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.
I have a knitting superpower.
My superpower is that I can know where I am in a chart at a glance. I have never used highlighter tape or rulers or color coding. I usually keep the chart off to my side, glance down, knit and glance down again and know exactly where I am. People who aren’t used to charts or have used them and dislike them are amazed that I don’t even check off the rows (I do have a separate little sheet of paper where I do hatch marks but nothing on the actual chart).
I will insert a caveat here: this superpower is the best when dealing with cable charts. Color charts for fair isle (or stranded) can be a little more challenging. And recently a designer did throw some kryptonite in my path. It was one of the squares for the Great American Aran Afghan (the Georgia Vincent for those of you in the know) where there was a "phantom" stitch on either end of the row (created by knitting two stitches together that span a marker). Now, if I had actually READ the directions where it described what a phantom stitch WAS I might not have had to rip out the same 6 rows 8 times, but my superpower is also my weakness. I’m so sure about charts that when I run up against something that is unusual I tell myself “I’ve got this” and then become bull-headed when I don’t actually “got this”.
And I’m not alone in my superpower, everyone in the store has one. Danni has the superpower of lace (Danni once knit me something so amazing it caused my husband to say that she must be part spider), Pam has the fixing mistakes superpower which is part and parcel with the superpower of patience (also Pam’s), Margaret has the superpower of picking the hottest patterns (I think I’ll call this the superpower of chic) and Beth has the superpower of robotic knitting (meaning she knits like a machine, without stopping, without mistakes, without pain, it’s uncanny). And then there is someone like Jane Elliott who is all the knitting superpowers rolled into one caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived package.
So what is your superpower? Do you always get gauge? ("Amazing Gauge Woman!") Can you knit cables to beat the band? (“Knits cables in the speed of light!”) Do you knit faster than anyone you know? ("Faster than an electric ball winder!")
The truth is your superpower may not be fully developed yet, but you may have an inkling. So run with it! Claim your superpower! Become “Amazing Knitting Woman”!
The rational side of my brain was screaming “Mayday! Danger Will Robinson! Abort! Abort!” because it was registering all the work that was going to go into it (see second paragraph above). This is a kid who is so long and lean that normal measurements don’t even come into play (his pants are a 33” waist with a 35” inseam for instance and he has the arms of an orangutan, like his mother I might add). But this is my baby and so the rational side of the brain was squelched (although it remains whimpering in the corner) and we picked out a pattern together and a color. He is leaving the actual yarn choice to me (“I know that you’ll pick a nice one, Mom”) which has me scouring all types of yarn from all types of vendors. I am sending him a schematic with a tape measure (because I know that he doesn’t have one) with the directions to have one of his (female) friends do his measurements. Then I will be able to determine the extent of the yarn damage.
But my favorite moment came immediately after he asked me for the sweater and I had agreed (cue: screaming on the rational side of my brain). He asked the dreaded question: “So how long do you think that will take?”
No sweat. I’ll get right on it.
There's a disease out there folks, and it's bad. It leaves you with an unsettled feeling, a vague sense of nausea, and at its worst can result in a splitting headache and high levels of anxiety. The medical term is "Finishitis" and I have it bad.
In the dictionary of knitting related illnesses Finishitis is described as follows: " the inability to finish one project before beginning another, particularly as it relates to knitting. Reasons for this could range from the insatiable need for the thrill of the new to Attention Deficit Knitting Disorder (ADKD). Finishitis can be triggered by yarn trunk shows, fiber arts festivals and yarn crawls. People who work in yarn stores are particularly susceptible."
I live in a perpetual state of Finishitis. Unfortunately I have the chronic version so that it actually applies to all other areas of my life so that everything gets about 75% done (well, except food). Laundry, ironing, cleaning, gardening all sort of linger in that perpetual state of unfinished-ness. And don't even get me started on my other passion, painting. The only way I ever finish one of those in a timely fashion is if someone is waving a check under my nose. (Note: money is a powerful cure for Finishitis but doesn't always apply.)
Now those of you who have been following the blog know how susceptible I am to "Finishitis". It's an outgrowth of a genetic disorder I have called "Procrastinatia". Basically, that means I have trouble starting things AND finishing things.(How do I get through life, you ask. I don't know. It's a question that has been baffling science and my family for years.)
Unfortunately there is no known cure for "Finishitis". It is spread easily through the arrival of new yarn and is the first known disease to be transferred through the ethernet, via Ravelry. Fortunately no one has ever died of this disease (although some, like me, have been threatened to be crushed by the weight of their own projects). So if you are like me, and you are faced with many unfinished projects on needles and are tempted by another, do what I do:
Buy more needles.