Monday, January 27, 2014

Revelations

Thank you to each and every one of you for your thoughtful comments and generous words. I appreciate that you all took the time to write such kind messages and I'm trying to take them all to heart.

Today I thought I would write about another realization that I've had recently in regards to my knitting. (The first being that handknit socks are warm, in part, because they cover my ankles.) A few months back I was in a knitting slump. Do you ever find yourself in this situation? I didn't have any projects on the needles that interested me, the idea of purchasing new yarn – a thought that is usually accompanied by a rush of adrenaline and a far away look in my eyes – inspired little more than a shrug, and every pattern I saw had that boring, “been there done that” look to it. And then I began to think about my knitting in general. How many things have I made in the past? How much time have I spent on this craft? How many of those things that I've made do I actually wear? As an aside, I should mention two things: a) I was thinking these thoughts while riding the bus to work at 7am. b) I am not a morning person. No, I don't think that's the right way to put it. I loathe mornings. I don't care how much coffee I consume, I find it nearly physically impossible to smile or have a positive thought in the morning. It's genetic. Anyone who has had the misfortune of being in a relationship with me or one of my siblings knows first-hand the extent of this normal and incredibly rational hatred. In the mornings, it is probably safest for you to simply pretend we aren't there. Do not say “good morning.” Do not ask us if we want coffee. In fact, don't even look at us. Even that would be more interaction than we care to have in the mornings. (I promise this is all somewhat relevant.) An ex-boyfriend of mine (a relationship that was obviously doomed to fail) once asked, before we went to bed, “Can you at least be happy to see me in the morning?” And I tried. Despite the sun threatening to blind me and those god awful robins screaming at a decibel that could shatter glass, I sat up, put on what I felt was the biggest smile I have EVER attempted and in the happiest of voices I said, “Good morning! It's nice to see you!” He only stared back. In fact, he looked pissed. He didn't even acknowledge how strong I must be to have overcome my internal struggle against darkness to express a happy sentiment right upon awakening. Had I done it wrong? Was he trying to get back at me? Reversing the roles so I know how I appear in the mornings? He was glaring at me. I took another breath thinking I would try again when he blinked once in annoyance and said, with anger in his voice, “we slept in. I missed my train to New York.” I have since gone back to being single as well as hating mornings. Clearly false optimism doesn't make anything better and it's too exhausting to keep it up.

And so there I was on the bus, aiming my morning death-stare out the window so as not to accidentally lock eyes with another passenger, and fuming about my knitting. Of all the sweaters that I've knitting for myself over the years, how many of them do I wear on a regular basis, I wondered? None. Scarves? Perhaps one or two. Hats? It turns out I don't wear hats. Nor do I wear cowls. In fact, my personal tastes don't really gravitate towards man-shawls, accessories, or bright colors at all. I have been knitting quite consistently for about seven years now – has all that time, energy, and money been wasted? “If I don't wear 90% of the crap that I make, what's the point?” thought my 7am self.

Back in the fall I was asked to knit a sample sweater to be displayed in my LYS. The idea was that the sweater be displayed for a few months and then I get to take it home. I thought about all the sweaters in the back of my closet that I never wear. This one's too heavy. I don't like that collar. That one is scratcy. Pullovers make me overheat. One thing I realized as I was mentally tossing through my wardrobe was that I hadn't completed a sweater for myself in about 4 years. That's more than half my knitting life. More importantly, though, was that maybe – just maybe – I've learned a thing or two about knitting in that intervening time and a thing or two about myself as well. And so with this store sample I was determined to create a sweater not that I would want to knit, but one that I would want to wear.

And that was my revelation. I wasn't relating to my knitting anymore because my focus had shifted. For years I have chosen patterns because I thought they looked like fun. They had interesting stitches, intriguing construction techniques, dapper models. I would see a pattern and think, “I'd like to knit that” while rarely giving voice to the second question. The one that was giving me so much grief on the bus - “Will I actually wear that?” I often find myself entranced by a pattern, thinking, “If I owned that, I, too, would be effortlessly trendy. I'd flip my shawl around my neck, latte in hand and heads would turn to watch my better, more fashionable self strut down the sidewalk. I'd totally wear that” paying no heed to the fact that, in truth, my style is a hoodie and blue jeans, not chinos, styled hair, and a latte. I want my knitting to have a real, physical presence in my life. I want my hard work to be put to use, to be functional, to serve a purpose. Knitting, to me, isn't simply the act of creating fabric or a way to de-stress before bed. Knitting is a way to provide for myself and connect to our collective past through the act of making. I want to feel as though I'm contributing toward keeping this craft, these skills, our knowledge alive and it's not going to thrive in the back of my closet. When I started knitting I was all about the process. I would have a dozen projects on the needles. I didn't give any consideration to when I would finish anything because finishing wasn't the point. Knitting was the point. I've known for years now that my opinions have changed on that matter, but it wasn't until recently that I realized that finishing, triumphant as it is, holds little importance unless that item gets used. I took a step in the right direction with my sample sweater and now that I have it in my hands, I wear it all the time.

Pattern: Slade by Michele Wang from BT Men  Yarn: BrooklynTweed Shelter in Truffle Hunt

The process was simple – row after row of stockinette. A neutral color. A classic shape. But the end result was just what I had hoped for. A functional, wearable, fits-with-my-wardrobe sweater that I use. And you know what? When I wear it, I can almost picture that latte in my hand.  (I would have taken better pictures, but the wind chill was -35 today and I wasn't going to go out there if I didn't have to.)

I'm hoping my next sweater will be just as successful.

Back and start of front of Redford by Julie Hoover, BT Men  Yarn: BrooklynTweed Loft in Almanac

Friday, January 24, 2014

Guilt-Free


Last night I wrote a lengthy blog post about why I have been away for so long. I realized as I was nearing the third page that what I had intended as a blog post quickly became a stream of consciousness, getting my thoughts all out of my head and down on paper. I'm not going to make you read that post, but it did help me recognize that I miss blogging and have been keeping myself away from it for unjustified reasons.

This past month has been a difficult one for me. My job ended before the holidays and I have spent the past few weeks trying to find a new one to no avail. My days are full of uncertainty and the ever-present feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy. I try to stay positive and optimistic, but there's always that constant voice in the back of my mind whispering to me about how I'm a failure, that I'm no good, that I'm not trying hard enough.

Through it all, I've been knitting. I've been knitting every day, and you know what that voice says? “You're wasting your time.” “You don't deserve to be knitting.” “Stop being lazy.” It must be my Catholic upbringing resurfacing. Feeling guilty for trying to relax. But I do it anyway because I know - and you know - that knitting is so much more than a way to use up spare time. Knitting has given me something to hold on to, a way to push that voice away that says I'm not good at anything. Knitting is the constant in my life that keeps me grounded when it seems like everything else is up in the air.

It's for these reasons that I've kept myself away from the blog. I didn't want any of my negativity to work its way into my posts and I didn't want others to look at my posts and think, “that's what you spent your day doing?” That's just projection – my own voice and feelings of guilt resurfacing. And the truth is that yes, that's what I spent my day doing. I also spent my day practicing clarinet for several hours to prepare for upcoming auditions, doing chores, running errands, networking, tweaking my resume, etc. But this is a knitting blog, so I'm going to talk primarily about what I've been knitting and will most likely leave out the other 22 hours of my day. Knitting is important to me, especially now, and I want to continue to share that with all of you because you guys understand. You have my back, and sometimes what you need is someone to simply say, “it's ok. You'll get through this. Just keep knitting.”

And so I will.

Would you like to see what I've been working on? For Christmas, instead of buying everyone a gift, everyone in my family pulls a name out of a hat on Thanksgiving. Every year this process gets a bit more complicated as we add husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, and nieces and nephews to the mix. My youngest sister, tech savvy as she is, came up with the idea for everyone to upload a wish list onto Google Docs so they can be seen by everyone else. (I still have trouble with this every year. I always have to ask my brother to help me figure out how to make it work.) This year I pulled my sister's name (Sister #4) and just by luck, one item on her list began “If a knitter pulled my name...” She requested a charcoal headband with a flower.

I have to confess - and I can't blame my colorblindness for this because it's gray – but I don't know what the color “charcoal” looks like. So I had three options, three different grays, but in the end I went with Ultra Alpaca. Apparently my other two choices were too dark to be charcoal.


I used the pattern Knit Earwarmer with Crochet Flower by Ashlee Prisbrey.  It's a free pattern that Sister #5 posted on Sister #4's wish list asking "Something like this?"  See how Google Docs can be helpful with things like this?


It became painfully obvious that I have no idea how to crochet when it was time to make the flower.  I tried four times and I assure you that this one is the best of the bunch in the way that it sort of resembles a flower instead of something I pulled from the trash.


I love this button.  I think it's a perfect fit for the project.  It did start at the end of the headband, but it turned out to be too large for my sister, so I had to relocate it.  It was still too large, though, so after these pictures, I took the button off, ripped out a bunch of the headband (nearly 4") and fixed it up so the button is now back on the end.  This is why knitting is superior to store-bought items - it's customizable.


A friend of mine had also asked if I could make her a headband this winter.  They're apparently a hot item to have this season.  I used the same pattern, but left out the flower on hers.


The yarn is Shibui Merino Alpaca in the Cypress colorway.


Then I made my brother a long overdue scarf.  He asked for one last year and I bought the yarn, but unfortunately never got around to making the scarf.  Perhaps that's a good thing, because this year he no longer wanted a gray scarf, he wanted a green one.  With cables.


This is one of those projects that once it was finished and dry, I had a very hard time giving it away.  I used what I consider to be the ultimate in luxury - Zealana Rimu DK in the Kiwicrush colorway.  Made with 40% New Zealand Possum, I have never met a yarn that was warmer, softer, or had such an incredible halo as this.  (And it has the price tag to match...)  For this scarf I used four balls and it ended up being a generous length - perhaps 6 feet.


I love how the halo of the dark possum fiber adds such depth to the cables.  The pattern is Quay by Jared Flood.  The cables were a little more involved than I anticipated, but the pattern was intuitive and I had it memorized after the first repeat.  I had to bring out the cable needle for this project, though.

This winter I have been making good use of my handknit socks.  I've never been a capital S Sock Knitter, but this winter I have begun to embrace the merits of a nice pair of wool socks.  Mostly, and you'll find this absurd I'm sure, I've realized how much warmer my feet are when my ankles are covered.  I only buy ankle socks, so imagine my surprise when I put on a pair of wool socks - with legs! - and discovered how wonderful they feel.  It's a no brainer, but somehow it never occurred to me.

So now that I am actually wearing my handknit socks, I don't have enough.  I'm working on rectifying that.


I took this picture while I was driving my brother back to school in Madison.  (Or, rather, he was doing the driving.  I was doing the knitting.)  These socks are an exact replica of the last pair I made and showed you briefly in this post.  Malabrigo sock in a simple k2, p1 rib.  These new ones are in the Ivy colorway.  I have read a number of poor reviews on the durability of this yarn and even mentioned in my other post that I didn't think my socks were going to last very long, but I have worn that pair several dozen times now and they are no worse for wear.  They continue to be my favorite, most comfortable pair.  The sock above is now done and I'm slowly working on the second one while I practice.  That's what I use sock knitting for - practice breaks.   Practice for half an hour, knit two rounds on the sock, etc.  It's a good incentive for me as it gives me a reason to take necessary breaks and keeps me occupied so I don't wander off or stare at my music stand for five minutes.

While I'm not working on those socks, I've started another sweater for display in my LYS, The Yarnery.  (That reminds me, I have to show you the other one I made.  It's the only handknit sweater I actually wear.)


Am I lucky or what?  Who could resist a beautiful pile of BrooklynTweed Loft in the Almanac colorway - a wonderful, rich blue.  It is on its way to becoming Redford from the BT Men collection.  The best part is that after it has been displayed for several months, I get to keep the sweater for myself.

Ok, enough is enough.  I actually do have to go practice some more now.  It's nice to be back!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Brittany and I would like you wish you all a Merry Christmas!


I finished about 20% of my holiday knitting, which is about what I expected.  However, I did make that snazzy hat for Brittany on size 0000 needles.  I wonder if that had something to do with it...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

One A Day

I'm not generally one for holiday knitting.  It's not that I'm averse to deadline knitting - I have knitting deadlines all year long for samples.  I think part of the reason I don't take on holiday knitting is that I have 11 siblings and if you knit for one... I'm sure you can see how that ends.

It happens this time of year, however, that people begin to drop hints at knitters' doorsteps.  "Wow, isn't that cowl great?"  "I sure could use a scarf in this weather!"  "Do you know where I could get some nice, warm mittens?"  And so, although I lacked every conscious intention to knit for the holidays, it seems that this pile of yarn is supposed to somehow become wearable objects in the next ten days.


I think I can do it if I try.  Although knowing me I'll hit Christmas with about 25% of the intended knitting done, and none of it equaling a single completed item. That picture represents nine items.  I can do that, right?  That's just like... one a day!  I intend to finish (and start) two of them today because they're gifts for a friend I'm seeing tomorrow and then tomorrow I plan on starting and finishing two more, which would give me eight days to knit five items and that's still beginning to sound a little crazy, but doable.  Right?  Right?  Oh crap, I just remembered about two more things I forgot to include in that picture...

I'll keep you updated.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A New Chapter

Well, here I am again in familiar terrain.  Absent from the blog far too long, out of practice when it comes to writing, and full of unrelated thoughts, projects, and photos I would like to share.  It's hard to know where to begin, but perhaps it will all fall into place when I start to write.  (As if that ever happens.)

Today is my birthday.  I don't consider it to be a particularly significant day.  Sure, 26 years ago it was significant, but year to year I find it to be less a cause for celebration and more a time for reflection.  A time to consider your place - where are you at this moment?  What brought you to this place?  Where will you go from here?  Many people consider the New Year to be a starting point, a time to check in with one's goals, make new resolutions and let go of bad habits.  I don't see why a birthday should be any different.  After all, I personally measure myself in terms of years not related to a calendar, but my own life.  Perhaps this day is significant after all.  It's raining outside...  (he says as he pauses to look out the window.)

I spent the morning at my favorite bookstore and purchased a few new additions for my bookshelf.  It's always so peaceful to be in that shop.  The owner/author Louise Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountains Chippewa tribe whose reservation is not far from my cabin in North Dakota.  I like to read her books and see in my mind the towns and areas that she references.  It's like seeing the same thing with very different eyes.  This afternoon I sat at a cafe and wrote some letters to friends and now this evening I think I'll sit inside and knit.  All in all I think it's going to be a perfect rainy birthday.

So that covers today, but what about the past few months?  Let's do a quick recap:

After a few months of unemployment I got a job again, which is contributing factor #1 to the demise of this blog.  This is now my view every day.


Contributing factor #2 is that I was preparing for an audition, which means that when I wasn't staring at those computer screens, I was staring at a music stand... and not much else.  I didn't win the audition, but I did travel to Colorado Springs for it.


Silver linings and all that.

I honestly haven't been doing a whole lot worth reporting despite my lengthy absence.  I did get away from the cities for a brief trip to northern Minnesota - Lutsen, to be precise, for a bluegrass festival.  My best friend's husband plays mandolin and she begged me to come along and keep her company with promises of hiking and hot tubs.


That there is part of the Superior Hiking Trail which, now that I know it exists, I would love to hike sometime.  It's 275 miles long.  That's a bit of a commitment.


And that room there is actually where I slept.  Not in the tub, but on the floor next to it.  We stayed in a condo that we rented for the weekend (Lutsen is essentially a ski resort) and all the other rooms were occupied with other bluegrass players.  I didn't know the lake was right there until I woke up in the morning thinking, "What is that incessant noise?"  It was waves crashing on the rocks.  I have no idea how something so massive managed to stay so well hidden when I arrived.


As for knitting, I have a small collection of projects that aren't necessarily newly finished, just somewhat neglected.  I finished a pair of socks a while ago in Malabrigo Sock and they really might be my favorite pair so far.  I can't imagine they'll last for very long, though, the yarn being what it is.


I also recently used some handspun to knit a hat for my niece/nephew.  The intended recipient was rather generalized as it was contingent more on who it would fit than anything else.




Yes, darling, that's a beautiful belly button.  (iPhone photos and moving children.  Whatcha gonna do.)  I decided the hat fits both of them, so I'm just going to knit a second one and call it a day.  (It's actually almost finished.)  Oh, and before I forget, the pattern is Quynn by Woolly Wormhead.  Adorable.

And then just today I finally got around to taking photos of a hat I finished, oh... I don't know.  Two months ago?  That's the first thing I did this morning - enjoyed the silence of the woods by the Mississippi river.



Cables and Lace Beret by Michele Wang in the recommended yarn, Road to China Light.



Alright guys, I have a book and a warm cup of tea with my name on it, so I'll end here.  Take care.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Writers On Knitting

I realize I've been gone for a while and hopefully soon I'll show you what I've been up to (because it clearly hasn't been blogging), but for today I wanted to bring to your attention a wonderful piece of writing by one of my favorite authors, Barbara Kingsolver.  In the latest edition of Orion Magazine is a piece by Kingsolver about knitting.  I am constantly in awe of her way with words, the way she can so perfectly put into words those feelings and emotions that I thought could only be felt, but never expressed.  And here I am again at a loss (I've deleted the rest of this paragraph more than once), unable to describe in words how easily her writing is able to reach into that deepest part of your being and express the truth, pen to paper, of an experience, belief, emotion... that pure humanness that connects us all.

Here's a link to her article, I suggest you all read it.  She has managed to capture so beautifully what knitting means to us.  And not just making hats or sweaters, but spinning, dying, shearing and raising sheep, sitting in a barn... everything.

And if you look closely at the bottom of the article, it mentions that this piece will be published in a book, Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting.  I have to say, if the other contributors to that book are as thought-provoking as Barbara Kingsolver, I'll be first in line when that book is published.

And just because I can't stop myself now that I'm talking about her writing, if you're dying to read more of her work, may I recommend Animal Dreams?  The characters she creates in that book are so heartbreakingly raw and vulnerable, and relatable, that you can't help but be moved by the story.  I made the mistake of reading it in public while traveling and found myself unable to stop crying in the Minneapolis airport, in the Dallas airport, and 20,000 feet above the ground.  It was so moving and therapeutic.  It was exactly what I needed.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Decluttering

I have to admit, it felt kind of nice to give myself permission to wrap up projects so that I could move on with less clutter and no more (or rather, fewer) unfinished projects weighing on my conscience.

I rather quickly plied up the two ounces of fiber that I had spun so I could get a new project on my wheel.


I think it came out pretty well at around 600 yards to 2oz.  Less yardage than I actually expected, but I'm happy with it (and even more happy that it's done.)  The fiber was from Knitnzu in a colorway from Spunky Eclectic that she selected just for me.


Despite it taking forever, the fiber itself was a joy to spin and I do look forward to spinning the other two ounces at some point.  The fiber is 80% mixed BFL and 20% silk.  Yum.

I dove into my fiber stash and found a bit of mystery fiber with no label, but I'm assuming it was mixed BFL.  There was only one ounce, which was perfect because I wanted instant gratification after that long-term project.


I had it spun and plied in less than two hours.  I wanted to try out chain plying to keep the colors separated and I think it worked out pretty well.  85 yards and no idea what I'm going to do with it, but it served its purpose.

After I finished that colorful yarn, I spent a bit of time playing around with different fibers just to play.  I never created a finished yarn, but simply sampled and tried different things out.  Then a few days ago I selected my next bump of fiber to spin up and got started.


Before I knew it, I had spun up the whole 4oz. in an afternoon.  The fiber is Coopworth dyed by Dan at Gnomespun.  Coopworth is a cross between Romney and Border Leicester, which gives it a longer fiber length that is relatively coarse.  The fiber was prepared as roving and there was no way it was going to spin into a smooth, lustrous single, so I did what I could to emphasize the fuzziness of the yarn.  I think the fiber is robust enough to create a fuzzy yarn that will still resist pilling and will wear quite well.  This is destined to become a 3-ply yarn.

And as for my weaving?  I simply cut it off the loom and hung it on my wall as is.


I'm actually quite enamored with the unfinished quality of it.  I didn't bother dealing with any loose ends, nor did I do hemstitching or secure those loose warp threads.  It won't last forever, but for now I kind of like it.