Norne fingerless mitts

We may be heading towards summer, but this didn’t stop me from casting on a pair of Mette Lea’s Norne fingerless mitts for a very dear friend last April. Knit on size 2 DPNs, these mitts are full of delightful details: braided cables along the front, broken-ribbed palms (k2 p2 rows alternate with a row of knit stitches), a stockinette thumb-gusset, and a garter-stitch ‘stripe’ down the side of the thumb for subtle interest. At 6.5 stitches to the inch, the mitts knit up snug and, I think, are pretty sleek. This pattern has made me a fingerless mitten lover.

I used Knitpicks’ Galileo in the Dragonfly colourway. 2 50g skeins were more than enough. Galileo is a Merino-bamboo blend that surprised me with its smoothness and lustre – great for getting those cables to pop and catch light.

It's never the wrong season to make fingerless mitts. (Norne by Mette Lea) #knitting #knittersofinstagram

A post shared by S C Yeung (@scyeung_knits) on

The knitting in progress above benefited from the newly returned April sunshine.

By mid-month, the mitts were finished and wet-blocked:

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Learnings

Blocking ribbing + cables:  one effect of wet-blocking, I noticed, is that ribbing tends to flatten out a little bit (I used almost no pins, and no pressure). For an already-snug glove, a little extra wiggle-room from the flattened ribbing was OK, but I’ve made a note to tread very lightly when blocking ribbing in the future.

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Pre-blocked (left) the broken-ribbing is ‘ribbier’ and more dimensional. After wet-blocking and very minimal pinning (right) the ribbing has flattened out.

I found that wet-blocking, strangely, had the opposite effect on the cables. The braided cables evened out and came to life after their soak. I was a bit concerned that the blocking would texturally blur them out, so I was really happy to see the opposite effect. Norne mitts were the perfect project for learning about wet-blocking different textures.

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Tension:  just as I “can’t step into the same river twice,” neither, it seems, can I knit the same fingerless mitten twice (at least not with my current skills!). The first mitten ended up a bit tighter than the second one. The tension difference isn’t visually apparent, but one feels it when the mitts go on.

I followed the pattern pretty closely on both mitts – stitch-wise, they’re identical. I do remember, though, being much more cautious and careful when working the first mitt, then relaxing and loosening my grip on the second one, having eased into a familiarity with the pattern and cables. Apparently, the knitting registered all of those shifts in learning, concentration, and relaxation. The lesson, it seems, is that in knitting, we are also swatching ourselves!


All the signs of summer are returning to my little corner of the city: the neighbourhood lawn mowers are revving, the iced cappuccino dog walkers are out and about, and one hears the slow invasion of flip flop sandals and night-time wind chimes through open windows again.

I look forward to taking my needles outdoors, and can think of nothing better than mixing up a batch of sangria, soaking in some rays, and spending some quality time with friends and the knitting fairies.

Wishing you many happy hours of making this week!

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Instagrammed

I am finally on Instagram. 

I had long been a bit anxious about how Instagram would change my life. Would it turn me into a chronically photographing person? (though, there is nothing wrong with that). I had long limited my social media to Facebook, WordPress, and the occasional project-specific Pinterest binge. Beyond this, it also usually takes me a long time to catch up with things. In matters of social media, I’m neither the tortoise nor the hare, but the sloth. I like to think that the saying “get with the times!” was made for folks like me, pre-occupied as I tend to get with my yarn, my books, and my coloured pencils and inks.

Today, I let myself go down the Instagram rabbit-hole. I’m a bit overwhelmed, but very excited at all the beautiful work that people are sharing and talking about. Also, I love all of the ways makers use Instagram to document the doing of their creative work as well as all of the living that happens around it. I really relish it when people share the behind-the-scenes of the things they make. I hope to use Instagram to do more of the same with my projects, while continuing to post here when I’ve got something longer to say. 🙂

In the meantime, in a bit of a craft/social media frenzy, I found these crafty social media buttons (as would be expected there are Etsy, Craftsy and Ravelry icons in the kit!). I thought they were too perfect.

Happy Making!

 

 

 

A sweater for the muse

Sock monkey was an unexpected gift from some dear friends, and has since become a kind of knitting muse and helper. When I’m in the middle of a long or more slow-going knit, looking at sock monkey – made up entirely of stockinette – reminds me to keep at it. When I was on the homestretch of my very first blanket last year, I pulled sock monkey into the shot to celebrate the soon-to-be FO.

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October 2016

I wanted to make something for sock monkey to wear – one gift invites another, doesn’t it?

I specifically wanted to see how the process of modifying a top-down sweater might work with a real wearer (that this wearer has long, skinny arms and no neck made this a special sweater-knitting challenge).

Karrie Flynn’s Sock Monkey Sweater pattern was just the right foundation to try my hand at some simple pattern modification. The wonder of top-down construction is that your wearer really can try the sweater on for size mid-knit, making for a customized fit. I love this idea; truly customized garments are a rarity these days.

I pulled together some ends of Cascade 220 Heathers and some leftover Patons Classic wool worsted and put my mind to some tiny sweater design. Something in me thought “stripes,” so I ran with that idea for the body and sleeves.

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And ta-da! 

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I like how the eyebrows are popping in this picture. I’ll take it as a sign of sock monkey’s excitement at getting some brand new threads. 

Learnings

Spit splicing! The mysterious, felting properties of wool are such that a little bit of heat, spit, and friction are enough to magically join two separate ends together. Joining old and new yarn in this way isn’t perfectly invisible, and works mainly only with wool and other animal fibers, but the method yields a more or less seamless strand.

Like so many other knitting things I’ve encountered, spit-splicing is pure magic. See?

Do you have a little crafting helper? Or a symbol that reminds you of the work you love to do?

Happy making to you.

Rainy day reading

Today is one of those rainy, overcast Chicago Saturdays – the kind that makes the pavement wetly audible and keeps you inside with tea, a top bun, and time for quiet reading. It’s the kind of low-lit, indoor day where I’d rather listen to Petula Clark’s “Downtown” and dream about the city than go there myself.

Anyhow, just a doodle and a song to share today. Wishing you many good times with many good books!

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Crafter’s time warp

The word ‘pastime’ is no coincidence. I’ve been reflecting, recently, on how creative activities seem to devour the time, sometimes voraciously. I am hoping to rein in the times where I’ve crafted myself into several hours-long states of self-forgetfulness; these zones of suspension are creatively desirable, and are calming in their own way, but (alas) lives aren’t entirely made on trance states. In and around the making, there are bills to pay, dogs to walk, taxes to be done, dishes to clear.

Here is a little doodle of that moment of coming up and out of a knitting session. It’s been a few hours, and someone has just reminded me – oblivious – of the time. SCN_0014.jpg

In the real world, the glasses will have slipped much farther down my nose, granny-style. As crafters out there know all too well, maker-time tends to escape the dictates of clock-time. That well-intentioned injunction to work for only “15 more minutes” goes unheeded as the knitting grows and grows and takes on a momentum all of its own (if only I could harness this energy when it’s time for the laundry).

What is your view? Do you regulate or schedule your inner crafter, set times when making is “off-limits” or, on the other hand, allow it days where it has free rein? How do you find the balance between clock-time and maker-time?

My posts have been more doodles and drawings as of late – something about Spring’s arrival has back-burnered the warm woolies and stirred up some hibernating drawing energies. I hope to have more knitting news in the next little bit…like a few new FOs!

A happy Wednesday to you.

 

 

Knit Together

I have reflected elsewhere on this blog (exactly when already escapes me!) on my sense that knitting is a medium of love. Like other creative activities, knitting renders tangible those important intangibles. Knit objects have, for me, become quite powerful material tokens of care, community, love, comfort, the pure glee of being alive (and the desire to share and communicate a little bit of that glee).

On that note, I recently drew this hypothetical picture of Andrew and I. It’s quite anatomically correct: witness Andrew’s curvy programmer’s back and my forward-leaning neck from the hours spent crafting, reading, and writing (I really must fix that neck). While he is not a knitter (!), I like to think that we’re two creative partners in crime.

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Little Paper Sheep

I hope your week is going well and is feeling springlike and full of new energies. 🙂

Nothing too big to report on my end this day, except that I had a hankering to make some little paper sheep – a combo of watercolour paper and Black Magic india ink (I love that stuff). Since teensy sheep call for teensy scissors,  I was aided by a quite portable pair of Swiss Army scissors. The little ones that, very much like these sheep, you can put in your pocket.

I’m not yet sure what to do with these sheep or where they’ll find their home; for the time being, I’m letting them explore their new environment on their quite wonky paper feet.

Happy Tuesday, everyone!

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Barbara Levine’s “People Knitting”

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Sometimes, the best knitting book is a picture book.

If I enjoy knitting instruction books for the way they’re able to transmit the ‘how-to’ of the craft, I enjoy Barbara Levine’s People Knitting: A Century of Photographs (2016, Princeton Architectural Press) for how it manages to convey the everyday soul of knitting. This compact 144-page book is a 20th century photo compilation that captures some golden knitting moments. Levine reveals a varied cast of knitting characters: turn-of-the-century fisher girls and vaudeville performers, Hollywood starlets on break, nurses and youth group knitting bees, soldiers and wartime internees, and more.

There is no single or overarching story that Levine’s knitters tell; together, they reveal that knitting is as much a space for joy, joking around, community, and the rhythms of collective creating and everyday work as it is a place for convalescing, waiting, privacy, solitude and, in some cases, filling the time of internment (not to mention the photos of public ads which revealed the central role of knitting to various war efforts). Each image presents a unique knitting history, and Levine’s mostly text-less presentation of the images allowed me to appreciate the book as a collection of singularities that invite more exploration. This sense of historical, and human, singularities preserved is what I enjoyed most about this book.

Here are a few of my favourite snapshots.

Enjoy your Thursday!

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1943. Japanese women at the Heart Mountain internment camp, Wyoming.
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1941. Making toy animals at the St. Simon’s Youth Center, PA.
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1940. London cab-driver.

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1940. English women knitting for the soldiers. This beauty parlor gave each customer a piece of knitting to work on while having her hair done. She was to pick up where the last customer left off.
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1925: Mary Pickford.

Sweater-recycling DIY (bonus Ikea stool hack)

I’m all for experiments and trying new things – especially when those experiments involve getting a sweater’s worth of yarn for $5.

After some Youtubing and hemming and hawing, I decided to try recycling yarn from a used sweater. I went to the local Goodwill, found what looked to be a woolen hand-knit sweater (just my luck) in a beautiful denim shade of blue, took it home for $4.99, and began the unraveling.

As you can see, it is not a bad sweater at all. It’s got some lovely cabling, and was made by an expert hand. But, my knitting dreams need yarn. And lots of it!

Here were my sweater-recycling steps: a conglomeration of different Youtube tutorials + my own spin…

1. Dissassemble the sweater: Cutting the seams

I learned (by trial and error) that the sweater needs first to be disassembled(!). I turned the sweater inside out, and found the seams. There were seams attaching the sleeves to the body, and seams attaching the front and back of the garment. What you see below are ‘good’ seams as far as sweater recycling is concerned (they are hand sewn rather than machine-serged). As a result, it was easy to find the thread that held the pieces together, and cut it. I recommend going slowly at first to minimize casualties (i.e. like cutting into the knitting itself!).

On the ‘wrong’ side of the stockinette, the seam looks like two rows of braids. I picked out and cut the thread holding them together.
The seam appears like a ‘ladder’ strung between the sweater’s pieces.

After less than a couple of hours, the sweater was disassembled: 2 body pieces and 2 sleeves.

Front (neck line removed) and sleeves…

This takes a while. The knitter who made this sweater was fond of securing the seams with huge knots. Impatient, I cut these knots away.

2. Finding a pulling point

I’m sure there’s a better way to go about this, but I simply looked for where I thought the ‘cast off’ edge was on each piece. Since this was a seamed sweater, I assumed it was knit bottom-up and looked for the cast off edge at the necklines and tops of sleeves. With a little sleuthing, I noticed an uneven dip in the collar of the front of the sweater (left, below) which signaled where the last stitch might have been made. I worked on it with a knitting needle + scissors, and was able to prise a thread loose. I was in business for some serious frogging! Woo hoo!

I love the ramen noodle look of un-knit yarn.

3. Frogging it!

This is the fun part – you pull and pull…and pull.

I had read that it’s a time-saver not to leave the yarn in a tangled heap when unraveling, so I was looking for something to wind my yarn around as I went. I noticed that our Ikea Marius stool had a good set of prongs on it, so I recruited the stool in keeping my unraveling job neat, for lack of proper tools. I suppose necessity is the mother of… winging it with whatever you’ve got!

Here is the front of the sweater being frogged: with the sweater in my lap, I’m spinning the stool on a table, winding the strand around the 4 legs. I admit, my first section of frogging  wasn’t a perfect pull; there were quite a few joins that had to be made, places where the yarn broke because of my inexperienced seam-ripping (it pays to be precise!)

The front body of the sweater alone yielded a good amount of yarn. I tied the pieces together:

So many joins… forgive the messy background.

By the end of the whole process, I was left with some really copious blue hanks. Check out all that good stuff!

Frogged front, back, and 2 sleeves.

At this point, the yarn needs to be washed, and hung to dry. Adding a weight to the yarn as it dries will help to take out the curls (more on this process in a later post). Then, the yarn can be wound up, and will be ready for its knitting after-life.

There’s a world of beautiful fibre out there, waiting to be discovered and transformed. This experience is urging me not to dismiss Thrift stores and rummage sales as solid stash-sourcing options!

Have you ever recycled old knits? I’d love to hear about your adventures in yarn-cycling (and more!) in the comments.

 

 

Getting stranded: Practice runs

I’ve been trying to get my stranded-knitting skills in swing.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the Little Scallops hat pattern, and knew I had to try it. It’s a solid stranded-knitting starter. Just 5 rows of stranded colour work join the hat’s 2 colours – a veritable hands-tied-behind-your-back cakewalk for experienced stranded knitters, but a good introduction for newbies like me.

scallop hat

See those tiny bumps in the green scallop section? This is showing me that my tension is still a tad too tight, and is causing some puckering in the fabric. I need to work on loosening things up – stranded stitches need more room to ‘breathe’ than regular ones.

There are some relatively long (7-stitch) strands, or floats, in this pattern. I got to practice some float-catching, or weaving the longer strands back into the work…All in all, I’m happy with the hat and have been wearing it out on colder days.

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Happy little floats, all woven in.

For some reason, my first stranding project ever fared slightly better than this hat. It was an attempt, in Winter 2016, at knitting the houndstooth textile pattern. I think the more pucker-less appearance of this knit is due to some steam-blocking with the iron which relaxed the tenser stitches a bit.

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I learned how to catch floats late in the project. The first half has no float-catching (left). The second half, I finally got the idea (right). Float-catching builds little “hugs” into the work to prevent long, snag-able strands. They are a strand-saver!

On both practice runs above, I used a two-handed yarn-hold. It felt the most natural to me.

When I first taught myself to knit at 16, I ‘threw’ the yarn from my right hand – ‘throwing’ was the bold gesture I liked. It was what knitting was all about! When I re-started knitting in 2016, I learned Continental left-handed knitting. It felt a little faster to me, and I also liked engaging my usually dormant left-hand a bit more in my daily life. It’s been a bit of a circuitous path where yarn-holds are concerned, but this indecision turned out to be very good for easing into stranded colour work: I had a new-found left-handed ease, and re-learning a right-handed ‘throw’ brought back memories of those very first, very earnest, adolescent acrylic knits. 🙂

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Past and present meet again.

That’s all on the stranded-knitting front for now. I’m keeping my eye on the prize: an Icelandic lopapeysa-inspired pullover.

Ok, time for more practice!

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Maria Luck-Szanto’s “Jane” dress

This week, I’ve been heavily leafing through Sandy Black’s Knitting: Fashion, Industry, Craft (2012), Black’s collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum. I’ve been reveling in the book’s archival colour photos. Lots of little learnings, here: like, that the first European evidence of knit upper-body garments arrives in the 16th century, and that, in the Middle Ages, knitting guilds were male-dominated domains. But also that knitting has long been connected to locality and livelihood, providing extra income for families, and was performed very much on the move by all members of the household. Knitting-belts and skeins-pinned-to-skirts allowed socks to be stitched during field work and market-runs (I’ll remember this the next time I get impatient with my DPNs on a sock-knit). I’ve enjoyed reading, too, about specific knitting traditions: the X O pattern of Fair Isle sweaters (a tradition synonymous with stranded knitting), and traditions of knitting fisher ganseys and Aran sweaters. The Aran’s lanolin-rich fibres made them warm and water-proof, true to their maritime purposes, and their unique patterns purportedly revealed a wearer’s local origins. It was a discovery, too, to read about strange fibres, like the rare byssus, or ‘sea silk.’ Byssus is harvested and spun from gleaming deep golden-fibres made by little mollusks off the coast of Sardinia. How amazing is that?

I came across one garment, though, which I keep returning to in the book: the Jane dress.

The Jane dress is a feat of lacework. Designed by Maria Luck-Szanto and hand-knit in Britain by one Peggy Cole in 1956, the dress is knit in worsted wool worked in a single piece, from the top down. Dress-shaping is incorporated right into the lacework pattern (wow). The entire garment, back zipper included, weighs in at only 6.5 ounces. It’s as though Mrs. Cole had, at her disposal, a troop of nimble-legged lace-making spiders, all spinning away. From the high neckline and radial scallops around the shoulders, to the final scalloped hemline (edged in crochet for reinforcement and definition), this dress is marvelous; the clean, simple contours of the dress are the perfect showcase for its handmade lace wizardry. All I can say is whoa (knitting whoas are far better than knitting woes).

jane Dress

Trained in tailoring, design and handcrafts, Hungarian-born Maria Luck-Szanto is known for being among the post-war UK designers who brought knitwear design into the world of high fashion with Szanto Models Ltd. in London. Rather than treating knit fabric like any other fabric (to be cut, tailored, seamed, etc.), Luck-Szanto saw the special qualities of knitting as an opportunity to rethink traditional clothing design. Her garments could, very often, not be made with woven fabric; fabric-shaping happened entirely on the needles with minimal or no seams, resulting in complex, sculpture-like garments.

Luck-Szanto kept a remote circle of hand-knitters across Britain who, working from home, were able to earn supplementary income by producing her designs. The completed pieces were sent in to be washed, blocked, and finished. A combination of several knitters’ work, the dresses combined warmth, elegance, and durability. “Completely uncrushable and the pleated skirts stay pleated”, one advert reads of the designer’s pleated “Barbara” dress (cited in Black 2012: 92). I’m absolutely crushing on Luck-Szanto’s uncrushable dresses! I’m inspired by the way her designs highlight and develop the unique qualities of knitting to make pieces that were seamless, comfortable, and stunning.

I’m not sure what I’d do with a garment like the Jane dress. My lifestyle seems completely at odds with wearing or owning something like this. I’d probably just hang it by an open window and let the breeze play on the lacework’s magnificent drape.

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Jane bodice

All images © Victoria and Albert Museum, 2017

More on the Jane dress and other Szanto Models designs can be found on Maria Luck-Szanto’s V&A collections page.

 

Starting small: the parts of a top-down sweater

Lately, my sweater-knitting reservations have been less about whether I am capable of knitting myself a sweater, but are more about scale – how to manage and complete all the parts of a big, human-sized project. It occurred to me that if I scaled down and knit a small human sized project, the task of knitting a big one, and learning about its make-up, could become more approachable. And, it did. Small is beautiful.

I decided to knit a baby sweater, My gift to you, by Taiga Hilliard Designs. I liked the pattern’s raglan construction, and I thought that the off-set buttoned front-closure was fun and unique. Also, the sweater is worked top-down – a method of sweater-knitting I’d eventually like to try on a sweater for myself.

I started this project knowing very little about top-down sweater construction. To consolidate what I learn, it helps me to document the process in pictures so as not to forget the next time ’round.

The top-down cardigan knit-cycle

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1. This cardigan starts with the collar (on smaller needles) and the yoke, worked back and forth. A series of increases create raglan ‘seams’ across the shoulders, and an 8-stitch section creates a button-band at the front of the cardigan. I like to think of the garment as in its ‘caterpillar’ stage.

2. I think of the next step as similar to biological cell differentiation: stitches are differentiated into types. Some stitches will grow into functional sleeves, others will constitute the body of the sweater. Sleeve-stitches are held on waste yarn and asked to sit tight.

3. Working and casting off the body is the next stage. The project is now looking very much like a garment. I kept my double-pointed needles close at hand for the next step…

4. After completing the body, the sleeves are taken off the waste yarn and are worked individually on double-pointed needles. The sweater grows its wings, er, I mean, sleeves!

Without knowing what to expect, I watched the project transform in my hands into a full garment with shape, texture, depth and dimension. This was amazing. Getting to watch these kinds of slow transformations on the needles is why I come back to knitting again and again (I feel similarly about knitting cables).

A-blockin’ we will go…

I am reforming my habit of neglecting blocking. After weaving in the sweater’s ends and sewing up the gaps which had formed under the arm-holes, I knew it was time to buckle down, soak the knit, grab those pins and….let time work its magic. It was worth it. Blocking is like hitting the reset button; the wonky neckline and bottom-edge curling on the unblocked sweater (top) were smoothed out by being pinned into shape (below).

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The gloomy blue lighting of the ‘before’ shot was entirely unintentional; consider it part of the before/after effect.

Finishing touches

I decided to wait until after blocking to add the buttons. I spent quite a while in the button aisle of Jo-Ann Fabrics. A set of pink, pearlescent square buttons popped into view and spoke to me. A little embroidery floss helped secure them…

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…and this wee garment was ready to go. A sweater is born!

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To Learn: Next steps

On the next project, I’d like to learn a little more about how to get more polished button-holes, and also how to avoid the underarm-gaps which occur when switching from the body to the sleeves. Sewing up these gaps is a fine tactic, but I’m aware that there are ways to pick up stitches to avoid those holes. Even farther on the horizon would be to get my colour work skills in shape and try a top-down Icelandic lopapeysa pullover with a stranded yoke (swoon). I tell myself I’ll hazard a colour work project when I improve my skills, but of course, stranded knitting is as stranded knitting does. One doesn’t improve without the hands-on practice. All in due time, dear lopapeysa.

Until then, to tiny sweaters.

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Source: facebook.com/sunflowerfarmcreamery/

Do you remember your first sweater?  What moved you to choose that pattern or design? 

This week’s reads: Some theory, more practice

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Having recently enjoyed Ann Hood’s Knitting Yarns (2014), I was on the hunt for more knit-reads. Actually, when my hands aren’t on the needles, more than likely, my nose is in a book. This week’s nose-worthy reads:

1. In my quest for a starter sweater pattern, I’ve been feeling Kristina McGowan’s More modern top-down knitting. Inspired by Barbara G. Walker’s top-down technical work, the book has some really interesting top down spins on recent trends (top down yoga pants, hm). This is a “try-on-as-you-go” and often seamless knitting approach that sounds good to me (a beginner made anxious by the prospect of too-short sleeves). I would love to delve more into the theory of top-down garment work. My next step would be to go to the source and look up Barbara G. Walker’s Knitting from the Top (1996). Check out that cover!

2. I hope also to spend more time with Joanne Turney’s The Culture of knitting. A textile and design historian, Turney explores ‘knitting culture’ from a mostly cultural studies point of view. She tackles a lot of terrain, discussing the art and craft of knitting in relation to feminism, femininity/masculinity, identity, nostalgia, catharsis, narrative, politics and social movements, and the globalization of the garment industry. My only thought here is to ask why ‘culture’ is in the singular. Aren’t there multiple knitting cultures, or ways of engaging in knitting practices? This book deserves a good sit down – the kind of reading enhanced by ample cups of tea and positioning oneself by the window, slightly ajar, on a rainy day. I know so little about the wild world of knitting, and look forward to digging in.

3. In my quest to improve my colour work skills, I’m enjoying leafing through Nguyen Le’s Color Knitting with Confidence. The tagline reads “Unlock the Secrets of Fair Isle, Intarsia, and More.” Yes, please.

4. Finally, Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How artists work has been my bedtime read. The book is split up into dozens of short, 2-3 page vignettes, with details about the daily work routines of well-known composers, poets, novelists, painters, philosophers, and scientists. I’m struck by the sheer diversity of ways to live. But what the creators shared: they did not wait for the muse. Rather, they scheduled time to work, creating everyday opportunities for new ideas to flourish. Regularity, dedication, and dogged effort – in some biographies, to the point of self-imposed exile – filled in the blanks of capricious inspiration. Routinizing my work isn’t my forte, so I’m fascinated by those who can.

I also thought that Currey’s Daily Rituals could help artists along the way by including a quiz at the end, like the quizzes in teen magazines (“What your crush says about you,”  “Who’s your One Direction match?” etc.). With the help of a few multiple choice questions, readers could do the quiz “Which Artist are You?” and maybe gain some insight into how to design a creativity-enhancing lifestyle. 😉 Habit-wise, I suspect I bear some kinship with Samuel Beckett, as described in the book: at his best in the afternoons, he liked scrambled eggs, red wine, and writing in his workroom “for as many  hours as he could bear” (p.90).

Do you have a daily work routine? Things you must do to get into the zone? What practices allow your creativity to flourish?

The itch to stitch: Top Gun Embroidered caps

top-gun-movie-posterI don’t often see the words “Top Gun” and “embroidered” in the same sentence. The combination brings to mind a cut-throat needlework academy – a place where high-flying crafting hopefuls train their way to the top, and break all the rules doing it. But, I digress. This week, I finished the embroidered knit project I had been working on for February.

The Task

The beau’s cousin, J, recently asked if I could knit him and his best friend a pair of matching caps. Children of the 80s, J and his pal are both big fans of the 1986 film Top Gun. I admit: what I know about the plot comes very second-hand. I haven’t redressed my lack of knowledge by watching it, but in the film “Iceman” (Val Kilmer) and “Maverick” (Tom Cruise) are fierce aviation-school rivals who develop a loyal wingmen friendship by the end. They also happen to be J and his pal’s favourite on-screen buddies. The knitting request was simple: could I knit 2 caps – an “Iceman” and “Maverick” hat for J and his pal, respectively? Knowing little about Top Gun fandom myself, I liked the idea of making something in the name of friendship while trying some new knitting techniques.

The Caps 

I chose to knit the Scraptastic hat pattern, using size 3 needles and two strands of fingering weight held together. At my gauge (slightly looser than the pattern), Medium turned out good, though a tad roomier than I expected. I knit the subsequent hat in Small for a closer fit.

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The Graph

Given full creative hat-design leeway, I thought that using the movie logo would be 80s nostalgic while channeling a little bit of the irony of a knit-embroidery tribute to a movie about tough-guy fighter pilots. On the gender politics front, I see no necessary contradiction between ‘masculinity’ and needlework (ah, this is a big topic, with distinctions between men’s and women’s work, and their value, at the heart of debates about gender in the US. I’ll point out the inadequacy of my treatment here, and save that for another time. The gender of knitting is something I think a lot about, as a knitter…).

I used Stitch Fiddle to graph my design out. It allows you to enter your gauge (over 4″/10 cm) to render a grid that reflects your particular tension for making colour work charts. Stockinette stitches tend to be a little wider than they are tall. Because of this, using square-box graph paper to plan a design may result in a slightly skewed final project. Programs like Stitch Fiddle allow for a better idea of what the finished design will actually look like. It’s simple to use; rows and columns are added and deleted with a mouse click. It’s like Excel for your DIY colourwork, embroidery, and cross-stitch projects. All I have to say is “yes!” to this indispensable online tool, and others like it.

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maverick-chart

The Embroidery

Just a single strand of fingering weight and some duplicate stitching was enough to do the trick. I eased into embroidering slowly, working on the hats during free moments during the day. I tend to find my stitching stride best at night, after dinner. The fluid motions of embroidery, and the vigilance to tension, develop a finger-tip attentiveness to the materials quite different from knitting. In contrast to the hardy, elastic, and structured fabric of knitting, embroidered things feel a bit more fragile and precarious to me – until they’re done, my m.o. is to handle with care.

duplicate-stitch-composite

Less exciting was weaving in all the ends. I learned late in the game to use a single long strand to embroider multiple letters, rather than cutting my strand after each character.

Also, I personally find it best to work the duplicate stitch from the bottom to top, starting at the base of a letter, then working up and across. It’s just a little neater that way, I find.

Finally, the Top Gun hats

On the way…

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And done.

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All in all, this was a fun project. It’s hard not to see blank stockinette surfaces as a canvas for some stitchery waiting to happen. It was a surprise for the knitting to unexpectedly serve as a gateway to embroidery.

To embroidering, and matching hats…and friends!

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Ann Hood’s “Knitting Yarns”

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Why do we create or turn to craft?  What does it provide? And what do our reasons reveal about… well, what it means to live – and thrive – in the unique way that humans do?

My love of knitting is paralleled by my love of thinking and reading about knitting (and crafting of all stripes, for that matter). It’s both exciting and valuable, to me, to be able to peer into others’ creative processes and motivations (thanks for continuing to share, bloggers!). I want to understand how different makers relate to their materials, and I’m intensely interested in the meaning we give to the things we choose to make. As a maker-in-training, I am trying to better understand my own motivations in order to live them out more deeply. Sometimes, a book (yay!) comes along that helps me to do this.

Ann Hood’s Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting (2014, W.W. Norton & Co.) is an edited volume that takes an honest look at knitting’s relationship to the stuff of life: love, loss, grief, solitude, work, gender/inequality, family, generational continuity, interdependence and the natural world… the list goes on). I really enjoyed this read – the personal accounts make for lots of food for knitting thought.

Ann Hood’s “Ten Things I learned from Knitting,” for example, links knitting techniques (“casting on,” “cable stitch,” “unknitting”) to lessons in living well. She explores the process of grieving through the stages of the craft, and finds in “casting off” an art of letting go – not only of those we love, but of letting go of love itself, of loving others more freely. Bernadette Murphy’s “Failing Better” explores something I have been thinking a lot about: our capacity to transcend perfectionism and ‘fail’ more productively, discovering resilience in the process (this is a tough one, for me). For Murphy, this skill relies on a radical acceptance of error. This view paves the way for her understanding that “all of life becomes a place to learn.” More important than perfection is “knowing that you can build a life that uniquely fits, that you can stumble, make uninformed choices, and still learn and grow.” Simple but powerful reminders that issue from her (unsuccessful) attempt to teach a group of women at a bachelorette party how to knit.

My favourite contribution to the volume is Barbara Kingsolver’s “Where to Begin,” a dream-scene, Whitman-like reflection on where (and why) knitting starts. Kingsolver describes the varied, and often vulnerable, “beginnings” of the craft. Knitting, for instance, starts with:

the passage of time (“whole wide days of watching winter drag her skirts across the mud-yard from east to west, going nowhere”); the desire to forget (“nothing can stop the words so well as the mute alphabet of knit and purl. The curl of your cupped hand scoops up long drinks of calm); the desire to remember (“a mitten lost in childhood, returned to you in a dream”); the desire to heal and to commune (“laughter makes dropped stitches”); and the simple love of a colour (“every eye has hungers all its own”) or a texture.

From these experiences (exigencies?), Kingsolver brings the reader back to still earlier beginnings – the barn on shearing day (fleece, “the universal currency of a planet where people grow cold”), the sheep, and the grass. From this beginning, she reveals knitting as an artful human expression of our unique place and position in the matrix of life. Knitting is our participation in, but also reliance on, larger continuities and cycles.

I’ll end with my favourite passage:

It starts where everything starts, with the weather. The muffleblind snows, the dingle springs, the singular pursuit of cud, the fibrous alchemy of the herd spinning grass into wool. This is all your business. Hands plunged into a froth of yarn are as helpless as hands thrust into a lover’s hair, for they are divining the grass-pelt life of everything: the world. The sunshine, heavenly photosynthetic host, sweet leaves of grass all singing the fingers electric that tingle to brace the coming winter, charged by the plied double helices of all creatures that have prepared and justly survived on the firmament of patience and swaddled children.

It’s all of a piece, knitting. All one thing.

I recommend this read but, you don’t have to take my word for it!

Happy knitting to you.

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