Gauge. There are few things so important and yet so detested: tetanus shots, cleaning out the vegetable drawer and colonoscopies come to mind. But gauge is the single most important thing you can do to ensure that your knitting comes out right, that the sweater fits, that the hat actually goes around your head, that the mittens fit you and not your toddler. And yet, whenever I tell anyone to do a gauge, I get the silent "do I really have to?" People don’t even have to say a word, it’s all over their faces: the sheepish look, the shrug and the smirk, the wide-eyed nod and blank stare, all are ways of trying to trick me into believing that they are going to do a gauge but all the time thinking “no way!”
Let me tell you my friends, I was once like you but I have seen the light! I have knit my share of ill-fitting sweaters and other articles that have had to be passed along to someone else because they didn’t work out for me. I became very adept at picking up stitches to make things longer or cutting things to make them shorter. The thing that really turned me was doing a perfect, blocked gauge for my CustomFit sweater. Not only did it fit me perfectly but the predicted the yarn usage was almost perfect, literally to within a yard, I kid you not.
The thing is, just because you get the wrong gauge doesn’t mean you have to give up on the yarn/pattern combination you had your heart set on. I recently wanted to knit the Residential Vest in some beautiful Anzula Dreamy (a fingering weight). Now, the suggested yarn for the Residential Vest was Loft, which is also a fingering but a very different fingering from Dreamy (loft is more rustic and blooms whereas Dreamy is smooth). In any case my gauge was WAY off, something like 7 ½ stitches to the inch versus 5 ½. If I went up the appropriate number of needles, the weave would have been too open. So, after doing the math, I decided to go up 3 (maybe 4, I think I’ve blocked it out of my memory banks) sizes, with the thought that I would just steek the sides if it didn’t work out. This was very cavalier considering I have never steeked. In the end it worked out perfectly. The bottom line is, by doing my gauge and realizing it was off I was able to make the adjustments.
So suck it up knitters and do your knitting due diligence. You’ll be happy you did.
So, I think it’s obvious to say that no one, with perhaps the exception of Alice Starmore, eats, drinks, and sleeps, knitting and all things wooly. We know that there are jobs to go to, and dinners to cook, classes to teach and families to tend. Anyone who has stood still long enough knows that I am an artist with a studio when I am not in the store. And I recently met the mother of a friend of my son’s who, when I asked what she did (expecting to hear anything from salesperson to CEO) told me she is a medivac helicopter pilot. (Note: pretty much no other career sounds like anything compared to that). But recently we found out that we have a customer who does something really fun and out of the norm that got us thinking about knitter’s secret lives.
Virginia is a customer who comes in and sits and knits every now and then. She tends to quietly work at her knitting, ask a few questions and then leave. But a couple of weeks ago, I started chatting casually with her and found out about Virginia’s secret life. Our quiet knitting friend is a…wait for it…ballroom dancer. Move over “Dancing with the Stars”, we have “Dancing with a Knitter!” We’re talking tango, waltz, salsa, the works! She showed me a picture of her all done up with make-up and costume, playing a “madam” in an Old West saloon, being fought over by two men. She showed me the video of the three of them working on their moves and I’m telling you, Virginia is living out a pretty nice fantasy life on the dance floor!
I loved hearing about Virginia’s other "persona" and I think she enjoyed showing me that she was something more than someone walking in with a dropped stitch. So if there are any knitters out there who are expert rock climbers, swallow swords in a local side show or are part of a synchronized parachute team I want to hear about it!
So recently, when Beth casually said, "you know, you haven’t written a blog post since February" my immediate thought was "no, it can’t have been that long." As always, Beth was right (she’s my boss I have to say that) and I was taken up short by the amount of time that had passed. Beth very nicely always says that she understands but this is part of my job description and I do get paid for it so that’s a big “my bad” on my part.
Anyway, I got to thinking what in the world has been occupying my pea brain so much in the past few months and one thing rose to the fore, COLLEGE. My daughter has been going through the throes of college anxiety and she’s dragging me along with her. My husband seems to be able to blithely dismiss the tears and the sighing but having been a teenage girl once (when dinosaurs roamed the earth) it’s not so easy for me.
Now don’t get me wrong, this is definitely a First World problem and having difficulty choosing from a selection of colleges is just about the worst excuse for tears and sighs ever. However, given that you are only as happy as your least happy child, there I was losing sleep and wringing my hands and scheduling last minute visits to various campuses all so that my little pookie could make the right decision. So what happened after she made her choice? I came home and she was in tears because she wasn’t sure she had made the right choice.
Of course. Why would she allow herself to be happy? She’s 18, beautiful and smart, funny and kind, she has no reason to be happy!
So apologies, friends and blog followers, if you feel you have been denied my droplets of wisdom for too long. I’ve been going back to college, without even the benefit of a frat party or a football game. I just get to pay the tuition, and that is REALLY something to cry about.
One thing I like to say to people who are afraid of correcting their mistakes is that “it’s only knitting”. And while this is essentially true it is also somewhat unfair because to the person who is knitting (especially a beginner) it’s very important to get it right. More experienced knitters who have faced many mistakes in their life (and if they say they haven’t, they lie) know that whatever is wrong can be fixed or can be integrated into the pattern as a “design element”. But beginners are so earnest, and are trying so hard, that to screw something up is disaster. Sometimes, new knitters will say something along the lines of “I can’t wait to be able to do that!” or “Wow, you are so fearless about ripping out” or even “I’m too scared to do that” and while we reassure them that we are not superhuman (well, we are but…) I am here to say that there are still some techniques that send frissons of fear down even the most experienced knitter’s back.
Steeking: There’s a reason why the word “eek!” is incorporated into the word for this technique. Who in their right mind would take scissors purposefully to a garment they just spent weeks, potentially months knitting? It feels like looking at a meal you just spent all day cooking and saying “Well, now I’ll throw in a cup of salt”. But in truth steeking actually is a good thing because it means you can knit something in the round the whole way – no purling!
Brioche: I got a knot in my stomach just typing it. Two- color brioche is a sub-set of this sweaty palm inducing technique. I love brioche. I actually even love knitting the brioche stitch. Here’s what I fear: correcting mistakes. When Pam was teaching the Exploration Station and her students would come in with brioche corrections I would running (silently) screaming into the back room. But now I am contemplating an entire jacket in brioche. Help me.
Double knitting: This is one of the coolest techniques out there. It is also one of the most difficult to wrap your mind around. Double knitting is reversible colorwork so you are actually knitting one side while purling the other at the same time. Think on that for a while. Every row is the front of one side and the back of the other. I can hear your little brain synapses popping as I type.
DPNs: When someone who has never come across this acronym asks what it stands for and hears the answer, almost universally their reaction is “wait, there are points on BOTH ends?” and then their brains shut down. Even with us experienced knitters there are those who would pretty much do anything to avoid DPNs It’s definitely a personal preference kind of thing. And while I love DPNs I understand that they can sometimes make you feel so uncoordinated you might as well be knitting with your toes.
Lace: Again this is a personal preference/ability thing. Danni can knit lace in her sleep while I have never come so close to swearing off knitting entirely as I did during a lace project. Now I can cable and colorwork until the cows come home but lace scares me.
So never think that just because we are “experienced” means that we don’t have our fears. We just hide it well.
There are many times in life when we have to take a leap of faith, everything from having faith that the engineer that built that super-sized roller coaster you’re riding on knew what they were doing to believing that the person you just married is not in reality a serial killer/cannibal/nutcase. Generally we don’t think at the time that these are actual leaps of faith, we just proceed assuming that nothing bad will happen. A literal leap of faith is best illustrated by the moment Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones steps off a ledge into the void without knowing that there is a camouflaged bridge beneath his outstretched foot (see “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”).
Well, knitting wise, I have stepped off that ledge
Then there arose another issue. The gauge was done in stockinette but the cable pattern on the front and the back pulled in the overall dimensions by almost 4 inches. So that too had to be figured in to the new size I would be choosing.
After much hemming and hawing and measuring and measuring again, I took that leap of faith (faith that all my calculations were correct) I opted to go with a significantly larger size. Originally I intended to knit a little ways and measure again and if it was off, to rip out the project and start again in a smaller size. Somehow I have kept going and am now at a point where I have knit so much that if I were to rip it out I would probably have to go into a period of mourning and gnashing of teeth which could result in the vest never getting knit. So, I’m going with the next level of leap of faith (which is basically blindly going forward while feeling instinctively that you are heading to disaster) and just continuing with the knitting of the vest as established. What’s the worst that could happen?
One word: steek.
P.S. One way or another I’ll post photos and/or tear-stained confessions and promises to never do such foolishness again.
We sing these words every New Year’s Eve but if you’re like me you only have a general idea of what it means, a sentimental toast to friends and the past year. If you’re also like me you don’t really know the words and the whole song comes out sort of as one long vowel movement. So today I looked it up and it literally translates to “For times long past”. It’s a drinking song for sure (which also accounts for that long vowel movement).
And so another year has passed for Westport Yarns. It’s been a year filled with wonderful wooly creations, friendships (both within the store and our friendships that we’ve developed with our customers), and creative inspirations. It hasn’t always been easy. We fight an ongoing battle with the internet knitting sites that have economies of scale that we can never have. We also wrestle with indie dyers who only sell at sheep and wool festivals. So we are so grateful when you choose to spend your knitting dollars with us!
So let us raise a (figurative) glass to you, our friends and customers
For auld lang syne, my jo,
For auld lang syne
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne
The other day a mother called to ask if she could make an appointment for a lesson for her young son. She assured us that he could knit and only needed help with a pattern.
Well, I don’t know what we thought would walk in the door but 9 year old Theo was a revelation. Number 1, he knitted better than many of the adult customers we have. He didn’t fret if he made a mistake, he just wanted to make it right. Number 2, he was knitting with lovely yarn (Rasta) and in the round, making a cowl for his teacher. He sat quietly while I looked at his work and listened intently while we discussed the pattern. His mother told us that he also knew how to sew and when Theo and I sat together he talked about his love of fabrics and which was his favorite outfit at the recent “Manus ex Machina” show at the Metropolitan Museum. When he left an hour or so later we were just in awe of this truly special child.
So why am I writing about him? Clearly this kid has a “calling”, he’s been very focused on creating with fabric and yarn from an early age. He loved fashion, although I don’t know if he liked it from the finished product point of view. I suspect he was more interested in the materials and the construction than the actual dress. But more importantly than any of his “gifts” was that his mother (and presumably his father) was behind him every step of the way, encouraging and nurturing this special talent.
It is important to nurture every child but it can be difficult when the gift is unusual for the gender. Many parents can feel off-balance with a girl who loves to play football, a boy who wants to do ballet or in this case, sew and knit. It’s a much easier parental path when our children are in step with their peers, or excel in areas “typical” for their sex. When a talent is outside of the norm, parents know that there will be bullies and battles and perhaps even ostracizing, despite the strides society has made towards acceptance of different lifestyles. We dream of them having comfortable banker/lawyer/digital lives, with a spouse and 2.3 children. But what a boring life it would be without those who march to a different drummer! It makes me think of the apocryphal story of Bruce Springsteen whose father told him that he might amount to something if he would just “put down that damn guitar!”
So keep knitting and sewing Theo! Think of that other Theo who encouraged his brother to follow his gift despite the odds. That brother went on to pour his heart and soul into painting and left the world an enduring legacy of beauty. You are one of the special ones who makes the world an interesting place.
On a recent trip to Boston I spent a couple of hours walking around the Boston Public Library on Copley Square. As I circled this incredible building I was continually reminded how we have lost our ability to elevate the everyday. In the past craftsmen were employed to use their skills to make the mundane magnificent. Take the extraordinary murals here at the library for example (Sargent’s are the most famous here, but there are also Puvis de Chavannes and my personal favorite, Edwin Austen Abbey’s Quest for the Holy Grail series), civic leaders/wealthy people didn’t think twice about commissioning artists and craftsmen to enrich their lives and their surroundings. And by enriching their own, they enriched us all.
And what do we have now? Buildings thrown up in the minimum amount of time possible with (generally) the least expense. We assemble furniture from cheap materials. We buy items knowing they have a limited time span before they get dumped in the landfill. We have things, and things, and more things, but nothing of value. When I walk through a museum and I see all the incredible objects like the hand carved 15c wooden bellows at the Metropolitan Museum that someone (usually a nameless someone who Just belonged to the local artisans guild) lovingly decorated/spun/wove/carved I wonder what it is that we will be saving and passing down through the generations. Will the history of craftsmanship just be one long blank from the year 2000 on?
This is one of the reasons I love knitting so much. First and foremost, I love the feeling I get from making something with my own hands. Someone who says to me “But you can buy it for so much cheaper (I get that a lot with socks) just doesn’t get it. Secondly, I feel like I am creating something that has permanence. Okay, maybe not all those handknit socks, but baby blankets and wee baby hats and sweaters, adult fisherman and fair isle sweaters (all sweaters for that matter), lace shawls, all can become heirlooms that get passed from generation to generation. And let’s face it, you’re not just passing down the object itself but the love that went into making it. It’s a little piece of that knitter going forward through time.
So keep it up knitters! Ours may be among the few concrete things that future generations will have by which to remember this millennium.
I am a serial bigamist. When it comes to yarn and knitting projects that is. Anyone who knows me knows that I always have multiple projects going at the same time. I just can never seem to resist the lure of a new project and I have absolutely never been able to wait on a project once I’ve fallen in love. Sometimes, when I’ve had to finish something for the store I have put pedal to the metal on a particular something but I always resent it. I want to knit what I want when I want it! (I guess you could say I have a toddler mentality when it comes to knitting).
Now you might be thinking “But it’s not cold in Virginia by September 1st” and you would be right. But I then have to go full steam on my “Stonecutter” sweater for the class I’m teaching starting in October. I will be living, breathing and dreaming of cables for the next few months!
The thing that worries me is that since monogamy is not my usual knitting state, I feel that the universal knitting equilibrium is out of sync. No matter, once I am through with these massive projects I’ll just start 20 new projects, ignoring the 20 (or more) projects currently languishing in my knitting baskets. And all will be right with the world once again.