Here’s what’s been occupying my crocheting time for the past week or so:
This is the beginning portion of what will be a large afghan when finished — somewhere between double-and queen-sized if my math is correct. It’s the “Faith” crochet-a-long (CAL) pattern from designer Helen Shrimpton, who creates amazingly intricate and beautiful patterns. The section pictured above is part 1 (of 8), complete to row 21 (of 96), and is just about 11″ across.
It’s hard to express how much I’m enjoying this pattern. Every row is different, which is basically like handing my brain a big bag of candy. And it’s really highlighting the architectural potential of crochet for me — look at all that squishy three-dimensionality! The construction is super clever. It’s also been an opportunity to learn some new stitches as well as practice a few that I haven’t used much.
I’m using the suggested yarn for this CAL, which is Stylecraft Special DK (truly a workhorse yarn), but I’ve chosen my own colours instead of following one of Helen’s combinations. The seven I’ve picked are Royal, Aster, Cloud Blue, Cypress, Mustard, White, and Silver, and they’ll carry on through the whole blanket. I’m very excited to see how the whole thing will come out.
Finally I can blog about these! Both blankets were made as gifts, and both were much delayed in their gifting for various reasons, so I’ve had to sit on them for a while. But here they are!
This first was for my Grandmother, in a German Shells “virus” pattern. It’s sized so that she can use it as-is on her lap, or fold it in half to get a triangular shawl for over her shoulders. I used just about two full skeins of Lion Brand’s Shawl in a Ball Metallic yarn, in the colourway “Namaste Neutral” — or as I tend to think of this palette, in warm coffee-shop colours. The pictures don’t show it very well, but there’s a thin gold metallic thread that runs throughout, which give it a very pleasing sparkle. Using a G (4.25mm) hook kept the shell pattern nice and airy, and it has a beautiful drape.
I finished this in July and was supposed to deliver it by hand, as we were planning to visit my Grandmother on the last leg of a short road trip. On the day we were supposed to head over there, Anselm and Perpetua both had sore throats, and so we had to cancel our visit as they wouldn’t be able to pass the covid-19 screening of the facility where she lives. It was a super bummer… but as it turns out, her facility ended up going into outbreak status & a lock-down later that morning! So at least we found out we couldn’t go in before driving all that way to either be turned away at the door, or be let in and then get exposed. (Grandma is fine, by the way!) So I didn’t give her the blanket in July as planned; it came home, got unpacked, and then sat on my shelf for a month until I finally remembered to mail it.
The second blanket is for someone way on the other end of the age spectrum: my cousin’s daughter, who is about four months old now.
This is yet another iteration of my trusty twelve-point star blanket, which I’ve made… at least six times now? Something like that. Mostly I’ve done it with self-striping yarn, so using a couple of different yarns and manually changing the colours was a fun little twist for me.
This was a stashbuster project, made with Stylecraft Special DK leftovers from my Eastern Jewels blanket in the colours Sage, Duck Egg, Violet, and Buttermilk. (I forget what hook I used; probably an H.) That worked out really well until I ran out of Sage, which meant I needed to order another skein and wait for it to come, which meant I started another project in the meantime, which meant further delays… well, you get the picture. But at last I had all of my supplies at hand, refocused, finished it off, and got it in the mail.
I finished the blanket with a row of crab stitch, a new one for me. Crab stitch is made with a basic single crochet stitch, everything the same except that instead of moving across the fabric from right to left, which is the regular direction for crochet stitching, you go from left to right. It wraps around the edge and makes a beautiful little border. It doesn’t stand out super well in the photo above because it’s the same colour as my final row, but here is a good example of a crab stitch edging on someone else’s work. I have to say, it felt realllllly odd to be working backwards like that. But I love the effect, and I’ll definitely be tucking this stitch away in my toolbox.
And so there you have them. Two smallish projects, finally in or on their way to their new homes. Tomorrow I’ll show you what I’m working on now, which at the moment is also small, but won’t stay that way for for long!
Two months’ worth of reading in one post today. Here are the books I spent my time with so far this summer.
Glamorous Powers (Susan Howatch)
LaserWriter II (Tamara Shopsin)
Rattle #72 — Tribute to Appalachian Poets
What If? (Randall Munroe)
The Anthropocene Reviewed (John Green)
The Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan)
Ultimate Prizes (Susan Howatch)
Mrs. Sherlock Holmes (Brad Ricca)
Alice Through the Looking Glass (Lewis Carroll)
All the Seas in the World (Guy Gavriel Kay)
The Second Sleep (Robert Harris)
Rattle #73 — Tribute to Indian Poets
Ragnarok (A S Byatt)
Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (Stephen King)
Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business (Dolly Parton)
Rattle #74 — Tribute to Prisoner Express
Leviathan Wakes (James S A Corey)
The Holiday Swap (Maggie Knox)
I quail a bit at the thought of finding something to say about all of these at once — but let’s see if I can give them each a sentence or so, anyway. Working back to front:
The Holiday Swap was light and charming, which was a nice palate cleanser after Leviathan Wakes, which blew my mind (if you like detective noir and/or space opera, give it a go!). Dolly Parton is funnier than I knew, Rita Hayworth and the Etc. was better than the already excellent movie it inspired, and it was nice to encounter Norse mythology in a non-MCU setting in Byatt’s Ragnarok. The Second Sleep fell a little flat for me at the end but was still worth reading (don’t look up any blurbs or synopses for this one, just read to the end of Ch. 2 and you’ll know if you want to continue). All the Seas in the World made me cry more than once, Alice Through the Looking Glass was enticingly zany, and Mrs. Sherlock Holmes‘s interesting subject matter was thoroughly let down by its structural issues and terrible writing.
Moving on to June. Ultimate Prizes is another excellent exemplar of the Starbridge series, but best to start from the beginning with these. The Joy Luck Club was much more moving than when I read it in high school, and The Anthropocene Reviewed was tender and sincere. I only finished What If? by occasionally wrestling it out of Anselm’s hands (we keep renewing it and he’s read the whole thing through, oh, at least eight times). LaserWriter II had its own post here, and Glamorous Powers requires a brief suspension of disbelief re. psychic powers but hangs together well if you can get over that.
Rattle continues to be one of the best poetry magazines out there. The issues blend together in my mind, of course, but all of them have their share of turned-down corners marking poems that particularly touched me for one reason or another.
On deck for August: I’m eagerly awaiting Susan Howatch’s Scandalous Risks (coming via Inter-Library Loan and so arriving anytime between now and next year, apparently) and Caliban’s War, the book that follows LeviathanWakes. Hurry up, library! (My friend Rebecca put me on to this series & has resorted to buying some of the books when the library holds list was too long — after reading Leviathan Wakes I understand the impulse!)
I have no doubt that it is a wise ordinance of fate — or Providence? — that I cannot get all the books I want or I should certainly never accomplish much. I am simply a ‘book drunkard.’ Books have the same irresistible temptation for me that liquor has for its devotee. I cannot withstand them.
— Lucy Maud Montgomery, 4 April 1899, The Complete Journals vol. 1, p. 432
I completely forgot about last month’s round-up. We’re 23 days into June so this will be an interesting exercise in whether I actually remember anything about the books I read. Shall we begin?
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Aleksander Solzhenitsyn)
You’ve Been Volunteered (Laurie Gelman)
At the Water’s Edge (Sara Gruen)
The Office BFFs (Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey)
Glittering Images (Susan Howatch)
Class Mom (Laurie Gelman)
Yoga Pant Nation (Laurie Gelman)
Kitchen Confidential (Anthony Bourdain)
First off, I thoroughly enjoyed Laurie Gelman’s “Class Mom” series, even though I accidentally read it out of order! You’ve Been Volunteered is actually the second novel (Class Mom is the first), and while I definitely missed some background stuff, it stood well enough on its own that I didn’t realize it was part of a larger series until I had just about finished. These books are funny, irreverent mom-lit centered around the drama of an elementary school PTA and the parents who make it up. They’re fun.
Glittering Images is the first novel in Susan Howatch’s six-book “Starbridge” series. All together they span about thirty years, the mid-1930s to the mid-1960s, with a cast of characters whose lives all revolve around the Church of England’s (fictional) Starbridge Cathedral. In Glittering Images the Rev. Dr. Charles Ashworth, a bachelor theologian at Cambridge, is sent by the Archbishop of Canterbury to discreetly investigate the private life of the charismatic and controversial Bishop of Starbridge, Dr. Alexander Jardine. Needless to say, he finds more than he bargained for. Susan Howatch is deeply wise about psychology, spiritual pitfalls, and the healing of psychic/spiritual wounds. Even if they don’t want to read all six novels (which is a commitment; they’re dense) I think that ordained or wanting-to-be-ordained persons would really benefit from reading this and the concluding novel, Absolute Truths.
Here’s a fact: I love The Office (the American version). It’s a perpetual rewatch show for me, something I throw on for background noise or when I need something familiar and comforting. I’ve read most of the books written by cast and crew of The Office, I listened to both of Brian Baumgartner’s Office-centered podcasts, and since mid 2020 I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey’s rewatch podcast, Office Ladies. It’s lighthearted and chatty, and I like to throw it on while I do chores. It feels like I’m just hanging out with some friends, gabbing about a show we all love. The Office BFFs is their new book, another behind-the-scenes look at the making of the show. Unlike Baumgartner’s disappointing Welcome to Dunder Mifflin (essentially just a transcript of his podcast episodes), The Office BFFs was about 90% new material as far as I could tell, and included a lot of Jenna and Angela’s personal stories and photographs. If you’re also an Office fan, this is a great one.
At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen (made famous by her debut novel, Water for Elephants) is set mostly in Scotland during the second world war. American socialites Maddie and Ellis Hyde are cut off from Ellis’s father’s fortune after embarrassing the family in a drunken New Year’s debacle; determined to redeem himself in his father’s eyes, Ellis brings Maddie and his best friend, Hank, to the Scottish Highlands in the middle of the war. His goal? To succeed where his father failed, in hunting and capturing the famous Loch Ness Monster. Although Maddie is an adult through the whole book, it has a real bildungsroman feel as she struggles to find her place in this new milieu. My one criticism is that by the end of the novel the villain felt a little too villainous — other than that, it was a well-written and engrossing read.
Kitchen Confidential is a crazy look back at the coke-and-booze-fueled restaurant kitchens of the 80s and 90s. It’s funny, it’s grim, it’s fascinating… mostly though, by the end it left me feeling sad, just because of knowing how Bourdain’s life ended. Throughout Kitchen Confidential you get the impression that’s he’s been looking his whole life for — something — but in the end, I don’t think he ever found it.
And last but certainly not least, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn’s fictionalized account of an ordinary day in a Siberian gulag. I first read this novella back in high school; as the books got passed out and we opened them up for the first time, a heavy snow immediately started falling outside our classroom window, which provided an excellent segue into a discussion of the pathetic fallacy. A few images had stayed with me from that first reading, but by and large I was able to appreciate this book with fresh eyes. It felt especially poignant to be reading it against the background of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the kidnappings/deportations and “filtration camps” currently happening in Russia-controlled territories. Plus ça change…
Today I had the immense pleasure of a day-long visit with a dear friend I hadn’t seen in three years, and to celebrate I made her this shawl! I only picked up the yarn on Thursday, so it was a real race to the finish — I worked on it for 1-3 hours every night, and ended up doing the last three rows in front of her while we chatted. It got done just in the nick of time. My right thumb is feeling cranky and will definitely need a rest, but that’s ok. I’m just glad I managed to pull it off.
The yarn is Lion Brand Shawl in a Ball Metallic, in the colourway “Prism”. It’s got beautiful long transitions between sort of peacock-y colours, and a strand of blue metallic thread carried through the whole thing. Pictures don’t show how nicely it sparkles! The yarn is pretty soft to work with despite the metallic element, and it doesn’t fuzz and fray as much as regular SiaB; I had some of the non-metallic version a few years back and it was a nightmare to work with and impossible to frog. Whether this is a difference between the two related product lines or just a general improvement, I’m not sure.
This is a “virus” pattern — so-called because it expands in every row, and you just let it grow until it’s the right size. This particular one is often just called virus, although technically I think it’s German shells. It’s a simple four-row repeating pattern, and once I reminded myself how to get started it was pleasantly mindless. (I’ve done the same pattern before for another shawl and a baby blanket.) For this I used a size H hook, which gave me a lot of drape.
Fun fact: someone once pointed out to me that the centre line of the pattern looks like angry owls. I can’t unsee it and now neither will you.