Confessions of a Lazy Knitter

With any hobby, it is natural to get deeper and deeper into the processes that go into it. Gardeners go from planting purchased plants to starting their own plants from seed and composting their own soil. Musicians learn other composers’ works then begin to compose their own. If you love baking, you attempt to branch out into more complicated recipes, and perhaps make more of your baked goods from scratch, relying less and less on pre-prepared ingredients.

It’s sort of a horizontal integration tendency. The more we come to love a hobby, the more we want to take our involvement back to the roots of it, and we get more interested in the process of carrying out that hobby, but also in the producing of the materials needed to carry it out.

I see and hear about this same desire in the fiber world. The more I listen to podcasts and read knitting-related articles, I am amazed by how many knitters and crocheters are also fervent spinners. It could very well be that someone who is likely to host a podcast or write an article is also more likely to be taken with other facets of their craft. In fact, for many of these people, knitting is a component of their occupation, so it is certainly understandable that their interests are also going to take on spinning.

Not me. I am a final product person. I hear and read about the great love some of these crafters have for spinning, dying, and all other steps between that sheep/goat/alpaca/cotton plant/bamboo and my final product, and my reaction is a definite “no thank you.” This could be a reaction born of the limited time I or any knitter has, so I’m pretty content to walk into a store and buy the product of another crafter’s very extensive labors.

For every step in the process, you can almost always take it back a step and get more into the “raw” material that will one day become your scarf or socks. If you don’t have a pretty big yard, then purchasing that sheep or alpaca is probably not in the cards for you. So the closest the truly committed crafters get is usually buying a fleece and going from there.

lambertville
Raw fleeces available for sale at a Sheep and Wool festival. Took my picture and kept on walking to shop for more of the finished product.

If I had any doubts as to my yarn producing apathy, I just had to hear a few podcasts about processing a raw fleece. By raw, I mean “it was just taken off an animal that spends all of its time outdoors.” So you have to start by removing the grass, dirt, and who-knows-what that a farm animal is picking up while growing your next sweater. This involves soaking the fleece in hot water (but not too hot) and cleaning it with soap (but only very mild soap). You might have to repeat this process. A lot. Then to remove the dirt that is still in your not-yet-yarn, you need to use “cards,” to keep combing the fleece and straightening it. You then are ready to…spin. I don’t even know where the dying part comes into the process. Even some of the hardcore spinners who I have heard describe this process then follow up by stating that they now pay someone to process their fleece for them.

 

This description makes spinning sound easy. No interest. I guess non-knitters would find the knitting and purling to be fairly tedious. but hey, at least I’m seeing the final product emerge as I do it, and if it’s a pattern that is even a little bit involved, I can enjoy the design come to life as I do my cables and lace. I teach high school history, and earlier Americana is replete with the musings of women of centuries past sharing the tedium of spinning, so I’ll learn from their experiences and leave it to the truly committed.

img_7326
My preferred method of yarn acquisition.

I get it. Some people are meant to get back to the core roots of any given craft. And thank goodness for them, because I love buying and using their stuff. More power to the crafters who dazzle all of us (and I say that in all sincerity) with their beautiful end products–there is nothing like casting on a gorgeous skein of yarn with an amazing texture and more amazing color. I am in awe of their efforts, not only because I can see that their talents are really shining through, but also because I know my lack of patience would lead to a pretty half-baked effort and a more half-baked result. I raise my coffee cup (or wine glass depending on the time of day) to them each and every time I partake in one of their final products.

 

In the meantime, I will be visiting the vendors, admiring and squishing the skeins, and happily purchasing those I can afford and use.

Next week’s blog: “How to Answer ‘Why Don’t You Just Buy It?’ Questions While Knitting (nod, wink)

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If You Don’t Have Something Nice to Say…

The post started out innocently enough.

“Just got this beautiful yarn on sale! Any suggestions what to make with it?!?!”

So began a very excited post I came across several months ago on a Facebook group I follow, which is, of course, dedicated to knitting. The OP (which I recently learned is the jargon for “Original Poster”…these kids…) was SO excited about this find and was ecstatic to share her excitement on the Interweb, most likely also expecting to hear gushing and excitement from others over her great fortune.

Attached to the post was a picture of…yarn. No surprise. And the color was spectacular. A beautiful and vibrant teal with flecks of purple and green. It would have caught my eye as well. And wrapped around that skein of yarn was a “Red Heart” wrapper.

I knew what was coming. I opened the comments. The first one: “Set it on fire and go to a yarn store and buy some real yarn.” Further down: “No don’t set it on fire. It’s acrylic so it will just melt.” And even further: “Go return that to Walmart and get yourself to a Local Yarn Store for something nice.” And many similar snarky comments.

This is not the first or only time I’ve seen all hell break lose on the topic of yarn. Mention acrylic and someone will tell you that you’re using the devil’s material. Talk about a purchase you made at AC Moore, Michaels, or Walmart, and someone will try to convince you that you’re uncultured swine. And you don’t want to get into a conversation about Hobby Lobby or hats with ears.

I will admit, I wouldn’t buy Red Heart. I don’t like the way it feels, it pills when you wash it, and I prefer natural fibers when I find them. I won’t refuse to buy an acrylic blend, but the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t feel as nice.

Does that mean I feel a compulsion to express my preference at the expense of someone who is clearly excited about finding yarn that she found to be beautiful? I certainly don’t need to tell you, people can be pretty nasty. And when social media is involved, they get Internet balls and say things they would never dream to utter face-to-face. But I think such attacks go even deeper. I know we’re talking about knitting in this scenario, but I think the political atmosphere this year has made it abundantly obvious that people have strong opinions and will not feel satisfied until they have told others how absolutely wrong they are in everything they believe.

So when this poor knitter starts to see the replies to her original post pour in, I am sure there was a decent amount of shock and dismay to hear others tell her that all of her life choices are wrong. Did she even know there are such variations in yarn? Did she know that there are people who will judge you so harshly based on your choices…in yarn?

img_7327I also wonder what these commentators “know.” Do they “know” that she in fact has a Local Yarn Store (or LYS in knit-speak) close enough for her to patronize? Many parts of the country and the world are not located in an area where a store selling yarn would thrive. Do they “know” that her budget allows her to purchase yarn that can be considerable more expensive than Red Heart? Do they “know” she has been knitting long enough to have become interested in pricier yarns? Do they “know” that knitting is her only hobby and so the type of yarn she is using is something that receives a great deal of attention and thought?

I have read many blogs, Facebook posts, and articles in which individuals proudly refer to themselves as “yarn snobs.” That’s fine. Anyone who has been knitting or crocheting for any decent amount of time has probably had the opportunity to use better yarns and to a certain extent may develop a degree of “yarn snobbishness.” But that snobbery should extend only so far as “This is the type of yarn I like to use.” We all have a tendency to feel more comfortable with our decisions when we feel that others do the same as us. (I mean, have you ever been around a group of mothers when the topic of breastfeeding comes up?) So let’s acknowledge that tendency and overcome it. Chastising a person because they had the gall to purchase yarn from a big box store is just not cool.img_7326

Now, let me start to reverse myself a little. I love love love Local Yarn Stores. As in, I get a giddly feeling when I visit my favorite, Woolbearers. The selection of beautiful colors, and perhaps more importantly, textures, in a business dedicated to only one thing is an experience (in knitting universe) like no other. And not for nothing, but patronizing stores like Michaels, AC Moore, Walmart, and not giving my money to a small business feels to me like I’m just feeding the corporate beast. It saddens me that at least three businesses in my little corner of the universe have had to close their doors in the last decade because there is just not a fortune to be made in selling yarn. I prefer LYS’s. That works for me. Living in a somewhat populated area (South Jersey pride!) I have the luxury of having a few stores within driving distance, even if my favorite is a bit of a hike (probably for the best). While I’m not buying the house in the Hamptons anytime soon, I’m not choosing between yarn and groceries for my family. And since knitting, if you haven’t guessed it, ranks pretty high on my list of favorite activities, I pay attention to the yarn I’m using and have come to have certain preferences.

It is a good thing to feel passionate about one’s joys in life. It is human nature to want others to share in these passions. Sometimes that passion crosses over into a meanspiritedness designed to denigrate those who don’t see the world the way we do. The parenting world lays on plenty of judgment, thank you very much, I don’t need to bring it into my yarn. I also exhaust enough mental energy judging and second guessing myself, so I guess I don’t need to get worked up about how others shop for their craft supplies. Believe me, I have much stronger feelings about a person’s political views, but I also know (most of the time) when to shut it.

So if you want the rest of the world to be “enlightened” because you have achieved yarn nirvana, perhaps go about it in a more constructive way? Years ago, I came across a letter to the editor in the Philadelphia Inquirer. From what I gathered, the original article had quoted a wine connoisseur making disparaging comments about people whose wine of choice was Yellow Tail. I inferred the gist to be that these were hopeless individuals who had no idea what good wine was. The letter to the editor that I read, penned by another wine aficionado, suggested that the appreciation for Yellow Tail could be harnessed to help expose those individuals to finer wines and a greater appreciation of good wine. In other word, if you’re not a wine sommelier, that doesn’t mean you deserve to be cut off from enjoying it.

I think the same applies here. It would be great if every knitter patronized LYS’s, if for no other reason than I want them to do a great business so they can stay in business for me to patronize them as well. Instead of expressing this idea by telling people to set their yarn on fire (I mean, seriously?), it might be better and more constructive to suggest a project for that yarn, then suggesting other fibers they might want to explore. A few nights ago, I saw a post that carried a link for a brand carried by Michaels. The sole purpose of this post was for Facebookers to mock and make fun of the yarn, and predictably, many of them did. One comment, however, caught my eye. She pointed out that she was not familiar with anything beyond such chain stores when she first began crocheting, but that a person might have their curiosity “piqued” by the yarn being discussed in this particular post. Another comment suggested that these less expensive yarns can be the “gateway drug” to get crafters interested in better yarns. I only hope the knitter who posted the Red Heart picture wasn’t completely turned away from the world of LYS’s by the nastiness she experienced. Please don’t use those comments to judge all knitters. We’re not all like that.

Do You Knit Around?

There are many ways that people might categorize their knitting (or crocheting, or spinning, or just about any fiber craft). Do you like to knit socks, or are you more of a sweater person? Do you prefer making gifts, or do you keep it for yourself? And how is your tension?–loose or tight? Then you can get into dirty little secrets–some knitters don’t check their gauge before they cast on. And probably have tales of woe as a result of that decision.

Yes, it’s a craft full of judgment and controversy. But one area that generates a lot of confessions (OK, not as many as questions of one’s “stash”) is the number of one’s Works-in-Progress (or WIPs, for you non-knitters…who are reading this…so never mind.)

In fact, this topic can generate so much conversation, that some refer to their knitting as “monogamous,” meaning that they only work on one thing at a time. For some, the rules are strict, and they may not start another project until one is finished. Maybe this rule is self-imposed, maybe it’s imposed by a loved one who would prefer that yarn not take over their living space.

And now it’s the New Year, times for new beginnings, resolutions, major changes. All of which we are lucky to stick to for two weeks. Among those resolutions, a few that I frequently hear are in reference to one’s knitting habits. Some of the oft-mentioned promises I hear in the knitaverse are: “I will not buy any more yarn until I have used (x) number of skeins in my stash;” “I will not start any new projects until I have finished knitting projects (x), (y), and (z); “I will not purchase/download any more patterns,” and so on. My point is, these promises usually are geared toward limiting one’s knitting.

So, I have decided to take a (slightly) opposite approach. Confession time: I am, for the most part, a monogamous knitter. Part of this comes from the fact that in recent years, I have tended to gravitate toward fairly large, time consuming projects. I finished (OK, not the border, but I’m getting there!) an afghan about three months ago. That one took close to two years. At one point, for about four months, I had put that on hold to make a christening gown

christening-gown
The afghan had to go into “time out” while I worked on the Avery Christening Gown by Kristen Rengren.

for a close friend’s baby. So technically, I had two projects going at once, but if memory serves, I put the afghan on a hiatus and focused solely on the christening gown, partly because I have traditionally leaned toward the monogamous knitting side, partly because I was not going to incur the wrath of a mother with no christening gown–especially since my making it was my idea in the first place. On the flip side, though, since the afghan was 25 separate squares, I was only somewhat polygamous since I stopped between squares. So it was more like a breakup followed by a rekindling.

So why the monogamy? I think that casting on a new project while one is still in the works is akin to admitting defeat. I also know my own tendencies–and I make myself think that if I set a project aside, I’m going to let it linger for an extended period of time. One of the reasons I find knitting to be relaxing is that I can pick up and put down a project. But if I’m retracing my steps and re-acclimating myself after a pause, that’s precious stitch making time that has been sacrificed. And the project take longer, meaning fewer projects completed. I mean, I have a real job, after all.

But lately, I have decided that maybe it’s time to play the field a little. I recently heard Jasmin of the Knitmore Girls podcast mention that she has about 40 WIPs. I only have so much sanity and attention span, so I definitely don’t think I’ll be going that route. But I can think of a few reasons that three or four projects at a time could be reasonable and beneficial.

For starters, some projects are not as portable as others. I have two pairs of socks going right now, and they’re certainly small enough, but there are situations where double-pointed needles are not travel friendly. I’ve started a blanket for my daughter, and at this point it’s still easy to carry around, but 200 stitches times 2 feet (as opposed to its current status at 2 inches) is not something you can throw in the bag and go.

Like I mentioned previously, I’ve enjoyed socks lately. When you’re sitting on the couch and starting a TV show at 9:00, they’re great. But if it’s 10:30 and you’re approaching the gusset, you might need to set it aside. Exhaustion + Stitch Math = Knitting Disaster.

phillies-game
Stitch and Pitch at Citizens Bank Park–unfortunately, the “pitch” part was terrible that night (hence the empty stadium), and I was unable to do a lot of stitching.

Then there are simply times when you should have options. Last summer, my sister and I went to a “Stitch and Pitch” night with the Phillies. I had just finished my latest project and hadn’t really given much thought to what I was starting next. So I grabbed some yarn, found a compatible pattern, and threw the called-for needles into a bag. The pattern was a lace handbag that called for size 11 circular needles. Somewhere in the second inning, I pulled out the yarn and needles, cast on the 48 stitches that began the pattern, and plunged in. When I went to start Round 2, I found that there was no way I was going to be able to use circulars for that part–it increased the stitch count rapidly, but in the meantime, there were not enough stitches to join in the round and I was going to need size 11 dpn’s. Which I didn’t have. Or own. Come to think of it, I believe I had to order a set online because my local craft store didn’t even have them. Because, honestly, who the hell is using size 11 dnp’s? So I had to tearfully casually and with dignity put my knitting away and watch the Phillies blow it for seven innings with no yarning, a travesty on Stitch and Pitch night. Conclusion: A sporting event is not the time to try to begin a brand new, never before attempted project, without any opportunity to work out the kinks that appeared with this one.

And finally, sometimes, projects get boring. I can envision this blanket for my daughter getting a little tedious after a while since it will be mostly stockinette stitch. So I will probably have the temptation at some point to put it aside and knock out something else. In the past, when a project has become a dreaded chore (and yes, it happens, even to those who love to knit), it puts a log jam into knitting altogether, and if you don’t allow yourself to move on to something else, you get no knitting accomplished. This last reason, however, is a slippery slope. This is how endless WIPs happen. There’s a difference between needing a break and really not enjoying a pattern, and the danger is that it will languish permanently and never get done. One of my favorite sweaters took me three years to knit because I couldn’t take the endless rows of stockinette, and it took every bit of willpower (and finally a refusal to work on anything else until it was done) to finish it.

So here’s my going-against-the-knitters’-grain resolution: I’m going to be a little bit promiscuous–with my knitting. I hereby give myself permission to cast on more than one project at a time. I plan to have at least one pair of socks on my needles at any given time. This blanket is current project #3, and I will be staring a cowl for myself with yarn my other daughter gave me for Christmas, so there’s project #4. At the same time, I don’t see myself casting on with abandon–I am Type A enough that I will break out in hives if I have too many half-done projects laying around.

OC Gator Yarn
The inspiration for a blanket, coming to an 11-year-old girl near me.

Here’s to New Year’s resolutions and revolutions. I’ll keep you posted.

With Visions of Yarn Dancing in Your Head

For the love of all that is autumnal, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. This is a beautiful time of year, and the urge to bypass the glory of fall and skip right into the Christmas season is, frankly, disheartening. The colors, temperatures, and festivities of this time of year are among my favorite, especially in the Northeast. If you want to truly appreciate it, go to Los Angeles right about now. Not only is everything there terrible (sorry, LA, not my favorite city), but if you visit this time of year, you are bound to encounter jealous Californians gushing “I bet it’s so pretty back East right now!” (I swear, they actually say this. Repeatedly.)

christmas-tree

So when people skip right into Jingle Bells the minute Halloween is over–and earlier in the retail world–they are depriving us of the awesomeness of the great things November has to offer. I personally want to savor the football games, light-jacket weather, outdoor activities, and colors of the season. And God help you if you try to rush past Thanksgiving.

So chill out on the Christmas carols and other December holiday festivities. And what is the hurry to start the Christmas shopping?

But. If you have plans to make any of your gifts, especially knitted ones, you need to get an earlier start. Like in January. In fact, Jen of the Down Cellar Studio Podcast has a 12 Months to Christmas Knitalong (or KAL); her discussion thread and finished object thread on Ravelry lets you plan ahead and show off your progress. So for that purpose, and that purpose alone, you get a pass on starting some holiday preparations early.

On that note, I have a few things planned, and if there is a deadline, the easier the better. So here are a few:

  • Boot cuffs. I decided last year to make a few of these for some friends. Some other friends are getting them this year. As are some of the same friends who got them last year.

    This year, I’m going to do one or two pairs of these boot cuffs by a Raveler named Jennifer Gregory as well as this pair by Raveler Kristin Ziska. (And psst: Both patterns are free downloads!)

  • Mittens and Gloves. I already passed along a couple pairs of fingerless gloves to a friend, which resulted in my daughters demanding sweetly asking for their own, so now I can do these in my sleep. Well not quite, but one pattern that looks more involved than it is would be the Branching Out Mitts–each one knits up in about two hours. The Ghost of Christmas Future also tells me I might put these on someone’s list for next year: The South Pole Mittens, a pattern by Jorid Linvik, and the Winterland Mittens, designed by Wenche Roald. None of these patterns are free, but there are plenty of free mitten patterns out there, and they’re also probably a good deal less complicated than these.
  • Kids’ hats. I heard about the Force Awakens Hat and immediately timg_5497hought of the sons of a good friend, both of whom take after their dad in being Star Wars obsessed. I finished one over the course of about four evenings and will be starting the second one
    soon. I was actually amazed that this pattern is free on Ravelry–it’s really clever and cute. The same designer, Mrs Luedeke, also recently released a Rogue One hat, so that gives me options.Their sister might be getting this BB-8 hat to complete the theme.

 

  • Scarves are often shunned by knitters as being a fairly predictable knitting-related gift, and I think many fear that knitting one as a gift is almost a cliche. That said, I came across some unusual ribbon yarn in a bargain bin, so I think that some of the kiddos’ teachers are getting quick scarves from these skeins. Drop stitch is a relatively fast knit that looks more complicated than it is, and you can whip up a scarf in a relatively short period of time with it.

Don’t get too caught up in making knitted gifts perfect–it’s the thought that counts. Just kidding, if you’re going to spend hours making something, you don’t want it to suck and have them not wear or use it. Most of these are fairly simple ideas and patterns that can take care of a small gift. At the same time, don’t overwhelm yourself. I had delusions of grandeur a few weeks ago and told myself I would in fact be making five of the Force Awakens hats so that my three nephews could also have them. Let’s be serious. My boss and my kids have other ideas about my amount of spare time, so the nephews will have to wait for Christmas 2017–and by then the next movie will be out, so maybe a new hat design will also be released!

So go ahead, get started on the knitting projects. But please take some time to smell the turkey!

First You Dye, Then Life Socks, Part 1

I’ve had socks on my mind lately.

I have been a knitter for close to three decades, but I always considered socks to be less than a great use of my time. I mean, they’re socks. You put them on your feet. You usually don’t see them–I’m definitely not a “wear socks with shorts” person, and even when I am, it’s sweat socks I wear while exercising.

But lately, I have been eyeing them up. Part of it is a natural outcome of following the various knitting blogs and podcasts, not to mention Instagram accounts and Facebook groups. Spend enough time in that world, and you’re going to see a lot of socks in various stages of development. Part of it is that I am in a small project phase, needing a break from the magnitude of a couple of big projects I tackled in the last year or so–and socks definitely fit that bill. One perk–ok, peril–of small projects is that they afford a certain amount of whimsy. After all, it’s a small project, not needing extensive commitment, so I can be wild and crazy, which means I can peruse various yarns and imagine the possibilities, instead of selecting the yarn with project already in hand.

And socks are very conducive to such whimsy. After all, they’re socks. You put them on your feet. You usually don’t see them. So if you gravitate to a particular yarn because it’s eye-catching, because it is unusual and fun, you can tell yourself that it’s a small-ish project and you’re not devoting large amounts of time to an accessory that should blend in.

My first step came a few weeks ago when I purchased some sock yarn at the Garden State Sheep Breeders Association Fiber Festival. I picked these yarns for exactly the reasons I just described–they’re eye-catching. They’re fun. I really don’t have to care if they match anything.

lambertville-yarn-3

My next step was picking a pattern. One that I kept seeing in the Knitting Social Media cortex was the Monkey Socks pattern. And bonus–it’s posted for free at knitty.com. (You just have to get past the, um, eclectic photographs included on the page.)  This is a top down pattern, which I felt might be a good way to ease into the world of sock knitting. The ripple effect is beautiful, but definitely not complicated. Like all sock patterns–at least of the ones I’ve seen–it’s knit on small double pointed needles, size 2 in this case.

I grabbed one of the sock yarn skeins I had purchased and got to work–and by “work,” I mean “sat on my couch and wound the yarn.” I had purchased it at a fiber arts festival, and vendors don’t bring their yarn swifts to such things. THEN, I got to knitting. The pattern is uncomplicated, and it didn’t take long for me to make great progress on it. I think I finished my first sock in about 4 days. One thing I learned–the “sock yarn” I purchased is probably something along the lines of a DK weight, and most sock patterns call for fingering weight. I felt pretty confident it would still work, and it did, but my initial thought at this point is that these socks will probably be better suited for snow boots.

Another Knitting Life-Pro tip I’ve heard: Knit both socks simultaneously. This will help you to avoid Second Sock Syndrome (I’m sure you can work out the meaning of that malady on your own). The lovely ladies from PB Sterling WoolNook & Mill also recommended I try toe-up socks, specifically that I check out the Donna Druchunas class on Craftsy. I’m not sure I’ll be paying the $19.99 for the online class, but I’ve bookmarked it for possible future reference in case I find myself in trouble. Their other piece of advice was that I cast on one sock, knit the toe, then cast on the second sock with the yarn from the other end of the skein. Their explanation was that one’s mood, time of day, etc. can impact the tension of one’s knitting, and so working each part will keep your work consistent and help your socks to match in sizing.

Thus, it seems the popular wisdom is that it is best to knit socks simultaneously. Naturally I didn’t do that. I could say I just went rogue, but the reality is that I only have one set of size 2 dpn’s, and let’s be honest, how much patience can you expect a person to have? Did I mention how much time I had already spent winding that skein of yarn?

monkey-socks-18

So…first sock finished. Second sock…started…and coming out not only much smaller, but with an entirely different color pattern. I can attribute the color changes to the fact that it is hand-dyed yarn. In fact, I’m fairly confident that the pinkish hues do vary quite a bit. Toward one end of the skein, it is  rose-colored shade of pink, but it evolves into a much darker, almost maroon color halfway in. The beauty of hand-dyed yarn is that such variations add character to the project, and were I using it for one solid piece, I think it would serve that purpose well. At the same time, I was finding myself with what appeared to be two socks that were quickly becoming a mismatched pair.

However, it would also appear that my tension is in fact part of the reason for the disparity. I can’t say for certain that my mood is what is doing it. I was on a weekend getaway for the bulk of Sock #1, so there’s is the slightest possibility that my tension was not as significant as it has been during a work week that has had me running in all directions. Definitely not the mood then, so that’s settled. So Sock #2 is a little narrower (which is not necessarily a bad thing, because Sock #1 was a bit on the roomy side). Come to think of it, maybe the two women who sold me sock yarn and have made their entire living from producing yarn and crafting with it know a thing or two about these things, and perhaps I should have taken their advice and done them simultaneously.Monkey Socks.jpg

 

I’m now approaching the project with a hybrid of their approach and mine. I finished the ankle of Sock #2, then put it on stitch holders. I proceeded to cast on a second Sock #1 Monkey Socks (11).JPG(let’s just call it 1b), using yarn from roughly the same section in the hopmonkey-socks-1es that the color will more closely resemble Sock #2. When I finish that ankle, or run out of that section of yarn (whichever should happen first), I’ll begin “frogging” Sock #1 so I can finish both of these. All the while consuming wine.

 

But I’m also thinking ahead to future sock projects. I’ve added a lot of socks to the Ravelry library, including a few patterns that call for a DK weight yarn for my second skein. I also found Eagles yarn in a colorway that I love, so I’m possibly ordering that for a future pair (E-A-G-L-E-S!) I saw a self-striping yarn that comes in colors of tan, red, black, and white–and my first thought was the Burberry pattern. I don’t think I’ll be buying that yarn, but I seem to remember seeing a chart to knit a mimic-Burberry child’s jacket. I never tackled that jacket because it just seems so overwhelming, but you know what sounds like a more manageable project to approach with four colors? Yep–socks.

Definitely going to attempt toe-up socks next. Stay tuned:)

Sometimes, You’ve Got to Let It Go

We’ve all had to “frog.” For those of you not up on your knitting vernacular, that’s Knit-speak for unraveling your knitting. There’s a reason here. When you unravel your yarn, you “rip” it out. “Rip it” sounds like “Ribbit.” “Ribbit” is the sound frogs make. So ripping out your knitting is known as “frogging.” I swear on my needles, I can not make this up.

Now I’m sitting here putting the final touches on my Great American Aran Afghan. Since December of 2014, I have knit 24 squares, possibly with plans to knit a 25th. I have woven in the ends and blocked those 24 squares. I gave myself a deadline of October 22 (arbitrary–I do better with a deadline) to sew the squares together. And I keep looking at Georgia Vincent square and thinking “I have to frog this bitch.”

georgia-vincent-square-gaaa-5
My sad specimen; it seems that a lot of the beautiful details got lost in the shuffle.

To be fair, it’s categorized as one of the “difficult” squares according to the afghan directions. I purposely attacked the difficult squares first, telling myself that I would lose steam if I had roadblocks 20 squares in. It was knit on circular needles, working from the outside in. One or two other squares in the afghan were also knit on circulars, but for some reason, this one just did not seem to come out looking like it was supposed to.

I went back and forth. It’s one square out of 24 (25 when I go ahead with my plan to design my own and knit it). In the entire afghan, it’s hardly going to stick out as something that went horribly wrong, and in fact it really doesn’t look that bad. If I re-knit it, I might find that the yarn I used just doesn’t lend itself to that particular square, and even the “redone” square is disappointing.

But then I still have a square, part of the afghan I have spent many, many hours, constructing, that just doesn’t make me satisfied with the final product. 1/25 of my afghan. 4%  For you math types.

So that settles it. I have to frog this bitch. It certainly isn’t doing justice to the picture in the pattern book.

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The Georgia Vincent square, as pictured in The Great American Aran Afghan pattern book.

This is something I struggle with in many aspects of life. There are so many times we don’t want to go back and undo what we did because we feel as though we’re wasting our efforts and need to somehow salvage what we’ve done. As a teacher, I’ve had times when I’ve realized I’m using materials in class that just aren’t the best way to teach a lesson, but it’s hard to wipe the slate clean and start over. I’m not a great cook, and I think a big part of the reason is that I don’t always want to make adjustments when I’m making something that just isn’t coming together. In knitting, we debate the necessity to go back and fix a mistake if it’s going to involve undoing a great deal of what we’ve done. After all, if it’s a small matter of a stitch that was purled instead of knitted, or a spot where a cable wasn’t crossed in the correct direction (and I’ve been told you can just work your way back on the few stitches involved without ripping out entire rows, but I’ve always been of the mind that I would screw that up and end up undoing and redoing rows), we might want to live with the mistake and move on. We even tell ourselves that small mistakes are a bonus, proof that the item is handmade.

But what if the entire piece is a disappointment? What if you have completely finished the pattern only to realize it is not what you wanted it to be?

Or worse, what if it can’t be used? And what if it’s more than an afghan square?

Several years ago, my husband mentioned that he would like a sweater. I had literally never knit anything for him so I splurged on really beautiful merino wool yarn in a forest green. Over several months, I knit, purled, and cabled my heart out–loving every minute of it, I might add, because this yarn was the absolute perfect texture. Front and back were completed, sleeves were done, collar was added, and the entire thing was seamed together. Now for the magic moment. He tried it on. And. It. Was. Too. Tight.

As in, he could wear it, but he would look and feel ridiculous.

But that yarn. And the hours. And the yarn. And the cables. And the beautiful yarn.

So I sat down with scissors and a crochet hook and began frogging. And frogging. And more frogging. I was able to spare the sleeves, but collar, front, and back of the adrian-sweater-6yarn came out. And so began the re-knitting. And it was the right decision. Of course, the gorgeous merino wool is also just about the warmest material on Planet Earth, so now he has a beautiful sweater that he wears on that one day of the year the temperature in this area reaches 7 degrees Fahrenheit. (Note to self: No worsted weight yarn for future sweaters for him.)

Knowing I made the best decision in frogging his sweater had me properly armed when another size issue arose. I made a sweater vest for my grandmother-in-law for Christmas two or three years after the merino wool incident. At the time, she was in her late eighties, and she is one of the tiniest people I know. So I made the sweater small. I even remember thinking, “This sweater is impossibly small.” But then I rationalized, “So is she.” About two weeks after I gave it to her, my mother-in-law, her daughter, began a conversation by saying, “I have some bade news. My mother…,” causing a momentary stoppage of my heart. The tragic news was that the sweater vest was…too small. You know how the rest of how this story goes. (And for the record, she is now 95 and still wears the vest.)

Is it always essential to frog? No. Do I still think frog is a silly word to use to describe what we’re talking about here? Absolutely. But I’ve had those moments where I’ve had to come to a realization that it’s more of a waste of effort to allow a serious mistake or an unsatisfactory end result to remain. In the end, we’re talking about an enjoyable activity, so repeating our efforts shouldn’t be an issue.

This time around, I put the offending square into the bin with the othegv-squarer finished pieces, figuring I would sit on it before ripping it out. Once my other squares were done, I looked at it again, and could not escape the conclusion: A frogging was definitely in order. So I frogged. And ripped. And unraveled. Without a glance back. And now it’s just a simple matter of re-knitting, right? I already it once (albeit with some mistakes, apparently), and I’ve knit 24 other squares.

Yeah, right. Because the knitting gods apparently thought I was being too blasé about the whole process. I immediately realized one mistake. I was doing a slip one, knit two together, psso (so decreasing two stitches) before each stitch marker instead of around it–in other words, my slip one should have been starting one stitch before the marker, not three stitches before. This made the diagonal lines coming from each corner go straight to the center instead of doing the weird curvy thing my lines were doing. But then, about 12 rounds in, my stitch count was off. I made a few corrections, but each round kept coming up a few stitches too many. After struggling to adjust, I realized I must be making a mistake in counting fairly early on, so it was time to rip out again. But that was 12 rounds.

Two evenings later, I was happily working my way through the rounds, and had gotten myself to 22 rounds (only 15 to go!) My stitch count was correct–simple matter of a couple k2tog’s I had missed on round 7–and I could see the square coming together. Basking in the glow, I started to flatten it out, hoping to appreciate the improved result now that I had reduced the stitches enough so they didn’t bunch together on my circulars. Only to find it was completely twisted. Knowing full well the dangers of twisting on circulars, I always take care to check, double check, and triple check on that first round. Except apparently not this time.

Ripping out the stitches is a fairly Zen experience the fourth time around.

Now excuse me while I finish re-knitting this bitch.

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I’m definitely much happier with the re-knit version of this square:)

A Festivus for the Rest of Us

For any hobby, you’re bound to find conventions, trade shows, festivals, and other public events. Most people at some point have visited a car show (against my will), a dollhouse show (my other quirky love; perhaps more on that another day), a model train show (dodged), or any variety of hobby gathering. And of course, events like Comic-Con are notorious for the celebration of geekdom, nerdiness, and obsession, all the while sprinkled with costumes that are not necessarily suitable for general audiences.

In my various blog and podcast travels, I’ve heard mention of yarn shows and fiber festivals held throughout the country. It seems that if you go to the Midwest, you can count on state fairs to not only host a gathering of vendors, but also to conduct competitions for crafters of all veins to enter their products. Many cities and towns host Knit in Public events; I’ve never attended one, but I get the impression that these are geared more for yarnies to gather and socialize more than for items to be sold, though I am sure a savvy yarn producer would certainly make an appearance. But, as for any product, those who make a living selling yarn and other knitting/crochet implements will also have the opportunity to sell at Fiber Festivals.

It seems to me that I hear of a number of these festivals in the New England region, and a few quick Internet searches seemed to confirm that Maine, Connecticut, and Massachusetts do hold a significant number of these events, confirming to me that New England has all the best stuff. In fact, Boston just wrapped up a Yarn Crawl, an event that features the opportunity to check out a bunch of yarn shops, while perhaps stopping in for a bite to eat or a drink in the local establishments. In other words, someone decided to unleash a bunch of knitters and crocheters into an area filled with yarn shops, while giving them access to alcohol. Come on, Philadelphia, get on the ball and make this happen!

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Two pairs of socks–coming to a pair of feet near me!

So a few weeks ago, I decided to check  to see if any festivals would be held in the Philadelphia/South Jersey area. I found a few in parts of Pennsylvania, but these were in towns that would be roughly a 2-3 hour drive for me, so that seemed less than practical. However, Lambertville, a town about 45 minutes away from my home, was hosting one on the weekend of September 10-11, so I made plans to go.

A few things about Lambertville: Though many have the notion of New Jersey as a crowded and congested suburb of New York, that really is only a very small pocket (like, the part immediately outside of New York), and Lambertville is in the Western part of the state, very close to the Delaware River. In fact, there is a small bridge you can walk across to go into New Hope, Pennsylvania, a town with a similar makeup. I’ve only been in either of these towns a couple of times, so I can not say I am intimately acquainted with all of its features, but essentially Lambertville’s big draws are a main street-ish section that boasts a number of antique shops and art galleries and a fairly rural area surrounding it.

So it was the rural area that was hosting the Garden State Sheep Breeders Sheep and Fiber Festival. The location was the Hunterdon County Fairgrounds, and the main events were held in four barns, three of which held space for vendors, and one of which held the judging area for…sheep. Also in attendance were several varieties of goats and angora rabbits. (For the record, I restricted my purchases to yarn.)

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These guys were bleating away when I arrived.

I had decided to go to this festival kind of on a lark–I had not heard about this event in particular; I had just decided a festival devoted to yarn sounded like heaven on earth, so I used “the Google” to find one in reasonable proximity to me. I had no idea what to expect. On the one hand, I wondered if I was going to have time to see everything and feel like I was able to peruse without feeling too rushed; on the other, I half expected that I could very well find it had not been worth the drive.

It was definitely somewhere in between–and I mean that in the best way. Three barns of vendors was definitely doable in the two hours I spent there. (I should add that I had purposely limited my time there because I wanted to get home in time to rescue my husband from the children watch the football game–I went on a Sunday morning, after all.) The fourth barn was being used for the judging of the sheep and other livestock entered into the competition which, apparently, was the main event of the day. Who are we kidding?–YARN! Going to a yarn store, even a great yarn store, is one thing, but being able to move through and see the varieties offered by various vendors was definitely a great way to spend a morning. It seemed that a lot of the vendors brought their more unique and higher quality selections, so I really felt that everything they were offering was worth checking out.

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Soon to be a shawl: Whisper Lace in Ocean Torrent purchased from Yarn Bazaar, Ewing, NJ
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Hand dyed yarn purchased from Ellyn Cooper’s Yarn Sonnets, located in Connecticut

I was also pleasantly surprised at the prices. OK, so there are no bargains (though a few signs claimed that some of the prices were special “festival deals”) but I also didn’t walk away feeling that everything was out of my price range. So no, I didn’t spend $64 for a 100 yard skein of silk yarn, and I didn’t load up on anything for a huge project. But after looping around a couple of times, I settled on two skeins of sock yarn from PB Sterling Woolnook and two selections of lace yarn, a Whisper Lace yarn from Yarn Bazaar, the other a merino and silk blend from Ellyn Cooper’s Yarn Sonnets. If I had been in an irresponsible mood that day, I could most certainly have done some damage, because a lot of the vendors had brought with them slambertville-17ome very unusual color schemes, and a great deal of the yarn was hand made and hand dyed by the shop owners, so obviously these weren’t items that I could just pick up at a later date. Fortunately, the fiscally conservative (and as yet unpaid since the school year has just begun) side of me was present that day, so I limited my buying.

Obviously I was also aware that there would be livestock there, but I have to say, I didn’t expect them to be in such close proximity. As I walked from my parking spot to the fairgrounds, I could immediately hear the bleating of sheep and goats, and some of them were being held alongside the sellers. One barn was exclusively being used for the judging of the animals,

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The judging floor

and I stayed in there for a few minutes just to observe the proceedings. Of course, I am well aware that some farm animals would be higher in quality than others, but I guess I’ve never given much thought to how you go about rating such things. I was appalled to see innocent animals being objectified in such an insensitive manner. Just kidding–they’re sheep. It was a bit of an education to listen in to the judge explaining the criteria for the results, and the focus seemed to mostly be on the quality and evenness of the fleece. But these animals were quite a few steps away from becoming my next scarf or sweater, so my attention span was not up to the task of staying there for too long. (Apparently there was also an opportunity to observe a sheep sheering; I was not at that location when it was happening, but I did see the naked sheep afterwards.)

Naturally, the next logical step in the process is the actual spinning of the yarn. A fairly decent number of the yarn sellers were also selling spinning fiber, and some vendors were selling only that. There were also a few people who were spinning, mostly on fairly new and conventional spinning wheels, but one man had a Lithuanian wheel and more information about Lithuanian spinning that you ever knew existed–and I am saying that in a positive way.

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An assortment of spinning fleece.
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Spinning straw into gold…or fleece into yarn.
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The Lithuanian spinning wheel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So am I going again next year? Probably. Am I going to a yarn festival every weekend? Probably not–that’s time I need to spend knitting the skeins I bought in Lambertville. But if I see another in a few months within a reasonable driving distance, I’ll check it out. There’s something to be said for surrounding myself with people as enamored with yarn as I am. And the animals were awfully cute.