Wild Rose

There is a “wild” rose in my garden that I propagated from a cutting from an old rose bush that must have been wild planted a generation or more ago from a seed blown in the wind or dropped by bird, from what I imagine to be an old gardened estate on the mountain. Along side the road it grew very near where we live, and bloomed every spring. One day Jeff brought me a cut bloom from it, a sweet gesture, and after it was in a vase for a week or so, I planted it and I managed to eventually get it to propagate. The original bush along the roadside was burned in the wildfire and never came back, but I have its descendant, and here it is now, fifteen years or so later, in my garden, the wild rose . . .

Now for some backstory: The first knitting book I ever bought was in 1988, the time when I was just learning how to knit, and I use to stop in at our local Book Ends book shop down in the town center, and I can remember as if yesterday, the late afternoon in late Autumn that I found this just published book just on the shelf . . .

That first knitting book perished in the wildfire, but I had found a used one to replace it shortly after, for sentimental reasons, likely one of the the first knitting books I repurchased! Anyway, back then these were all patterns very exclusive and for experienced knitters only, yet I dreamed maybe I could learn to knit the complex intarsia roses, perhaps in tribute to my rose adoring mother I had just lost in early Autumn that year. Old-fashioned and wild roses are a bit of a theme in my life now looking back, and by suspicious coincidence, the first pattern in the book is named “Wild Roses” . . .

That is the backstory. Advance thirty something years and here I am, writing knitwear patterns, and yet still looking up to the big league knitwear designers as if I am still barely capable of knitting something from such glossy photo pages. Well actually, perhaps finally I am, although I had not even realized it until now this very moment, but here I am designing something in a similar vein. If it hasn’t made itself obvious in the last series of posts, I’ve been posting a lot about the world’s ever most floral wonder, the rose. I suppose that I have been dreaming about a rose themed knitting idea for about a year, and it was nearly a year ago that I made my first sketches of a fair isle chart of roses. Having picked it up again earlier this spring, I started to do the math, and make the chart fit a size run which is my usual style, too many sizes, and so I ended up making mistakes and changing my mind, and rewriting the pattern four times! FOUR! But just as I was bearing the weight of my creation , so many sizes, too many sizes ever to test knit and keep track of, and realizing that this indeed is a design for the person of romantic female persuasion, and shaved off the typical big sizes, and tiny sizes, for this is not a family sweater to be knit for everyone, but a sweater to be knit for a specific audience, women.

Narrowing down ever more now because I have made the decision over the weekend to make my own rose sweater also a one-size-fits-all, after having pulled out my First Knitting Book, it occurred to me that just like this big league designer of the Eighties, I can make my sweater also an opulent oversized garment. You see, decades ago, the norm for sweater design was so specific, to fit a very narrow range, and most patterns had one, if not two, maybe three sizes. They were mostly pieced garments, sewn together then finishes and flourishes added on after the sewing. This design is such the kind that any adult woman up to a 50 inch bust size can wear, the more it swims the better, and I am seeing that this is a very clever way of designing. This particular Wild Roses Sweater may loudly “scream the Eighties”, having a colossally boxy contour with big motifs knit intarsia (which I still have never tried) , drop sleeves, and maybe not representative or even a true template for my rose-themed sweater, but the luscious mohair and negative space which drapes around a person and makes her feel lovingly hugged by thousands of fuzzy warm stitches, is really beyond describing. And so I decided this weekend, that is what I am going to do, design “my” rose sweater for the opulent fit!

So now changing course completely and discarding six of the seven sizes and choosing the one size that fits all, I’m rolling along swatching anew, waiting for more skeins coming my way, of mohair-silk to hold along with the sport-weight wool I began the design knitting, and away I will go, meandering through a garden so meant to be, that I crave to be inside the gate. I’m very glad I pulled this book off my shelf on Friday, and very glad I’m writing all of this out, for sharing the design process is something I really am wanting to do. My latest swatch, with the mohair silk in the mix, a lovely ethereal halo . . .

In closing, I am interested now in learning the techniques influenced by my earliest memories of my mother knitting in the evenings of long ago, coffee table with strewn about magazines dated late 70’s and 80’s, all of the separate knitted pieces which at the time made no sense to me until my mother had sewn them all together. Although the sweater I’m designing coming up is seamless one-piece design, I feel compelled to design a few pieced things in the near future, and above all, narrow the field by writing fewer sizes in a pattern as the big league designers did back then. A simplistic low-stress approach that seriously appeals to my nature now after having satisfied the niche of knitting all-inclusive sizes and styles over the last decade, now it is time to revisit my roots, and now is the time to take that first step into the garden, down a path that is inevitably the way forward.

See all posts in this series.

Throwing the stitches . . .

Gauge figured after cutting the steek of a two repeat colorwork & shaped test swatch, and I started on the body, with a little floral border, so sweet. Many days of knitting undyed natural main color body and sleeves, and then the colorwork yoke, which will be finished in a blink I’m confident. I’m way ahead of deadline here, not that there is really even a deadline, just that my youngest niece would love to model it before she goes back to university this late summer. Thinking it may be a cardigan and after-thought pullover in a style I have not to date managed to design, a thing which is very feminine. The cardigan will be slightly cropped for skirts, possibly contrast edging, possibly Dorset buttons, maybe, or maybe not, but I just feel like pulling out all the stops on this one. The pullover version I will create much more played down, and the whole affect will be kind of like two sisters who are very different from each other. But for now its just a glimpse of a floral idea as I swim in bodies of wool in the scorching California heat, as the mercury rises and the days near to the summer solstice!

( See all posts in this series.)

Colors nearly perfect.

Over-dying finished, here is the palette I’m going to be working with, four shades of rose, and three shades of leaf. After my last over-dye, posted The color of old rose illustrations I was not happy with the over-dyed pink, as it was then too similar to the medium pink from the factory yarn, and so I dipped in tea for a bit last night, but rushed it because at the same time I was getting dinner ready. Having dried out on the line by morning, it was back to the kitchen, for it was still was not perfect. So, again early as I was making coffee I was brewing tea for another tea over-dye, to make it still duller & darker than the medium rose factory shade. Brewing another thirty minutes in a dye bath of tea, the end result is some rather beat up yarn, but I don’t mind, because now the shade is nearly perfect, and in this case more important than the yarns roughed up texture, for it is only a few rounds going to be used in a yoke colorwork. The main body will be natural white, um, “old paper white” I guess you could call it, as I am striving for a palette something like this late eighteenth century botanical illustration . . .

Now I’m casting on for my colorwork swatch,

and I’ll look forward to posting soon how that is going!

The colors of old rose illustrations.

I haven’t yet been able to start my colorwork swatch because I am not perfectly satisfied with the colors from the parcel that came yesterday. For one, I think I need a fourth rose shade, another medium rose shade, but duller than the medium shade in the stack. Also the two greens are much too alike, and I think I want the lighter one to be the main leaf green, with a light golden green accent (or I may just have three leaf tones). The colors from the factory are rarely just right, so again time for a quick over-dye. I happen to have some natural beige of this yarn, so I overdyed a skein of it with pink, and another skein of it with gold and a pinch of emerald, trying for the color of extra virgin olive oil. Lets see if this will work better, for the palette I’m wanting is rather particular, of the old botanical illustrations. The tarnished brass is the color I’m looking for the lighter leaf tone we’ll see. Right now the skeins are wet, will be much less vivid and a lot lighter when dry.

( See all posts in this series.)

yarn arrival . . .

Yarn has arrived, its official, and I’m excited to finally start.

I’ve been mired down in chart drawing and redrawing for a week,

and now it is time to knit a swatch,

Peruvian wool, in colors of leaves and petals!

The original cottagecore.

I came of age in the era of the the Laura Ashley trend, and all through the eighties into the nineties, you would find me in prairie skirts, possibly though rarely with a petty coat, and nearly always with leather & wood clogs or old lace-up boots. I sought anything that spoke of times passed, and of belonging to rural backroads. Having flown the nest, as my mother busied herself creating her little English cottage garden in the backyard of herbs and roses, I was setting up my first apartment of a big room in an old downtown Victorian, and was luckily within a short walk of a couple local thrift shops, sleuthing finds from days gone by, and as I established my first little nest, I discovered myself. Laura Ashley helped blaze the trail with with Ralph Lauren, Martha Stewart, et al. and like a blizzard, all those Designers of Nostalgia came on the scene together, influencing design trends all through the Eighties and into the Nineties.  I was longingly lost in a dream of old-fashioned country comforts, and in general home decorating trends were boldly sentimental, a wistful and affectionate statement of generations before, of grandmas’ homes remembered of earliest childhoods. Perhaps it was a rebound from the crazy sixties-spilling-into-seventies, all worn and tattered, we just needed to retreat into a quiet reflective solitude, for once trend was not looking forward, but softening to the past. Popularized anew, the cottage nostalgia was everywhere, Shabby Chic was born, chipped paint and old patina became the rage, as well as frugality of mix-match, patchwork of prairie & farm, floral printed fabrics paired with stripes and polka dots and more full-bloom English Rose motifs and field flowers, all in pretty pastels, as if one could literally swim in a faded wash over of Times Past.

I found a documentary about Laura Ashley, and learned that she herself was apparently more puritan and ascetic in real life than her consumers could ever guess, which maybe shows in the large mantle collars of some of the dresses and really , all of them having a kind of early century modesty. I can relate in my own life, over the years banishing the prodigal and finding the elusive straight and narrow, striving for a balance of less-is-more, settling into a bit more of an austere home style in my middle age, perhaps in rebound of the many years I lived with the heavily laden comforts of the cottage aesthetic. But I just have to think about it, I guess I still have a powerful warp of cottage nostalgia woven through my life, I won’t even try to fool myself, because it all does seem oh so inviting.

Um, about now I bet you’re wondering what is all this leading to? As you may have already noticed the floral theme ( the last post being the first ), there possibly may be a streak of floral themed posts in the territory ahead. I’m working on a project and exploring more about the the subject, in order to entertain myself at the very least, and once the yarn gets here I plan to rattle it off very quickly (famous last words?) Anyway, do see the documentary on Laura Ashley if you want to learn about the original “cottagecore” aesthetic ushered in with the 1980’s . . .

rose notes . . .

One of my rose bushes has so many blossoms on it this Spring, it is an English climbing rose I planted in the garden for Emma’s fourteenth birthday, when we were in the last stretch living in the tiny house while our house was being rebuilt, and so it is at last established somewhat, with heavy cupped peach colored blossoms so fragrant. I am a real fan of highly fragrant roses, which I inherited from my mother, loving particularly the varietals with fruity scent, because when I pick a small jar of them and bring into the house, they just fill the room with a fragrant simplistic beauty. And this afternoon I made myself a rose “soda” and drank it while calculating notes for a sweater design. From organic rose blossoms, fresh-picked from my garden early this morning while out watering, when it occurred to me to try to steep the petals in sugar syrup, making a rose syrup. And it doesn’t take long at all, really just a few hours, for its now the late afternoon, and I’m enjoying the most unusual refreshing drink, with delicious rose floral notes. Here’s how I made rose syrup, I hope you try it too:

  1. Pluck petals off of roses, and place fresh petals in a pyrex liquid measure.
  2. Boil up some simple syrup, equal parts water to sugar.
  3. Pour the hot syrup over petals , stir, let steep for at least 4 hours. After a few hours you’ll really begin to taste the rose infusion, its pretty obvious, which always surprises me.
  4. Pour through sieve & funnel into a jar or bottle, and store in the fridge.

Pour a nice sparkling mineral water over ice, and splash a bit of the syrup to taste, and I think you’ll be impressed. I made an experiment with these two bottles of rose petal sugar syrup; one I used fresh petals and strained them out as they turn brown and mushy, but another I took dried petals I saved from a jar I keep in with my spices for cooking, the darker blossoms are a very strong old-fashioned rose scent, and they kept their color quite nicely, so I left them in the bottle, and there’s no question what the syrup is and it won’t be needing a label.  You might be interested in checking out the post years ago when I made rose icecream . . .  Sweet As A Rose from the archives.