I’m having a hell of a time writing terza rima. I’ve started two poems and can’t finish either one. But more on that later. For now, I am switching gears … to swatching.

The title of this blog is “Think. Do.,” and I’m a bit sorry that I’ve neglected writing about the “doings” in favor of the “thinking.” I’ve actually gotten more accomplished on my book this summer than I expected to (I wrote 4 pages today!), which is maybe one reason why the doings have gotten short shrift. But they have not been abandoned altogether.

For one, I’ve been trying to install a bog garden out at our weekend house in West Virginia, which we took ownership of almost exactly two years ago, and then discovered that it is built on top of a hilltop swamp. Yes, it’s near the top of a hill (or ridge, as they call them out there), but the land is swampy due to the prevalance of lots of underground springs. It’s a kind of gardening I’ve never done before. A problem I’ve never experienced, after learning to garden in TX. How can your garden be too wet?? Well, it is possible. Anyway, after a summer of dredging, digging up recalcitrant water grasses, getting real muddy, fighting the deer (that war will never end), and nurturing various seedlings, plantings, and so on, here is a photo of the garden at its best:

Part of the bog garden.
Part of the bog garden.

It will probably take another year or two before it actually looks like anything like the picture in my head, but it’s a start.

And speaking of pictures in one’s head, I’m sort of doing the same thing in the knitting part of my life. While I only write a poem a week, I pretty much knit every day. I’ve been a knitter since college, where the Minnesota winters provided a palpable incentive to learn the craft. Of late, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with some lovely yarn I bought at a huge discount. I supply the name for any of you knitters out there– Araucania Huasco, a fingering-weight hand-dyed yarn. I think I got it at 75% off the regular price, or something. Anyway, it’s beautiful, but I can’t figure out what to do with it. As you can see, the yarn looks very different in the loose skein in which it is sold (top), to the ball you wind it in so you can actually knit it without making a huge snarled mess (right), and the actual knitted fabric (foreground).

huasco swatch
Araucania Huasco three ways: skein, ball, and swatch.

Taking this photo on top of a wire mesh table wasn’t the brightest idea, but the square thing on the left is called a swatch. Like the swatches you see at Pottery Barn, Arhaus, and Calico Corners, it’s a piece of fabric that gives you an idea of what a larger piece might look like. Except a knitted swatch is something you make yourself. It shows you how big your stitches are, and what they look like with the yarn you’re using. It’s sort of like taking your yarn for a test drive before you commit hours and hours to a project and then find you don’t like how it’s turning out.

Knitters use these to figure out how to make a particular pattern come out to be the correct size (which for me, basically means it comes out looking like something smaller than a trash bag and larger than a sausage casing when worn), and also when creating a pattern from scratch.

Lately I’ve been experimenting with creating patterns, which involves a fair amount of basic math (which nevertheless stretches my existing capacities) and lots of trial and error. In my swatch, I tried three different stitch patterns, just because these beautiful hand-dyed yarns often do unpredictable things when actually knitted into garments. Sometimes the colors can recur in unpleasant splotches, which is called pooling. Other times the changing colors will obscure a stitch pattern. Both things ended up happening in my swatch–zebra-striped pooling in stockinette (the standard stitch used in knitted garments), and a complete obfuscation of a beautiful lace pattern in the middle of the swatch.

Here is a really bad example of pooling–both top and legs of these baby pants are knit in the same yarn! (Incidentally, it probably looks a lot like the yarn I’ve pictured above, but with a purple-orange-blue color range.) Apologies to the anonymous Ravelry knitter from whom I snagged this photo.

In the end, I decided to go with the bottom part of the swatch, which is called seed stitch. I think the blues in the swatch look like little beads. I’ve started a larger swatch (which you can see on the needles) of just this stitch, from which I’ll base my pattern. I’m thinking something with a ballet neck, sort of swingy, maybe 3/4 sleeves.

I’m also “swatching” in my musical doings. Right now I’m trying to cobble together a chamber ensemble, with the help of Zen flute master (who actually is not very zen at all … he’s a rather intense New Yorker, but I won’t hold that against him) and a lovely co-worker in Loyola’s advising office, Maria, who, it turns out, has a degree in cello performance. Maria and I met for coffee last week and are swapping scores to try. We might try a flute-cello duo, or have her play the obligato part on a Bach flute sonata, or have me play piano accompaniment to her cello. At the moment, though, we are playing the second movement of a trio for flute, cello, & piano by Boruslav Martinu, with an undergraduate flutist from Loyola (group to be coached by Zen flute master). I haven’t gotten the music yet, but I’ve been assured that the tempo is slow :-).


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