Knitting up: Recycled yarn, part III

After winding down, naturally, comes knitting up.

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).

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© Vogue Knitting/Rose Callahan

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.

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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:

 

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Sweater front (wrong side): a veritable infestation of joins.

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!

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Sweater front (right side): I was sad to ditch the drape, but the joins will be contained once woven in.

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!

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Knit, write, run, repeat: On slow progress

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.

Knitting

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.

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Recycled yarn sweater in progress – half the back! (May 15, 2017)
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Completed back of recycled yarn sweater, thumbtack-blocking on a spare sofa (June 1, 2017)

Writing

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 stuff and 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.

Running

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”).

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Start at the beginning. At the starting line of Chicago’s 40th annual 5K Ridge Run, May 29th.

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.

Winding down: Recycled yarn, Part II

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!

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Recycled yarn before washing (left) and after (right)

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.

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Stay tuned to find out just what I have been doing with this recycled yarn. 🙂

Happy Winding!

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.

 

 

Perler pixel necklaces

While working on a longer-term knitting project, I will sometimes manage the urge to cast-on something new (no harm in that, though!) by doing smaller-scale handmade projects.

I enjoy the things that perler beads – in their near infinite versatility – can do. I’ve just discovered perler jewelry-making: fuse some beads, add a chain here, a connector ring there, a clasp, and you have yourself some nifty new pixel-y things to wear.

Here’s a perler necklace picture-DIY for the curious (the patterns are not original).

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Jump rings: the knees and elbows of jewelry. 7 mm rings are big enough for perler beads.

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…and some BB-8 Star Wars love:

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Greetings from the messy work table…

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Knitting Panda backstory: Card-drawing DIY in 4 steps

I hope you enjoyed a very Happy Christmas. Bitten hard by the making-bug earlier this month, I decided to try my hand at designing my own holiday greeting cards using the Knitting Panda art work I posted just a few days ago.panda-card1-edit-4

Have you ever wanted to draw or design your very own greeting to share with friends and family? If you’re interested, here was my process – a DIY drawing tale in 4 steps, for the curious:

1. Collect and Design. The fun part of this stage is playing around and ‘collecting’ inspiration – ideas, images, and so on, for drawing. I tried to think of the pictures, colours, and themes that might tickle my imagination.

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This hippie bear was drawn at 5. You can tell he means business.

Bears have always been one of my favourite things to draw. I can’t explain why but from the time I took pencil to paper, human-like bears populated my pictures. I grew up in the era of the Berenstein Bears, Care Bears, Paddington, and gummi bears, so this bear-love is probably a product of the 80s.

As you may have also read in past posts, I like to think that the essence of my recent knitting practice lies in expressing care and generosity – towards myself and others – in ordinary ways. Knitting, for me, is a modality of loving; in its form, it can convey the idea that the fabric of life is stitched and held together by the acts of love and generosity we share.

So…. a knitting bear it was. However, I still needed some concrete pictures to make the leap from idea to image. A Google search of “bear knitting” unfortunately gave no direct results. But, when I found the photo below in a 2011 Daily Mail article on how pandas digest bamboo, I knew I had found the reference image I was looking for. To my eyes, this ambidextrous panda was clearly a knitter (and a happy one, at that):

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2. Draw. If you’re a drawing amateur, like me, this step is likely to be riven through with all kinds of worries about whether the drawing ‘looks good’ (maybe along with internalized standards about whether it looks ‘real’ or not). When this hits me, I like to think of why children draw, the way they draw, and how I drew as a child: often and copiously, mostly un-selfconsciously, in order to share and tell stories, and out of the simple pleasure of moving messes of lines and colours around. I suspect that the desire to recapture this pleasure is behind the recent interest in adult colouring books (which I haven’t tried yet). When I was 6, my parents also gave me those smelly Mr. Sketch markers. Remember those? These added ‘smell’ to the already long list of reasons to draw.

The true drawing gateway drug.

So, I tried to back-burner my preoccupation with the end product, drew (copying the reference image, but adapting it a little), water-coloured, and inked. It was fun to see Knitting Panda take shape. I’m glad s/he got drawn.

The gist of step 2 is appreciating that your way of drawing and seeing are unique and cannot be produced by anyone else – “that might be a good thing”, you jest, but it can also be an adventure to discover and develop your style and way of seeing things through the materials, colours and subjects that feel right.

3. Copy. I had to outsource this step of the DIY. I scanned my water-colour image, and sent it to the local business-supply store/copier’s. Surprisingly, my batch of greeting cards (single-sided 5 X 7″ matte prints) were ready to take home that very day at little over 50 ¢ per card. The copies aren’t perfect (the colour is less saturated than the original), but they did their job of spreading holiday cheer. There are many copying alternatives; I went with the simplest and most affordable (short of printing them at home).

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4. Share. Off the little pandas went, into the mail slots and taped to presents, (bear)ing their glad tidings. If this panda brings a smile or two, then I’m happy.


There’s nothing like the glee of seeing your design go from daydream, to doodle, to hot-off-the-press copies. I’m excited to try this again for the next occasion.

Happy Holidays!

 

 

Honey cozy

Perhaps I should have expected that taking up knitting again would leave me in the throes of a cozy pre-occupation. I like the way that cozies (sp?) add little dabs of life, colour, and texture to the taken-for-granted objects around me (in this case, the bottle of honey that sweetens my morning tea, and gets me on the right side of awake again). I’m coming to learn that I cozify objects to acknowledge their utility and significance. The cozy is a little embellishment of love.

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Excitement: first-time colour work in the round
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The reds were meant to be arrows. Oh, well. Still looking spiffy, honey.

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Upcycled Seed Stitch Can

As a new knitter, I am always looking for opportunities to put recently learned skills to use. While cultivating the ability to work on long-term and larger knitting projects is important, I get excited when I see possibilities for using new-found skills to make tiny (and quick) crafts.

I recently learned seed stitch, and it was an instant favourite; I love the stitch’s bumpy and unusual texture. Seed stitch is a 2-row pattern. The ‘bumps’ are produced by alternating single knit and purl stitches on the first row (usually of an even number), then doing the opposite on the second row (knitting the purl stitches, and purling the knit stitches). Voilà!

I tend to hang on to discardables, recyclables and other re-usable items for my crafts, and I had been keeping an empty tomato-paste can, unsure of what to do with it, but bent on re-using it. 🙂 After reading about yarn bombing – a form of graffiti-knitting that transforms objects in public space with colourful knits – I began to look for the things in my immediate environment that could use some yarny love.

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I would love to do this. Photo source: wikipedia.org/wiki/Yarn_bombing

From there, I thought that a seed stitch pencil-can cozy would be a neat and quickly craft-able project.

Keep Reading!

Perler beads

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Often found in the kids craft section, perler beads are those tiny plastic rings of colour that can be arranged on a pegboard and ironed/fused together to make 2- and 3-D crafts. 2-D perler images often look pixelated, making perler beads great for reproducing animated characters and video game sprites. The model of bead arrangement on a plastic pegboard was invented and patented by Swede Gunnar Knutsson in the early 1960s as a form of therapy and recreation for the elderly – interesting origins of what is now typically considered (or dismissed as) a ‘grade-school’ craft. This medium is not to be underestimated! It’s very, very versatile – a kind of hands on and analog version of pixel art that can be used to make complex and stunning works. Crafters have pushed perler design past the 2-D pegboard to render 3-D baskets, bowls, trays, and ornaments. Some unexpected and beautiful examples of plastic bead-dom to try for home decor can be found here.

I have been on a perler bead kick since getting my first kit (beads, pegboards and ironing paper) on a whim a few months ago, using the beads to make small gifts here and there. I find the activity absorbing and calming – a bit reminiscent of playing with Lego, Lite Brite or other colourful, modular, pegg-y toys as a kid, and a bit similar to the craft of cross-stitch in arranging small blocks of colour on a grid-like plane. Dropping the tiny beads individually onto the pegboard takes, depending on the size of the project, a little patience, a little dexterity, and some care not to knock the still tenuously-lying beads over. Until I fuse my project, it’s about nimble and loving fingers – a feature of my favourite art and craft media.

The trick to fusing  the beads once the pattern has been arranged is evenly distributing heat across the work with an iron. Too little heat and the work crumbles apart; too much, and the work looks melty and/or unevenly flattened. Working small, I’m still honing my ironing skills! (I learned all I needed to know online. Thanks, Youtube).

More bead projects to come.

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Some Chicago love: city flag souvenir

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Sugar Bunny