The Personal Side of Knitting

The Personal Side of Knitting


Today I wanted to post a bit about my personal life and how knitting has fit into it.  I’m currently at the age where my body is changing from motherhood to crone-hood– in other words, I’m going through menopause.  A stereotypical view of menopause (or perimenopause as it’s more correctly called) is that it’s a time where women get hot flashes, have irregular periods, and suffer from empty nest syndrome.  Although these things are true (except the empty nest– many of us started our families later and I still have three teens at home), there are some symptoms that we fail to hear about in the popular media that are much more challenging than hot flashes.  Things like depression.  Memory loss.  Brain fog.  For a Type A person like me, who prides herself on getting things done and lots of them, these things are much more daunting than having to throw the covers off several times a night.

For the last year or two, I’ve solved this problem by taking a lot of estrogen to replace what my body isn’t making.  I kept asking my doctor to up the dose until I felt like myself again.  At the same time, I started using more checklists, more reminders, more alarms, more routines, and more notes to myself to remind myself of what I might forget later.  Now, as I approach the age where I have to balance my risk of heart attack or stroke with my day to day health, I’m weaning off the estrogen again.  And I’m having “flat” days, days where I don’t feel particularly… well, I don’t feel much of anything.  I have trouble making a plan for the day sometimes.  I have trouble following through to the next step.

This is where knitting comes in.  I have several bags or baskets of knitting around the house.  A sock by my bed.  A stockinette sweater by the front door.  A garter blanket by the couch.  I’ve made myself detailed step by step lists of how to make several kinds of sock on my sock machine.  So even when I’m feeling flat and unable to face even sorting and folding laundry, I can pick up a knitting project and make a few rows or rounds.  These projects grow, even when I’m feeling stagnant.  The softness of the yarn and the feel of the needles soothes me and awakens my spirit at least a tiny bit.  It helps me keep a wee chink of light open against the gray.

Knitting has also kept me connected to other women of all ages.  It was my knitting group who encouraged me to go to the doctor to get that added estrogen in the first place.  My knitting group has sympathized and empathized and reassured me that this is not me alone.  Their constancy, their wisdom, and their kindness have helped to keep me afloat as I’ve navigated this challenging time in my life.

I wanted to write about this because the mood and memory effects of menopause aren’t commonly talked about, and I think many of us struggle alone.  As I’ve been working through this process, I’ve realized that as uncomfortable as it is, I need to talk about it.  Getting through will be worth more if I can know that I helped someone know they aren’t the only one.  My knitting helped me discover that.

 

Teaching Tips: Building in Practice

Teaching Tips: Building in Practice

Some of my Teaching Packs build in practice before students begin the actual project.  For instance, in the Learn to Knit Lace pack, the teacher notes instruct the teacher to have students cast on a swatch and practice the yarn over and the different types of decreases in a swatch before they cast on the actual headband pattern.

Why build in practice on a swatch first?  Well, in this case, making left-leaning and double decreases requires some stitch manipulation that will be new to many students.  By starting with a swatch, students only have to worry about one thing– making the stitch properly.  They don’t have to worry about following the chart or written directions.  They don’t have to worry about getting the right tension.  They only have to worry about manipulating the stitches correctly.

When possible, teachers should look for ways to build in practice on new skills in isolation before applying them to a more complicated project.  When it’s not possible, remind students that it’s just knitting, and if something doesn’t work, we can always pull out the yarn and start again.

New Japanese Knitting Book

New Japanese Knitting Book

 I recently purchased the book Japanese Knitting: Patterns for Sweaters, Scarves and More that has been translated into English and published by Tuttle Publishing.  They also recently published the Japanese Knitting Stitch Bible, also a translation.

I have a number of Japanese stitch dictionaries but have shied away from the pattern books in Japanese, feeling concerned that there is too much I’d have to puzzle out.  This book is translated to English from the original Japanese but it keeps the format and style of the original patterns, which are much more brief than modern American patterns.  It also includes a special five page introduction to Japanese knitting patterns for English readers that explains how the patterns are traditionally laid out.  I think those five pages were worth the cost of the book because they have given me more confidence to look at the Japanese language pattern books again next time I am at a Japanese bookstore.

My favorite pattern in the whole book is F Poncho and Cardigan, a garment that can be worn both as a poncho style garment with sleeves or as a circle style cardigan.  It’s one of several two way garments that caught my imagination both as a knitter and as a designer.  I have yarn on the way and hope to start working on this one soon!

Despite being called Japanese Knitting, there are several crochet patterns included that have a very fresh look and interesting surface texture.  I particularly like P Vest and Stole, another two way garment that can be worn both as a long vest or as a wrap.

Many of the garments use simple shapes to make elegant silhouettes and would not be difficult to knit.  The English version helpfully includes cm to inch conversions on each pattern page for the measurements listed for that pattern.  It also includes a chart that gives you more details about the yarns used in the patterns, which are difficult to find outside of Japan, so that you can make effective substitutions.

Overall, I’m happy to be able to add this book to my collection and I hope Tuttle puts out more of these gems!

On the Needles in June

On the Needles in June

The last month has been a time of putting some projects on hold and ramping up others.  Tomorrow I’m planning to publish the sixth in my series of eight teaching packs.  This one will include a pattern for a baby sock and teach students all the basics of knitting a top down sock so they can go on to full sized socks knowing all the basic techniques.  I’ve been working on the pattern for the seventh teaching pack– an introduction to slip stitch knitting.  Look out for a new pattern for the Seetang Cowl that goes along with this pack– it has a great texture that works will with variegated yarns!

My shawl design is on hold as I wait for another skein of yarn to arrive.

So while I wait, I started on the On a Whim sweater I picked out last month.  I am making a lot of progress and am only about 25 rounds from the underarms!  Since it’s an A-line design, that means I’m probably about half way done with the knitting!

I decided to take the Featherweight Cardigan off the knitting belt and start working it in my usual continental style of knitting.  I really like the idea of a knitting belt, but putting it on and taking it off slows me down from picking this project up.  A lightweight sweater like this one is perfect for Santa Cruz weather and I want to get it done, so I’m keeping it on the same needles but using them as straight needles.  I’m not giving up on the knitting belt, but I need to find another project (perhaps in larger yarn) to work on it.  I’ve reached the underarm seams on the back piece and am starting the bind offs.

I have two pairs of socks on the needles.  The Rose City Rollers are in my purse, waiting for down time for me to start the heel flap on the second sock.  And I’ve passed the heel and am on my way up the leg on my first in a pair of Fidget Socks.

Friendship Knitting

Friendship Knitting

This month, my friend Jahna and I got to meet up in San Francisco.  We were wearing the sweaters we made as a friendship knit along.  This was the third project that we’ve done together as a knit along.

The first was the BFF Cowl, which is a completely great friendship project.  You each make two short scarves in different yarn and then you exchange one of them so that you have one that you knit in one color and one your friend knit in another color.  Then you graft the ends together so that they form two interconnected rings.

The second project was a Cheveron Blanket.  Being as they are big and bulky, we’ve never gotten our blankets together.

The sweaters are our most recent project.  For this one, we both picked a sweater from CustomFit, and we picked out yarn from the same indie dyer, but Jahna did hers in a worsted weight yarn and with a longer length and I knit mine in sport weight and a shorter length.  Jahna did some cool color blending on hers as well.

We haven’t decided on our next project, but we are considering a double knit Star Wars scarf!

Looking for some ideas for friendship knitting projects?  One book that we have looked at is Knit the Sky by Lea Redmond.  This book is choke full of interesting possible projects, with a few that are specific to friendship knitting.

 

Teaching Tips: Should I correct stitch mount?

Teaching Tips: Should I correct stitch mount?

When I’m teaching knitting classes, one thing that comes up occasionally is stitch mount.

For most English speaking knitters, the stitches on their needles have the right leg to the front and the left leg to the back as shown on the left-hand needle in this drawing (Western method knitters).  However, some knitters mount their stitches with the right leg to the back and the left leg to the front as shown on the right-hand needle in this drawing (Eastern Method knitters).  Or they might work knit stitches one way and purl stitches another way (Combination method knitters).

If one enters the stitch on the right-hand needle by trying to insert the needle to the left side of that front leg, it will twist the stitch.  Many of the knitters I’ve met who mount their stitches this way, know to enter the stitch from the right side of that front leg, so the stitch doesn’t twist.  The only problems come in when these knitters try to follow directions for certain increases and decreases that assume the stitches will be mounted with the right leg to the front.

Here’s my philosophy: there is no wrong way to knit if you get the fabric you want.  I never try to change the way an established knitter forms their stitches in my class if they are getting the fabric they want and working at a satisfying speed.  I do help them convert English directions to make increases and decreases work as the pattern expects them to work.  For a great resource on this, check out this handy chart.

On the other hand, I do encourage brand new knitters who will be using primarily English language patterns to adjust their stitch mount to fit the expected norm for those patterns– the Western method.  I explain my reasoning (simplifying reading patterns as their skills develop), but I also explain that not changing means they just have to be conscious of their desired results and when they need to diverge from the written directions.

For links to purchase my teaching packs for beginning knitting classes click here.  For a great explanation of different knitting styles and methods, check out this tutorial.  And if you aren’t familiar with knitting in a variety of methods, I highly recommend Patty Lyons’ Craftsy class called Improve Your Knitting, which includes basic instruction for a variety of styles and methods.

Crochet Water Balloons for Summer

Crochet Water Balloons for Summer

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to an article about crocheted water balloons.  The idea was to make a balloon shape out of Bernet Blanket yarn and then soak them in a bucket to throw instead of a traditional water balloon.  The yarn is very absorbent so they soak up a lot of water and make a pretty satisfying splat!

Advantages: reusable, machine washable, don’t leave bits of plastic all over your yarn for birds and wild animals to get, easy to “fill,” fast to make.

Disadvantages: don’t make quite the same explosive splash as a traditional water balloon and they are made of synthetic yarn so you haven’t gotten totally away from the plastic problem.

All the patterns I found online worked in rounds with a chain up instead of working in a spiral, and of course I felt many weren’t quite round enough or had enough of a balloon looking top.  Many patterns called for a magic loop start, which I think is hard in this yarn because it is so grippy.  So in the end, I designed my own pattern!

If you are local to Santa Cruz, CA, I’ll be teaching a class on how to make these at Knit Sew Make.    If not, or if you are already comfortable with crochet, here’s the pattern so you can make your own!

Materials Needed:

  • Size 9mm crochet hook (US size M)
  • Bernet Blanket Yarn (or other super bulky chenille style yarn)
  • Removable Stitch Marker

Note: Balloons are worked in a continuous spiral.  To keep track of where the rounds begin, place a removable stitch marker in the first stitch of the round and move it up after each round is completed.

Small Balloon

Round 1: Ch 2, 6 sc in second ch from the hook, do not join. (6 sts)

Round 2:  2 sc in each st around (12 sts)

Rounds 3-4: Sc 12.

Round 5: [Sc 4, sc 2 tog) twice. (10 sts)

Round 6: [Sc 3, sc 2 tog] twice. (8 sts)

Round 7: Sc 2 tog four times. (4 sts)

Round 8: Sc 4.

Round 9: [Sc 1, 2 sc in next st] twice, join to beginning of round with slip stitch. (6 sc).

Fasten off.  Use a piece of yarn to tie the neck of the balloon and push all ends to the inside of the balloon.

 

Large Balloon

Round 1: Ch 2, 8 sc in second ch from the hook, do not join. (8 sts)

Round 2: [Sc 1, 2 sc in next sc] four times. (12 sts)

Round 3: [Sc 2, 2 sc in the next sc] four times. (16 sts)

Round 4-7: Sc 16.

Round 8: Sc 2 tog eight times.  (8 sts)

Round 9: Sc 8.

Round 10: Sc 2 tog four times.  (4 sts)

Round 11: Sc 4.

Round 12: 2 sc in each stitch around, join to beginning of round with slip stitch. (8 sts)

Fasten off.  Use a piece of yarn to tie the neck of the balloon and push all ends to the inside of the balloon.

On the Needles in May

On the Needles in May

April was a month of finishing!  I completed my Wynne Shawl and the creature from Edward’s Imaginarium for my daughter.  The hair on the creature took as long as doing the arms and legs combined!  I also made two pairs of socks on my circular sock machine for a school raffle.

I continue to slowly move along on my Featherweight Cardigan.  I find that I don’t pick this up as often as I should because I’m working it on the knitting belt and the extra step of putting on the knitting belt somehow keeps it from being easy to pick up.  I’ve considered putting it on regular needles, but I’m afraid my gauge will change and also that I’ll never get good at the knitting belt technique if I bail now!  I probably need to pick a time of day to work on it and stick to a schedule.

Yarn for On a Whim sweater

I’ve also got a new sweater swatched and ready to go.  I’ll be making the On a Whim Custom Fit sweater by Amy Herzog in a fingering weight yarn I got from Expression Fiber Arts.  As you can see from the wound yarn, I’ll need to alternate skeins throughout!

I’m making steady progress on my new shawl design.  This will be more of a shawlette, but since it’s also meant to be a pattern to learn to knit lace, I think that’s going to be fine!  I’m really loving the yarn I’m working with and can’t wait to see the final results!

A friend pointed me to the idea of crocheted water balloons, so I’ve also been playing with some super bulky yarn and spinning up my own pattern for these great toys.  They don’t fill with water, but the Bernet Blanket yarn becomes really saturated so they make a very satisfying splat when they hit something (or someone).  And no scraps of balloon to hurt the animals.  And endlessly reusable!  Look for my version of the pattern in an upcoming blog post!

Prototypes for my crocheted water balloon pattern.

 

Knitting in Company

Knitting in Company

Last week I went to a knitting retreat that I’ve been attending for the last two years.  We meet at the St. Francis Retreat Center about an hour from my home.  The rooms are simple, the food is wholesome, and the company is great!  This retreat has a few social events such as a sock yarn exchange and a single one-hour workshop, but most of the time is listed on the schedule as “Relax.”  The center has a short walking trail around a seasonal pond and some slightly longer trails up in the hills.  A lawn with large, shady trees spreads across the front of the retreat center as well.  Just before the retreat, I had the unfortunate experience of being rear ended twice in one week, so it was great to spend a weekend not driving at all and just basking in the company of fellow knitter.

The conversation ranges from the technical (such as the best way to finish the top of a colorwork knee-high sock) to the personal (dealing with health issues) and everywhere in between.

Knitting in company is one of the best things ever.  I was part of a spirited conversation about the best interchangeable needle sets and all the considerations you might make in deciding which one to purchase for your first set.  I’m quite sure my non-knitting friends eyes would have glazed over about two minutes in!  With our hands at work, our minds are free to puzzle over both the mysteries of life and the technicalities of our craft.

I highly recommend finding a knitting group.  It doesn’t have to be a weekend retreat, a weekly or monthly group also has many of the same advantages.  Meetup.com has listings and many yarn shops have social knitting events.  Many communities have knitting guilds that have social events as well as more formal meetings.  You might even find a group at a local library.

I’m on the top row, sixth from the left.
Teaching Tips: Asking Permission

Teaching Tips: Asking Permission

One thing that I always try to do while teaching a class is to ask permission before I handle a student’s work.  This is a small thing, but my goal in class is to empower students to find and correct their own errors.  If I take their work every time a problem occurs and whisk it away for a quick fix, my students never really learn to do the things they need to do when they are on their own.

When a student asks for help, I look at the work in their hands and see if I can identify the problem and give verbal directions.  If not, I ask if I can hold their work so I can examine it more closely.  Once I’ve identified the problem, I have some choices.  I can ask the student if I can fix it for them and explain what I’m doing, or I can hand it back and direct the student verbally or using my sample to demonstrate.  I do a mix of these things in class, depending on the skill level of the individual student and what the student indicates to me that she or he needs to move forward.  I admit I may not be perfect at asking permission every time, but learners benefit from being treated as capable and in control, and asking permission is one way to achieve this goal.