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.
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.
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!
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.