I have a friend who is an expert sailor, has sailed competitively around the world on all sizes of boats in all kinds of weather. He says anyone who tells you that they never get seasick is either a liar or someone who hasn’t sailed very much.
So I’m here to tell you that any knitter that tells you that they never make a mistake is someone who doesn’t knit very much or perhaps someone who embellishes the truth. Or maybe they don’t even see their mistakes, which can also be listed under the category of doesn’t knit very much or with much variety.
So what differentiates a decent knitter from a good knitter? Instinct.
Instinct is something that one develops over time and with experience. Just like my friend can probably smell the shift in wind direction, most experienced knitters can feel when something is wrong, even when they can’t spot the mistake, at least not easily.
I came up against this recently on a rather large and complicated project I started (Sage by Marie Wallin). This is a long tunic styles fair isle pullover with 13+ colors so I thought I was being as careful as could be (“thought” being the operative word). Now, I’m doing this in the round instead of flat and I have on the needles 378 stitches (I’ll let you have a second to read that again : 378 stitches). One never wants to make a mistake but you REALLY don’t want to make a mistake when you have that many stitches at stake. I was working one of the simpler patterns (at least simpler to read), a very clear dark star against a light background. As I progressed I kept having the feeling that it wasn’t quite right, but the numbers were adding up and the repeats were ending where they were supposed to. But it didn’t quite look right. But I kept on knitting.
You can probably guess where this is going.
I finally found the mistake. I had established the pattern incorrectly in the first row of the pattern. THE FIRST ROW. Which means I had to rip out 4 rows or 1512 stitches. I would have had a stiff drink except it was 8 in the morning. I still considered it. But I just took a deep breath and off those stitches came, mingled with muttered epithets and a few tears. The only silver lining is that my instinct kept nudging me. I didn’t find the mistake as quickly as I would have liked but I did find it.
So develop that instinct my friends. It will save you a few tears in the long run.
Aaah, Ravelry! Is there any more pleasant way to spend 1, 2, 10 hours? Personal hygiene? Overrated. Hungry kids? Cold cereal for dinner is perfectly reasonable. Boiling pots of water on the stove melted down to indistinguishable blobs of molten metal? Tell your family it’s artwork. Nothing can pull you out of the vortex once you have happily surrendered to the world of yarn.
What could be better than being surrounded (in an ethernet sort of way) by like minded souls, who are also blissfully unaware of the passage of time as they ponder the vast – limitless! – possibilities offered by the (literally) millions of knitters using thousands of yarns in a gazillion different ways. I’m pretty sure from my extensive research that Ravelry covers every contingency from body type to knitting/crocheting ability. Age, gender, body part are all taken into consideration. My personal favorite is “mature content”. All I have to say is, really? Dirty knitting? Isn’t that against the universal laws of knitting? How can any craft which has been so long associated with hearth and home produce patterns with, if not objectionable, let’s say questionable content. But that’s Ravelry folks! Something for everyone!
But despite all the potential pitfalls of time lost and money spent, Ravelry is still your best friend. Just try to remember that pot on the stove.
People often ask us how we pick the patterns that we knit up for the store. We have a few criteria.
1) Attractiveness. First and foremost, will people want to wear it/knit it/give it as a gift?
2) Achievability. Yes, we could all show off our knitting skizzles and dazzle everyone with our cable/colorwork/lace/brioche work but what good would that do us if the majority of the customers who walk through the door would be sent into paroxysms of inadequacy and insecurity, thinking that there was no way that they could ever produce any of the samples on display?
3) Variety. There are only so many cowls one knitter can do before boredom sets in. We try to spread our samples over a variety of projects based on amount of yarn they need and how fast they can be knit up. Clearly a fisherman’s sweater on size 8 needles takes a lot more time than a cowl on size 19 needles so we have something for someone who’s in for the long haul or someone who has to finish it for that birthday party in two hours.
4) Sellability. Let’s face it, we are in the business of selling yarn so once we have selected patterns according to the first three criteria, we want to see which ones will work best with the yarns in our store.
In this whole process we depend on what interests us individually, customer’s suggestions (or something that someone walked in with that made us sit up and take notice), and of course a knitter’s best friend, Ravelry.
So if there’s anything you’d like to see as a sample, or if you would like to make any suggestions, please share!
The turn of the new year is always about resolutions. Weight loss, taking up yoga, being a better friend/parent/human, facing down that chronic procrastination, paying off debt: these are all great resolutions to make (and – alas! – probably break).
One of the resolutions we frequently hear in the store is to use up all the yarn in your stash and to finish all those WIPs.
Let’s address the first issue: using up stash. Really? Don’t you think there’s a reason for all that yarn being stuffed into bins and under beds and piled into closets? We have all bought things on impulse that never saw the light of day (think Members Only jackets, platform shoes and anything with shoulder pads). This is not to say that all the yarn you’ve been hoarding is bad or unusable but chances are that some of it is. Get rid of it! Give it to a charitable organization or a school or just drop it off at Goodwill. It will eventually get to a good home. Don’t let it weigh you down as you ponder what the heck you were thinking when you bought it and what in God’s name are you going to make with it.
The second issue is all those dang projects on different needles. Now some of us (me) are chronic "starters". That means I love the thrill of a new project but get easily distracted by the next fun thing and sooner or later there are 20+ projects on the needles and people you work with are telling you that you are not allowed to start anything new until you finish something. Anything.
Okay, I am an extreme example but I did actually have a cleansing moment when I decided to go through all my projects and really decide what was not bringing me any joy. Those projects were getting the heave-ho. I managed to frog or just toss 6 projects. I’m sure there are more but it was a start. Not only did it unburden me somewhat but it freed up all those needles as well!
So try not to get weighed down by past purchases or projects. Be brave and take a long hard look at that yarn and those projects.
It might take your mind off that 30 day juice cleanse you resolved to do.
There are times when we have knitters come in the store looking for patterns and not for yarn because they are trying to “work through their stash”. We get it. There are none among us who haven’t seen a yarn, said “ooooooh!”, bought it with the good intentions of using it for something, someday and then promptly put it out of our minds. Then, one day, as we are going to sock away yet another yarn purchase, we realize we have somehow accumulated more yarn than we know what to do with.
Here’s the problem: we are always going to want the next new thing. It’s just human nature. It’s the reason we don’t want to wear last year’s clothes: styles and tastes change. Remember when you thought you’d die if you didn’t buy that eyelash yarn? How about those endless ruffle scarves you thought you would do with that web-like yarn? How about when you first started out and loaded up with craft store yarn?
Now not all stash yarn falls into the “what was I thinking?” category. There might be some good yarn that you definitely want to use eventually. By all means find a use for that cashmere and MadelineTosh! However, some of that yarn is just dragging you down, depressing you because you feel guilty having bought it and never having used it. It’s the vegetables from the farmers market that you got overly enthusiastic about and are now going bad in your vegetable drawer. Or those expensive stilettos you were going to wear everywhere but are gathering dust on your shoe rack. Eventually we all have to own up and get rid of things that are just cluttering up our minds and lives.
I recently went through a de-stashing process. I ended up giving away 3 large black garbage bags of yarn. Some skeins were easy to eliminate, some were hard, some I practically had to pry my own fingers open. For them all I kept telling myself that they were going to a better home, to someone who would see it and have an “ooooooooooooooh!” moment of their own. Don’t cry for me though, I still have several large plastic bins full of yarn.
So, what’s the point? I guess it’s to say, really think about that yarn you are stashing. Ask yourself the following questions: 1) Is it still usable (moth, my friends, is a four letter word) 2) Do you still like it? 3) Do you have a pattern for it? 4) Do you have enough of it to actually make something? If the answer to any of the above is “no” (especially for questions 1 and 2) it might be time to de-stash. And there are many good homes to send your yarn to: Goodwill, Salvation Army, Mercy Learning Center (Bridgeport), would all be happy to embrace your yarn donation. If you have endless supplies of acrylic yarn, many church groups knit prayer shawls and elementary schools could use it for crafts.
And what do you do after you de-stash? Admire your tidy life! Congratulate yourself on a job well done! Feel good knowing that somewhere your yarn is being put to good use!
And then celebrate by buying new yarn.
Some projects are just cursed. It can be a combination of bad pattern writing, insufficient due diligence (gauge, people!), too much “pregame” (i.e., drinking before knitting), any one of which can lead to ripping out and despair. And then there’s that more nebulous of reasons that projects go astray: mojo.
The mojo is a fickle thing. It comes and goes at whim. Sometimes it stays for years. But don’t confuse mojo with experience. Obviously the more experience you have the better you are going to get. If you knit as much as I do, eventually things are going to seem pretty easy to understand. That’s when smugness and even arrogance come into play. Mojo hates arrogance. And it really hates being taken for granted. Mojo is just hanging around in the background waiting for that first smug thought to cross your mind (“piece of cake!”, “easy knit!”, “I could do this in my sleep!”) and then mojo no mo’.
I know this because my mojo deserted me recently. Actually it began before that when I started knitting a particular sweater. Everything went swimmingly, all pieces knit and blocked and ready to be put together. Then, just when I was thinking “That was easy!” my mojo up and left. I seamed the sweater once. It didn’t work so I took it apart. I asked advice and seamed it together again. No go. Out the seams came again. Then I discovered an egregious mistake on the back and had to take that down to the armholes. Three-quarters of the way back up I discovered yet another mistake. Down the back came again. Then I pinned it together to how I thought it should go, sought out help from the pattern writer only to be told “there’s something wrong with your raglan decreases” so now both sides of the front have to come back down to the armholes as well. Basically I could have knit two sweaters by now. And there is still no guarantee that the pieces will fit together when I’m finished.
But my mojo wasn’t through with me.
I’m also knitting a fingerless mitt with very easy colorwork as a sample for the store. I can’t even tell you how many times I had to take it back because I couldn’t keep that “very easy” pattern staright. Then when I finally got the pattern right I realized I had left out the thumb hole. Back down it came, only to realize that the thumb hole came after the part where I took took it back from. Even Beth commented that she had never seen me struggle so much. Really mojo?
I am humbled. Demoralized even. And somewhere my mojo is laughing diabolically.
It’s official, my brain is fried.
In the last month I have had 2 kids graduate, one from college, one from high school, each with their own whirlwind of parties and celebrations, and in the case of my high school age daughter, a gigabyte of photos. In addition to following around said daughter like a loyal papparraza, snapping photos until I thought my beleaguered DSLR would catch fire, there was so much driving, drinking (although not together), crying, eating, talking, clapping, crying, reminiscing, laughing, crying that when I finally took a breather I realized two universal truths.
The first universal truth is that they could start playing “Pomp and Circumstance” when I am riding the subway and I would start crying.
The second universal truth is that I absolutely need my knitting most during these stressful times to keep me sane. This seems counterintuitive since time is so limited and so much has to be fit into so few hours. But when I finally sat down to knit it was like my brain breathed a sigh of relief. It became a time to regroup, to think about all that had just happened, to organize my thoughts and just relax.
I have had people say to me “I just don’t have the time to knit” but I cannot accept that. I cannot accept that, not because I don’t believe that someone’s schedule is that chock-a-block full, but because we all need to shut out the world at some point and let our neurons regenerate. If we keep, going, going, going eventually we hit a wall. That’s when things start to unravel: appointments get forgotten, meals get burnt, and (God forbid) accidents happen. Even if you don’t knit (although I can’t imagine why you would be reading this blog if you don’t), take time to read, do yoga, garden, just stop and smell the proverbial roses.
You’ve done enough for everyone else. You owe it to yourself.
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.
Julie, WY's Do-bee and store wordsmith.