Music, Mending, and Lambtown

Even though I remain really reluctant to embrace the season of apples, squash, and soup, October has gotten off to a truly terrific start. The first weekend was full of so much fun that Wyatt skipped school on Friday so we could fit it all in. And then last week, I published my fourth knitting pattern. More about that in next week's post, but meanwhile, YAY ME.

Last weekend was Wyatt's most anticipated annual musical event: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. We went on Friday before things got too crazy. This is us (actually Wyatt and my knitting, I guess) outside the gates for the concert for middle-schoolers on Friday morning. The music at the festival was great, but the highlight for me this year was watching Wyatt make friends with a four-year old and a three-year old near us at one of the stages—he gave them pony rides on his back, and then they all had a dance party. As if all of that goodness wasn't enough to make a winning Friday, we ended the day on an even higher note after we picked up my friend Debbie at the BART station. We spent the late afternoon and evening with her playing Trouble (which she had brought for Wyatt), making and eating pizzas, and catching up. 

On Saturday, I attended Katrina Rodabaugh's Sashiko Mending Workshop at Handcraft Studio School in El Cerrito. Bonus: Maja came too. I have been waiting for this workshop since June when I found Katrina's work and she promised me in an email that she'd be back in the Bay Area to teach in the fall. True to her word, I got to learn from her in person. She spoke about her journey into slow fashion and the reasons why it's important to disrupt the cycle of fast fashion's trends whenever we can. I loved the books and resources she brought to share. "Sustainable fashion" can be challenging, as I learned in my own little way last year making Wyatt's elephant costume. (Read about that here and here.) During the mending workshop, we hand-stitched a tea quilt (which is thinner and smaller than a potholder, but bigger than a coaster), learned methods of mending, and we witnessed how some simple stitches by our own hands made our patch jobs look beautiful and intentional. Some might even say our embroidery was on-trend. The stack of clothes I need to mend is now one pair of jeans shorter, and I have the confidence and know-how to tackle the rest. Now all I need to do is make the time . . . mending has this way of staying at the bottom of my list of things to do.

Sunday was Lambtown! All three of us went this time, and this year, Lambtown had all the things Wyatt had been looking forward to (music, petting zoo, pony rides, cooking demonstrations), along with a new attractions: a train he could ride on with or without his parents and an interactive farm equipment display. The sheepdog competition was very entertaining, and I learned that Marc knows A LOT about sheepdog trials. (The things a person can hold back in a long-term, committed relationship never fail to surprise me.) We visited with Brooke at the Sincere Sheep booth, where she had displayed my patterns beautifully, and I stopped in to see Kira of Kira K. Designs just next door. Wyatt got to watch carding and blending again at Dreamy Goat Design Studio, and I learned about Shaggy Bear Farms in Scio, Oregon, where they specialize in rare sheep (and their fiber).

I added Gotland and East Friesian roving to the collection of different rovings I have been spinning into yarn. I'm planning to knit all my beginner yarn into a modern, log-cabin style, sampler blanket. My stash of handspun yarn is slowly growing. Here's the stash so far:



Our Little Elephant

Let me present our little elephant. He will be very cozy this Halloween!

(In case you are concerned about how Wyatt can see through or around this hat, don't be. He was looking down for this photo for full elephant effect. The hat does not cover his face.)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, we started working on the hat for this costume in June. June may sound like a crazy time to start working on a warm, wooly hat, but we live in San Francisco, and for the last two years, June has been the absolute perfect time for Halloween hat making.

Wyatt opted for the elephant hat pattern from Vanessa Mooncie's Animal Hats book. The yarn we chose was Lamb's Pride, Charcoal Heather, in bulky weight, and I purchased it locally from Imagiknit. Lamb's Pride is 85% wool and 15% mohair, and is made by the Brown Sheep Company, a family owned and operated yarn spinning mill in Mitchell, Nebraska. The company has been around for decades, and over the last several years, they have updated their equipment and developed ways to reuse 70-90% of their waste water every day. The yarn is soft and warm, and it looks like it would felt very easily.

Once the hat was mostly finished (only the lining was left), I put the elephant costume project on pause until September.

In September, I started working on the body of the costume, the elephant suit, as Wyatt calls it, knitting it out of Balance yarn by O-Wool

As I neared the end of the elephant suit, I realized we would need buttons, as well as lining and matching thread for the hat. And I realized that to stay true to my plan to use sustainable materials for this costume, I would need to do some research. I first looked for vintage buttons, but couldn't find the sixteen I needed in the right size, never mind in colors we wanted. After some further poking around online, I found Honey Be Good. They sell unfinished wooden buttons (made in the USA from sustainable hardwood) and some cute, organic patterned interlock fabric.

I consulted with Wyatt on the buttons and the lining. He was excited about the buttons but really wanted me to use the light pink interlock fabric in my stash to line the hat. His plan worked for me, so I purchased the buttons and light pink thread (to match the lining) from Honey Be Good. The thread I purchased is by Gütermann creativ, 100% recycled polyester, from post-consumer plastic bottles, and is Oeko-Tex Standard 100 certified.

The next question I faced was what to do with the unfinished buttons. Beeswax polish for a natural finish? Stain? Paint? Natural dye? I considered all of it. Beeswax polish was out because Wyatt and I wanted a pop of color on the suit. Stain and paint would be fine, if I could find a less toxic alternative to what's available in most hardware stores. I looked into mixing my own paint with pigments, but a linseed oil base wouldn't cure in time. I considered milk paint, but I didn't feel willing to commit to such a large amount of paint for such a tiny project. I bought some turmeric root, but after going to two stores, I could not find the alum that would help bind the color to the wood during natural dying. In the end, I stopped overthinking it and went with the acrylic artist paints in my stash. It felt so good to get them out again.

Wyatt and I mixed the paint colors for the buttons of his suit from the three primary colors, plus some magenta and a touch of white. We also used shiny gold paint for one big button, to give the suit the sparkle it needed. Mixing the colors thrilled and delighted Wyatt, and the project engrossed him like no other project I have ever witnessed. He remarked to me as he painted buttons with tiny, thorough brushstrokes, "We're working very hard on these buttons! Let's pretend we are a button factory!" 

Later that night, I varnished the buttons after I discovered that the paint color transferred pretty easily to a damp cloth. Color transfer wouldn't do for an elephant suit that still needed to be washed and blocked!

In the morning, Wyatt helped me arrange the order of the colored buttons. The front of the suit was to be mostly in rainbow order, so I did that, and then he set up the buttons for the butt flap. 

I sewed on the buttons with gray thread I had in my stash, and I lined the hat while Marc took Wyatt out to the park.

I wet-blocked the suit and it took about three days to fully dry.  Once it was dry, I added the tail. Wyatt now spends some of most afternoons as an elephant, until he overheats. I really hope Halloween isn't that hot, or we will have a very sweaty elephant on our hands.

Victorian House in the City

Lately, I have been knitting like it's my job. I am knitting Wyatt's Halloween costume this year, and I started later than I should have. I ordered my yarn at the end of September, which is too late for much measure of comfort in terms of an end of October deadline.


During the same time that I've been knitting up a storm, I've been reading Little House on the Prairie aloud to Wyatt at bedtime.* Hearing about the long wagon ride from the Big Woods out to the Prairie, how the family built their home and stable out of raw materials, and how they traveled and kept house in the wild has been absolutely riveting to him. For me, revisiting this story as a parent has given me new respect for every pioneer parent who ever lived. Life was hard.

While Ma and Pa have been felling trees, building a house, cooking over an open fire every day, and ironing their clothes on a bed in their covered wagon,** I've been knitting a Union Suit pattern by Megan Grewal. I chose this pattern because it will work perfectly for Wyatt's costume, and because it involves several design features I've either never done or never mastered. For example, I've never knitted a garment with legs or a gusset, and I need to practice my buttonholes. 

The yarn I am using is Balance, by O-Wool. I've been challenging myself over the last year to make more responsible choices when buying crafting materials, as well as when buying ready-to-wear clothing and home goods. O-Wool has terrific standards. Owner Jocelyn Tunney offers environmentally responsible, affordable yarn that is made in the United States from certified organic materials. Jocelyn also gave me excellent advice on which color yarn to purchase. I didn't feel like I had time to order a swatch card before actually ordering the yarn, so I emailed her and told her about my project. In my email, I included links to the general color of yarn I wanted to find, and I told her I thought that I should order Graphite, but I wanted to see what she thought. She confirmed that Graphite was the way to go, and it's absolutely perfect in person.

I have just found and ordered the buttons we will use. I think Wyatt will be able to help me paint them, which should be fun.

Wyatt checks every day to see my progress on his suit. He is starting to understand that knitting takes time (for me anyway). And he knows that when I finish the legs, I'll move on to the arms, then the butt flap, and then the button bands. His anticipation is great, and I love that he's gaining appreciation for the work that goes into creating things. 

The other night, after I put Wyatt to bed, I sat grafting together the two halves of the gusset on the suit. That little patch connecting the two leg holes reminded me of the many pairs of store-bought tights I've worn, ripped, and thrown away in my life. I imagined having to sit and knit a pair of stockings because someone in my family absolutely needed them. And there would be so many other other garments everyone would need. Knitting was probably the easiest and most restful activity a pioneer homemaking woman would have during her exhausting day, and there would be so much of it to do.

Reading about the Ingalls family during a week of furious-knitting-by-choice has made me so grateful I live with modern conveniences. We have running water, electricity and a washing machine! And we get to choose whether to knit our sweaters and socks, sew our clothes and sheets, or hunt, grow and cook our own food. Modern life may be more complicated in some ways than pioneer life was. But I prefer the luxury of making choices about what to buy, what to make, and researching sustainable options over having to make everything myself.

*We had already read Little House in the Big Woods a few times and were ready to try another one in the series. When I read these books to Wyatt, I do some editing on the fly. I omit the scenes, songs, and references that are not appropriate for him right now. 

**The ironing really gets me. Was this ironing out of pride? Or habit? Good, crisp Christian values, maybe? They saw no one else for days and days, and yet, Ma ironed everything. I feel like ironing would be the last thing I'd do if I were resettling, but maybe that's because I only iron when I absolutely have to.