Don’t Step On the Mome Raths aka Stop Choking Your Yarn

A few weeks ago, I started knitting a shawl for myself.  I’m making up the pattern as I go along, just kind of feeling it out.  I have an idea of what I want it to look like, but I know that sometimes what one sees in their head does not translate into something that one can actually create through knitting, so I’m definitely leaving myself open to changing this vision as I go.  The one thing I know is that this project will work with several different yarns and have STRIPES – after all, everyone loves stripes.

I’m working with a few different yarns, all the same base – Madelinetosh Sock.  I really adore Madelinetosh, and this is one of my favourite yarn bases.  It’s just the right amount of twist and sproing, without being so tightly twisted that it hurts to work with, as some yarns do.  I started by using this skein:

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As you can see, it’s an older skein – just look at that tag!  The colour is Scarlet, and it’s just the right shade of red for what I have in mind.  I bought this off of someone on Ravelry, and it came to me in that caked form.  Now, I’m not a fan of yarn that has been previously caked by someone else for several reasons.  To start with, caking stretches out and stresses the yarn fibers if it is either caked too tightly or has been sitting in its caked form for too long.  I cake yarn just before I’m going to begin a project, and if it’s a project that will take multiple skeins, I typically only cake the first skein at the beginning.  I know that I can be easily distracted by other projects, the change in weather, or that I can suddenly realize that this yarn and this project are not going to work out at all.  If I had caked all 6 skeins that I needed for a sweater from the beginning, I would be left with sad little cakes that were slowly losing the bounce in their yarn.  In this type of situation, it’s best to reskein the yarn so that the fiber isn’t being stretched and stressed – my friend Sarah did this amazing post on how to skein your yarn for free, no equipment needed.

In this instance, I didn’t reskein that cake because I thought I was going to cast on for the shawl much sooner than I did…now I realize I probably should have just reskeined it because that cake was definitely wound too tightly.  This is something that I’ve seen people do before, and it always frightens me.  I’ve seen people choke up when balling yarn by hand, and I’ve seen people wind a cake of yarn so swiftly on a ball winder that the fibers have no choice but to be stretched by the process.  I’ve known people who wind the yarn *so* tightly by hand or by cake that you could probably bludgeon someone with their finished ball and do some serious damage.  Years ago, someone on Ravelry posted a fantastic picture of what happens to yarn when it’s been wound only once on a ball winder, and Sarah explained the differences beautifully:

“I know someone who has a trick for keeping her yarn caked but making sure that it is done loosely enough so that it doesn’t stretch the yarn. According to ______, you recake your yarn by first caking it on the swift and then you remove it from the swift and recake the cake. Wow. That sounds confusing. Here’s what she has to say about it:

Basically the tension it takes for the ballwinder to turn the swift around stretches out the yarn.  If you leave it caked in the original cake, the yarn stays stretched out – but will return to its original state once you wash it.  Which will mess up your gauge.  If you recake, you take that tension off the yarn and it’ll stay in good condition.  Once I finish the first cake, I take it off the ballwinder and rewind from cake to cake.

Here’s a picture of a two of her yarns, one caked originally and the other already recaked. Isn’t that CRAZY how tightly the first cake looks in comparison to the second?! The really interesting this is that the first cake isn’t badly done – it’s nice and squishy and seems nice – but it is actually too tight.”

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Crazy, right?  Look at those two cakes next to each other – it’s like the one on the right has doubled in size simply by allowing the yarn to breathe. 

I kept thinking of this image as I was starting to wind up the second ball of yarn at knitting this Saturday.  I like to handwind my yarn using a nostepinne – something that occasionally baffles the women in my knitting group, no matter how many times I do it in front of them or explain it.  I like to interact with the yarn before I knit with it – hand winding it gives me that chance to see what it feels like, how it moves, what the structure of it is like and how that might translate into a garment.  I like to see if there are knots or splits, is there a ton of vegetable matter, parts where the yarn things out….basically, what is this thing that I’m going to be working with.  I do have a ball winder and swift, and they’re both high level, professional grade items – but I don’t really like to use them that much because I love hand winding more.  I pull them out when I have multiple skeins to do for bigger projects – sweaters and blankets and the like – and have already gotten to know one of the skeins from hand winding and knitting it before.  After all, no one really wants to wind up 2000 yards of yarn, 100 yards at a time!

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Personally, I always like to ball the yarn before I begin to wind it up on my nostepinne.  I’ve just discovered that I can wind it more easily that way.  Sometimes skeined yarn sticks to itself and then can tangle, and it’s hard to deal with all those little moments of strings crossing over one another when you’re trying to wind an even cake on a nostepinne. 

(BTW, how pretty is this skein?  I love it – it’s the Citrus colour of Madelinetosh, and it just glows.)

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Now, I knew that the Scarlet had been caked for too long and had probably been done on a ball winder – just look at these two cakes side by side:

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Notice how much taller the Citrus is in comparison?  It also just looks more tidy, in my opinion, less likely to collapse in on itself as you work with it.  But it wasn’t until I started knitting with the two yarns together that I realized how stressed the fibers in the Scarlet had been – I had suspected that it was wound too tightly as I had been knitting with it already.  Every now and then, the yarn would get stick coming out of the center pull, trapped on the tightness of the inside of the ball, and then a huge yarn barf would pull out as it tried to release itself.  In my experience, yarn barf is generally a sign that the ball was wound too tightly.  But when I looked at the yarns side by side, I realized that the Scarlet was most definitely damaged:

ImageJust look at how thin and stretched out the Scarlet looks compared with the Citrus.  It’s almost like I’m holding two different weights of yarn, isn’t it?  The big difference is that the Citrus still has breathing room, still has elasticity.  The Scarlet was wound too tightly and then held in that position for too long, so it’s elasticity has gone away.  I’m hoping this doesn’t result in something insane happening when it hits the water for the blocking process.  The crimping in the Scarlet is in large part due to it staying in the cake for too long – and really, who knows how long it was caked like this in the previous owner’s stash before coming to me – but it’s also a reflection of how tightly something was wound.  You want your yarn to draw easily out of a center pull ball – that’s one of the main reasons for making it into that form!  If you can’t easily put your fingers into the hole in the middle of your center pull ball, it’s probably wound too tightly.  You want to be able to be able to squish it, to feel the ball moving when you give it a squeeze.

So please, please please – don’t strangle your yarn.  Some people naturally wind tighter than others do, just as some people have much tighter tension.  If that’s the case, use props – wind your yarn around a ball, then pull it out, or use a nostepinne or lint brush or a ball winder.  All of these things are designed to help give your yarn space to breathe once you remove it from the tool.  And if you still wind up with a cake that’s hard as a rock, just rewind it again.  Re-caking yarn usually results in a larger cake the second time around…and really, who doesn’t want more cake?

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Mistakes That We Love

Sometimes, I think that non-knitters misunderstand what knitting is actually about.  I think that they look at what we’re creating and honestly believe that we are going to always create perfect finished objects.  That sweater we’re working on will always fit like a dream, the hat will be just the right amount of tightness, softness, and warmth, and the mittens will fit…well, like a glove. *Wink*

Anyone who believes that has probably never really created something by hand.  You know what makes perfectly sized garments every time?  Machines.  Machines can make the same socks in the same size with the same tension over and over and over again.  They will always fit the same way, always have the same thickness.  That’s what a machine is for.  When you make something by hand, you suddenly belong to the “good enough” school of thought.  As in, “Shoot, I don’t have enough yarn to do full-length sleeves on this sweater…oh well, I guess I’ll do elbow length sleeves…yeah, that’ll be good enough!”  As in, “Darn it, I made a huge mistake when I was reading the colour charts on this sweater, and now I have this wacky motif way down at the bottom edge…I guess I’ll just do it on the edge of the sleeves too, so that it looks like part of the design…that should be good enough!”  We have to constantly reinvent, tinker, riff like we’re scatting on a jazz melody in order to get our projects to work for us.  And sometimes, dear reader, we have to come up with that creative decision making only when the project is fully finished.

 

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These socks are a perfect example of that.  These are my Jaywalker socks, and I love them.  I just love those colours, love that they look a little bit stripey but also a bit flash-y in certain spots.  The yarn is Neighborhood Fiber Co Watershed, and I love the way it wears, the way it was to work with it.

The issue with these socks isn’t in the way they fit, or the way they wear, or they way they feel.  They don’t do that obnoxious things that some socks do of falling down and pooling in your shoes.  No, friends, the problem with these socks is putting them on.  Many people before me have commented on the tightness of this stitch pattern.  Because of the way the increases and decreases work and line up, they make for a very tight fabric, very non-stretchy.  I had heard this before I cast on and started working on these socks, so I tried to be mindful as I was going.  I tried on the first sock several times as I was making it, but it all seemed to be going well.  The problem didn’t come until halfway down the foot part of the sock.  What has been going on easily up to that point suddenly became overwhelmingly tight.  Something about the combination of the stitch pattern, the non-stretchiness of the bamboo in the yarn, and the entire thing being joined into the 3D bend that is a sock suddenly made that tightness so obvious it wasn’t even funny.  I had worried about casting on 76 stitches, about that being way too many, but suddenly, it didn’t seem like enough.  For some reason, I completed both of the socks anyway without ripping back or changing it…I don’t remember why now, maybe I was just ready to be done.

In order to put the socks on, I have to do what I call ballerina toes – I have to point my foot down, perfectly straight, trying to make my heel vanish as much as is possible.  I have to inch that fabric up and over my heel a little at a time until it can slip on all of the way.  When I take them off, I do the process in reverse.

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But here’s the thing…I love these socks.  They fit like a dream once they’re on.  They look fantastic with everything, and they’re usually at the top of the pile of socks that I wear after laundry day.  Would I knit them differently if I had to do it over again?  Totally.  I would probably bump up to a size 2 needle.  But would I ever rip them out or trash them or give them away for being difficult to put on?  Never.  These socks take me a full minute apiece to put on sometimes.  Think about the absurdity of that statement – when is the last time that it took you that long to put on a pair of socks, let along a single one of them?  But these socks are worth it.  They’re a little extra struggle in the getting on, but once they’re on, they’re just heaven.

These are the mistakes that we love.  These are the problems we have because we are not machines…but in my heart, I know that it makes me love these socks all the more.  These weren’t created by a mindless, soul-less piece of metal.  These were made by me, for me, out of yarn that I loved and petted and treasured.  These were socks that I was excited to complete and now, they’re socks that I’m excited to wear.  These are lovely, beautiful, durable, and imperfect – just the way a handknit item should be.

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Haven’t I Been Here Before?

I’ve recently picked up an old project of mine…I mean OLD old.  I haven’t counted it as a WIP in years because the last time I worked on it, I completely ripped it out.  The pattern is Ljod by Elsebeth Lavold.  (Sidebar – how much do you love the name Elsebeth?  I just love how it feels on my tongue.  Elsebeth – lovely!)  The last time that I worked on it, I was still in graduate school to get my counseling psych degree, and I have strong memories of it being maybe only the end of the first year or early on in the second year when I was working on this.  After that, I mostly did socks and hats in my grad school classes, for ease of carrying.  So if my timeline is correct, I believe I might have last worked on this sweater about 5 years ago…that’s a long long time.  My sister, Iselin, was working on a different pattern from Viking Knits at about the same time, which was how I stumbled across this one.  (I’m fairly certain that she never finished that one…I feel like she hated the way it looked when she was just about done, or maybe she was fed up with the yarn…)  I just loved the simplicity of the design and the feel that it would always be lovely and warm.

And yet, somehow, I tried to make this darn thing about 4 or 5 times before calling it quits.  I never got terribly far – I think I might have made it just about to the end of the cables, which finish just about 30 rows after the ribbing, and then I would rip out and start again, or try to ladder down to change things and wind up having to rip anyway because my Macgyver-ing skills were not what they are now, particularly with intricate cables.  I remember just hating how the cables were looking – with the transition from knit to purl stitches, they were just looking all ladder-y and gap-y, and I kept trying to tighten them to make them stop misbehaving.  But something about them was un-fixable – I think that it was the yarn and the pattern just not working well together.  I became frustrated enough that I just frogged the whole mess, put the yarn and the pattern into a bag, and shoved it to the back of whatever passed for my stash back then.  (This was long enough ago that I think I might have still been a monogamous knitter, with only enough yarn for the single project I was working on.  But it was also the time period that was the beginning of the end of all that.  I know this for fact because I remember where I bought the yarn from – Knit One in Pittsburgh.  And I remember who I was with – Sarah.  And I’m fairly certain this was one of the first if not THE first times that we went into a yarn store together….and that, friends, is the beginning of the story of how I acquired so much stash.)  But over the years, I’ve wanted more and more to use up all of those old yarns that beginning knitter me fell in love with and when the Start-itis hit the other week, this was one of the old projects I reached for. 

To start with, I know that at some point, it will become mindless knitting.  Those cables are really the only difficult part of the whole sweater, unless you count increases and decreases as something you need to pay attention to and concentrate on, which I really don’t.  So once I clear those, I just know that I’ll be able to do this sweater in all the places where I can knit but need to be able to ignore the knitting – staff meetings, movies, as a break from the very intricate lace knitting I’m doing for the wedding canopy.  But also, I really hate the idea that this project would never be completed purely because I was unhappy with the cables.  5 or 6 years ago is a long time now…it’s very possible that I’ll be able to figure out a way to make this work that past Hester couldn’t figure out.  Or, at the very least, I can give up the idea that this yarn will *ever* be suitable for this project and let that dream go…although I hope not.

Speaking of the yarn…I can tell that early knitter Hester bought this particular yarn.  How can I tell, you ask?  Well, the pattern specifically calls for Elsebeth Lavold’s Silky Wool, which is a DK weight.  What did I buy?  I bought Simply Shetland Silk and Lambswool, which is most definitely a fingering weight yarn.

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I can just hear past Hester’s thought process on this one.  “Well, it’s silk and wool, so it’s the right fiber content, and besides, the Silky Wool is fairly lightweight too…besides, if I can get the gauge, that’s all that matters!”  Now I still think that kind of thought process is fairly accurate.  After all, it’s not like you can’t make adjustments to make something fit the way you need it to.  As long as you can hit the gauge, or do basic math to do a size up or down depending on your needs, you’ll usually be okay.  But present Hester would probably never have bought a sweater’s weight worth of fingering yarn, somehow thinking that would be definitely workable for what is clearly supposed to be a heavier weight sweater. 

But sitting down and trying to make this sweater again, I’m getting such a sense of deja vu.  Past me definitely took notes on the swatch and the needle size and went through the pattern, dutifully underlining the correct size instructions throughout.  But when I make a mistake or struggle with a direction, I definitely get that feeling of “Haven’t I been here before?” in terms of my thought process, and it’s weird.  I’m knitting the sweater body as all one piece, of course – it still never makes sense for me to do things in pieces if it can be helped.  Did past Hester do that?  I didn’t think she did, but I started to change that thought process when I was struggling to do the set-up rows right after the cast on.  For some reason, I was losing count of which sections were supposed to be k1p1 and which ones were straight garter stitch.  I finally had to write it all out in number form at the bottom of the chart page…and as I did that, I had what I think was a memory of past Hester cursing and writing out that same number combination on the bottom of a piece of paper with diagnostic charts on it, looking at the 4 quadrants of what can affect a person’s mental health.  It’s not anywhere on the pattern, but there it was in my memory.  And that mistake that I made and realized on row 5 of the chart, where I totally misread the number of stitches which are supposed to be purled in the 28 stitch section, thinking mistakenly that you k2, p24, then k2 to complete the 28 stitch section, only to realize when I needed to count to begin the increases that those two knit stitches on either side of the purls were actually from the stockinette section on either side of the 28 stitch section, and were only there to help you see the decreases…I know I made that mistake before and had to drop down those 2 stitches on either side of all those purls, to ladder them back up and create them as purl stitches…in fact, isn’t that one of the reasons that I ripped back and started over again?  Wasn’t I so irritated with how much laddering that created in that little section, since this yarn is *beyond* unforgiving in terms of hiding mistakes that I went back to the transition from the ribbed edging and started over from there?  I feel like that’s something I did then.  (I’m trying not to do that this time, that’s an annoying task I’d rather not do.)  Yes, this all feels very familiar.

But the moment that really hit home for me and made me realize that past Hester and present Hester still struggle with some of the same mistakes was one from today.  I’m sitting here, about to start the decreases that run up the sides of the cables to make that lovely little triangle panel…and I’m suddenly all flumoxed.  Which two stitches an I knitting together?  Which way should I move the stitch marker when I do that?  Why does it look so odd to have those decrease stitches right next to those purl stitches – and does it really want me to do k2tog and ssk as a decrease – wouldn’t purl 2 together be much less visible?  Or is that not what we’re going for here?  I remember this moment, coming to a standstill in the middle of a pattern that I thought I understood, and wishing that the writing on it were just a little bit clearer so that I felt like I knew where the pattern designer was coming from, rather than feeling like the one person who doesn’t understand it.  I remember looking at other people’s project pages on Ravelry, not finding anyone else having the issue that I was, and staring at their photos carefully in the hopes that I could get some sort of idea of what Elsebeth wanted me to do from a visual aid.

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Bring it on, sweater…I’m hoping that older, wiser me can take it…

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Third Time’s the Charm

Sometimes, I just feel like I’m juggling things and not doing a great job of it.  Work, personal life, knitting, family time, all those good things.  These past few weeks have been really jam-packed for me, and that’s great in a lot of ways.  I’ve spent a good chunk of time visiting with various family members and doing fun stuff with them, wedding planning marathons with Joel as well as taking care of some of the bigger projects around our home, doing a really thorough cleaning to prepare for not only out of town company but also for having family over for dinner, game nights, and just general merriment.  We’ve switched over to a whole new database at work and I’ve been going all OCD with making sure that every single client I’ve ever seen is not only in the database but is also correctly listed – some of my clients that are open are listed as “do not serve” or “no-show” or “wait-list”, and clients that have been closed for years are identified as still active.  It’s one of those tasks that no one specifically asked me to do – going through old files and making sure they’re up to date – but that I really wouldn’t be able to feel good about not doing.  I think that if I had been with the company a few years longer or had a bigger and more unmanageable caseload, I would feel different.  But the purpose of the new database is to give a full view of the information we have on each person.  If a client from 3 years ago resurfaces, I want our intake coordinator to not only see that she or he came in for services before but that they worked with me as a therapist or no-showed 3 times before finally being closed.  That sort of thing.  It was slow going at first, but now the end is in sight (I’m fairly certain I can have gone through all of my files by the end of the day on Friday), and I really feel like I’m crushing it.

But I still just feel like I haven’t done the things I meant to or set out to do.  And that makes me think of those quiet periods that I adore so much, the ones where there’s nothing huge or pressing that I’m working on, not a lot of things scheduled on the calendar, and most of the items on my “do” list can easily be ignored until later.  The times when I relax on the couch with a book or my knitting or a movie and just enjoy the quiet.  I love those slow periods…but then I get into the middle of all of this busy-ness, and I think that if I had just crossed more stuff off of my “do” list during one of those moments, I wouldn’t feel the need to juggle so much.  I would have things accomplished and crossed off of the list already. 

I’ve been doing this mindfulness exercise this week from this book that I adore, “How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness”, which is to leave no trace.  You pick a room in the house and for that one week, you try to leave no trace of yourself behind when you leave that room.  Now I’ll be honest, I haven’t really been focusing solely on one room in the house, mostly because I feel like I have my hand in so many pies right now.  But it’s been making me think of the deeper lesson of this exercise, which is all of those “little things” that you need to do but put off to do until the next day.  How often do I put something insanely simple on my “do” list, like “Email So-and-So” or “Send Thank You Note to Blah Blah”.  These are always tasks that it would take me under 10 minutes to do, but I just bump them to the next day.  I know that it’s not like I’m sitting on the couch, eating bon-bons and letting my brain melt with daytime television…but it sometimes feels like that when I start to question why I didn’t just put the skein of yarn back into the cabinet rather than letting it sit on the end of the coffee table for 3 days to “remind me” to put it away.  Writing a quick entry in this blog has certainly been on that list for several weeks now.  It should be something I can do in 10 or 15 minutes without even really trying, but it becomes a task instead.  I don’t feel like I do a lot of time-wasting activities – I’m not the type of person to spend hours on the internet or social networking sites, I don’t zone out in front of random television and actually don’t even really turn on the TV unless I have something specific to watch…and yet somehow, there are still not enough hours in the day.  Maybe if I can re-mold my brain into seeing what balance truly is and figure out what it means to me to “leave no trace” of all the half-started projects of one’s life, I can start to see the 24 hours of the day differently.

Speaking of half-started projects, I am now on the *third* casting on of a project.  What monumentally difficult project is causing me so much grief, you ask?  Is it the wedding canopy?  The latest sweater?  Something devastatingly amazing looking that involves colourwork, cables, AND lace?  None of the above.  It’s a baby hat. It’s not even an unfamiliar baby hat – it’s a baby hat pattern that I have used and successfully finished at least half a dozen times before.  And I’ve nearly finished it the first two times that I worked on it this time…but then, almost always a dozen rounds from the finish line, I ripped it back out.  Why, you ask?  Extra yarn.  I know, I know, my desire to use up every last bit of yarn on a project will surely be the death of me…but honestly, what am I going to do with 49 extra yards of some random fingering weight yarn that I was already trying to use up by making this particular project with it?  This hat comes in 3 different sizes – 6 month, 12 month, and 24 month.  It’s adorably cute, and small, and portable, and I’ve done it so many times that I don’t even really need to think about what I’m doing, I just do.  I needed a little project to take with me to the movies, so I snagged this yarn and the needles, tucked it into my purse, and by the end of the film had finished the edging.  I kept going through staff meetings, and breakfasts with Megan, and episodes of Homeland with my uncle…and then during one of those episodes I realized that I still had a pretty big ball of that yarn left and not a lot of decreases to go.  I had cast on for the smallest size, but clearly, I had enough left over to probably bump up at least one.  So I ripped back and started over with the 12 month size.  On Saturday, after an exhausting day with Joel of painting the sunroom (which looks AMAZING now), I was watching the movie “Mud” – absolutely fabulous and not to be missed – and again within spitting distance of finishing…when once again, I looked down and realized I still had a baffling amount of yarn left over. 

So now I’m back at square one, making the size that should fit a 2 year old, and praying that when I get to those rotten decreases, I don’t once again have the urge to rip out and start over.  This project was supposed to be my travel knitting, a little palette cleanser while I work on huge and monumental projects like knitting a wedding canopy with laceweight yarn or knitting a sweater from a pattern that makes me wonder if the copy editor might have been hitting the sauce while writing up the opening instructions…and this hat, which will fit a wee little person’s head and should by no means be this difficult given the number of times I’ve successfully completed it, has been restarted more times than either one of those projects combined!

Ah well…at least I can cross one thing off of my “do” list.  Blog entry – done.

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The Stocking Is Hung

2 projects to do before Christmas, and one of them is done!  I spent a good chunk of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday working on my Christmas stocking and finished it last night.  I wanted to work on Joel’s slippers and complete them, but he and I just spent the whole weekend together, which was lovely and beautiful.  I know that we’ll be spending the next two days with various members of our family, so I’ll appreciate the quiet time later.  Some of my favourite times are when it’s just the two of us, relaxing on the couch in front of a roaring fire, reading or watching a movie. 

This pattern was just so lovely and easy to work with.  I really and truly loved it.  I have a thing for snowflakes – I’m discovering this more and more as I get over.  I looked at a really high number of knitting patterns and finally settled on this one.  There were a few others that looked tempting, but the comments and reviews of them were such that it made me think that they might not be a quick or easy knit.  Sometimes it seems like pattern designers have no idea how to actually knit, or maybe they just don’t know how to word a pattern.  Some of the problems seemed to come from people not being familiar with sock construction – I mean, what is a stocking other than an over large sock?  I used two blues, rather than red and green, because I love things that are holiday based without having to scream Christmas.  This pattern was very fast, since it was in bulky yarn, and not at all boring, since it was colourwork.  I loved that it was very easy for me to tinker with it – I did a row with my name on it, for example, and felt perfectly confident just bumping down the snowflake motifs that followed.  I finished it just as Joel was heading to bed for the night and forced him to stay for an extra minute to admire it.  I think that he was, frankly, shocked that I had finished it so quickly.  Not surprising – he usually watches me work on projects for months and months.  When was the last time I made something in a weekend?  He really loved it and had nothing but compliments for him.  When I told him that I’d happily make him a stocking, he looked at me for a moment and then said, “I thought you don’t take requests.”  Smart man, to remember that from my list of knitting rules…but for him, I’d make a stocking. 

His one complaint?  My stocking is now the biggest one on the mantle – looks like he might need to do some extra shopping to help fill it!  If I don’t get back to the computer before Christmas, have a happy one everybody.

 

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CRUNCH

Well, that little scrappy scarf that I thought I was nearly done with?  It took me another week after that post to complete it.  (At some point, I will actually dig out my camera and remember to edit photos to put in with these posts.  To do: Invent a day that is longer than 24 hours.)  This was mostly because, rather than just continuing with the brilliant plan I had come up with in the previous post, I began to doubt the wisdom of it.  I looked at all of those little scraps piling up and ending and thought, “This is going to be an absolute disaster.”  Even with my knowledge of weaving in ends as I go, I thought that this was going to just fall to pieces or look like a mess.  So what did I do?  The worst possible thing a knitter can do *ever* when they’re anxious, so far as I’m concerned.

I ripped back.

Now I know, some of you are wanting to explain to me the wisdom of ripping back to fix mistakes, and I have no issue with that.  None at all.  The type of ripping back that I’m talking about is entirely fear and anxiety driven.  The kind of blind ripping back you do when you know that you can’t possibly end the project the way you had originally intended or thought that you might, so you just go back to where you think the best place to start over and come up with a safety plan is.  Sometimes that works out just fine…but a lot of times, in my own experience, what happens is that you come back to the project the next day and realize that rather than ripping back you could have just __________.  There are probably half a dozen other solutions at any given time, but a lot of times all we can see is the project and how it’s not working and we operate off of that.  It has never failed me when I’ve set down a project and walked away from it for about 24 hours to have a think about what I intend to do.  If a solution isn’t apparent, then I can rip back knowing that at least I didn’t just give in to having a bad case of the willies.

This was not one of those times.  I ripped back and started doing the decreases in the triangle before.  But once I got close to the end of that, I could see that I had much much more yarn left over than I wanted.  So I ripped out *again*, tried a few other things that led to *more* ripping back, and finally, I went back to my original plan to incorporate the really wee scraps into the scarf.  I wound up doing it a little differently – using longer mini-skeins in combination with the scraps.  I also came across this fantastic video tutorial, courtesy of The Yarn Harlot, on knotting yarns together.  I really adore this – it’s just a square knot, but it’s so brilliant.  I’ve made knots like these endlessly on string necklaces to keep them from ever coming apart.  I didn’t snip off the ends of my yarn like she does in the video – what can I say, I’m a little nutty about not liking the act of cutting yarn, and particularly since I’d ripped back umpteen times at this point, I thought it best not to cut.  But it did make me feel more secure about the little wee bits of yarn not coming undone from one another.

Since then, I also created a fantastic cowl designed by Anne Hanson, as part of her Fall in Full Color club, which I am just loving the heck out of.  The yarn was amazing, the pattern was quick, fantastic, and traveled well for Thanksgiving time, and despite the fact that not one person has noticed or complimented me on this bright orange cowl, I think it’s awesome.  I am also very pleasantly surprised to discover that given the right outfit behind it, I can pull off wearing a bright orange item around my neck!

But now…oh now, now we have hit that deadly part of the year.  The one that makes me think of the phrase “Pride goeth before the fall.”  You all know what I mean – holiday time.  Crunch time.

Now, a lot of knitters wind up making tons of handknits for their friends and family at this time of year.  I’d like to pretend I’m one of those generous people but truly, I’m not.  I am, for want of a better title, a selfish knitter.  I have many reasons for that – most of them occurred within my first year of knitting.  I spent that first year making oodles of gifts for all of the people whom I love, only to start having suspicions after a time that those who do not create things by hand also do not *appreciate* the amount of effort that goes into anything created by hand.  I’ve given one of my friends several scarves that I’m not sure were ever worn by her.  Another friend got a sweater, one friend was given socks, there was that once incident with a baby blanket for a colleague that I shudder when I think about…In any case, I started to rethink what made a human being knitworthy and came up with a few protocols.

1) If you have a baby, that baby will get at least one handknit from me.  If I never see them wearing it, if I never get a photo of them wearing it, if you never mention to me how you just love that little hat – off the list.  At least until the child is old enough to ask my directly for a handknit.

2) If you never wear said knitted garment around me or never mention it in conversation ever again, you’re off the list.

3) Chances are that if you ask me directly for something, you’re not getting it.  This is mostly for the random strangers in coffee shops that come up and ask if I would make them a hat or handknit gloves or something else random.  I don’t know you – go away.

So clearly, I have standards that can make it difficult to get onto my list.  This doesn’t mean I never make things for anyone.  Two very special friends got socks from me because when they saw what I was knitting, they made simple remarks to the effect of, “Handknit socks are awesome, it’s brilliant that you can make those, how cool!”  They were right – socks are awesome, and for quite some time there they were my favourite things in the world to make.  My mother has gotten several things because – well, she’s my mother!  I’ve made things for friends purely because I wanted to – my friend Suzy adores squirrels, so she got a hat with squirrels on it one year.  It helped that she’s always given me knitting related gifts, which I appreciated.

All of this is a very long way of saying, my gift list is quite short.  This year, there will be only one handknit gift – slippers for Joel.  I promised him these slippers at the beginning of this year, when he showed signs of totally understanding me by raving over a pair of slippers I had made for myself.  You would think that, given the fact that Xmas falls at the same time every year, I would have just bought the yarn then, made the slippers, and set them aside.  You would be wrong.  Not ONLY did I not start then, I didn’t order the yarn for them until after Thanksgiving.  (I know, I know.)  Then, in some bizarre twist, KnitPicks took a week to ship the yarn – this has never happened to me before, so I presume it had to do with their massive sale that had been going on.  It took about a week for it to arrive, by which point I was panicking.  As a result, I only cast on for the slippers this past Saturday.  Now, I’m nearly done – I really just have the two soles to do, and then we’ll felt them together.  But…

…you knew there was a but, right?  No way am I freaking out about just a pair of quick-knit clogs….

…I also told Joel I would knit myself a Christmas stocking, since I don’t have my childhood stocking.  I should go raid my father’s house, I’m sure it’s hidden somewhere there.  But a handknit stocking is all kinds of nice and lovely, so that sounded like a plan.  Except that I didn’t start it.  And didn’t start it, and didn’t start it, and didn’t order the yarn from KnitPicks, and just figured out what pattern I want to use last week.  So in 4 days, I need to have a pair of slippers completed as well as a colourwork (did I mention it was colourwork?) stocking for myself.  CRUNCH.  This might be okay if I were the sort of person who could spend 4 days knitting…but I’d kind of like to get out of the house once or twice in the next few days, and I want to do some cooking and maybe even baking over the weekend…we’ll see.  I have all of my Christmas movies pulled out and ready for me to have a marathon tonight with them, and then we’ll just try to sort it out from there.  If it doesn’t get finished?  Oh well…there are always spare stockings hanging around…

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Still Not Quite

Nearly there…so very nearly, but just not yet.  In years past, I would have stayed up until 2 AM to get to the end of a project that I was so close to finishing, but a few years ago, I began to forsake that habit.  I’m not saying that I don’t still stay up late working on something…but the older I get and the more experience I get with knitting things, the more I know just how long it will actually take me to complete something, rather than the amount of time my brain thinks a thing will take.  Just hit the decreases on a hat?  Brain time estimate: 30-40 minutes till the end.  Real time estimate: Probably no less than 2 hours or if so, just barely under.  Only need to do 6 rows of a button band that runs the length of the sweater and bind off?  Brain time estimate: Maybe an hour.  Real time estimate: At least double that, probably more.  Binding off a shawl with 500+ stitches on the border?  Brain time estimate: 15 minutes.  Maybe 20.  Real time estimate: The rest of the night.

Part of me not staying up until 2 AM is my age, I’m sure.  I realize more and more that I can’t do what I did in college – functioning on just a few hours of poor sleep.  When I miss a good night’s rest, it can sometimes throw off my sleep for the rest of the week as I try to readjust.  But part of the switch is also that I noticed such a difference when I began to get about 7 hours of sleep at night.  I noticed that I had more energy during the rest of the day, woke up in a better mood, had more an appetite for breakfast instead of skipping it.  I know that these are all “duh” things that we’re told over and over again by everyone who has ever spent any time looking at the human body, brain, and sleep connection – this is certainly something I’ve told clients repeatedly over the years.  But to actually feel the change it made was a wonder.  There’s a reason why most of us make the same mistakes we watch other people make – we are primarily experiential learners.

But oh, this little scrappy diagonal scarf…I can just feel that tomorrow night will be my night to finish it, hopefully while watching How I Met Your Mother.  (This current season is AMAZING and totally making up for last season, which was such a disappointment that I’ve forgotten most of what happened in it.)  I’m right on the brink, right at the point where I’ll start decreasing until there’s nothing left.  But the thing is, right here at the end, I ran out of mini-skeins.  All of those little bits of yarn I had set aside especially for this project?  Gone.  Used up.  I thought several times about ripping back and starting the decreases early…but I was on a purl edge and wanted the decreases to be part of the knits.  So I went until the yarn was just inches hanging off.  Then I set the little scarf down and thought.  We have a guest tonight in the spare bed that’s in my fiber studio, and there was no way I was going to go blundering in looking for some odds and ends.  Then it occurred to me – I have a little pouch where I keep yarn scraps.  A lot of them are just the bits that hold the skeins together when you first receive them.  I have a tendency to hang on to every little piece because so often they come in useful for tying something off, a bit of scrap yarn to hold extra stitches, or something to use for a crochet cast-on.  But a few of them were a yard or so of leftover yarn from other project.  Too much to throw out or put in the ornaments that I use to hold my “year in knitting” collection, but far too little to use for any other project.  Except this one.  I pulled out the lightweight scraps, but the heavy yarns back in the pouch, and then sorted through the pieces by length.  

Now, when I come back to the little basket I’ve been using for this project tomorrow night, I can just start using the remnants of beloved projects past, try to work as many in as possible.  I love things like this, hitting the end and needing a little bit more but wanting to come up with a way of doing it that isn’t “Let me go upstairs and use up an eight of a skein for this”.  Nothing goes to waste – not ever.  Or rather…maybe it would be better to say nothing is waste.  It all can be used, all has a purpose, all has a function.  My father has told me endless tales about Buddhist monks proving this sort of thing on a daily basis by taking the results of the tasks they are doing – just raking the yard, for example – and using up every bit of everything that they come across.

Here’s to you, lovely little scraps.  I see you for the opportunities you are.

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