Casey’s Mittens

September 21, 2010

When my friend Casey was accepted to graduate school in Boston, it was pretty much met with excitement and congratulations. There was, however, one cold reality to deal with — and that is, how does a well-read, literary type from Delaware deal with the Massachusetts cold?

I personally am not a cold weather person, and my mother was born in Massachusetts. Clearly, however, the end of the gene pool that was iced over did not extend to me.

So, knowing that someone from a relatively temperate climate was heading into the snow and ice zone, this naturally triggered the need for an appropriate going-away gift that was warm. And, since Casey is known to be “wool friendly,” this also meant I could make something without having to listen to, “… but wool is so itchy.”

Somewhere in the recent past, I had acquired a copy of Amy Clark Moore’s book, “All New Handspun Handknit.” Flipping through it, I suddenly was inspired with the same dogged determinedness that overcame me with the Russula Cap and the Rivendell Socks. The Moth Mittens from designer Sarah Anderson.

Maybe it was because I had a skein of handspun in an orangy color and knew Casey would like it, because she had bought the corresponding skein from me a year or so ago. Maybe I just downright took leave of my senses. I had never done charted knitting prior to the Rivendell Socks, and they were in one color. The Moth Mittens required 2 colors. I had never done stranded work before, but no matter, I was enchanted by the mittens and had to make them.

Of course, I began this little project in July. If you are in the mid-Atlantic, you might remember we had the hottest July on record, with most days going above 90 degrees when they weren’t hitting 100 plus. Just the sort of weather you want to work with wool in!

In addition to the orangy handspun, I used a natural color chocolate brown Shetland that complimented it:

The orangey yarn had some colorations of green and darker orange. It was all the result of an early dyeing experiment and I did get sort of the color I was after. Knowing Casey had the matching skein was the real kicker — obviously, this was meant to be.

I cast on and launched into charted waters. Got halfway up the gauntlet cuff and had to rip back the stitches, learning quickly that you want to keep one color on top of the other at all times. If you pick up your colors randomly from the top or the bottom, you will never get them untangled in a timely manner unless, of course, you are absolutely sure of what you are doing and never have to rip them back.

I could go on about the heat, the wool, and ripping back stitches but it is sort of a hazy memory at this point. Except the Sunday I worked almost the entire hand of Mitten Number One and had to rip it all back when I discovered I had the wrong number of stitches. Still, I pressed on and without too much difficulty had Mitten Number One complete:

The design represents metamorphosis, which seemed appropriate for someone going off to forge a new chapter in their life. You have the caterpillar parallel to the thumb, a row of cocoons above, and above the cocoons, the butterfly. Or moth, as the case may be.

Finishing one mitten is akin to finishing one sock. You need two to make a pair. Now that I felt a little more confident in my ability to work from a chart and in two colors, no less, I launched into Mitten Number Two. I obviously was more relaxed this time around, as evidenced by the fact that Mitten Number Two came out slightly larger than Mitten Number One. There is alot to be said for not keeping your gauge at the same tension. However, it dawned on me that since Casey is left-handed and Mitten Number Two is, indeed, the left mitten, a extra quarter-inch might not be a bad thing.

Mitten Number Two was completed in not too much time. When I tried the mittens on, they were loose. I have fairly small hands, though, and perhaps the recipient had slightly larger hands. No, they still felt loose. Plus, some of the stranding had rather long carries. One was 32 stitches. This leaves too many opportunities to get tangled in. So, in the interest of trying to make the mittens a bit more snug will improving their wearability, I found a length of orange flannel and lined the backs of the hands and the wrists:

This also shows part of the palm design with checks and circles.

So, now I had a nice, heavy pair of toasty warm wool mittens guaranteed to ward off the worst of winter. But … something still wasn’t quite right. I didn’t feel they were finished. They were heavy, they were now partially lined, but they were still a little loose.

I tried to rationalize all the old arguments that Casey’s hands were larger than mine, etc., etc., but couldn’t quite go for it. Suddenly, in a different pattern book, I saw gloves with fingers being worn under fingerless gloves. Bingo! If these mittens were of Norwegian design, and Norway being an extremely cold climate, you wouldn’t wear mittens that were loose. But … if you wore them over something …

Suddenly I knew what to do with the extra 130 yards of leftover orangy handspun …

There was no pattern for these. I split the remaining skein into two equal balls. I just cast on 24 stitches and worked in a K3, P1 rib for about three inches or so, worked 4 or 5 rows in stockinette, did a standard thumb gusset, completed the hand in stockinette, and went back to add in the thumb. I think I had about a yard of yarn left over from each hand, which was calling it pretty close. I could have knitted one more row, probably, but was afraid I wouldn’t have enough for the thumb. Wearing the finished product under the mittens make the mittens a much more snug fit and less likely to fly off during a snowball fight.

Moth Mittens with matching fingerless mitts.

So, Casey, if you are reading this and would like to send photos of how the mittens and mitts look on you, as well as Conner’s fingerless gloves, I can feature you on a blog entry!


Grey Cat 1990 – 2010

September 21, 2010

In some earlier posts, I mentioned Grey Cat, our 20-year-old part-Russian Blue rescue who was dealing with a number of medical issues. Grey Cat left us at 2:39 AM this morning, a few hours before we were to take him into the vet’s office one last time. Altruistic as always, he spared us the final pain by deciding his own fate. He departed quickly; one second he was with us and the next second he was gone. His tail fluffed out to full width and the hair on his back went up a bit. Perhaps as he crossed through the shadow between this realm and the next, he wanted to warn off any possible interlopers. And then, he was gone into the night.

I have had old Grey Cat for over18 years. He was a rescue, and never received a proper name as we always expected to find a home for him. We had a few attempted placements which usually lasted a day or two, and then he was returned with the excuse, “He is too wild for us.”

Truthfully, Grey Cat liked nothing better than to escape the house, run across the lawn, and run 20 feet up the big oak in front of the house. He never meowed; he bleated. He would let out a big bleat, fling himself out of the tree, and then tear across the yard and run up the neighbor’s big oak. He was quite a character.

As he matured, he never became the King Cat, but acted as sort of prime minister of the cat tribe, a true “eminence gris” who kept things running. He was lifelong companion to Hal, our little cow-colored cat currently recuperating from thyroid treatment. He befriended timid Cecil, abused by a former owner. And he was old Grampy Grey to little blind Emlyn, showing him the ropes of catdom and washing his little blind eyes:

In August 2009, Dr. Thomas Trotter of Red Bank Veterinary Hospital removed a huge fibrosarcoma from Grey Cat’s flank. At that time, he was anticipated to survive maybe 6 months. He came home from the hospital looking for his dinner and never looked back. In February 2010, he was diagnosed with an oral squamous cell carcinoma and given 1 and 1/2 to 3 months at the most. Once again, his redoubtable spirit carried him through liver failure, kidney failure, radiation treatments and the loss of his bottom jaw. He had a feeding tube inserted in June 2010 and enjoyed his three-times-a-day warm formula feedings so much he even gained weight. Through it all, he retained his dignity, his peaceful spirit, and his iron will to live. My husband keeps saying that if cats do have 9 lives, Grey Cat had at least 11.

In the last few days, he had begun to deteriorate and show signs of respiratory problems. The vets felt that the cancer had gone into his windpipe. After much soul searching yesterday, we made arrangements in the early evening to bring him in first thing this morning. Ironically, Dr. Trotter who had done such a stellar job bringing him through his surgical procedure, was the only vet we knew on the schedule this morning, so he was on notice to have to ease our Grey Boy out of this world. But it was not to be. He left us on his own terms, with his head in my hand while I stroked his side. It happened so quick, we almost weren’t sure. Then his tail fluffed out and he was gone.

Grey Cat loved raw tuna steak, rotisserie chicken, and steak. He did, in fact, one time climb up on the stove in order to inspect a london broil careless left unguarded for a moment and which was found a few moments later on the floor, the plastic wrap ripped off and a largish bite taken out of it. That Grey Cat was definitely a character and will be much missed.

“For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.”

Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]

                                                             – by Christopher Smart

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.

For he is the servant of the Living God, duly and daily serving him.

For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.

For is this done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.

For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.

For he rolls upon prank to work it in.

For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.

For this he performs in ten degrees.

For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.

For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.

For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.

For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.

For fifthly he washes himself.

For sixthly he rolls upon wash.

For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.

For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.

For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.

For tenthly he goes in quest of food.

For having considered God and himself he will consider his neighbor.

For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.

For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.

For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.

For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.

For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.

For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.

For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.

For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.

For he is of the tribe of Tiger.

For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.

For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.

For he will not do destruction if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.

For he purrs in thankfulness when God tells him he’s a good Cat.

For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.

For every house is incomplete without him, and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.

For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.

For every family had one cat at least in the bag.

For the English Cats are the best in Europe.

For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.

For the dexterity of his defense is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.

For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.

For he is tenacious of his point.

For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.

For he knows that God is his Saviour.

For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.

For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.

For he is of the Lord’s poor, and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually

For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.

For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.

For he is docile and can learn certain things.

For he can sit up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.

For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.

For he can jump over a stick, which is patience upon proof positive.

For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.

For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.

For he can catch the cork and toss it again.

For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.

For the former is afraid of detection.

For the latter refuses the charge.

For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.

For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.

For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.

For he killed the Icneumon rat, very pernicious by land.

For his ears are so acute that they sting again.

For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.

For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.

For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.

For the electrical fire is the spiritual substance which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.

For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.

For, though he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.

For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.

For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.

For he can swim for life.

For he can creep.