After a little over 3 weeks of here-and-there work, my Welcome Blanket is complete and ready to be wrapped up and sent to the Smart Museum, where the main exhibit is taking place. I’m told that the project has recently broken the 1001 blanket mark, and the plan is for the exhibit to house all the donated blankets in a single room!
I started this Welcome Blanket on August 16th and finished on September 10th, working a square at a time, seaming up and weaving in the numerous ends here and there. I found it easier to stay motivated by going back and forth between knitting, seaming, and weaving-in than to separate like tasks and complete them all in sequence. I chose to knit up the project’s recommended pattern – Come Togetherby Kat Coyle.
What’s wonderful about Come Together, as a beginner blanket-project, is its knitter-friendly modular construction. Made up of 16 10″ x 10″ diagonally knit garter-stitch squares, the pattern provides a way of easily producing even fields of colour and allows for endless compositional variations. Knitting squares also means that the blanket feels like a quick knit for being done in small pieces (even if the finishing up is much more slow going).
My favourite part of this project was getting to play around with shape and colour; I discovered that I love to tinker with modular composition and variations (which seems to be something that, say, quilters get to engage in more than knitters?). I’m feeling a little bereft of words this week, so I’ll let the images reveal the process, from designing to finishing up. As you’ll notice, my colour choices changed significantly early on – the product of a compromise, or trying to balance creative vision with, er, the much humbler desire to de-stash and work with the materials I already had at hand. It turns out that big visions and material constraints can and do play nicely after all.
Designing and Tinkering
Knitting and Finishing Up
Me and my FO
Now, to wrap it up, pen a warm message to its recipient, and send it on its way.
For more information about the Welcome Blanket Project, see here.
Tucked into a lawn-hemmed corner of the University of Chicago campus, The Smart Museum of Art – the UC’s local exhibition space – is currently HQ for the Welcome Blanket Project.Welcome Blanket is a crowd-sourced project that is sending donated crocheted, knitted, and quilted blankets to new immigrants, migrants, and refugees living in the U.S. Along with the blanket, the program is asking that each crafter enclose a personal message of welcome to their blanket’s recipient. The project imagines and performs a mass-scale welcome through letters and yards and yards of yarn and fabric as a way of creatively resisting current “build a wall” rhetoric.
The gallery blurb on the wall clarifies:
By overlapping art, craft, design, architecture, social activism, political resistance, social media, and civic engagement, Welcome Blanket offers a concrete way to explore abstract ideas. Not only by making the concept of a 2,000-mile border wall tangible through yards of yarn, but also by blurring the spaces between individual stories and collective conversations. It connects a large-scale installation in a museum gallery with small-scale local craft circles with single links between a blanket maker and a new neighbor.
How do we make large-scale civic engagement meaningful, positive, and creative for each individual?
How do we intimately understand international crises?
How do we share our singular stories in an understandable way?
I see value in simple acts of welcome, reception, and inclusion through craft. A simple handmade blanket is not much: it does not change legal frameworks and practices. It does not significantly alter the difficult and precarious economic and social conditions of living for refugees and other newcomers to the U.S. And, it is likely not going to change the opinions of people who are committed to shoring up the borders of the country. But, a blanket gifted in this way sends a meaningful message to the individuals and families whose lives are being affected by the recent shift in policy and public sentiment on immigration in the U.S. I have also learned, through joining a local Welcome Blanket knitting circle, that contributing to the project is a way for people to materially make sense of what’s happening and find voice, agency, and community again in concrete and productive ways. Like others, I think with my hands and must grapple with things when working through bigger questions.
My sense is that simple messages and gestures like these, taken by a critical mass of crafters, can restore a sense of hope.
Imagine being given the best hug you have ever received from a good friend. This feeling of embrace, warmth, and acceptance permeates the Welcome Blanket exhibitionspace – you’re surrounded by a collection of handmade gifts whose purpose is to offer a little bit of colour, warmth, and comfort.
In line with the exhibit’s theme, the Welcome Blanket space invites visitor-participation. You’re welcome to sit and knit a while, peruse through a binder of personal welcome-notes written by various blanket-makers, or (if you’re new to knitting or crochet) take a seat and try your own hand at basic blanket square-making. The knitting circle meets weekly in this space, and it has been lots of fun to spend some time stitching at the Smart with other UC knitters, transforming what is usually a ‘private’ and solitary activity into one performed in a public and shared space.
Having found out about the Welcome Blanket Project very recently, I knew that I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to contribute to a meaningful act of craftivism, despite never having made a knit-object on this scale before. So, it looks like a foray into blanket-making for me. More on the specific blanket-making process soon!
If you’re heading Chicago-ward in the coming time, the exhibition will be up until December 17th. And if you are interested in donating a blanket yourself to the Welcome Blanket Project, the deadline has just been extended from September 5th to November 4th. So that more people can participate, Welcome Blanket is covering the cost of shipping blankets to the Smart Museum in the US. Learn more at welcomeblanket.org
My square uses a combination of fibres: the main colour is from the Stonehedge Fiber Mill – a farm in East Jordan, Michigan, that has been around for all of 157 years. This worsted weight blend is Stonehedge Fiber’s amazing Shepherd’s Wool Yarn in the Autumn Gold colour way: it is incredibly soft, probably the softest and cushiest blend I’ve ever knit up (more on Shepherd’s Wool Yarn here). Doubling up strands to work the yarn on size 11 DPNs produced a soft, billowy, marshmallowy square.
The Square Story
I wanted to reflect, through my square, on the kindness and generosity of crafters and makers. The square’s streak of bright blue is taken from the mini-skein of fiber that Melissa sent in the mail, and so includes her kind gesture (thank you, Melissa!). One of my favourite knitting stories on this theme is the children’s book Extra Yarn, by Mac Barnett. Have you heard of it? (there is an enthusiastic Youtube reading, if you’re interested). Apart from John Klassen’s fantastic illustrations of a community connected by knitting, I think that Extra Yarn is a beautiful story about the intrinsic gift-nature of knitting – one that, as the story explores, threads people together, and comes from an invisible but inexhaustible source of generosity.
Extra Yarn reminds me of Lewis Hyde’s The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the modern World (1983) which makes the very similar case that a creative process relies on gift-giving and what he discusses as the logic of “the gift” – things freely given with no set conditions for return or reciprocity. These gifts – whether out-of-the-blue ideas, resources, tools, knowledge, time – are meant to circulate, and often have mysterious or unexpected origins (his reading, for example, of The Shoemaker and the Elves sees the tale as an example of gift-logic at work). The continued circulation of gifts is what enables makers to produce and generate new ideas, making acts of acceptance and giving the heart of creativity. What’s more, Hyde suggests that each artist’s unique contribution adds to and enhances the whole (and so Hyde makes the case that artistic works be treated as social endowments and kept accessible to the public).
The message of Extra Yarn and The Gift seemed to echo the underlying spirit of the Knit Together. I was oddly starting to feel as though I was being reminded, by various sources, of an important message. I have come to see and appreciate how much knitting (and knitters) have given me, and the importance of finding ways to share what I’ve learned.
From Extra Yarn. Copyright 2012 Jon Klassen
DPN Tag (a.k.a. would you like to contribute a square?)
Speaking of sharing and circulating… Part of the Knit Together Project includes co-creating a blanket by circulating shared tools: sets of DPNs.
Several DPNs are circulating through a system of tagging; I received these DPNs in the mail and now that I’m done with my square, I’m to tag a few other knitters to participate and find someone to pass the needles along to. In other words, it’s time to set the DPNs free and find them a new home so that the blanket-making can continue.
I thought of the knitting bloggers whose words and works I’ve come to enjoy and learn so much from over the past year. I highly recommend reading these exquisite knitting blogs!
Are you interested and available to join the Knit Together Project? :
(I’ll send the single-set of DPNs above to the first tagged person who agrees in the comments)
To the tagged: The idea is to send an 8″ x 8″ blanket square to Melissa (knittingthestash.wordpress.com) who is collecting all the squares. They will be seamed together, and a draw will be held among the square-contributors to receive the blanket FO(s).
The tag to knit a square (and tag another fellow-knitter) is still extended whether or not DPNs are sent directly to you.
Finally, I completely understand if this is a busy time that may not easily lend itself to an extra blanket square. No worries if you choose to decline. 🙂
Maybe the crafters here will not be surprised by this: the more I continue with knitting, the more I’ve come to realize that, in certain situations, the most politically empowered thing one can manage in troubling times is to start cultivating sanity and resilience through little, everyday practices, building from there.
While it is not required, some form of creative grounded-ness can be a very good foundation for staying receptive, open, and taking engaged actions in the world towards benefiting other people. Knitting and crafting tends to be seen by the people I know as a quaint “hobby,” maybe an escape-hatch or a “womanly” way of unwinding. Little do they know (or do they? I’m kind of a blabber-mouth) that cultivating craft in my life is part of a broader commitment that includes developing the clarity, strength, and sanity to stay socially engaged and be of help in the areas that matter to me. This commitment goes beyond knitting; it also includes being trained in teaching and research (where, I hope, the things I write can add to the chorus of voices that, specifically, is opposing the kinds of anti-immigration laws, policies, and public discourses that are unfortunately cropping up in many different places. More on my research here).
Knitting and making things has made all the difference between, on the one hand, trying to do this work while nursing a constantly battered sense of hope that social shifts could produce a more equitable world, and — much more preferable — doing this work while allowing the process to teach me to cultivate resilience. In other words, crafting isn’t the cure for, say, the kinds of micro-aggressions (and more) that women, POC, and various minorities encounter, but it can provide a home-base to return to if a day or incident has been trying. The need to cultivate a source of clarity and resilience grows greater in light of the reality that women (speaking for myself here) tend to be socialized to internalize or blame themselves for problems that are structural or systemic (why is it more habitual to castigate ourselves if we are less than perfect at balancing the demands of life than, say, to question the unreasonable gendered expectations placed upon us, and ask for a hand?).
The knitting has been a companion for all of this. It has been, for me, one of the best apprenticeships in recognizing and practicing real agency again. With every project — with every stitch! — I subconsciously remind myself that something new is possible, that new things are possible and can be brought into being with a little bit of practice, knowledge and patient action (oh, and mistakes). And if I’ve developed a habit of reading about others’ crafting tales, it’s partly because they also remind me of the unending emergence of new things in the world — splendid things reflecting the world of care, ingenuity, and loving engagement the maker put into them. Seeing this helps me to dig deep into my life and experience, and begin to look for ways to be involved and continue to take action on a broader scale. In the process, I am finding it helpful to draw on that same crafter’s energy and keen eye for possibility and transformation.
Happy Crafting, folks. Wishing you an empowered week.
The aim of this very exciting Knit Together is to circulate sets of needles (DPNs) by post to knitters across the country (and now, it seems, beyond!). Each DPN-recipient is requested to make an 8″x 8″ blanket square, with an emphasis on local/special fiber that has meaning to them and tells a story. Then, they forward the DPNs to another knitter (and can tag a few others!) who will contribute a square of their own, and so on. The squares will be collected and seamed together by Melissa, and the plan is to have a draw once the blanket(s) is/are made. Each contributing knitter is automatically entered to win the FO(s)! Like so many knitting undertakings, this one’s long-term, and the project is anticipated to go well into 2018.
In her DPN mailing to me, Melissa was so kind to include an adorable little skein of some local-to-her fiber, and a splendid stitch marker. This little gift brightened my day, and got me thinking about potential themes and ideas for my blanket-square contribution. I love the idea of telling and sharing different stories in ways that materially bring people together in acts of crafting!
As of today, I’m still in the pre-knitting phase of the blanket square (my characteristic slowness is revealing itself, here), but I hope to be done in the next few weeks. By then, I will be ready to tag a few WP knitters here on the blog (!) and ready to pass on these lovely DPNs to the next person. Stay tuned, and Very Happy Knitting to you!
For more details on this project, and to get involved, visit Melissa’s Knit Together info page.
After about a week’s worth of night-time movie-knitting, the Age of Brass & Steam kerchief shawl is done and ready to be wrapped up and given to its new wearer. Age of Brass & Steam must have been just the right starter shawl for me: now that it’s done, I want to make another shawl, pronto. I’m hooked. This, from a knitter who has not only never knit a shawl, but has never worn one, either (and, to be honest, was a little confused about the difference, say, between shawls, haps, and wraps. If there is a knitter out there who would like to shed a little light, I’m curious).
This is a great beginner pattern: it calls for 3 repeats of a stockinette + garter eyelet section to make a simple kerchief. I decided I wanted a roomier, hug-sized garment, and added an additional 4th repeat. The shawl ends in 3 rows of garter stitch. All in all, making it required ~ 310 yards of worsted weight on a size 7 24″ circular (cast-off using US 9s).
After steam blocking, the shawl measured 58″ across. I love its shape, and am still marveling at how the increases, worked ‘straight’ across on the circulars, popped out this neat isosceles triangle thing. Learning how to do this was not quite as big of a shocker as, say, my first sock heel-turn (unforgettable!) but I have to say, it’s up there in the instant replay of Knitting A-ha! Moments of 2017. The craft never ceases to amaze.
I’ll keep my learnings brief; from start to finish, this project was one big lesson. One thing, though: making this shawl has got me thinking about the importance of drape (something I have been neglecting). I’m happy with how this first one turned out, but am wondering what would have happened, drape-wise, if I’d gone up a few needle sizes. I suppose I’ll have to find out later, but am learning to keep things loose and let things flow. In any case, that’s how the shawl falls, I say (I suggest this as the shawl-knitter’s version of “that’s how the cookie crumbles”).
I’m curious: what, in your view, makes for a great shawl, wrap, or hap? Do you have a favourite one that you’ve done several times? What do you love about it? Do tell.
Wishing you a wonderful weekend, wherever you happen to be!
“How do they get that little triangle shape into the knit?” I remember asking myself when I first saw Purl Soho’s bandana cowl. Midway through the Age of Brass and Steam Kerchief by Orange Flower Yarn, I’m looking forward to finding out. Or, rather, I’m learning that the kerchief ‘triangle’ is the result of a series of increases around a midpoint-stitch, and at the edges. How cool is this?
The Brass and Steam kerchief shawl, a gift for a relative, has been a fun first shawl to work on.
Worked flat, each knit row produces 2 YOs and 2 M1’s; each purl row yields another 2 YOs. In other words, the thing takes on size fast. Before I knew it, the 2 cast-on stitches that began the shawl had literally turned into 200 without a fuss. It’s mysterious how little of that growth I actually noticed. This shawl engages one of my favourite kinds of knitting – what I like to call subliminal knitting, or the knitting that happens just under your radar of perception. There’s an internally-generated endurance to this knitting; its quality of unobtrusiveness made for a lot of stitches in a short amount of time (the rows are getting longer and longer, so maybe I’ve spoken too soon?).
This shawl is the kind of knit that is “growing up too fast” and has you wondering, with the necessary headshake, where all the time has gone. Who knows?
Wishing you lots of good making-time in the days ahead.
The saga of the recycled sweater has come to an end. What a process it’s been.
Working on this simple top has taught me a lot about basic seamed garment-construction. I had to stray from the pattern early on (not enough yarn), and ended up inventing a garment that looks quite different from anything I could have imagined. It helps to follow one’s whimsy every now and then.
This sweater has taught me how much reconstitution knitting involves. Knitting entails reworking and reconstituting both my materials and my aspirations (!) as I go back and forth between dreaming of perfect, fictional (and perfectly fictional) garments and the givens of reality. One can’t always have their proverbial cake and eat it, too — especially when working with second-hand yarn. This project taught me to follow my gut, stay loose, stay calm, and knit on. I’m happy that such an important set of lessons also happened to produce my very first knit tee – it’s a little misshapen and has some uneven bits here and there, but it’s wearable (and it fits!).
Hooray for the summer sweater! (Sonya Philip has a very fun article on precisely this topic, Wear what you make: The Summer Sweater. I really enjoy her fun sense of style and colour, and she’s spot on about the need for a summer knit in cool, air-conditioned interiors).
As usual, here are some lessons culled.
First / Recycled Sweater Learnings
1. Roll with it (mods are a-ok). Stockinette fabric is a curly thing. After seaming, the sleeves wanted to curl in, and the sweater’s bottom hem wanted to curl up. During early fittings, I felt like I was wearing a big blue curly corn chip. I decided to be kind to the fabric; instead of ‘killing the acrylic’ with an iron (permanently flattening it out), I decided to work with the knitting’s natural inclinations: I rolled up the sleeves to make cuffs (with inspiration from the 80s cut off sweatshirt), and I rolled up the bottom hem on both sides to make a little garter-stitch border. Since the sweater was very fitted around the waist, I left 3″ open slits along each bottom side-seam to add some space and movement to the hemline (see above). I just did what I felt worked. Hopefully, though, I will be doing less ‘sideways’ knit garments in the future and will encounter fewer of these curly ends.
2. Bulky Seam Syndrome (BSS) is avoidable. What I call BSS is about as appealing as it reads. A number of readers (thank heavens) warned me about the possibility of bulky seams as I began finishing up. I had to see these purported bulky seams for myself, so I did an underarm seam using a regular mattress stitch. Just as expected, this method produced a bulging, heavy, rope-like thing in the armpit that was so thick, it stiffened the fabric’s natural movement.
Thankfully, there’s another way to go about it – an adapted form of mattress stitch that is much less bulky for when seams are called for. It’s still ‘concealed’ and does the trick. See it in action here.
3. Mark beginnings and endings of seams beforehand. I’m taking a page out of my sewing days here. I took up sewing clothes at around 19, and learned from the instructions that came with the Butterick and Vogue paper patterns. A key step in garment-making, I remember, was to pin the pieces of fabric together before running them through the machine. It turns out that this is good sense when seaming knits, too. Because I was careless, and did not count my rows on the sleeves, I produced sleeves of slightly different lengths! Securing the starts and endpoints of my seams before sewing went a long way in keeping hemlines even. Which leads to my next learning…
4. Count the rows. Another reminder to myself. Next time, I will not rely solely on my tape measure to determine whether equivalent parts of the sweater are the same. Next time, I will measure and count actual rows. Having long prided myself on my pencil-and-paper minimalism when it comes to row counting, I just may buy a stitch counter the next sweater ’round.
And finally, 5. Process is queen.There’s always a little fear that comes with straying from the directions. But there’s a lot of freedom in straying, too. If I were to picture the process of making this first sweater, from thrift-store find to intended pattern to FO, it would basically consist of a series of unexpected and make-do-with-the-circumstances strayings, like this:
It’s ok to fear, in the thick of things, that a project might fail. Every now and then, though, the seeming ‘failed’ part ends up being precisely the thing that leads to a new direction. And an entirely workable or downright happy direction, at that.
This recycled yarn project has been 4 months coming, and it feels good to be finished! I will do this again, and have already taken to finding other froggable garments. If you have a little bit of spare time, it can’t hurt to try your hand at some simple yarn recycling.
I’ve been working nights, over the past few weeks, on my recycled-yarn sweater, and it is slowly taking shape! After dreaming about tackling a seamless top-down sweater (a construction method I love), I decided to work on a seamed sweater project instead. Having had the fun and excitement of making a top-down baby sweater, I felt like I wanted a new challenge.
I felt a twinge of love at first sight when I laid eyes on Roberta Rosenfeld’s Drape front sweater in the pages of a slightly weathered copy of Vogue Knitting’s Very Easy Sweaters (2013).
The sweater looked comfortable, versatile and, yes, very, very easy in its all-stockinette composition. If you recall, the back of the sweater was completed a while ago.
The front of the sweater has since also been knit up, but with one major modification: it won’t be a draping sweater after all! It will be a plain-fitting, non-draping front. Literally, a sweater t-shirt. It’s as simple as tops get. I chose this modification for two reasons:
1. I learned that I did not have enough of the recycled yarn for the drape version, which requires an extra stretch of knitting at the front. Yep.
2. Knitting up using my recycled yarn ended up requiring making many (many) joins. The sweater is basically made up of yarn pieces! This photo may be tantamount to airing out my dirty laundry, but here’s what I mean:
The original pattern requires half of the sweater-front to be twisted after being knit up, leaving half of the front ‘inside out’ (with an outfacing garter-stitch side) and the other half in regular stockinette. The prospect of multiple loose threads from the joins above coming undone and leaving little ends sticking out did not appeal to me. I decided to abandon the dream of that beautiful drape and keep the joins where they belonged: on the inside of the garment!
What’s left, now, is to block the front, then sew the two pieces together. I’m a little jittery about this last step, but I can’t wait to share (and wear) the results. I resolve to love this ‘first sweater,’ regardless of how misshapen it may turn out. In honesty, I already love this future recycled garment with all my heart: I love that this sweater gave me so much time of happy work. It will be that funny sweater I wear that contains all the hours of joy and delight that went into making it. It will be my Happiness Sweater (for this reason, I really hope it fits!). More to come.
Hoping this week finds you enjoying some stitching under the sun!
My post this week is a big Thank You to Tierney at tierneycreates.com. She recently nominated me, among other bloggers, for a Versatile Blogger Award (Thank you, Tierney, for the honour and the share!).
If you haven’t discovered it yet, Tierney Creates is one of my favourite blogs. There, you’ll find not only Tierney’s ongoing quilting projects and creative/design musings – showcasing her incredible skills and her prolific quilting – but also great recipes, beautiful pictures of her adventures & travels, tales of bookstore jaunts, and thoughtful discussions of lots of great reads. And more! (I am barely scratching the surface). As a library-lover, I always come away with new reading ideas from her blog; as a crafter, I’m inspired by Tierney’s beautiful creative work and her enthusiasm for her process and materials. Tierney Creates is a celebration of the creative life.
Linked to Tierney Creates is a wonderful companion blog, Schnauzer Snips, which offers more quilting goodness and a slice of life from the schnauzer point of view! If it’s not already obvious from my gushing, I think her blogs are real gems – do check them out!
The Versatile Blogger Award info page on WordPress suggests that the VBA’s purpose is to “Honor those bloggers who bring something special to your life.”
Here are the folks that bring that ineffable “something special” in the way they inspire me to blog (and live) better. In different ways, these bloggers expand my understanding of what it means to make things and cultivate happiness through creativity; share knowledge (wisdom!) that comes from their own process and experience; inspire me to be brave and experiment through their own example; tell great stories in unique voices; and create a space to reflect on the extraordinary in the everyday. That’s versatility. A good blog is a gift and a generosity.
I could go into greater length about the specific things that I enjoy about these individual blogs (I thought of doing a separate post on that) but, I think, in the end, the joy of following a good blog is getting to discover the pleasure of it yourself. 🙂 This one’s for you, bloggers!
If you feel inclined, nominees, you can nominate your favourite blogs for the Versatile Blogger Award (rules below), though there is no pressure to do so from me. Either way, know that you have a reader who enjoys your unique contribution to blog-land. 🙂
In addition to nominating my favourite blogs, I think I’m supposed to include some facts about myself? So, in no particular order:
1. I used to cut and colour hair for my mother and friends in high school, and dreamed of opening up my own salon. I gave some haircuts to friends in recent years, and still really love it.
2. My first ever Hallowe’en out, I went as a hippie. It was 1991.
3. There are no other knitters in my immediate family. I started knitting after something like a waking fever dream. I was 16 and I remember suddenly wanting to make winter things like hats and mittens very badly. It was the middle of summer, and I walked 5 miles alone to get the things I needed (between the trip to the library craft-section and the big-box White Rose craft store where I purchased my first aluminum needles and a skein of rainbow-coloured variegated acrylic). I still don’t quite understand it, but there’s my knitter’s origin story.
4. I am studying to be an anthropologist.
If you wish to pass on the Versatile Blogger Award
Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
Nominate the bloggers of your choice.
Link the nominees in your post / inform them about their nomination.
Long post alert (but with some knitting updates in tow).
I’m coming to recognize and examine a few things about myself:
1. I like to get lost in work. Different kinds of work. Usually, whatever it is I have to do. Call it engagement, “flow,” or trance, I rely on that state of zoned-out engagement for a sense of balance and productivity.
2. I am a slow worker. By this, I mean that I like to take my time. Whether preparing a piece of writing, a piece of knitting, or a meal, I like to consider possible alternatives, undo and re-do my efforts, enjoy all the different steps of a process. I’ve often felt that my slowness has been, up until now, a disadvantage. World records, rewards and races endlessly validate speediness; “slowness” gets a bad rap. But, when I work slowly (and can manage to tame the urgent sense that I should work faster), I get the most work done over the long term. Slow work adds up.
When I first became aware of it, my habit of slow work seemed counter-intuitive and almost paradoxical. Business-y internet clip art and related images of productivity have taught me that productivity thrives on speed: doing multiple things on the go, doing them quickly, one after the other, life-hacking tasks to cut the time it takes to do them. But, the more I committed myself to the kinds of projects I actually enjoyed doing, the more I discovered that there are many things to which shortcuts don’t apply. Some very worthwhile processes are not very “efficient” or streamlined at all. For these processes, slow and steady plodding (with its second chances, pauses, and time for deliberation) feels more comfortable to me. I’m starting to appreciate my disposition for slowness, and am beginning to discover its benefits and advantages.
I cultivate my inner ‘plodder’ through knitting, which is the ability to create durable and interesting things one stitch at a time. Well-intentioned people have reacted to my knitting in ways that expressed that they thought it was admirable, but amounted to a form of tedium. In those moments, I wished I was capable – through some sci-fi mind melding – to transmit the states of pleasure and engagement that come from working on a project. For me, there’s the zeal of the pattern-search, when I entertain hope and collect aspirations; there’s the thrill of a fresh cast-on; there’s the mid-way chill-out that comes with seeing the knit grow (and growing into the knit); and the satisfaction of the final bind off. All of this, further, comes wrapped up in anticipation and self-doubt: I never know how the thing is actually going to turn out, so I knit for the simple pleasure of seeing what happens. There’s always some dread that a project might end up quite horrible, so I don’t rush to my doom.
I’ve made progress on the recycled yarn sweater of the previous tutorial, posted in April. I recall purchasing and unraveling the sweater in March. I’m mid-way through re-knitting it into a new sweater – 3 months coming! Now, that’s a slow sweater.
Writing provides similar refuge for my slow-plodder. I’ve been working on a writing project for nearly 3 years. I was once told by someone that, were they in my shoes, they would have given up. I wanted to convey to them how I get lured (tricked) into writing, how there is a wave-like cycle that oscillates between productivity and fallow-time, between the momentum of strongly desiring the things I’m going to write and being absolutely sick of the things that I have.
Unlike knitting, where I can watch my knit grow as I inch towards that FO, I’m often caught off-guard, when writing, by how quickly unrelated content can pile up. A big hunk of my written words, I’ve learned, will have to be cut from the next draft. The equivalent to this experience, in knitting, would be to start, say, a scarf, only to discover that a hat, sock, and some other unrecognizable stuff have also started to insinuate themselves onto the needles. Constant mutation! If my knitting constantly shape-shifted in this way, I would be faced with deciding which one of the emerging projects to pursue; this would come with a twinge of pain at having to say no to some very promising beginnings without any guarantee that they’d be completed later. Having newly committed, say, to knitting the sock instead of the scarf, I might once again find myself re-directed by some new emergent stuffand have to re-decide what it is I’m doing. This is how uncertain and non-linear the process of writing feels to me.
On still other days, there’s just the blankness to contend with. Either way, in the past, I could only make it to the writing table kicking and screaming.
The fear abides. But, I’ve learned that I can make things a little more bearable if I plod gently and slowly: I work my way to the chair, put on some music. I try to keep in mind that none of it is set in stone, and doodle things with pens that no one will see. I work one word at a time, one tiny revision at a time – time enough to build that awkward sentence, register that up-welling horror, and then take a gentler, more yielding stance to it, reworking it where I can. With slowness comes some space to practice forgiving myself, as I go, for all of the bad prose produced. I’m discovering that writing can be a valuable exercise in self-acceptance; the fear is always there.
More recently, I’ve found a new home for my slow, plodding ways: running. Not the race-you-to-the-fence kind of running, but the kind done slowly, at your own pace. Jogging, I guess.
Last weekend, my partner and I ran Chicago’s 5K Ridge Run. I ran the course in 40 minutes (a plodding 13-minute mile). I found myself – a barely trained running neophyte – having to slow my pace down in order to keep going. But, this pace was slow enough for me to not have to hurriedly toss the little cups of water they hand you to the ground (which felt wrong, the course was in a residential neighbourhood). Instead, I simply jogged to the nearest bin. It was slow enough to see and appreciate the good folks who had shown up, on their own time, to cheer the runners on. And it was slow enough to register the odd bit of chatter between runners – the way one mother explained to her small daughter the meaning of the word determination (“it means you don’t give up even when something gets really hard”).
We ran in honour and memory of my partner’s father – a seasoned and dedicated runner who ran a Ridge Run (10K or 5K) every single year since the race’s beginnings in 1977. That’s an unwavering 39 races run, over 39 years, in addition to a number of marathons also run, over the years, and all the training that happened in between. I have always been amazed and inspired by this example of commitment. He was able to not only complete courses most would find harrowing, but to maintain his dedication to the sport over decades.
It’s an example to live by.
How do you work best? And how do you, on larger projects, keep motivation alive long enough to go from start to finish?
Happy making, friends. Wishing you a beautiful weekend.
In early April, I posted a DIY tutorial on how I harvested the yarn from a recycled thrift-store sweater.
I’ve since hand-washed and dried the yarn, adding some weight during drying to take out the curls. Unfortunately, my strategy didn’t work as well as I thought it would. Once dried, the used yarn was still curling from its previous knit (though you’ll notice the waves are a little looser than before). I think this ‘yarn memory’ is due to several reasons, but the main one, I suspect, is a high synthetic content. It may not be the 100% wool I thought it was!
Anyhow, wanting to get on with things, I decided to go ahead and ball this curly yarn. For lack of a proper winder, I made the balls by hand using a toilet paper roll (!) removed when the winding was done. This was time-consuming, but was in line with my love of recycling. Hand-winding, it turns out, is also relaxing in its own way. The result was a neat, center-pull ball. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let those speak for themselves.
Stay tuned to find out just what I have been doing with this recycled yarn. 🙂
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.
The knitting in progress above benefited from the newly returned April sunshine.
By mid-month, the mitts were finished and wet-blocked:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!