Category Archives: Knitting

Cowlin’ for You

I ventured out today. After two and a half weeks in a foot cast, I was ready. The sky was an egg, the fall breeze fresh, the sun silky on my arm propped up at the passenger window of the car. There was sushi, at our local place not usually the best, but which tasted great today. There were errands, to the grocery, to the library. I admit, I stayed in my seat and let Gil do the honors, crutches not being my strong suit.

But I did make it out of the vehicle and into my neighborhood knit shop in Tarrytown, New York, on my sticks.

There I got the largest needles in the world, a different kind of sticks, in a size 50.

size 50

On Ravelry, the site for knitting devotees, I’d found a pattern for an Outlander cowl, oversize, chunky and earthy. Based on one Claire wears in the Starz series.

Outlander1-223x300

The yarn I found is virgin wool and acrylic, charcoal, heather grey, black and a tinge of blue. Colors one might find worn in the Scottish Highlands 300 years back? I really don’t know, but I like to imagine it.

charcoal

According to one patron of the shop, Flying Fingers, whose friend is crafting a similar cowl, the Outlander look is a craze that’s catapulting across the knitways of our nation.

I may be consigned to the couch for the near future, but I’m glad to be part of a larger purpose, fitting us all out in history-inspired gigantic wool neckpieces for the first cold snap.

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Leafy Air and Cheese

I can breathe again. I took a trip to Michigan and Wisconsin, the Great North Woods, which has leafy air worthy of inhaling.

Also, sweet black cherries worthy of devouring. They sell them, washed, plump and juicy, from little stands at gas stations.

cherries

I experienced a hailstorm that hit just as our sailboat anchored in that lovely private lagoon a ways into Lake Superior. Just enough to put every wet person on board in stitches.

I can breathe again because I turned in the manuscript of my new novel and my editor said he likes it. A lot. That’s an outsize sigh of relief. It made me open to everything around me.

I found that lying in bed on the shore of Lake Michigan, I could feel every delicious cotton fiber with my toes.

I saw the sights, hugged family, brought home souvenirs from people who had made them with their hands.

rye

There was rye flour from the farmer who grew it, at Maple Hill Farm in Washburn, Wisconsin.

And fingerless gloves knitted by his wife. She sewed a pad of suede on the palm for good gripping.

fingerless

The Northland is kind, even its rusty old trucks.

kindness

The region loves its fish. Smoked, fried or souped.

whitefish

It offers a hundred different moccasins.

bambi

Thrives on pop (drive-in menu, top right). Known to us North Easterners as soda.

pop

Then, of course, there is the cheese. I tasted a Michigan dairy’s Colby-style specimen, bright orange and moist, that was produced from a 1915 recipe.

Did I mention that my editor liked it? The novel, I mean, not the cheese.

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Filed under Cooking, Culture, Fiction, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature, Publishing, Writers, Writing

Saying It in Silver

Do you like sparkle? I do.

I’ve been happy lately to usher Savage Girl into the world, delighted to see people get ahold of the book and resonate to the story. There’s nothing like a fresh book out there reaching people to make you feel good — after all, isn’t reaching people a big part of why we do this crazy thing called writing?

And yet my head is partly somewhere else, where my next novel is coming into being. And that’s a little dicey territory sometimes, a dark place where I have to feel my way along rather blindly. It can be a challenge, figuring out voice and plot and characterization, all the basic ingredients in a novelistic stew.

And I’ll say it again, it’s sometimes the kind of dark where you need a heavy duty flashlight.

So I went and got some silver to lighten things up. Give my brain a break, and use my hands to knit a slithery sparkly something.
silver sparkleThe outlook seems brighter already.

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I Brake for Knit Projects

If I had to choose between these knitted winners, it would have to be the animal heads.

animal-heads

No, the full-body suit.

knitted suit

No, the meat. Definitely the meat.

knittedmeat

After this short commercial break, we bring you back to the Oscars, live.

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Knitting and Giving

Here is a Christmas tale involving soft wool, magic sticks and a sense of loving duty.

lady w scarf

A missionary working in Shichigahama, Japan, a place devasated by the tsunami in March 2011, instigated an outreach program called Yarn Alive that brought thousands of skeins of donated wool and a little knitting instruction to the people of the area.

mittens

The displaced, mainly elderly women who met weekly were living in shelter situations, with no personal possessions and little privacy, having lost loved ones and having had nightmarish experiences during  the disaster. Now, according to one of the participants,  they “knit and chat and comfort each other one stitch at a time.”

yarn alive class

It’s a fellowship. And the ladies are not only creating sweaters for themselves but gifts for others – cozy afghans laid across the chairs of the local postal workers, for example.

Now, as their brilliant 2013 Christmas gift to the world, the women of Yarn Alive have turned their sights farther afield – they’re helping the children of Syrian refugees in Jordan, sending over 200 articles of clothing to keep them warm.

syrian baby hats

Not only that, plans are underway to send knitting supplies to the Syrian ladies in Jordan so they can stay busy and productive too in their own difficult time.

syriaIf you would like to donate yarn, here is where to send it:

Yarn Alive
#36 TBC
Hanabuchihama
Shichigahama Machi
Miyagi-ken
Japan
985-0803

United States, Japan, Syria, all knitted together by the willing hands of women who  are helping each other, helping themselves.

ornament

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Filed under Culture, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman, Knitting, Nature

From the Chimney With Care

They’re waiting. Waiting in plain sight, hung from the chimney with care, assembled of felt and yarn and sparkles. Everyone in the house for the holidays is an adult now, but still we hang our stockings.

santa-254x300

The practice of hanging a Christmas stocking… why hang a sock to collect treats, or put out a shoe as people do it in some cultures? I’ve never found a satisfactory answer, but I always associate it with the idea that your dog always wants to chew up your shoe, because he loves you and that’s the part of you that smells most like you.

O beseeching

He knows not what he does. That’s what I’ve always heard. So Santa is looking to find the part of you that is most you when he tracks down the stocking you hang with care.

1900 stocking

Auntie, my mother’s aunt, made her converted sweet potato shed in Greenfield, Tennessee into a cozy home. She had a tiny room that never failed to impress me with its huge stash of craft materials, from buttons to calico to giant skeins of acrylic yarn.

auntie-copy

Auntie knitted, she made lace, she crocheted, she sewed. She was simply a craft adept. And she loved kids, though she never had any of her own, referring to her home economics students at Dresden High School as my children. My Christmas stocking and those of my brothers were Auntie’s creations.

auntie stocking

Last year I learned to knit a sock. I thought I could use it as a Christmas stocking if it ever got long enough. It didn’t. It was orange anyway. Luckily I still have my old beauty from Auntie.

snoman

For some reason people have competed over the years to set a record for the biggest Christmas stocking. That seems odd to me, as a Christmas stocking is by nature pleasantly ordinary of stature, somewhat roomier than an actual sock that fits your foot but no larger as that would be somehow… greedy. One time recently The Children’s Society in London organized a stocking of 6,000 squares of red knitting, as long as three doubledecker buses. I hear that it weighed the equivalent of five reindeer and bulged with with toys for the poor.

Christmas_Full_Stockings_Tidbits_Freebie

If you have a stocking that is yours and has always been yours, you are lucky. A personal stocking. Gil’s stocking reverted back to him somewhere along the way, emerging out of the Wisconsin Christmas Box, perhaps when someone noticed he was on the verge of entering a second childhood and needed all the treats he could get. He also inherited the Christmas ornaments his mother made for him, one for every year of his young life. Most of them seem to be assembled of toothpicks in some form or another.

gil ornament

Gil was the youngest of five, and that made it important that the old lady brought in to produce his stocking should knit the letters of his name in a bold block print around the top edge. He wanted his fair share of candy on Christmas morning.

gil stocking

Gil remembers the fascination he felt for the tiny plastic gewgaws that decorated his stocking.

gil stocking cu

The little drummer boy with his big sisters in this 1890 shot could actually be Gil.

1890-xmas

Maud must have been around three when I decided to make her a personalized stocking. I remember carefully picking out the supplies at a crafts store near her grandparents’ house, where we were staying for the holidays. With enough glue, red, white and green felt and some pompoms would surely make something. And it did.

maud stocking

For some reason a curious mouse found its way onto the toe – maybe I was thinking of the Nutcracker.  The stocking had hearts and bow-tied presents and glitter, plus the letters of her name, all the trimmings my little sprite would want to see hanging near the fireplace. The girl herself looked all grown up. It was as if I was looking into the future. The stocking, I knew, would be a keeper.

hope your stocking

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Bit by Bit

Stitch after stitch. The easiest in knitting is the knit stitch, worked over and over, row after row, dignified by its pattern name the garter stitch. Time honored and simple, it’s the foundation of sweaters and scarves all around the world. I man the couch (woman the couch?), man up (woman up?) to knit stitch after stitch, a surprise length of comfort for someone who deserves every form of it.

garter

Song after song. Pandora seems to have decided that Ella, Aretha and Etta, with a sprinkling of Emmy Lou Harris, are the mainstays of my acoustic pantheon. Which is fine, as long as Etta James sings Just a Little Bit.

I don’t want much,

I just want a little bit

I don’t want it all babe

I just want a little bit

Just a teeny weeny bit, just a itty bitty bit of your love

Flake by flake. The snowstorm hits. The snow doesn’t give a soft white damn whom it touches, wrote E.E. Cummings. That’s the twisted magic of a white winter, after all, the stuff is so impersonal, impervious, and yet we extrapolate all soft and fuzzy feelings from it. Since I was a child I’ve made snow cream: put out a pot and collect the clean flakes, then mix the white stuff with milk, sugar and vanilla for a wintry treat that’s better than ice cream, especially if you’re a red-cheeked little kid.

Tweet by tweet. You stretch your brain a little and it keeps you young. That’s how it is with me and Twitter, which I’ve been dipping a toe into and coming up sometimes with a sparkly pedicure and sometimes a crab bite. Stephen King just opened a Twitter account, got twenty thousand followers instantly. “On Twitter at last,” he offered, not fully utilizing his 140 characters, “and can’t think of a thing to say. Some writer I turned out to be.” But it all comes down less to what you have to say than to the links, one by one, you make with other people. So follow me. Or at least tweet at me, @jeanczimmerman. And while you’re at it, tweet at Stephen.

Note by note. So much of publishing books is about the relationships with people you have along the way – writers and editors, writers and bookstore people. As an author you’re a cog in a bigger, complicated machine, one whose purpose is to put great books in the hands of eager readers. So I’m writing little remember-me’s to all the friendly, supportive booksellers I met while touring with The Orphanmaster. Letting people know about Savage Girl, that it’s coming out in March, and to look for it. Feral children have always fascinated me, I’m telling booksellers.

feral child

– but in NYC, in a world of Gilded Age opulence? An irresistable mashup.

the-wyndham-sisters-1899

I hope you fall for my Savage Girl, I’m telling my bookseller friends.

And little by little. The bones in my left foot are healing but won’t withstand an ounce of pressure or weight. It’s a good place to be, my couch, with my foot on a pillow, Etta on the box, a rollerball pen in my hand, knitting bag by my side, a fire in the hearth and a curtain of snow out the window. Bit by bit we move along, and today that’s just about right.

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