A View from Sierra County

Small town life and politics, lots of knitting, and travels with and without my five burros

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Location: In the Sierra Nevadas, United States

I blog about rural living and social issues, and the creativity that comes from knitting, as well as post random pictures of the Sierras and my burros. "In order to be an artist, one must be deeply rooted in the society" - Simone de Beauvoir


Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ruana Update

I did it, I finally did it! I managed to get Ruana off the needles, and the side bound off using Elizabeth Zimmerman's "cast on-cast off" as described in Folk Shawls... this took what seemed to be forever, since you are actually using a tapestry needle, but does make for a very stretchy bound off edge. As I was finishing this section Thursday night, I realized that I actually hadn't spent all that long on Ruana, was just getting anxious to finish since the temps here on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday all reached the high 80s, definitely heading towards summer. I started Ruana on Easter, so really have only been knitting an hour or two a day for a month! The casting off took me right up to bedtime Thursday night, but at least the main part of the knitting was DONE, and the next steps were finish work.

The next step, taken Friday evening, was to cut loose the waste yarn and open up the front opening. Cheryl Oberle does a great job of using practical ideas, and in this case, has you use waste yarn for each side of the front opening to serve as stitch holders.

Once the stitches were free, I could begin work on the clever short-row shawl collar that fills in the traditional deep V in back (which would be a great place to catch a draft were it not for this very nice collar). The collar worked up quickly, and folds over to help hold the ruana in place when worn:

Detail of the collar

The green thread shown above is the waste thread holding these collar stitches in place, for the almost-final finishing step, returning to the same slow tapestry needle cast off to bind off 321 stitches... this should take a mere two or three hours, considering my earlier pace. Maybe it will go a little faster, now that I have already had so much practice!

I got to try on my big project when the collar was safely on a string holder yesterday evening, and realized that, even with my planning and adjusting for my height, this ruana is long. So long, that I will need to trim the fringes, even after tying into groups. Long enough that I am not sure I am completely happy about it. I pondered this, looking at myself in the mirror, realizing that if I were 5'11", it would hang to about my knees, which would probably be more versatile than hanging to mid-calf on me. However, the ruana does look very traditional in the longer length, will be very elegant and cape-like, and will see much use as a meditation shawl, since I can wrap it around myself a few times, lie down at the end of practice in Savasana, with it as a blankie to completely cover me, and then get up and wear it as a wrap to head home from yoga class.

The back view, in all its glory!

Maybe a security blanket was really what I was wanting; I have been feeling very ill with allergies all week, and have also come face to face with just how much grieving over life changes I have been both doing and avoiding in recent weeks. A dear, old friend has been visiting a few days, and commented watching me knit up the ruana collar, "Birdsong, you really like to knit! This is your meditation, isn't it?" To which, my answer was "yes", and quietly, the deeper realization came that this meditation practice of relentlessly knitting has both healed me and protected me from the devastation I felt a few months back at the loss of my job and dream at the same time, as well as provided a sense of well-being and reward as I attempted to ponder what I would do next in life.

I have found several very positive niches in my little world in which to be useful and productive. I write far more, and have put out a lot of volunteer time. I began a new teaching position, helping people find a way to move past dropping out of high school, have contributed to the Eat Local Challenge blog, and have been working with other community members to increase our local resourcefulness.

However, I backed away from attending an event featuring a powerful and dynamic early childhood educator this weekend, as I found it hard to conceive of going when I didn't have a population of children to come back and improve the environment for. I doubt that I will move from where I live in order to find a new center to direct, and therefore will probably be drifting around a bit more, working outside of my area of passion, but hopefully bringing meaning to people. I also have to figure out better ways to support our needs.

One small way has been to concentrate on getting food plants into the ground. Here is my special raised bed garden, created by my then-teen son as a Mother's Day gift for me five years ago; those of you familiar with permaculture will immediately recognize that this is NOT the herb spiral I had asked for, but those who know me well will also recognize that I would never turn away a gift of love or ask that it be modified.

This raised bed garden has served me very well in the intervening years. In a very small space, it can provide quite a bit of food, and even too much for our needs in the way of herbs (some of the dried herbs will make their way to the farmer's market here in August, along with knitted washcloths for sale).

Currently, five heirloom tomato plants are in the upper tier, protected by marigolds, with some parsley and the remnants of sugar snap peas that I attempted to plant a month and a half ago (which didn't begin to grow till the rains stopped three weeks ago). The border edging of the upper tier is a creeping rosemary hedge, started from a six-pack, which I trimmed back severely in order to allow light to once again reach the soil of the lower tier, which has been planted with hills of Delicata squash, a few seeds of Mexican sunflower plants on each end, and oregano plants added last year in the very front.

Unfortunately, the stevia plants I put in this bed last year didn't survive the winter, but a mullein plant graciously volunteered... I am a strong believer in plant communities, harking back to my earliest days of studying John Jeavons' work, and the mullein is a plant I have a very special affinity for... if ever a mullein graces my garden, she is allowed to stay where she lands, and grow up amongst those plants crowded around her, where she provides a towering and comforting presence, as well as leaves that can be used for tea for lung ailments (which is why I love her so dearly), and precious little yellow flowers, gathered each summer and infused in olive oil as a remedy in case someone should have an earache the following winter.

As an update from my very crummy attempt at "I is for Iris", I have some photos to share of my irises, who have finally consented to appear, in far greater glory than ever before, perhaps to make up for their tardiness:

This model is the eviably colorful gold with purple... I have had a few requests from friends to give them rhizomes for their gardens, and yesterday Lois, Linda and I hit upon a way to identify them while in flower and mark them for division in August, the right month in my climate... I will fish around to find embroidery thread in matching colors to tie and mark each one, so that when I divide them, I can keep track of what they used to look like in bloom. Clever, eh?

This one is my personal favorite... and offered up two heavy blooms on one stem, hence the froggie garden stake in the background, lending a helping frog leg or two.

More gardening took place over the weekend, however it has rained most of today, which helped my allergies quite a bit (I actually fell asleep after work on Friday, I was so groggy), but prevented further garden activities. I am swatching for CeCe, which is exciting, and was only able to get one row of Mountain Peaks in all week, but now that my push to finish Ruana is almost over, I am happy to look forward to more time with my lovely charcoal shawl.


Anonymous SpiderWomanKnits said...

What a lovely post filled with beauty. Your Irises are lovely in a very serene way as is your garden and the fact that your son built it for you. That is so touching. Great FO too! Looks like a lot of work and I love the cozy idea of wrapping it around :-)

7:57 PM  
Anonymous Imbrium said...

Ruana is beyond lovely...what an accomplishment! And oh, those irises...always one of my favorites.

8:38 PM  
Blogger Stacie said...

knitting and gardening always make me feel peaceful too. I love the shawl, it's beautiful. I hope all works out for you, we're all enjoying the writing. Kinda off subject, but I found a windmill that makes flour! Cool, huh? I posted about it if you're interested... Take care!

9:42 PM  
Blogger Ruinwen said...

The Ruana is so lovely! I'm really happy you finished it!

Your garden is beautiful. I miss my herb garden. We are working on terracing our lawn and I hope to put in herbs everywhere as edging. I'm glad you have your circle for herbs and veggies.

What amazing irises! The gold and purple really is striking!


2:45 AM  
Blogger Kathy said...


Ruana is striking! I love the collar. When will we see you enveloped in it?

The raised bed garden talk, is inspirational; maybe next year for me.

One of my favorite questions is: do you have the courage to be still until your muddy waters settle and the answer becomes clear? I think my knitting helps me be still ......I am so grateful for it.

6:28 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

The ruana is lovely Birdsong! I find fringe hard to wear (gets caught, gets sloppy, pulls out threads) so I cut them short, or off. I'm wrapped in Cheryl's Irish Diamond shawl this morning: I do like her patterns, but she is 5'11"!

The irises are beautiful, are they liking the rains this weekend? I certainly am, as it has washed off all the pollens.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

The Ruana is gorgeous! It does look comforting and lovely. I love the irises as well. They were well worth the wait.

6:56 AM  
Blogger margene said...

You will enjoy the Ruana on cool evenings and especially this fall. It's really beautiful as are you iris plants. They are such unusal color combinations.

8:29 AM  
Blogger KnitNana said...

Look again at the colors of your ruana and your irises! You're going to be wearing your garden when the weather turns cold again! I love your ruana, I am questioning whether I should make mine 1/2 the length the book states, now that you've had your experience, and I've found that my HTS is SOOO large. Petite 5'2" I am (told you we were sisters from different moms!), so that extra 9 inches Cheryl has on her is a huge difference for you and me, dear "Sis!" Wearing ruana for Savasana is a superb idea! Wear it as a cocoon from which your new life that you are aching to create for yourself will emerge, dear one!

12:43 PM  
Blogger Carrie K said...

Your ruana does have the colors of your irises! Pretty. Aren't raised beds awesome? I love that herb spiral.

Huh. Now that you mention it, I learned to knit during a really bad time in my life.

11:30 AM  
Blogger Anne said...

I love the colors in your ruana. I'll bet it feels wonderful on, too - the yarns look scrumptious.

1:52 PM  
Blogger Beth (big geek) said...

The Ruana came out beautiful! I am so glad the yarn I gave you was useful for this project! Can we see it modeled on you??

Your iris's are lovely, that would be a nice color way for some hand dyed yarn wouldn't it?

10:03 AM  

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