Saturday, September 26, 2009


Now, very rarely, if at all, has my response to anything knitting-related been "Ewwww". I've said, "Awwww," and "Ohhhh," and "Ughhhh," but not "Ewwww."

Not long ago, though, I was listening to a knitting podcast about ways to join new yarn in a knitted piece. You can simply loop the new yarn around the need and begin knitting with it, which can be a little unwieldy and does leave ends to be woven in later. You can tie the new yarn and the old yarn together, but then there's no telling whether the knot is going to end up on the front or back of the piece as you go, and you still have ends to worry about. You can do a Russian join, in which you loop the new yarn and old yarn around each other, but as you knit both tails in you can end up with small section of the piece that's a little bulkier than the rest. Or you can spit splice.

Yes, spit splice. Here's where the "Ewwww" happened for me.

This works only with wool yarns, or yarns with high wool content (but not with superwash wool, which doesn't felt). Take your two ends, and fray them back an inch or so. Remove one of the plys on each end.

Gently twist the two ends together.

Spit into your palm. I know. I'm sorry. That's how you do it (although, my "Ewwww" factor being what it is, I discovered that warm tap water works just as well). Moisten the twisted ends of yarn, and gently rub them together between your palms.

The yarn felts ever so slightly, locking the fibers of both strands together and creating a strong and seamless join with no ends to weave in!


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Entrelac means...

...according to Wikipedia, "a knitting technique used to create a textured diamond pattern. While the end result resembles basket-woven strips of knitted fabric, the actual material comprises interconnected squares on two different orientations."

And according to a knitter who was doubtful about entrelac at first ("all that knitting, turning, purling back, switching colors, changing angles, picking up and joining...") it means "a series of building blocks, one row leaning right and one leaning left."

Another site defines entrelac as "a pattern of squares where each square is knit at right angles to its neighbor. The resulting pattern resembles a basketweave pattern. In knitting books, the pattern is also called basket stitch, birch stitch, trellis, lattice stitch, woven lattice, and diamond weave." It comes from a french word meaning "ornament composed of interlacing figures."

I say entrelac means knitting that you never want to put down! I learned the technique at the retreat last weekend, and I absolutely love it! My work in progress is going to be a shawl, using 8 skeins of Noro Silk Garden, color number 268. I picked the color because it reminded me of Iona, but it also has all the colors of the misty mountaintop in North Carolina.

With this yarn, entrelac means "I have time for just one more square, because who knows what color it will end up being." It means "Maybe I can just finish up this row of squares before I stop." It means "I think I'll just spread it out in my lap and gaze at it..."

Monday, September 21, 2009

It's just a hotpad...

This was our mantra as we struggled through learning the technique of double knitting up at Big Lynn. When the workshop started, the table was covered with a rainbow of balls of cotton yarn, a bright contrast to the dreary gray weather outside. We each chose two colors to work with - I picked lime green and lavender.

So, you cast on your stitches with two strands of the first color, increase them on the second row, pick up your second color, start knitting with two strands of it, slip with yarn in front, with yarn in back, purl, knit, color A, color B... I think the pattern is really some kind of secret knitting incantation, because what you end up with is two interlocked fabrics, one solid and one striped.

The magic at my end of the table fizzled at first. We couldn't figure out where we were in the pattern, or our rows ended up opposite of what we were certain we had done, or our hands ached from working with so much cotton. It's just a hotpad, we told ourselves and one another as we wondered whether we would ever warm up to the project. We decided our mistakes wouldn't be noticed by our stoves, and stuck with it through the end of the workshop.

A new friend invited me to visit a nearby lavender farm the next afternoon - more purple and green! The Mountain Farm folks grow lavender and blueberries, care for goats and angora rabbits, and make soaps and sachets. On top of a mountain, with breathtaking views of Blue Ridge beauty. Surely it is God's residence on earth, where God breathes deeply in the lavender air, bakes blueberry cobblers (pulled gently out of the oven with a double knit hotpad), walks the lavender labyrinth, and knits cozy angora sweaters. We didn't get to visit the farm, unfortunately, but I'll think of it every time I pull out my hotpad!

She's no angora (which is a good thing, because she surely would have felted in the rain), but this little bunny and her friends visited the lodge often while we were there, her whiskers and cottontail twitching at the thought of an entrelac shawl all her own...

Friday, September 18, 2009

I do still knit...

...In fact, this weekend I've done nothing except knit at the 6th Annual Spartanburg Knitting Guild Knit-a-Way in Little Switzerland, NC. My mom invited me to join her for the event this year. We're high up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, just a stone's throw from the Parkway, along with some 50 or so other knitters.

Many of the people who are here have known each other for several years; others of us are here for the first time. All together, though, we are very much like the beautiful prayer shawl being passed around, on which everyone is knitting for a guild member recently diagnosed with cancer. It lives in a basket, nestled in a bed of various purple balls of yarn. Knitters take turns choosing a yarn from the basket, and knitting a row lengthwise on the shawl, leaving the ends as fringe.

Here we all are, nestled in the fog at the Big Lynn Lodge, a wide variety of people like so many balls of yarn. Knit us together, though... As we sit in the great room of the lodge, women's stories and laughter are becoming a thread woven into each blanket and sweater and scarf and shawls we hold half-made in our hands.

I've learned three new techniques: magic loop knitting, double knitting, and entrelac. The magic loop is lots of fun, at least for the little project on which I learned it. The guild is sponsoring a Christmas tree for a hospice program in Spartanburg, so we learned to make little knit hats to use as ornaments. Here, then, is my very first knitted hat, no more than two inches high...

More on double knitting and entrelac tomorrow, after I've had a little more time to work on them! Look what else is being knit on the front porch of our cottage!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Stripey 2.1

I went into the guest room for some knitting needles, and came out with...

She must have emerged from her chrysalis late this afternoon. Her wings were getting strong, but she still wasn't confident enough to fly.

We woke Little Charlie up to see her before carefully gathering her up and taking her outside.

Have a wonderful life, Stripey!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Hide and Seek... a game you should never play with Io moth caterpillars. I had read that their spines can sting you, and that it can in fact be very painful.

I won't show you the picture of my leg, but let's just say indeed, they can sting, and indeed, it is painful! I couldn't find them on the privet this morning, and guessed they must have crawled away to something with sweeter leaves. Io moth caterpillars typically stay together throughout their life cycle, marching in long lines when they travel and clustering on branches when they find a place to stop and eat.

Turns out our caterpillars had found a lower branch on the regular hedges in front of the house, fairly near their first feast. I went back to look one more time this afternoon, and didn't see them, but I sure did feel them when my leg brushed up against the branch. Ouch! The welts on my leg look like wasp stings!

I though we had a relationship, but apparently not. Still, I do think they are lovely, and I hope they'll be around for a little while longer. I'll be much more careful when I go to look for them, though!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Proper 18B

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37

“On my honor as a St. Andrew’s student, I pledge that I will neither lie, nor cheat, nor steal.”

Some seven hundred middle and upper school students recited those words on Friday during our Honor Code Chapel. Each fall, we recommit ourselves as a community - faculty and staff, too - to being honorable and trustworthy in our learning together and in our living together. Because of the Honor Code at St. Andrew’s School, faculty can allow students to take tests at home. Laptop computers can be left unattended even overnight. Everyone can be taken at their word.

We come by this Honor Code naturally. It echoes the sacred covenant our ancestors in faith received in the form of the ten commandments, in which they learned what it means to trust God and respect one another. Those commandments were summed up by Jesus like this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Our Honor Code is, then, at its core, about loving our neighbors and ourselves as much as God loves us, which is to say, with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength.

That’s what I shared as one of several speakers at the Middle School service. Our speaker at the Upper School service was a beloved pastor from a Baptist church attended by a number of our students. “I am honored to be here today,” he began. “But when I was asked to speak to you on this occasion, I realized that you must not know, you must not have heard about what happened forty years ago, when I was in ninth grade...”

The pastor went on to describe the time he changed a grade on his report card for fear his parents would be angry about a “C”. But he never made it home with the altered grade. A teacher discovered the ruse, and towering over him, said four words he has never forgotten: “You’re better than that.” He never excelled in that teacher’s subject, but still he credits him with being the teacher who most influenced his life.

If Jesus came today as a guest preacher here or in any church we know, and he read through the letters of Paul and James and others who urged the faithful to follow the way, and he saw our little “What Would Jesus Do?” bracelets, and he listened to us talk about how we strive to live like him... I wonder if he would start his sermon, “I am honored to be here today. But when I was asked to speak to you on this occasion, I realized that you must not know, you must not have heard about what happened when I was in Tyre...”

Everything up to the end of the story of what happened in Tyre is difficult for us. For the earliest Christians, and certainly for those who traveled with Jesus, only the end would have been difficult. Only the part when Jesus actually heals the Gentile daughter of the Gentile woman who interrupted his solitude, who dared to speak to him, who stood up against him, only the part when he heals the girl would have offended them.

We, though, are offended earlier in the story, when Jesus at first refuses to cast her demon out. Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. How could Jesus say such a thing? How could he call a woman, a mother desperate to save the life of her child, a dog?

Scholars ever since have tried to soften the blow of his words. Perhaps Jesus was simply testing her faith, some say. In Matthew’s version of the story, he finally commends her faith. But Mark says nothing about at all about it. Perhaps the meaning is lost in translation, others say. The word we read as “dog” really means “little dog,” “house dog,” or even “puppy”. In his painting of this scene, 18th century Italian artist Sebastiano Ricci depicts the woman holding a puppy in her arms, and Jesus is almost smiling as he looks down at her, as if, one commentary suggests, he was saying, “I was going to say no, but if that isn’t the cutest little puppy you’ve got there...”

Perhaps, still others say, it simply was not strange at all for a faithful Jewish man of Jesus’ day to consider a brazen Gentile woman to be second class, to be a little less than human, to be like a dog. Perhaps Jesus, well-versed as he was in the Law, was simply applying it as any other Jewish person would. As Gentiles, the woman and her daughter would have been considered under the Law unclean, and Jesus would have risked contaminating himself if he associated himself with them. In Matthew’s version of the story Jesus tries to ignore her before he finally condescends to speak to her at all.

But the woman is persistent. Sir, she says, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs. She was kneeling at his feet, but I wonder if this was the moment Jesus experienced a teacher towering over him and uttering the words, “You’re better than that.”

Did the woman teach Jesus that day? Many believe that she did, that she opened Jesus’ eyes, his heart, his soul, his mind, his strength to something he had not considered as a faithful Jewish man. As he gazed down at her, perhaps he saw the twelve baskets of fish and loaves left over from an impossible feast on a hillside. Perhaps he heard himself telling the Pharisees not so very long before that no foods were unclean but rather that it was what came out of a person that made them unclean. Perhaps Jesus understood that here was a mother willing to humble herself, to risk her own life, to cross any boundary, to try any means, to do anything and everything it took to save her child’s life - perhaps he saw in her himself, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, crossed the boundary between heaven and earth... and being found in human form, humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross - in order to save the children of God

And so it was that Jesus healed the woman’s daughter, cast out the demon that tormented her, not because of the woman’s faith but because of her love, the passionate, persistent, stubborn love of one’s whole heart and soul and mind and strength that Jesus recognized as the kind of love with which God loves, the kind of love he had been sent to teach to all of God’s children. All of them.

Jesus was still in Gentile country when a deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him. It could read as a run-of-the-mill miracle story, except that it follows the story of woman from Tyre, the woman whose love refused to give in. It could read as a run-of-the-mill healing story, with its ritual gestures and its words of power, except that I’m not sure Jesus was speaking to the deaf man alone when he uttered, ephphatha, be opened. Perhaps he was also speaking to himself, perhaps his sigh was an exhaling of a narrow vision of salvation, perhaps his eyes lifted to heaven were a silent prayer of thanksgiving for a love that was deeper and broader than the Law could tell.

If we are to follow the way of Christ, if we are to do what Jesus would do, if we would strive to live like him, then we, too, must be willing to be opened, to see and hear and embrace in new and ever broadening ways. We come about this code naturally as people baptized into the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the one who for love opened the way of salvation for all people. Ephphatha, Jesus sighs within our hearts, so that we might see and hear the full height and width and breadth and depth of his love for all of God’s children.

If we measure by the Law alone, then none of us deserves that love. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table, we acknowledge in the prayer of humble access. But Thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of Thy dear son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him and he in us. May we do what Jesus does. May we open our eyes and ears and hearts and lives to compassion that does not measure but, rather, that makes all things new. Amen.

Artwork: The Ten Commandments; "Christ and the Canaanite Woman," by Sebastiano Ricci; "The Syrophoenician Woman,", by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM; "Elemental," by the Rev. Caroline Kramer.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Another Surprise!

As thunder rumbled through dark gray clouds, I stayed outside to finish some yard work this afternoon. I was pulling weeds here and there, and finally decided to tackle a mess of vines that were overtaking some variegated privets and sunflowers.

I checked as best I could to be sure nothing was poisonous, and started pulling. Suddenly I noticed a tiny furry caterpillar curled up around the stem of one of the vines. He didn't move when I touched him with the tip of my gloves, nor when I tried to coax him off the vine with a leaf. I put the vine aside with all the others I had pulled, and looked where I had been weeding...

Aren't they beautiful (the colors don't show up quite as well on blogger as they do in the original picture)? I have no idea what they are, or what they had been eating. Were they eating the vine? If so, what kind of vine is it? They were definitely on the privet now, and one was munching away on a leaf, but he stopped before too long. Not to his liking?

The rain finally started after I got a few pictures. I draped some remnants of the vine (I think - there were several vines there) over the privet branch, but still am not sure exactly what they were eating. Here is a picture of some of the other plants and vines growing in the area (I'm not sure what they all are - there's one more I don't have a picture of, a vine with fluffly, feathery blue flowers)...

A long search on-line hasn't turned up many clues, except that they could possibly be caterpillars of the Io moth. There was a female Io moth in our yard not too long ago...

Could anyone offer other ideas? I'm especially concerned that I may have pulled away their food, and would love to know what I need to bring over to their branch...

Friday, September 04, 2009

Late Summer Surprises

Back in the late spring and early summer, we wished we had joined in the search for monarch caterpillars. They were everywhere in our lives - just not at our house! Little Charlie got to see one emerge from its chrysalis at school, and we looked forward to stories from friends who were keeping caterpillars at home.

What a surprise to have a caterpillar in our house now! It's late in the season for black swallowtails, but Stripey 2 is soldiering on, now as a pupa in his chrysalis. He hung on his stick for a little more than a day before shedding his skin one last time while no one was watching and settling inside his chrysalis to become a butterfly.

The white silken thread that helps hold him to the stick is called a "girdle" - it actually wraps around him like a little sling. The websites I've read disagree about whether these caterpillars make a chrysalis that resembles the stick on which they hang, but Stripey 2 appears to have done just that!

Outside the guestroom window, other late summer surprises are appearing. A gray hairstreak was visiting our Mexican heather.

Another impatiens has finally decided to begin growing and blooming.

The snapdragons are blooming again, too. I wanted to try getting a picture that would take in the whole border in front of the house, one that would show the little riot of colors that makes me smile every time I pull in the driveway. After I snapped this shot, I looked at it on the camera's little you see what I see?

Here's a closer look at those snapdragons.

We were so surprised to see eight common buckeye caterpillars happily munching away on my poor little snapdragons! They're all different sizes - two are quite large, and one is adorably small.

Common buckeyes lay eggs one at a time on separate leaves, so who knows how many more might be waiting to hatch! When they're ready to make a chrysalis they'll hang in a "j" position on a stick (we propped a few up beside the flowers, just in case) and then form their chrysalis so that it blends in with their surroundings.

We watched them crawl and eat for a long time before we went back inside. I don't think we'll bring them in - their favorite food is snapdragons, and I suspect the snapdragons wouldn't stay yummy for long if I pulled them out of the ground. So we'll trust Mother Nature to take care of these friends, and hope that there are more happy surprises in store for us and them as they grow!

I suppose I must say goodbye, though, to my snapdragons, several of which are apparently the reasons why the caterpillars have grown as big as they are...