That brilliant Dottie Angel and her beautiful Happy Hangers. I saw these the other day at Jane's blog (and also, because of Jane, spent the morning watching YouTube clips of The Delicious Miss Dahl, which, sadly, we cannot watch entire episodes of here in the U.S. — though I did of course run right out and get her cookbook after my friend Sarah told me about it and said she had been looking at it just this weekend). I had not much worsted-weight wool, but now (after a Happy-Hanger yarn run) I do. Andy, our friend Aimee, and I have spent the past few days emptying every Goodwill in the area of their skinny old wooden hanger collections. I used to have a ton of these, but then a couple of years ago I re-did my closet and got all new matching wooden hangers, with the big curvy-shaped tops, so had none. Knowing me, I'm probably buying the same hangers I brought to Goodwill.
Spring light is sooooo moody. The palette of spring is so beautiful to me. The grays, the greens, the blues, the pinks. The color is so saturated, the pigments so intense. Andy said there was an incredible rainbow when they got out of work last night. Everyone stood on the hill taking pictures. Outside our living room windows this week, we have a different picture: Our neighbors recently removed the ten-foot (totally claustrophobic) laurel hedge that bordered our property and effectively blocked our view of absolutely everything to the west of our house. The hedge had been there for about ninety years, we think. Now that the enormous wall of deep, dark, so-dark-green-it-was-almost-black is gone, our whole house feels different. All of us are overjoyed. From the sofa I can, for the fist time, see the intersection, my other neighbors' rock wall, the huge dogwood trees in the parkway, a flock of neon azaleas on the next block, the kids playing basketball down the street, the sky, the sun as it is setting. Even the light in the house is different. A fence will go up, at some point, I know, and block the view again, but the fence won't be ten feet tall or ten feet wide or dark as ink, the way the laurel was.
Yesterday afternoon, it poured rain. Thunder — which we only hear rarely here — rolled above the house from one end across to the other. The poor sweet dog trembled with anxiety. I put down the yarn and went into the studio and opened the sliding door, and looked out at the cloister-dark back yard. A froth of pink from various neighborly trees (and our little dogwood) glowed bright against the pewter sky. It was strikingly obvious that my favorite colors had come straight from the stormy scene.
I knew that was usually how it worked, but it seemed ridiculously obvious yesterday. I actually took the yarn photos before I took the yard photos.
On Saturday, I got a new bicycle basket. On Sunday, I decided to test it out by tossing my camera in it and hitting the trail. We went from about SE 29th past Johnson Creek Blvd., then wove in and out of little side streets in the neighborhood near the creek.
These photos look simply pastoral and bucolic, I know. But in fact the Corridor runs along some heavy traffic around here; the trail is rather crowded, and the neighborhood can be sketchy.
I don't know what streets we were on — the view above is from a little bridge that led into the neighborhood. We pedaled forward with a sense of disorientation and uneasy wonder: We'd driven down busy Johnson Creek Boulevard (fast with traffic and lined, at this point, with industrial businesses, warehouses, and barbed-wired lots) probably a hundred times, but turn just a bit to the south, go only a few yards down a road that is more gravel than pavement, and you're in a shady fir grove.
It reminded me, in the strangest way, of a campground I'd been to many years ago in Quebec, with horse-shoe pits and shuffleboard, and sites tucked far back among towering trees — one of those places where people had been coming every summer for fifty years, their campers seemingly permanent and hung with lighted strands of bulbs you can't find replacements for anymore. The houses looked mossy and dim, the yards padded with inches of pine needles, the gardens half-wild or forgotten.
We pedaled up and down the looping roads. A wheelchair left under a tree. A tilted doghouse with a chain. An enormous buckskin teepee. A rusted boat under a buckling carport. A stack of firewood as tall as the house. A border of rhododendrons dusted with powdery mildew. It was very quiet. I wondered what pockets of forgottenness there were all over the city. Places that look like they haven't been bought or sold for fifty years.
Everytime there was a turn to make, we turned toward where I thought the creek and the road that fronted it should be, and eventually, miraculously (since we really had no idea where we were after a while), we came out right where I was hoping we would, and got back on the trail, and rode back into the woods.
I asked Andy if he remembered a spring day we spent in Galesburg, Illinois, seventeen years ago when we were first together, when he drove me from Rock Island to the train station in Galesburg after I'd come to visit him for the weekend. It was Sunday morning, and raining. The train was delayed several hours, and we were so happy. We went to Pizza Hut. We sat and talked and talked and talked. He remembered.
Sometimes I forget that there were two years in the beginning when we lived two hundred miles apart.
Impromtu brunch next door. She made bagels. He made lattes. Andy smoked salmon. I made blueberry muffins. What isn't pictured is the Breton butter cake she'd made the day before, which was absolutely delectable. Like a cross between a croissant and a cake. (They're New Yorkers, we're Chicagoans. We talk a lot about food from home, and food in general.)
PATTERN: Mine (a prototype I am working on)
SIZE: 12 months
YARN: Various DK- and sport-weight yarn in cashmere-wool blend and alpaca
Meet Mina! She turned out just as I was hoping. If you could feel that soft nutmeg-brown alpaca you would know that this dress is just bunny soft. It's amazing how many skeins of this yarn I have crocheted up this year. Definitely in the double digits. I haven't met a yarn I loved this much in ages and ages. I love that it is natural and undyed, as well. I used the camel-colored version in the Saskia dress, and the third tulipy dress in progress uses the gray (and it is the same yarn from the Sunshine Day Afghan, as well as my mom's scarf). I love the way it works so beautifully with color. I love bits of color popping off of cloudy neutrals. That says Oregon April to me (as do the weensie Target Liberty rain boots I couldn't resist).
My supervisor helped quite a bit with this one. Half-double crochet is a nice stitch. It goes fast, feels good to work, makes a nice, drapey fabric, and looks sort of the same on both sides. To make this dress, I worked up a square yoke that grew from the neck out, pretty much like a granny square. Then I worked a row of hdcs around the bottom edges of the yoke (leaving the arm edges open), connecting the back to the front. Then I worked the whole skirt in "rounds" that are really rows — at the end of each you join it with a slip stitch to the beginning chain, and turn. So you are working back and forth, but there are no seams to stitch up at the end. The arms are worked like little tubes in the same way.
You get a bit of a visible seam at the join, which for some weird reason I kind of like. I may move the neck opening to the front of the dress, and maybe move the seam to one of the sides. I don't know, I haven't decided yet. But either would be very easy to do. Oh, and I was going to tell you something about working in row/rounds, too. So, if you've done it before, you may notice that the seam can sometimes appear to start twisting to one side as you go round and round. To avoid that, and get it going nice and straight instead, this is what I do: I don't count my turning chain as the first stitch, I skip the stitch immediately below the turning chain, I begin working in the next stitch, and I work the last stitch of the row/round into the stitch out of which the turning chain originates. Then I join the row end to end with a slip stitch into the top of the turning chain. I don't know if that's the official way of doing this, but that's the easiest way I've found to do it (and explain it). And I'll do almost anything to avoid having to sew up a seam. I work over the tail ends of all of my color changes, too, and snip them off (you can use a needle to run the tail back onto itself, too; I don't usally bother with that, as this gauge is fairly tight and seems to hold things together pretty well, but technically you should be running it back for a few stitches again), so there are almost no ends left to weave in at the end of the day, either. That makes me happy.
My intrepid and adorable co-workers say thank you very much for your generous reviews of their performances! I gave them all raises yesterday (they are paid in pats and kisses). We've had a staff meeting this morning, and come to a few conclusions about our team's workload. Today it is clear that we have a LOT of projects going on. As Creative Director, I seem to have a lot of ideas. I always have had. I tend to start them all. I always have tended to start them all, because that's exciting. They don't all get finished. A lot of them do, but not all. Sometimes I bite off more than I chew and get completely overwhelmed, and then I pack whatever project is overwhelming me all in its own little box and put it (quickly! quickly!) in the cupboard. And then I walk away (whistling obliviously) and move on to something else for a while. Most of the time I really do go back and finish; occasionally, by the time I go back to finish I am not into it anymore and can't even imagine what I was thinking there, because that thing is not cute, and then it gets stuffed back into my cupboard and I try to forget it ever happened. That's not that hard. I don't really get hung up on things like that, or things that just don't work. (When I was a kid my dad told me that if I didn't like a book I should definitely put it down and pick up another one, since there are thousands of "good ones" out there, waiting. I think that was some of the best advice I've ever received.) I love the beginning more than the middle. But I love the end. Whenever I finish something, that night I take it upstairs and hang it on my bedroom wall next to the bed and then I get in my cozy bed very happily and look at it, whatever it is. I just really like that moment. Very satisfying.
When you have a lot of ideas, you get used to having various projects in all different stages of completion. I have seven different projects going on right now. That might be kind of a lot, even for me. I think a lot of this creative energy still has to do with the residual creative burst of freedom and energy that immediately follows finishing the book. One of the very hardest things about making books (for me) is not being able to share the projects (because publishers don't like that) as they are being inspired, developed, and completed. This runs so incredibly counter to my natural instinct and love of blabbing. I find it really difficult to work in that sort of total isolation. It's almost like you have to have two creative lives at the same time — the one you live in secret for the book, and the one you live for everything else in your life. It is hard to manage both at the same time, since the book is such a huge project. And if you are responsible for doing everything for your books — the ideas, the embroidery, the sewing, the writing, the illustrations, the styling, the sourcing of locations and models, the shopping for props and wardrobes, the photography — some days it's all enough to pretty much completely blow your mind into a thousand strands of tangled up embroidery floss. It's just a lot. You can be sure that on a lot of days you will be doing almost all of those things in the same day. You don't have much left to give (creatively speaking). You don't even have time to eat dinner, really. It's not a sustainable way to live, but it is what it is, for a while, anyway. Nevertheless, you think, "When I'm done with this, all I will do is sit in my Adirondack chair and watch the dogwood tree grow, and that will be work enough."
But then, once the book is finished and off to the printer, the strangest thing happens. Andy compares it to being on the expressway, doing 65 mph, and then getting off: You come up the exit ramp, make a right onto the (familiar) side street to head back home, but everyone else seems to be going way too slow, and your foot still feels like lead. You still have that intensity and momentum, and it takes a while for it to burn off (and I guess there's also that ever-present little thing called "making a living" that has to be done). So even though you're so excited to be "home," your body has been on the road for over two years, and it still feels like it's traveling. But now that you get to go wherever you want, you're sort of surprised to find yourself getting so quickly off the Ad. chair and back in the car. So you start seven projects and, compared to thirty, you feel like you're on a Sunday drive.
Still, my work crew would like to get a few of these projects (Tulipfield dresses 1, 2, and 3; the seat cushion; the apple-blossom handbags; the Alice-in-Wonderland pinafore; the embroidered alphabet sampler) actually finished, so they just told me to stop waxing metaphorical, referring to myself in the second person, zip it in general, and get back to work. Bye.
The ICM is a subtle communicator. Her memos are sent in Morse code via wide stares and eye blinks. Luckily, I am bilingual, and MC via WS&EB is my second language. I usually know exactly what she means.
She guards the yarns with the kind of ease that only comes from years of experience. She effortlessly situates herself squarely on the cushiest part of the pile. She "sleeps" with one eye open. If you make a move toward the baby alpaca when you're already so totally over your quota she'll say,
"No more for you. All for me."
PATTERN: Mine (a prototype I am working on)
SIZE: 12 months
YARN: Various DK- and sport-weight yarns in cashmere-wool and baby alpaca
As you can imagine, it wasn't hard at all to be inspired by the tulip fields. The rows of color (and soil) stretching out beneath the chilly spring skies seemed perfectly suited to soft, wooly rows of half-double and double crochet, and tulip-shaped skirts. I had three ideas for wee dresses inspired by the tulip fields; this tiny groovy Dutch girl is the first, called Saskia.
Saskia is a cousin of the Morning Glory dress, which I was gushing about last month. I don't think anyone guessed this dress specifically when I flashed what I had done so far of the bodice last week. :-) I loved the simple construction and hippie vibe of that MG dress so much. Saskia's bodice, like MG's, is constructed as a long rectangle (with an opening for the head), folded in half lenthwise. The skirt is worked in rows turned vertical, and shaped somewhat on the principal of short rows in knitting (at least, this is how I thought of them): The first 12 stitches in the row are half-double crochets, the second 36 stitches are double crochets, which stack a bit taller and ultimately give you a wider-at-the-bottom, tulip-shaped skirt. The top edges of the two skirt panels are attached to the bottom edges of the bodice pieces, and then the side seams and underarm seams are quickly stitched up with slip stitches. A few more rows around the bottom to finish things off, and with a cute little button and a few single crochet stitches around the neck and sleeves, done. So! Easy!
It's been a long time since I designed a crocheted piece to fit a specific size, and there is something oddly satisfying about how the process works, I must admit. I don't know exactly how other people do it, but when I have an idea like this, I start with a sketch of the general shape I want to achieve. Then I use a standard measurement chart (I like this one) to determine exactly how wide the neck opening should be, or how deep the armhole, or how wide around the top of the skirt, how long the sleeves, how long the skirt. I plug those measurements in for the size I want to make (usually one of the smaller sizes, since it goes faster, and if you are really on the wrong track you'll find out pretty quickly), and then I multiply each measurement by my gauge (the number of crochet stitches or rows per inch). Then I look at each piece of the dress separately (in other words, I'll draw out what that bodice piece would look like if it were unfolded, for instance), and transpose the general measurements again, and then make some decisions — round neck? Square neck? Tapered sleeves? Full sleeves? Skirt length? Stuff like that. I plug in all of those measurements, get a stitch count again, and then start thinking about how to achieve those shapes by increasing or decreasing stitches and rows to create curves, or openings, or fullness, or whatever.
Then, when I have all of those theoretical numbers, I pull out the hooks and the yarn, and give it a go. Crochet crochet crochet, kiss puppers, crochet crochet, watch another episode of Psych on DVD, crochet crochet, let one of the pets either in or out, crochet crochet, talk on phone, crochet crochet crochet, bake bread so there's something for people to eat, crochet crochet crochet crochet. Make notes occasionally (though not very good ones; I wish I was better at this). But basically I just keep crocheting like a maniac because I really want to see if my idea is even going to work, and there's no shortcut for that. And I thought this one pretty much worked just like I imagined! So then I go back to the drawing board and make a few changes, and start grading the schematics for different sizes, write a formal pattern, and start testing it again to see if I'm making sense to anyone besides myself.
It's really fun. Just a cool process, when you think about it: From tulip field to brain to string to piece of clothing. I have two more sort-of-related ideas for stripey crocheted dresses I am working on at the same time (naturally I have two more sort-of-related ideas for stripey crocheted dresses I am working on at the same time), so my hope is that I can turn them all into patterns, 'cause I think they will all be really great for beginning crocheters. And I really like the idea of these cuddly, cozy, cold-spring dresses for just this kind of (still) cloudy, chilly April weather, so I want to finish them all before it warms up outside for reals.
My supervisor watches me very closely. She has no concept of personal space.
I kissed her nose (I routinely kiss my supervisor) and gave her her own nameplate for her desk and still her expression of plaintive skepticism did not change.
It's like she is bored at work or something.
It's like she thinks that hundreds of rows of half-double crochet are boring or something!!!
Oh hold it — did someone do something somewhere? Anyone? Something? Somewhere?
No [returns to contemplating her underemployment, or at least a nice walk around the block please Ms. Paulson.]
My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com
Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.