetched my sewing machine in from the car (I had come prepared, you see), set it up on the empty volunteer's desk, and began to apply yards and yards of binding to a quilt we had made for a niece. I was still sewing when the first neurosurgeon came in to tell us they'd gotten all the tumor and were in the process of closing. By the time the second neurosurgeon arrived to report that Mr. M was in recovery, the binding was completely attached to the front of the quilt. That quilt and I spent the next few days in Mr. M's hospital room, he struggling with pain and confusion, I blind-stitching the binding to the backing as though my life depended on it.

Today's was a much happier period of waiting. Mr. M came through the test with flying colours, and I resolved a design problem on an adorable baby hat (destined for a small niece-to-be arriving next month, when the pattern will also be shared), while enjoying the bright flow of colour through my hands.

As we drive home from the hospital, relieved that the small ordeal is over, the thought occurs that there are also waiting rooms of the soul. I think of blogging friends whose lives are in quiet upheaval: one has just lost a beloved husband and is slowly finding her way back to life; another is in the eye of a cancerous hurricane, waiting for the next round of treatment to start; a third is recovering from an excruciating injury that threatened to cut her off from the activity she loves most; another suffers from a potentially crippling illness that brings with it periods of acute discomfort.

I hope and pray that these tangled threads may be somehow smoothed ... that the times of waiting, though painful, will also produce something that is beautiful and useful in the lives of these dear ladies who have so generously become my friends.


How do you pass the time in waiting rooms?

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Volunteer Marigolds

I don't really have a garden per se - just a few cobbled-together beds by the doorstep and a small collection of potted plants. Some of this space is taken up by perennials: a luxuriant patch of lemon thyme, which would take over the planet if it could; a hardy clump of chives - those harbingers of spring joy and growth; and a cluster of dianthus that blooms an intense magenta and keeps coming back a little bigger each year.

In the limited space that remains, there are certain things I plant every year: tomatoes, basil, parsley, and marigolds. (I call them my Fab Four. Lettuce comes and goes, and some years I plant green beans, but the Fab Four are always with me - at least in summer.)

Marigolds have long been a favourite flower of mine. They're hardy, cheerful, enjoy a long blooming season, and make wonderful garden companions for the aforementioned tomatoes, basil, and parsley.

Most years I buy and plant marigolds in mid-to-late May. But this year, life was full - and the flower bed remained empty. Three weeks into June, I still hadn't made it to the garden center (being busy attending a mountain wedding in Colorado and family crises in California, among other things).

But Nature has a way of sneaking up on us - sometimes with a pleasant surprise. While I was out running around the country, volunteer marigolds were popping up in the beds. (This is called Gardening By Neglect - which practice has proved successful for many a distracted gardener, among them my friend the Goatmother.)

When life had settled down and I found time to clean out the beds, 14 tiny marigold plants were already growing there - a gift from last year.

"Hooray!" I thought. "That's one less thing to buy." The baby marigolds were carefully transplanted into one bed, and watered tenderly through the long weeks of heat and drought. Being doughty little plants, they struggled and grew and held on. And when the weather finally broke and we received some blessed rain, the marigolds burst into life and bloom.

Now full grown and covered with blossom, they happily jostle for space and sing a sunny summer song in joyful notes of yellow and orange.

A bright, unlooked-for blessing in a crowded year.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Squiggledy Dishcloth Free Pattern & Tutorial - an Easy Intro to Slip Stitch Crochet

Don't you love cotton yarn dishcloths? They're cushy, durable, and can be made in a rainbow of colours. In the past, I always knitted my dishcloths, preferring the smooth texture and drape of plain garter stitch. Crochet dishcloths seemed a little too bumpy and hole-y. But all that changed when I started playing around with slip stitch crochet.

If you haven't tried slip stitch crochet, the Squiggledy Dishcloth makes a great first project. Using only 2 stitches (chain stitch and slip stitch), it's quick, fun, and beautifully simple. Front Loop Slip Stitch, which makes up the body of the dishcloth, yields a supple, drapey, and stable crochet fabric patterned with pleasing squiggly lines.

Slip stitch crochet does take a bit of getting used to. Because it's worked with a larger-than-normal hook, your current row will always look a bit messy and lumpy. (If you're a tight crocheter, as I am, you'll probably have to learn to consciously relax your tension - AND resist the urge to tighten up those floppy, loopy stitches.) But don't be discouraged - persistence pays off, and a few rows later you'll find that those same lumpy stitches have melded into a harmonious whole.

Enough talk - let's crochet!

Size: Custom

Yarn Requirements: Kitchen-weight cotton yarn, 45 - 50 yards

Yarns I Used: Peaches 'n Creme

How Did the Yarn Behave? As expected - it's kitchen yarn (which means splitty and no memory - but perfect for dishcloths).

Hook Size(s):
Turquoise - K (6.5mm) and H (5.0mm)
Cream - J (6.0mm) and H
Note: The J hook made a tighter stitch that was harder to work into on succeeding rows. Use a hook size that is comfortable for you and gives a relaxed stitch. A good place to start is with a hook 3 sizes larger than the one recommended for your yarn.

All crochet terminology is American.

Squiggledy Dishcloth Shorthand Pattern

Using larger hook, loosely ch an even number of stitches. Turn.

All Rows: Sl st in front loop of each st across. Ch 1, turn.

Work until dishcloth is desired length. Finish with odd-numbered row. (Working yarn should be on the same side as starting yarn tail, not kitty-cornered from it.)

Edging: (RS) Switch to smaller hook. Ch 1. Working down side of project, sl st in first open sp (just before the knotty "bump"). *Ch 2, insert hook in same sp, pull up a loop, insert hook in next open sp (just before next "bump"), yo, pull through all lps on hook.* Repeat from * to * down side edge.

At corner: In final side open sp, ch 2, insert hook in same sp, pull up a loop, insert hook in back loop of first starting ch; yo, pull through all lps on hook. *Ch 2, insert hook in same st, pull up a loop, sk 1 st, insert hook in back loop of next st, yo, pull through all lps on hook.* Repeat from * to * across end of dishcloth, working in back loops only. Turn corner as before. (On next side, stitches will be made in the spaces just after the knotty bump.) Work edging up other side as before. On the other end, work edging as before, stitching in back loops only.

In final corner sp, ch 2, sl st in same sp. Cut yarn about 2" from work; pull yarn up and out of st. Join w/invisible join to first edging sl st. (Click here for invisible join tutorial.) Weave in ends.

Squiggledy Dishcloth Tutorial with Instructions in Plain English

If you've never tried slip stitch crochet, I recommend making a small sample swatch - at least 12 chains wide - to help your hands get used to it. If your stitches are tight and you have trouble getting the hook through them, go up one hook size until you find a hook-yarn combination that is comfortable and produces a neat, flexible fabric. Make your swatch at least 8-10 rows deep. If your crochet fabric is too loose and floppy, try a hook one size smaller.

Start with some kitchen-weight cotton yarn and a larger-than normal hook. (Size K worked well for me.)

Loosely chain any even number of stitches. I have small hands and I like smaller dishcloths, so I chained 22 (for a finished width of 6" including edging). Most people would probably want something bigger than that - say 30 to 40 stitches wide.

The last chain is your turning chain.

All Rows: Skipping the turning chain, make a slip stitch in the front loop of each chain across. (If you're looking down at the top of your stitches - they look like a row of "V"s - the front loop is always the one closest to you.)

The first row is rather awkward, but using a big hook makes it easier. Remember to keep your stitches loose - even sloppy is okay. Just don't pull the yarn tight.

When you reach the end of the row (be sure to count as you stitch - you should have 1 less stitch than the number you chained), chain 1 and TURN. (Turn so that you keep the working yarn behind at all times. Do not let the working yarn wrap around the end of the dishcloth.)

Repeat Row 1, making a slip stitch in each front loop. When you reach the end of the row, be careful you don't miss the final stitch - it can be hard to see sometimes.

Don't miss the last stitch!

If your count is short (remember that you should always have an odd number that is 1 stitch less than the starting chain), that means you missed a stitch somewhere. Slowly pull on the yarn to frog the row and find the spot you missed. Here's one of my missed stitches:

Missed one!

Here we are a few rows in. Doesn't look like much yet...

...but keep stitching. Just a few rows more, and you will see the squiggly pattern emerge. The fabric should be nice and drapey and slightly stretchy, and your hook should move easily in and out of the stitches.

Like most other yarny projects, this one is slightly addictive. "Just one more row," I keep thinking, and before I know it I'm ready to start the edging.

Repeat Row 1, always chaining 1 and turning at the end of each row, until your dishcloth is as long as you'd like. Finish with an odd-numbered row. The working yarn should be on the same side as the starting yarn tail (not kitty-cornered from it).

Ready to make some easy edging? Here we go.


The side facing you is now the right side. Edging will be stitched with the right side facing you at all times.

Before we start the edging, take a look at the side edge of your dishcloth. It's made up of yarny bumps with spaces or holes between them. Your edging stitches will be made in those "holes".

Side Edging: Switch to smaller hook. Chain 1, then slip stitch in the first "hole" on the side edge. The hole will be just before the yarny bump.

Chain 2...

...then insert your hook into the same hole and pull up a loop...

...then insert your hook into the NEXT hole (just before the next yarny bump)...

...yarn over, and immediately pull through all loops on hook.

Repeat these steps (chain 2, insert hook into same space and pull up loop, insert hook into next space, yarn over, pull through all loops on hook) across the side edge of the dishcloth.

This makes a pretty, lacy slip stitch edging with picots.

(A word of warning: if you're like me, you will be tempted to make single crochets instead of slip stitches after you insert your hook through the second hole. Resist the temptation! As soon as you yarn over, just pull that yarn right through all the loops.)

Here's our edging a few picots later - notice how it opens up the spaces between rows and adds some lacy interest:

Stitching Around the Corner: When you reach the final hole on the side, chain 2 as usual,
insert hook into same space and pull up loop,
insert hook into back loop of starting chain (around the corner),
yarn over, pull through all loops on hook.

Bottom Edging: Now you will be working across the starting edge. Make edging as before, stitching into the back loops of the starting chain (marked by dots in the photo above), and skipping 1 chain between picots

(Chain 2, insert hook into same space and pull up loop,
skip a stitch, insert hook into back loop of next st,
yarn over, pull through all loops on hook.)

Work edging across bottom edge of dishcloth. When you reach the corner, turn as before.

Work edging up other side of dishcloth, stitching into the "hole" just after each bump. Turn corner as before.

Work edging across top of dishcloth, stitching into the back loop only of every other stitch, as with bottom edge.

To finish: When you reach the final stitch of top edge,
chain 2, and slip stitch in back loop of same stitch.
Cut yarn, leaving a 2" - 3" tail. Pull yarn up and out of stitch.
Join with Invisible Join to first edging slip stitch (marked with a dot in the photo below). (Click on the words "Invisible Join" to be taken to a quick tutorial.)

Invisible Join complete!

Weave in your ends, admire your pretty new dishcloth, and start compiling a mental list of who you can give these to for Christmas. (Ack! The "C" word! But remember, Christmas gifts are a wonderful excuse for buying more yarn using up your stash.)

You may do whatever you like with the items you make from this pattern, but you may not sell the pattern.

If you have any questions, or find any mistakes, please ask (or tell) in the comment box below. I can also be reached on Ravelry as MrsMicawber.

Thanks for viewing, and happy crocheting!

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Monday, August 27, 2012

A Damp Grey-and-Green Ride

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Cooling wind after a sticky climb
Sing-song chatter of a thousand birds
Black cattle under a charcoal sky

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It rained all morning long - a steady, settled, soaking rain, just the kind we need (wonderful weather for crocheting too).

By the time the roads are dry and clear, it's mid-afternoon, which means a shorter ride for me. Temps are in the 70s, and the air is extremely moist as I set out.

Down the road and around the corner, goldenrod and heliopsis are all jumbled up and growing together in a bright blaze of yellow:

Blossoming ragweed, the bane of allergy sufferers everywhere (including me), decorates ALL the roadsides right now. Below is just a lone sample - elsewhere it grows in great green swathes of misery-inducing evilness. (Do you detect a tone of bitterness? Yes, you do. My allergies have been really bad this year.)

These maple leaves look lovely, but they indicate a tree in distress:

It's much too soon for them to have turned - the drought is still wreaking havoc with growing things. (Why can't it knock out the ragweed?)

Cattails still thrive, though their brown-tipped leaves show that they too have suffered this year. Apparently living in a marsh is no protection against drought.

Since our weather has moderated, the wild phlox have bounced back. I pass a long stretch of them, blooming in delicate pink and white profusion:

Here's a cheery patch of heliopsis:

Hay bales against a background of misty hills (or a misty background of hills?):

I can't resist snapping swallows wherever I see them:

On your marks    ...  get set    ...    go!

Some miles on, I pass these large, pale-pink thistles:

Thistles seem to soak up any available light only to dispense it again like tiny suns. Another patch (these are smaller and darker) grows a bit farther down. They simply glow with intensity:

Just beyond the thistles is a favourite little tumbledown shed, more tumbledown and tipsy than ever this year:

It's lavishly adorned with wild grapevine...

...and picturesque in the extreme. I shall be very sad when it eventually falls down.

A few miles later, I pass a field of cattle. When I stop to take their photo, they look at me rather balefully.

This one in particular favours me with a long, disapproving stare...

...while all his fellows turn their backs and stalk away. Finally he turns too, and they all retreat to the far middle of the field.

Cattle around here are usually friendly and curious creatures; I've no idea why this bunch should be so stand-offish. (Perhaps they are pedigreed and therefore puffed up with bovine snobbishness.)

Their pasture is large and particularly lovely, with a rocky stream, green banks, and plenty of trees. It's time for a snack break, so I park Iris against a handy gate (stream to the right, cows to the left) while I break out the energy bars.

Large flocks of birds have been swirling around, and have all settled in the trees at the back of the pasture. They sing and chatter nonstop - there must be hundreds or even thousands of them by the sound of it.

Snack time over, it's back on the bike. A rare glimpse of blue sky as the clouds briefly break overhead:

I like this barn and shed.

No more blue sky. The clouds are now lowering darkly:

At the peak of a hill, I see white birch, red sumac, and green leaves. Rather Christmassy-looking, and very lovely.

Since time is limited this afternoon, I'm trying to keep photo breaks to a minimum (ha ha), or shoot from the saddle as much as possible.

It's a good thing barns can be snapped on the fly. On the next road, I pass three extremely photogenic ones in quick succession. The first has a wonderfully rusty roof and interesting lines:

The second is weathered, square, and rugged-looking (with a charming little lean-to on one side):

And the third is large and rather spectacular - a battered cathedral of a barn. It features a cupola, fresh red and white paint...

...and a fascinating jumble of roof lines.

My next turn takes me down a road I've never been on. It opens out into a large green rolling valley.

Under the dark cloud huddles a darker herd of Angus cattle, a velvety-black smudge against the green grass. (The road curves steeply downhill just where I pass the cattle, so I can't get any close-ups.)

I'm only about halfway through my ride - time to pick up the pace and keep the camera in my pocket. But I pull it out to take this photo of the largest farm I've seen in the area:

(Honestly, the picture doesn't do it justice. There are so many buildings all spread out that I have to shoot it from about half a mile away to get them all in the frame.) The farmhouse can just be glimpsed at the right of the picture, and at the edge of the property stands a large sign proclaiming this to be a homestead established in 1845.

Just down the road stands a solitary tree with a sunbeam breaking through the clouds behind it:

Still at least 8 miles to go - but I stop the bike one last time for a picture of two charming ... yearlings? Steers? (I can tell a cow from a calf from a bull, but the cattle of indeterminate age and gender stump me every time.)

They seem happy to see me, and crowd up to the gate as I get off the bike.

After a friendly interlude, with well-intentioned but fruitless attempts at conversation, we part company.

The dark clouds are still lowering, though I can see a streak of light pink at the horizon:

Soon after this, it starts to rain - just enough to be refreshing without making the road slippery. As I pass a house, a man walking down the driveway calls out, "Nice shower, isn't it?" I nod and smile and buzz on by.

I'm feeling pretty strong, going at a good clip, and beginning to think complacently about my pace. Suddenly I realize that the easy speed is due to a tailwind - pop goes the vanity balloon. Then I start to sneeze. Humbled and snuffly, I finish the last few miles. (You'd think the rain would settle the allergens, but instead it seems to stir them up.)

A very satisfying ride, allergens notwithstanding.

30.0 miles

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