Life changes

Posted in Uncategorized on May 2, 2010 by Tracy

Sometimes, one quick decision can change your entire life.

Early 1980s in a north Texas high school. My French teacher, knowing I had an aptitude for language and a longing to see the world, suggested I become an exchange student. I knew it would be an interesting year. But I wasn’t prepared for how much it would change me.

Before I left the United States, I received a packet of information, including pictures of the family I would be living with. The Plotenys looked like such a jolly, lively family. Gisela, the mother, had a smile that would light up a room. Paul, the father, with his long white beard, looked as genial as Santa Claus. And all the brothers and sisters—Gisi, Agnes, Pauli, Elisabeth, Peter, and Veronika—looked wonderfully sophisticated and intelligent, just as I had imagined young Europeans to be.

I was nervous about living with such a large family, because I’d never really been part of a big family before. That may sound strange, given my three siblings and five nieces and nephews. But I was the youngest by far—my closest sibling, my sister, is 11 years older than me, so as soon as I was old enough to know much, my brothers and my sister were already grown and living outside the house. In my daily life, I was the only child of a single mother—who just happened to have a house full of relatives from time to time.

So it was with great trepidation that I came to live with the Plotenys. But they were all wonderfully welcoming, and very patient with this painfully shy girl who knew about 10 words of German when she first arrived. Gisi and Agnes were already living on their own—Gisi lived and worked in the Salzburg area, while Agnes was studying at the Sorbonne. But they came back for visits, and on a daily basis the house was lively with Pauli, Elisabeth, Peter, and Veronika—and their friends—filling the house with activity and love. The love that each one of them had for the others was so strong it was palpable. And they made room in their hearts for me.

One of my fondest memories of my life with the Plotenys was the lively conversation. The whole family (and often several friends as well) would gather for meals in the Bauernstube, a cozy room warmed by a massive ceramic heater in the corner, with a table big enough for everyone. Conversations over meals (and after meals) often went on for hours. Serious topics would be delved into deeply—world politics, the environment, history—and suddenly laughter would erupt over some absurd comment, lightening the mood and bringing us all back to earth again. Conversations over cups of coffee, a few cigarettes, and sometimes a little guitar music made that room, this family, my life there so very, very gemütlich.

Their curiosity about the world helped deepen my own. The intelligence of the conversation helped sharpen my intellect. Their questions about American life, culture, and politics helped challenge my understanding of my own culture, my nation, and even myself. Their experiences and understanding of history moved me deeply. They all helped me open my eyes to different ways of viewing the world. They taught me to challenge my assumptions and to question, always question, and to be open to new ideas. They helped me cross the bridge from awkward teen to confident adulthood. They helped me become the person I am today, and for that I am forever grateful.

In memory of Paul Ploteny, 1964-2010. Ich werde mich an Dir immer erinnern, Pauli.



Posted in Uncategorized on March 9, 2010 by Tracy

I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making a pair of felted slippers. They look so cozy, and I love the transformation that fulling gives knitted fabric, from a rather thin and floppy fabric with no real structure, to a thick, firm, dense structured material.

The pattern I chose was a free DROPS design for felted slippers. In hindsight, this is a good example of “you get what you pay for.” The photo in the pattern looks like the slippers fit all the curves of a human foot very well. The knitter of those slippers must not have followed this pattern, though, because after I followed the pattern, the end result (pre-fulling) was this flat and angular thing:

But as anyone who has ever felted/fulled before knows, you can’t go by the “before” picture at all. So here is the “after” shot:

Yes, just as flat and angular as the “before” shot, only denser. (I do like the way the yarn felted, though, with the curls of white fiber making a halo over the denser natural brown.)

Even when the slippers are  made 3-D to fit the foot, they still aren’t right. This picture makes them look much better than they really are:

The top of the toe curls up a bit, in a cute, sort of elfin way. Unfortunately, the opposite side of that elfin curl-up is an awkward point underneath the ball of the foot. That is also matched by an awkward point underneath the heel.

Clearly, these slippers were not designed by anyone who had any familiarity with the human foot. Now Frankenstein’s monster, on the other hand, may just love these….

Blocking my sweater

Posted in Uncategorized on February 26, 2010 by Tracy

Remember that sweater from 2008, the one I designed myself, the one I started optimistically in September 2008 and expected to be finished by December? Well, after much dithering, it is nearly complete. Here it is, blocking:

As soon as it’s dry, I’ll post better pictures.

This sweater proved to be a delightful challenge, but I had a year-long angst-fest over the bottom band, button bands, and cuffs. I had the sweater completely finished, except for BB&C, and I hemmed, and I hawed, and I dithered, and I delayed. After all the decisions I’d made on stitch patterns, I was absolutely and utterly indecisive when it came to a stitch pattern for the BB&C. I wanted something unique and different than the usual 2×2 rib, but I couldn’t figure out which stitch would be interesting enough without competing against the rest of the pattern.

Then, in a fit of complete decisiveness, I started knitting…in 2×2 rib.

The results are good, and frankly, I think the plain bordering is much better than anything more intricate. The cables and stitches of the main body of the sweater have so much detail that anything more interesting than 2×2 rib would have competed against it.

Now, if only this would dry faster so I can wear it a little bit before the end of winter!

Some better Laurel pix

Posted in Uncategorized on September 6, 2009 by Tracy

I was so impatient to share my finished object that I posted a picture that didn’t really show its true beauty. Here are a couple of better ones.

As you can see here, the cables have pretty good definition. When I first blocked the hat, I blocked it too tightly and it flattened out the cables. I had to scrunch it back together a  bit before it got completely dry so that the cables would pop.


I made the hat a bit larger than the original, because I like my tams to drape a bit in the back. Because my gauge was a little off, I ended up having to thread some elastic through the ribbing to make the band fit snugly.


Next, I’m going to knit a pair of mittens to go with these. The plan is to use another of Jared Flood’s patterns, the Green Autumn mittens from last fall’s Vogue Knitting. Stay tuned!

Laurel, designed by Jared Flood, knit by Tracy

Posted in Uncategorized on August 29, 2009 by Tracy


This is a photo of the hat while blocking on a dinner plate. (The real color is a richer blue-green.) I was just too impatient to wait until daylight to take a picture of it!

The pattern was a pleasure to knit. However, I found a number of small errors in the pattern–nothing big enough to stop me from knitting, but substantial enough to trouble someone with less experience knitting cables:

* The symbol m1-l is not explained, so I just used my best judgment and made one stitch my usual way.

* The 5-stitch cable first used on row 8 has no explanation in the key. What you need to do is move the first 3 stitches to a cable needle, k2 from the left needle, move the p stitch from the cable needle back to the left needle and p1, then k2 from the cable needle. This keeps the purl stitch in the center of this cable.

* As for moving the marker for the beginning of the row, the instructions are wrong. I studied the chart and figured it out from there.

* The text gives instructions for a row 54, but the chart shows only 53 rows. (And the way it is knit, row 53 on the chart matches the wording of row 54 in the written text.)

* The pattern calls for 2 balls of Classic Elite Princess, for a total of 300 yards. When I substituted Cascade 220 Superwash, I used substantially less yarn–less than a single 220-yard ball.

Nevertheless, I like the pattern, and I’m pleased with the way the hat has turned out.

Shepherdess marries in dress from her own sheeps’ wool

Posted in Uncategorized on August 10, 2009 by Tracy

What a lovely story–and a unique and beautiful dress! As one of the commenters wrote, however, it’s a good thing it didn’t rain!

Finally, an actual finished object!

Posted in Uncategorized on August 8, 2009 by Tracy

I just over a month, I managed to complete an actual finished object–despite all the gardening, despite all the family activities, despite summer itself (or what passes for summer here in upstate New York this year). For a long time, I have been wanting to knit Shedir, the beautiful hat designed for women undergoing chemo, but beautiful enough for anyone to wear. At the end of June, I popped down to Knitting Etc. in Ithaca and bought a couple of skeins of Rowan Calmer, in the loveliest shade of spring green. This would be a dream to knit, and a dream to wear.

Well, the knitting for me was a bit of a challenge, but that was by no means the fault of the designer. I used to be able to tackle an Alice Starmore pattern with ease–okay, not exactly with ease, but at least with confidence and focus. These days,  however, I’m lucky if I can concentrate enough to do a moss stitch, so doing the crisp cables of Shedir threw me for a loop, at least in the beginning.

Shedir 1

And I found it addictive. The more I knit, the more I wanted to see the pattern emerging, and the more I knit again. Just gorgeous! And tonight I finished it. I wove in all the loose ends and dashed to the mirror to put it on. I would be a vision of loveliness.

Shedir 2

Well, that was the theory. Somehow, in my eagerness to knit this beautiful fabric, I forgot that I actually look hideous in snug-fitting caps. In a cap like this, I’m all cheeks and no forehead. Even worse, I forgot to measure my head to figure out if I would need to adjust the pattern. Since I wanted this hat for its beauty alone, and not for its hairline-covering ability (so important to women undergoing chemo), I should have taken out two repeats of the pattern. I didn’t do that, and now the hat is simply too deep for my head.

Shedir 3

Oh well. It was a pleasure to knit, and I will tuck it away somewhere safe–with the sad knowledge that someday, I will know someone who will need this.