Knitting in the Winter: Folded Mini Dress

Folded Mini Dress

Pattern: Folded Mini Dress, design by Lynne Barr, from Reversible Knitting: 50 Brand-New, Groundbreaking Stitch Patterns

Yarn: Yarn is a merino/silk/alpaca blend originally purchased from Lambspun of Colorado and recycled from another project.  It is very soft and drapes well, but I think this is the third project for this yarn, and the alpaca bits are sticking out all over.

Modifications: I knitted this pretty much according to instructions for size small.  I added an extra 1.5 repeats of the folded pattern and shortened the waist-to-shoulder length (since I am a very short woman).  The only thing I should have done was change to stockinette stitch of the bodice section sooner — as it is now, the ribbed section does not end beneath the bust, but extends too far up.  Oh well.  I am not compulsive enough (anymore) to go back and redo it.

Thoughts: A cool dress, though I’m thinking I am too middle-aged for it.  I love the folded stitch, love the construction of the dress, and although I prefer the stockinette side, the dress is indeed reversible.

Knitting in the Winter: Alpaka Tunic

Alpaka Tunic

Pattern: Alpaka Tunic, design by Deborah Newton, from Interweave Knits (Fall 2009)

Yarn: Undyed DK/sport weight merino wool yarn from Kiwi Wool, bought at Lambspun of Colorado many years ago.  I recycled this yarn from DH’s sweater — and since I knitted the original sweater with the yarn doubled, I now have enough yarn for another project.  The yarn is incredibly soft and drapes beautifully; it is the closest thing to cashmere I have ever worked with.  And like cashmere, if you just look at it wrong it pills …

Modifications: I used 6 and 7 needles and a mix of directions for the two smallest sizes  to end up with a tunic that is about 48″ at the hem and ~36″ at bust.  Substituted two rows of seed stitch at neck and sleeve ends, picked up stitches and used short rows to knit on the sleeves, and picked up fewer stitches around the neck to make the opening smaller.

Other thoughts: This was a simple but well-planned pattern, a somewhat mindless but enjoyable project.  It is feminine and pretty, but because of its shape, I think it tends to make everyone look pregnant.

Lederer’s Hill

Francis Lederer Residence (photograph by Julius Shulman)

When my brother and SIL moved into their brand new house in 1983, they were at the western edge of town, their subdivision surrounded by not-yet-developed farm/ranch land.  I stayed a couple of nights with them, heard the crickets, smelled the manure, wondered about the gophers.

They are no longer at the edge — in fact, their end of town became its own city awhile back.  A major landowner in the area was the  former (and fairly obscure) Hollywood actor named Francis Lederer, who sold off most of his 300-acre ranch over the years to make way for some very lucrative enclaves — including the one my parents moved into over twenty years ago.  What’s left of the ranch is a Mission-style house on top of a small hill, which could be reached by decrepit driveways except for the many signs warning away trespassers (read Natalie Costanza-Chavez‘s evocative piece, “The nostalgic scent of a forbidden hill.“)  The Northridge earthquake damaged the house in 1994, and from the bottom of the hill, it looks like it is still crumbling to pieces.

The city extended a major San Fernando Valley thoroughfare through Lederer’s land in the 1960s, stranding his stables across the way.  It too is a fake-old Mission-style building, now a gift shop called The Hidden Chateau and Gardens.  The store sell shabby chic vintage furniture and knickknacks shoehorned into every inch of  the former stalls, and has a pretty — if not particularly quiet and serene — garden, available for weddings and parties.

Crammed at the bottom of Lederer’s hill is a new, but already going-to-seed condo complex.  Lederer’s widow objected to the development, claiming it would “adversely impact” her historic house and former stables because of increased traffic and other environmental issues.  As much as I think the new condominiums are an eyesore and a mistake for the area, her historic house and stable were compromised a long time ago — say, around the time the major road bisected the ranch, or later when the couple sold off their acres to real estate developers.   Meanwhile, the condominiums have been there for almost two years now, but are still unfinished.  They wait, dreary in the rain.  Like the Lederer driveways, many warning signs festoon the condo buildings — and in fact a security trailer seems to be permanently parked behind the gates.  Perhaps the patrols are for real, because despite some open windows and lots and lots of blank walls, vandals haven’t had a go at the place. Yet.  With enough rain, maybe Lederer’s hill will slide down and bury the place.

Francis Lederer in the 1940s, channeling Laurence Olivier ...

(Photograph from

Midlife Crisis, II

I loved my books so much that many years ago, I had a carpenter in Wisconsin build me 7 maple bookcases that fitted together to fill in the wall spaces in my office.  And he shipped them out to me, piece by piece, each one at the maximal UPS allowance for dimension and weight.  They came in makeshift containers cobbled together from other boxes, many pieces of heavy cardboard all duct-taped together.  A couple got damaged in the process, but I stopped noticing the dents a long time ago.  It was satisfying having a wall of books, an external life seen and measured: it was more than the Harvard Classics five-foot shelf of books.

I have three feet less today, the books dispersed all over the United States to places with evocative names like Stillwater, New York.  The gaps did not last long — I just keep shifting books from hidden places out into the open.  The Henry James are now all together, somewhere near John Marquand and Elizabeth Bowen, Emerson and Montaigne.

Where Henry James was, thousands of yards of yarn, frogged, washed, rewound.  Along with recycling books, I am recycling sweaters.  These are “meanwhile” activities, because I don’t know what else to do, because I must do something, because I must have the illusion of motion.  But it is what a hamster on a wheel might say: “I’m making progress.”

The Therapist wonders who I am.  I have tried out different identities all my life, I wouldn’t know “who I am” to save my life.  What if the life you live is nothing more than that posed studio picture, a faded anniversary portrait on a bare wall in an abandoned house?

Midlife Crisis, Part I

Mine, that is.

Menopause and midlife crisis — it’s enough to make me want to stay in bed until it’s all over.  Except I’m either too cold, or too hot, to stay put: bed is just not the refuge it used to be.  The most destructive thing about my midlife crisis is the looking back — I become mired in pasts that never were, much like when I tried to hang on to friendships long gone (high school GF), or when I tried to redress friendships long wrecked (college GF).

In the middle of the night, I woke DH up to tell him that my books were like the friendships that no longer were.  I have books that were, books that are, books that may be.  Some books are emphatically closed and never will be again (F. Scott Fitzgerald springs to mind) — it’s time to give them up.  I kept these books because I was essentially “decorating” with them — although in my defense, I really did come by them honestly and not “by the yard,” and I never arranged by color or shape or size.  Nevertheless, they had, over the years, become a statement of not my current learning or interests, but rather of my past intellectual endeavors.

Today I began listing some of my unloved books on Amazon;  I have sold four of them so far.  Perhaps someone out there will discover an enduring interest in one of the subjects and the books will find a comfortable space to be again.