Thursday, December 13, 2012

the two dumb questions

There are two questions, incomprehensible to knitters, that we are frequently asked.
  • How much does it cost to make a sweater?
  • How long did it take to knit that?
I’ve been asked this by strangers (to be expected) but also by knitters (even yarn company owners, which really astounded me). How in the world are these reasonable questions?

As I see it, there are three ways to respond.

Response number one
Open-mouthed astonishment: as if to say Did you really mean to ask such questions? Would you like to take that moment back?

It's a valid response, but no-one learns anything. So let's move on.

Response number two
Try to get to the root of these questions.

How much does it cost to make a sweater?
  • How much does it cost to knit which sweater?
  • Do you really want to know what I spent on yarn for this cashmere piece you are admiring?
  • Do you want to know because you want to be shocked that anyone could be so impractical? Will it confirm what you’ve always suspected about me—my inane frivolousness?
  • Or do you want to know because you want it to be within your budget, something you could now consider. (I’d love to believe this last.)

How long did it take to knit that?
  • How many months, days, weeks, hours? How precise would you like me to be?
  • What’s a day’s knitting? 2 hours, 6 hours, 10 hours? Do you think I knit with a stop watch beside me?
  • Do you want to know because you want to be shocked that anyone could be so impractical? Will it confirm what you’ve always suspected about me—my inane frivolousness?
  •  Or do you want to know because you want it to be within your time allowance, something you would now consider? (I’d love to believe this last.)
I usually do some of the above, but not well, and still no-one really learns anything. So lets move on.

Response number three
I’m reading a really interesting book—The Watchman’s Rattle—about how to solve complex problems. The author discusses the five barriers we need overcome to think clearly and to save civilization.

The fifth barrier is extreme economicssimple principles in business, such as risk/reward and profit/loss, that are the litmus test for determining the value of people and priorities, initiatives and institutions. Knitters fail the test of extreme economics when they spend money knitting something they could readily buy at a fraction of the price.

In addition, she says When business principles prevail, there is enormous pressure for individuals to respond to complex problems with great speed and efficiency. Knitters also fail this test of extreme economics when they spend hours knitting something they could readily buy in a fraction of the time.

Make no mistake. She is saying that to overcome complex problems and save civilization as we know it, we need to
  • reject the need for profit,
  • reject the need for speed.
So, what does that have to do with us?

Knitters are leaders in these exercises! The fact that we can’t answer how long and how much should be a proud moment for knitters! Why? Because, unlike the rest of the world, we will not be ruled by time or money. We do what we do because it is the right thing to do—for our minds, our health, our families, our economies (all of which are discussed in previous posts).

I would suggest that the best that humans produce—our good works, our good institutions, anything that has changed our quality of life for the better—can never be reduced to time or money.

And there’s our best answer!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

gift knitting and repetitive strain relief

As we furiously head for this familiar deadline, we can get hurt! Don’t we all know that knitting can hurt???

I've been hurt knitting, I’ve been hurt playing the drums, I've been hurt opening a window—all of which made me unable to knit. (It's only when I cannot knit that I consider myself truly hurt. When I broke a leg--and had every excuse to just sit and knit—I wasn't hurtin' much.)

Here's what I have learned over a 50+ year of injuries.

  • Avoid repetitive strain injuries by not doing a fine-motor activity for more than 20 minutes.
  • Because 20 minutes can pass so very quickly (while knitting, while on the computer, probably not both at the same time but some of us are very talented!), set an egg timer for 20 minutes and across the room. When it rings, stop what you are doing!!! (Maybe an egg timer would be a good gift for a knitter?)
  • Take a one-minute break. During that break, move and stretch.
  • If you do have a repetitive strain injury, get help as soon as possible.
The best help I've received is ART (active release techniques) therapy. I regret that I can't say how I originally heard about ART, but I can say that it has saved me and others. You can go online to read about it and find a provider. (When I started, I think it was harder to find: seems to have become the preferred method for chiropractors now?) But here's what my experience has been.

I got tendonitis from playing the drums. This is normally a troublesome and chronic injury, but ART had me back on track within 10 days. However, what follows is a much better story and recommendation for ART.

Some time later I injured a rotator cuff opening a window.  I couldn't use my right arm to even turn on the radio in my car. My therapist said You are left-handed for a week. If I have to put your right arm into a sling, I will. (He probably thought I would stop knitting if he threatened me like that. Little did he know that I could knit in a sling!) And then he worked on me.

Typical ART involves the therapist doing deep tissue massage while twisting your body through that area. (You can read on the ART website for a better explanation of what's being done.) It can hurt a little during the process, but you feel immediate relief when it stops!

I did what I was told (not using my right arm and going for regular therapy with him) and, sure enough, within a week I was perfectly recovered. (Please remember that mine was not the chronic injury. I was incapacitated, to be sure, but the injury was probably not severe and certainly the same as someone who has struggled with this injury over time--like a baseball player.)

Many months later I was at a STITCHES event, at lunch with my friend Peggy, and I asked how she was doing. She told me she had been suffering with a rotater cuff injury. Imagine my shock when she said It was 6 weeks ago, and I've been lifting weights like my therpist says, but it's not working.

So I repeated my experience. She said she would look up ART, and she did. A year later she told me that even though it was an hour-and-a-half drive (she does live in the middle of nowhere), she was so grateful she had done so. It had cured her shoulder and helped her with other nagging injuries, and she couldn't recommend it more.

I told this story at a class in Michigan, and a woman—an athlete, in fact—said that ART had saved her from a chronic knee problem. My friend Susanna had the same knee problem, went to an ART therapist after hearing this, and we are now running 10K’s together!

We all know what can happen to us at this time of year. While you knit those gifts for everyone else, consider giving yourself the gift of a healing therapy!

Friday, December 7, 2012

a holiday gift for a knitter!

Some time ago a lovely yarn shop owner from a lovely shop (Joan Janes from Little Red Mitten in St Thomas ON) gave me the gift of a GLEENER--a sweater de-piller. (De-piller is probably not actually a work except to a knitter who knows precisely what is implied.) It took me a long time to need and use it . . . until today . . .

 . . . when I was up at 6am to prepare for my hosting of a craft and chat group. I wanted the sweaters that I wanted to show to look perfect--but they had pills that needed removing. And not just pills: a general fluffiness thing was happening that made a really new sweater look old, sad, and worn.

So, nothing to lose, let's try the GLEENER. My electric sweater shaver was okay, and I could use it as a fall back position if this little gadget didn't work. But the electric sweater shaver was only good for pills. Maybe this thing would work against that general fluffiness.

OMG!!!!! Amazing! My sweaters look new! Revitalized! Fabulous! I thought Every knitter needs one of these! And every knitter needs to give one of these to every knitter she knows!

But how to get one? And what did they cost?

So I googled GLEENER . . . and there it was . . . only $19.95!!! How can this be?!?! Something so wonderful for 20 bucks?!?

I also thought I remembered Joan saying that the product was Canadian. Would it be available in the US? Sure enough, there was an American flag on the buy now page.

Let me just continue to share my enthusiasm around the sheer genius of this thing! It has three blades (for 3 different fabrics). I found myself using the middle blade on my fluffy pilly merino sweater. And then it has a velvet lint brush that must be used to give the garment an as-new finish!

I cannot buy one for every knitter I know,  but I can get the word out. (I actually thought It would be wrong for me not to tell every knitter I know!) I do not know the owner/developer (nor have any affiliation whatsover with this company), but this is a wonderful thing and she has a wonderful story. I hope you will go to her website and check it out:

BTW, after reading her story, I scrolled to the bottom of the page to read about the name of the product. And OMG yet again! It was named after a painting that was my favourite when I was in university: Millet's The Gleaners. The beauty of these women bending to their task made me weep the first time I saw it.

I really am beyond excited to tell you about this product! Please give it a consideration if, like me, you buy and knit with lovely merino wool and then watch it become fluffy and pilly. (There's that word again. My spell check keeps underlining it. Just goes to show that spell check wasn't developed by a knitter!)

PS It isn't just me who thinks this is fabulous: go to and read their 5 star review of the ultimate fuzz remover:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

why we deserve respect

Recent posts have discussed why we don’t get the respect we deserve. Everyone knows the stereotypes: I hope we can overcome them. But it bears asking why we deserve to be considered differently? Why do we deserve respect?

So, let’s put aside all the stuff we already know--
  • the health benefits
  • that it is an old an honourable activity
  • that it clothes us and our families (and that the ability to knit with wool—with its properties of warmth retention—was considered essential in the fight against infant mortality)
  • that a gift of knitting is of spectacular value—given the money we spend on yarn and the hours we spend in the making
--and look at this from another perspective.

How we spend our leisure time is recession-proof and could be seen as essential to economic recovery.

In tough times, people may give up the new car, the home reno, the new bedroom set. But they do not give up playing golf, reading books, going to movies, spending money on yarn. Nor should they!

On Feb 19, I wrote about research done on happiness—that people below a basic income level were less happy but that people above that basic level were no happier. In other words, once we are comfortable, more money does not make us happier. But then the recession of 2008 hit . . . which drove the researchers back into the field. And what they found was that—at first—people’s levels of happiness went down with their incomes . . . until some measure of recovery . . . and then people's levels of happiness went up . . . until, even though their incomes and job security were lower than before, they were happier than they had been before the recession hit.

The researchers assumed something they called the adaptation principle: when times are tough, we find out how resilient we are, we find out who we can count on, we find out what really matters. In other words, we find out what makes us happy.

And here’s what I think. What we do in our leisure time is what makes us happy! Obviously, at the top of the list is spending time with those we love. But when it comes to spending money, leisure dollars might be spent on a book, a movie, a golf trip, a new electronic gadget to manage family photos.None of these seem to have suffered since the recession.

Or we spend money on yarn! And consider that when we knitters spend money, it goes into small, locally-owned businesses! Isn’t that precisely what the experts say is essential to economic recovery?!?!

I consider it my duty to spend money in every yarn shop I visit! And what knitter can visit a yarn shop without doing the same? Knowing that we are 38,000 million strong, knowing how much it costs to make a sweater, go ahead and do the math to imagine the dollars we put into the economy!!!

So in addition to all the other wonderful things we wonderful knitters do, that’s why we deserve respect!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

getting the respect we deserve, part three

Ahh, I am refreshed and restored (Knitting will do that!), and ready to finish my rant!

Misconception #4: We knit incomprehensible stuff of questionable value.
People who don’t knit don’t understand why we’d spend 2 days knitting a pair of socks or 3 months knitting a lace shawl. They don’t see the difference between what we do and what comes off a machine in China. The comment Why would you knit that when you could buy it? comes to mind.

One reason is purely for the advantages of knitting as process. We knit stuff we could buy because it feels good to knit. And it’s good for us too! Here are some of its health benefits:
  • keeping us calm,
  • lowering our blood pressure,
  • stimulating the immune system,
  • slowing dementia,
  • preventing depressing
  • not to mention the pure joy of spending time in the optimistic, receptive, perpetually happy right brain.

But in addition to all this good stuff, there is the quality of what we produce. Does this person-who-does-not-knit know that no more than 1/7th of the finished price of something can be spent on materials? So what does that say about the quality of materials in store-bought items?

Solution Tell her what you spend on yarn . . . again! (I know you already did that a few days ago, but it bears repeating.) Do the math together. Then ask her if, on any given day, she could use any of knitting’s health benefits. Then let her try on a pair of your socks, while you wrap your hand-knit shawl around her and tell her that knitting is the constant comfort of a perpetual hug . . . and then give her one! 

Misconception #5: We are old and inactive.
Yes, we know about granny in her rocker. With all due respect to those who are grandmothers (I am one) and who like their rocking chairs (I have one), that stereotype ain’t us! The growth of knitting (to upwards of 38 million in the US) could not reach these numbers with only the addition of the elderly. Baby boomers, young women, and teenagers have joined us.

As for being inactive, knitting’s demographic is generally female, with the bulk of us between 18 and 64. So take any cross-section of intelligent, well-educated women with enough disposable income to knit, and you’ll find a level of fitness that mirrors the population in general. Knitters run marathons, do yoga, and lift weights in the same proportion of the general population. We even have Knit and Ski trips!

Solution Knit as you wait for your yoga class? Knit around the fire, apr├Ęs ski? Wear something hand-knit to the gym? Run with knitting needles? Knit in public wearing tall boots and a short leather skirt? Not really sure what more to do about this one? Any ideas?

Misconception #6: We are boring and not very involved
The image of a woman knitting is beautifully solitary, and we know the blissful state she’s in. But that does not mean that she would not readily engage in intelligent conversation if approached. There are craft and chat (stitch and bitch) groups where women (Yes, believe it!) knit and talk at the same time!!! With great enthusiasm and on all manner of topics!

In addition, knitters are fabulous listeners! We (human beings) are generally better listeners if engaged in a repetitive motion. Why? Because most of us are primarily kinesthetic + visual, not—as we might think—primarily auditory. So for us to listen, we need to engage both the visual and the kinesthetic, which knitting does.

Solution Pull out your knitting at every opportunity! At the same time, engage in intelligent conversation with someone. Show how Pythagorean Theorem relates to your knitting. No, wait, scratch that! Share the names of favourite celebrities—offering how many of them knit. Discuss the places you’ve both been over the past year or the books you’ve both read. Make some outrageously well-informed comment about global economics. Discuss the business plan for your next entrepreneurial venture. In other words, Tell ‘em who you are!

I guess that's the bottom line: we gotta tell them who we are, because they don't know, and they should.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

getting the respect we deserve, part two

Part one in this series posited that knitting does not get the respect it deserves because men don’t do it. But there has to be more than that. Given the health benefits of knitting, given its addictive draw, given how much we rave about the craft we love, there must be more to say.

Okay, let’s start by acknowledging the uninformed ignorance (in the politest sense of that word) of the non-knitting public. They don’t know the health benefits, they don’t know its addictive draw, they don’t get (or care) why we rave. And they don’t have the intellectual curiosity to find out. So they relegate us to a stereotype readily to memory: someone, probably female, probably elderly, probably at home in her rocker, knitting because she has nothing better to do.

I could give a host of uncomplimentary quotes that relate to this stereotype. We all have some. Instead, can we drill down to understand it and find solutions? Are there misconceptions about knitting (perhaps with some basis in fact) that we can understand and override?

Misconception #1: We don’t knit what people want
There was some survey done about the #1 dreaded Christmas present, and the answer was a hand-knit sweater. I don’t think this result is anywhere near the reality but is, instead, the result of one long-ago scarring event where a child was given a hand-knit sweater rather than a Red-Ryder Bee-Bee gun or self-wetting doll.

To be honest, I bear some responsibility in this because I have done it. Have not we all?  And I had a woman in class admit the following: she wanted to knit a sweater for her son and asked what he wanted; when he said a red, crew-neck pullover, she said If you want a red, crew-neck pullover, then you just go buy one!

Solution Knit what they want! If the person for whom you knit wears the perpetual gray hooded sweatshirt, knit him a gray hooded sweatshirt. No, it won’t wholly engage your knitting brain, but he’ll wear it day in and day out.

Misconception #2: We don’t know how to knit things that fit
Is there truth to this? Yes. Not to the extent of the recurring joke of the sweater with one sleeve a foot longer than the other. But yes, it is true. For many reasons, we have lost the skill of making things fit. And knitting patterns contribute by not noting where and how to change the pattern and make it fit

I know a woman who knit my Gray Cardigan and followed the pattern where it said a) shorten or lengthen for finished length here and b) widen or narrow for shoulder width here. The result was exquisite. The first time she wore it, someone said I love our sweater. It looks hand-knit but then I realized it couldn’t be because it fits you too well!

To be fair, a lot of the clothing we buy doesn't fit us all that well either. But what we make is perceived as even more ill-fitting. So people look at what we've knit and think Why would I want to do that?—make something whose sleeves are too big or too long or whose shoulders droop???

Not so long ago, fit and drafting classes did not fill. But this is changing. There is growing demand for these classes so we can make our knitting dollars work appropriately. Having said that, I recently taught for a guild who eschewed those classes, saying Our members don’t care if their knitting fits.

Solution Care! Don’t be satisfied with ill-fitting results! Rip and re-knit until you get something that works. Take a class that teaches this material. And before knitting anything, check its measurements against something in your closet of similar style.

Misconception #3: Knitting is cheaper than buying
Here’s a huge misconception of knitting--held from 50 years ago—that we knit something because it’s cheaper than buying. So someone sees us knitting a pair of socks and says Don't you know you can buy those?

If we are perceived as spending time making something we could buy in seconds, then we clearly have nothing better to do with our time. And what is our responsibility in this? Some of us hide what we spend on yarn!

Solution Tell people what you spend on yarn! Explain how this expenditure is essential to economic recovery! Instead of spending $80 on 3 sweaters made in China, we put money into a small local business to knit the one sweater we will wear.

I feel the propulsion of a rant! Clearly, there is more to say. But I need the calming influence of my knitting to lower my blood pressure and help marshal my thoughts before continuing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

getting the respect we deserve, part one

Why doesn't knitting get the respect it deserves?

Firstly, we might consider why it deserves respect? (We know the answer to that, but others don't, so let's just do a tally here.)
  • It clothes us.
  • It keeps us calm.
  • It lowers blood pressure and stimulates the immune system.                                             
  • It slows dementia and prevents depression.
  • It encourages math skills, hand-eye coordination, and the ability to focus.
  • It is recession-proof in its support of locally-owned businesses.   
  • Its traditions express and contribute to our culture (especially relevant if culture is given Brian Eno's definition of the making of something we don't have to make).
  • It feeds the innate human need to create for those we love: the hand makes what the heart needs to express.
We could go on, and we could elaborate, but let us move on to the question of why folks who don't knit don't get this? Why do they ask Why would you make that when you could buy it? Why do they, therefore, see what we do as a waste of time? What would they prefer us to be doing?

Despite the fact that we spend a lot of money and derive a lot of benefit, why are we relegated to the stereotype of a non-active, elderly, usually female, person-without-anything-better-to-do.

A woman in an interview recently asked me if I thought this was changing, and I responded "Not quickly enough." She wondered what would make it change? When will knitting get the respect it deserves?

There are lots of answers to this, but my immediate answer was The men need to do it.

When an activity is associated with only one sex, and isn't tagged to a huge amount of money, it doesn't get a lot of respect. And, yes, this most often happens when the activity is female. Nursing and child-care readily come to mind. Never mind that they are essential human activities that add inestimable value to our world! The world respects the jobs that are higher-paying and shared by both men and women.

 But it can work in reverse: I, for example, don't give stock car racing much respect.

We all make judgments about how people spend their time, don't we? What are yours?

Thursday, November 1, 2012

costing our knits

So, this happens a lot: someone sees you knitting and pays what she thinks is the ultimate compliment:You could SELL those!”

I've had this happen more times than I can mention. And what fun it is to not leave it at that, to find out what they're really saying / thinking / asking . . . .

With further conversation over the, let's say, socks, I'll ask "How nice! And what do you think I could sell them for?"

Rarely is the answer more than $10!!! So then I launch upon my public education campaign, in which I tell them a] the cost of the yarn (usually $20 or more) and b] the hours a pair of socks takes (no fewer than 16). They blanche . . . and of course wonder why anyone would knit socks when she could just go buy a pair!!!???

So what's the fair market price for something hand knit?

Here's the first way to figure this:
  • materials + labour (at $10/hr) = XX dollars.

But how many hours does it take to make something? We may not know, so we could cost our knits the way the market does:
  • cost of materials X 7 = XX dollars.

That’s right! In the commercial world, no more than 1/7 of the final price can be paid out in materials.

So what does that make our hand-knit sweaters worth? And is it any wonder the sweaters we find in stores—no matter how wonderful they look—are inferior products. The knitting is sloppy, the tails aren't well secured, the seams are not well-done, and the yarns feel really yucky (tired cottons, wool with some harsh coating on it,  some multi-fibre material with an all-round coarseness to which we would never give consideration in a yarn shop).

But if these equations don't work for you, here’s some advice—given by Larry Smith, one of Canada's top economists and a lovely man who has great fondness for knitting and knitters.

  • Never sell yourself too cheaply.

Sometimes we offer to do so because we feel honoured by the request. But I have learned that before we set that first price, we should ask ourselves “How am I going to feel getting paid only this amount when I make the third, fourth, seventeenth one?”

Larry also said it would be better to give something away to a charity fundraiser than to sell it too cheaply. This is a way to honour our craft, and do something wonderful for our community, without setting a price.

My favourite story is from my hero--Kathryn Alexander. Kathryn used to sell pairs of entrelac socks for $200. People would frame them. She then thought “If they’re going to frame them, I should charge more.” The price went up to $300. But then she thought “If they’re going to frame them, they don’t need two.” So she made only one, and charged $400!

Figuring cost + labour, or using the market’s standard, or taking Larry's advice, or thinking like Kathryn all make sense to me as a way to override the terrible assumptions out there:
  • that knitting is cheaper than buying,
  • that money is the only currency,
  • that we should be honoured when someone offers to buy something at some ridiculous price,
  • that if we're knitting we clearly have nothing more worthy to do with our time.

You may never offer to sell your work, but you could have this conversation the next time someone pays you that ultimate compliment! 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

the issue of ease, part 2

So, seeing how much latitude is available with respect to ease, there are two questions to be answered before you start that garment.
  • How much ease do you want in the sweater you are making?
  • How do you work with the pattern to get it?
Here is what you will do to answer these questions and produce a sweater that fits the way you want.
  1. Find the size you would normally knit. (If you don't know, measure yourself around the widest part of your bust. In standard sizes, S = 32–34; M = 36–38; L = 40–42; 1X = 44–46; 2X = 48–50. For other sizes, extrapolate from this: for hips, add 2" to every number.) Let's assume you have a 41" bust, which makes you a L.
  2. Find the finished measurement for that size.  Let's assume it's 45". Now hold a tape measure at your bust at 45" and see how it feels. If you love it, then knit that size: you are done! But if you don't love how it will fit, then do the following steps.
  3. Go to another garment of the same style (and it doesn't have to be a sweater)--one whose fit you like--and measure its circumference, then try it on to remind yourself how it fits on your body. (Please see the bullets below where I discuss this step further.) Once you are sure of the bust measurement you want, record it.
  4. Let's assume the circumference you like is a little smaller than the pattern's. What can you do? Because there is usually 4" difference between sizes, this would mean the L is 45" and the M is 41". You have a 41" bust, so you would get 0 ease if you knit the M. But if knit a L front and a M back, you'd get a finished circumference of 43", which might be exactly what you want! So do it!
  5. On the other hand, let's assume the circumference you like is a little larger than the pattern's. You could get more ease if you knit a 1X front and a L back. (You might notice that I prefer to put the larger size in the front--because this is how we are shaped.) So do that!
There is more to say about step 3.
  • I'm saying bust, but (as you read yesterday) if the garment is longer we work with the hip measurement.
  • By style, I'm referring to what you might think of as armhole style: set-in sleeve, raglan, drop shoulder. How something is shaped to fit the armhole has a huge bearing on the amount of ease it needs (as you saw in yesterday's post).
  • Some folks say they don't have a garment whose fit they like. Okay. Try on something you don't like, preferably something too big around the bust! Pinch it to see how much smaller should it be.
  • If the thing you are measuring is a light blouse or fine T-shirt, please appreciate that your knit garment will be a heavier fabric and might need 1" more ease.
So, let's assume you finished steps 1–2 and can confidently knit your size. Congratulations! You are done. You need read no further.

But what if you've done the work of steps 1–5 and now know you need to blend sizes. Do not fear! This blending of sizes is something I find myself doing a lot--even when I knit from my own patterns. Why? Because some of my patterns are 10 years old, and 10 years ago styles were looser. Now that I want a closer-to-the-body fit, I find myself knitting M fronts and S backs a lot.

Is it as simple as it sounds? Well . . . no . . . not quite (and when is anything ever as simple as it sounds?!?).

For one thing, working a different size for the front and back doesn't work for a drop shoulder (or most kinds of modular knitting). But the drop shoulder is a style that is better knit with a lot of ease, so chances are you could just knit your size anyway!(And the same could be said for most modular knitting.)

If you are making a set-in sleeve or raglan--the styles we are more fond of--the blending of sizes does work. You might have to fiddle numbers (for the shoulder width of the set-in sleeve, for the armhole decreases for the raglan, for the underarm bind-off for both), but this should not be a stretch.
  • For the set-in sleeve, decrease to the shoulder width that fits your shoulders.
  • For the raglan, you might have to slow down your armhole decreases on the smaller piece--so your armhole is not too short on that side. To slow down decreases, just skip a few decrease rows. (I don't love the raglan, because it is not flattering on many of us and is difficult to make fit. So maybe the first time you do this should be with a set-in sleeve?)
  • For either the set-in sleeve or raglan, there will be an armhole bind-off: bind off the number of stitches for the size sleeve you are making. (For example, if the armhole bind-off is 5 stitches for the M and 7 stitches for the L, then bind off 5 stitches for both.)
  • For the set-in sleeve or raglan, you will have to decide which size sleeve you want (L or M?). Make the armhole depth and sleeve for that size, binding off the number of stitches from the previous bullet at each underarm.
If you are someone who just wants to knit the pattern (and is afraid to deviate), then please consider the following.

There's probably nothing more important to your knitting than having it fit properly: doing this work will ensure that.

This kind of work is very good for your brain: you will be a healthier version of yourself for doing it.

Knitting is extraordinarily flexible! If you goof up a little, chances are the knitting will forgive you.

Fear and knitting  are two words that should never occur in the same sentence!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

the issue of ease, part 1

There is much misunderstanding about ease: is it included in the pattern? how much does a sweater need? Here is my answer to both of these.

  1. Ease is included in the pattern (and reflected in the finished measurements). BUT different designers like different amounts of ease, different styles require different amounts of ease, and the amount of ease we like changes over time (as styles and our bodies change). So there's lots more to understand and consider.
  2. How much ease a sweater needs is a function of the designer's preference plus the style of sweater plus the weight of yarn. What follows are guidelines that designers usually follow.
By fine yarns, I mean 21 or more stitches to 4"; by medium yarns, I mean 18–20 stitches to 4"; by heavy yarns, I mean 17 or fewer stitches to 4".
By fitted styles, I mean set-in sleeve or close-fitting raglan: for non-fitted styles, I mean loose raglan or drop-shoulder.

Each explanation is an and/or, meaning it could be one or all of the suggestions offered.

We say bust because that's usually the fullest part of the body being covered. But if the sweater is longer and your hips are fuller (which standard sizes say is the norm), then ease is added to hips. And if your tummy is bigger than your bust, then ease is added to that measurement.

The measurement should be taken at the fullest part of your bust or tummy or hips. (It is a common misunderstanding to think it is taken under the bust.)
  • very close fit  = bust + 0" or less  for fine yarns, for fitted styles, for garments that won't be worn over another, for stretchy stitch patterns (This is also called negative ease.)
  • close fit = bust + 0–2"  for fine or medium weight yarns, for fitted styles, for garments that may not be worn over another
  • standard ease = bust + 2–4"  for fine or medium weight yarns, for fitted styles, for garments that may be worn over another
  • loose fit = bust + 4–6"  for medium weight or heavy yarns, for non-fitted styles, for garments that may be worn over another
  • over-sized = bust + 6" or more  for heavy yarns, for non-fitted styles, for garments that may be worn over another
Ease is added to each size within the standard sizes you see at the back of your knitting book or magazine. But consider that each size covers a range of possibilities: for example, a medium is 36–38". So if you are at the smaller end of your size range, you'll have more ease between your body and the finished sweater: if you are at the larger end of your size, you'll have less ease between your body and the finished sweater. And if you have a 39" bust measurement according to the chart you are neither a medium nor a large! What to do about all this will be discussed in tomorrow's post.
Obviously, there is a lot of latitude for how much ease should be added. So designers work with their personal preferences. I, for example, prefer more ease rather than less: given a set-in sleeve in a fine yarn, I'd go with standard ease rather than close fit when either of these choices would be perfectly appropriate. Why? Because in high school I was a tiny thing with HUGE BOOBS that I wanted to hide. And I am now an older girl (over 60) who thinks close-fitting clothes not so age appropriate. If you are younger and never wanted to hide your body under a tent, then you may find my styles a little loose. What to do about this will also be discussed in tomorrow's post.

So for now, this is what ease means and how it is usually applied. Check in tomorrow to read how to work with it to ensure you knit a garment that fits the way you want.

Friday, September 14, 2012

when you can't just buy a blender

I don’t normally show my projects here—probably because I have too many on-the-go at once, probably because I don’t think anyone should be as fascinated by them as I am.

Today is an exception: it’s a project I’ve worked on all summer, and it’s a project that has fascinated me. And it is not one of my designs which somehow makes me more excited to bring it to your attention.

I have a family member getting married, and I have always made presents for these folk: an afghan for my brother, a quilt for my sister and another for my step-daughter. I do this because
  • these people are special
  • I suck at buying presents. (Sorry for the language, but no other word expresses so well how truly bad I am at this task.)

So when I really care (and can’t just buy a blender) I take the time to make something. And this family member deserved something special. He’s my step-grandson, and a designer for RIM, and the guy who did my schematics for two books (with great patience and despite thinking a sleeve was a lamp).

He, like many young people, has a black + chrome house. I decided to knit a large afghan (which could double as a smallish queen bed blanket), but how to inject colour? I did not want to be responsible for choosing a colour scheme for his home so let the Noro Kureyon do it for me. And, after some exploration, I decided to use the pattern for Pat Ashforth’s A New Angle (available on Ravelry).

So, 21 balls of NORO, 8 skeins of Cascade 220, 3 months of knitting, one week of assembly (including first washing the swatches and then the entire afghan), 2 days of sewing in tails, and here it is.

Despite what you might have taken from the previous details, it was quite easy (just garter stitch without intarsia at the join of the black and gray), it was fascinating (watching how the colours moved), and it was really fun (that addiction that one-square-at-a-time produces). 

Above all, it is a beautiful labour-of-love. I wish I could keep it—and just go buy a blender. 

 But I cannot--because this young man and his girl are beloved and family and probably already have a blender. Guess I'll just have to knit it again--which is now on my agenda because his sister is newly engaged!

 PS The details of how I did it (because it is a hugely adaptable pattern) are on Pat’s Woolly Thoughts Ravelry group under the A New Angle sewing question thread.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

15 ways to convince your NKF that you are crazy

Your NKF (non-knitting friend) could be male or female, but for brevity's sake I have made her female. And here are the many ways in which we convince her that we are certifiable.

  1. Tell your NKF what you spent--how many dollars and how many hours--on the pair of socks you are knitting. Even though you have only finished one, do not show it to her. But if you must show it to her, do not let her try it on.
  2. Tell her about your family trip to Montana, how you passed through Whitefish, how you happened to find on your phone (because you have an app for this!) a cute little local yarn shop, how you convinced your family to drop you off at Knit 'n Needle with the oh-so-generous encouragement that they not worry about you, that they go find something lovely to do for the entire afternoon, and--yes--even through dinner. Had they seen Glacier National Park? Not to worry: you'll be fine! 
  3. Tell your NKF that you bought yarn at the shop. Why, no, you don't have enough yarn! Then laugh as if no-one has every said anything quite so absurd!
  4. Tell her about that yarn you bought at the shop: you aren't sure if you have enough or what's the perfect project. But not to worry, the yarn will tell you what it wants to be.
  5. Tell your NKF that while at the shop the most amazing thing happened! She'll never guess who was there! You actually got her autograph. No, not Frances McDormand (your mutually favourite actress), way better than that. Then gush about your favourite knitting teacher or author or gone-viral designer from Ravelry. (It might be overkill to tell her what this last bit means.)
  6. Tell her that you just read the best book! Title: Free Range Knitter. Author: Stephanie Pearl-McPhee. Genre: knitting humour.
  7. Tell your NKF that you went back to Montana . . . for a knitting retreat.
  8.  Tell her that, at that retreat, you took a pattern drafting class. And remember that cute little T-shirt that she helped you buy? Well, now you know how to knit a version of it. You think you found the perfect yarn, 10% off at the retreat, still expensive because it is, after all, 15% cashmere. But you are so excited because you just know it's the perfect yarn to knit that T-shirt. (You won't have to tell her how much you spent.)
  9. Tell your NKF that at that retreat you took another class, for which you had to take a nearly-naked photo of yourself with which you played paper dolls. In a moment of weakness, show her your silhouette.
  10. Tell her that at that same retreat you took a six hour class in which you learned a skill worth the price of admission--how to get rid of the ugly loop at the end of a bind-off row. Do offer to show her the class swatch!
  11. Tell your NKF that you recently watched a movie in which someone was knitting. You re-wound repeatedly to see if it was real or fake and then called all your knitting friends to tell them that Hilary Swank (or Judi Dench, or Kate Winslett, or Russell Crowe) really does know how to knit!
  12. Tell her that, because she told you you just had to go there, you have now booked a trip to Hawaii--on a knitting cruise.
  13. Tell her that, yes, it is expensive, but the cruise organizer has been so helpful finding you someone to share your stateroom with. No, you do not know her, but she's a knitter: it'll be fine!
  14. Tell your NKF that, no, you haven't finished knitting a) that second sock, b) that yarn you bought at the shop in Montana, c) that T-shirt you drafted. Act like this is perfectly normal.
  15. But do tell her about that shawl from Victorian Lace Today--the one that took a month to knit the center panel and three months to finish the edging? Tell her how you cried as you finished. No, not because it was so beautiful. You cried  . . . because it was done.
Did I miss anything?
Thanks to the folks at Knit 'N' Needle for inspiring me!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Do I have enough?

The project around which I am procrastinating is another Best-of-Both--a combination of yarn + fabric, this time for a flowy, dressy jacket. The problem is that I found the perfect fabric and the perfect yarn . . . but don't know if I have enough of the latter. So it has sat . . . and sat . . . and sat.

Before it sat, I actually began the work to find out if I had enough yarn.
  • I knit a swatch (and figured gauge).
  • I wrote up a rough version of the pattern.
  • I began knitting and stopped with the completion of one ball of yarn.

So here is what I now need to do.
  1. Calculate # stitches one ball produced. (This is pretty easy: # stitches wide x # rows tall = # stitches one ball produced.)
  2. Calculate # stitches each piece demands. (This is not as easy, because I have shaping in some of the pieces. But if I take the # stitches at a piece's narrowest point, and add the # stitches at its widest point, then divide by 2, I'll have the average # stitches in the piece's width. So average # stitches in width x # rows in length = # stitches in shaped piece.)
  3. Add # stitches for all pieces, then divide by # stitches one ball produced = # balls the project will demand.
So this is what I have been avoiding. Why? In case I don't have enough yarn. What will I do if I don't have enough? Re-design the project: make some part of the garment shorter (the sleeves?) or narrower (the hem of its A-line?). There is always a solution.

For those of you who are in the middle of a project and not sure if you have enough to finish?
  1. Find a place in the knitting where you used one ball of yarn.
  2. Starting at the beginning of that ball and working to the end of that ball, calculate # stitches one ball produced (see step 1 above).
  3. Calculate # stitches needed to finish: # stitches that remain x # rows that remain = # stitches needed to finish (see step 2 above, if the piece is shaped).
  4. Divide # stitches needed to finish by # stitches one ball produced = # balls the finishing will require.
If you don't have enough? Can you give the piece 3/4 sleeves? Can you forgo the sleeves altogether? Can you rip off the edgings, use that yarn to finish, then work the edgings in another dye lot or yarn? Can you go on Ravelry to find more yarn?

There is always  a solution! When you work to find it, you flex your creative muscle (which is always a good thing). And when you find it, the sweater is often improved (becoming the piece it wanted to be all along).

Our knitting really does talk to us. We just need to learn how to listen.

Monday, August 20, 2012

procrastination (and overcoming it)

Sometimes we have something to do. It could be exciting and creative (working out an idea for a new sweater), or it could be mundane and monotonous (cleaning out the garage). Whatever the task, we can imagine—almost taste—the satisfaction of a job well done . . . but we can’t get started.

Procrastination is a most prevalent and human problem. It can come from many forces (from fear of failure to too many distractions to sheer laziness), but it always has the same result: we keep putting off the task. Whether exciting or mundane, we don’t start.

Our excuses are many.
  • I need to do more research (before I start that sweater).
  • I need to clean the bathroom (before I clean the garage).
  • The job’s too big (otherwise I’d have done it already).
  • I’m too tired for it right now (because just the idea of it wears me out).
  • I have something I’d rather do (because it were fun I’d already have done it).
  • Etc, etc, etc.
So here is my very most favourite quote of all time—one that I have used with my students, with my children, and with myself: ACTION PRECEDES MOTIVATION!

Just tell yourself that you’re going to give the next 20 minutes to the task. Just 20 minutes! Anyone can do something for twenty minutes!!!! (Actually, everyone can’t. I had a student who had to face a subject 5 minutes at a time. And he got through the course material, 5 minutes at a time!) But, truly, most of us can do anything for 20 minutes.

Our reward, after that 20 minutes, is that we get to do what we really want to do. Fine. And sometimes that’s what happens: *we work for 20 minutes, do something else, go back to the task and repeat from * until it gets done.

But more often, the first 20 minutes turns into 40 . . . then into 60 . . . then into 90 . . . and before we know it, the job is done. Because action precedes motivation! Rather than sitting around and waiting for motivation to strike (and it never will, not until the in-laws are parking in the garage or the sweater needs to be shown at VOGUE LIVE!), if we simply do something, the all-important, forward-propelling motivation will kick in.

As you can probably imagine, I have something I am avoiding. This was my little pep talk to myself: I’ll show the results as soon as action leads to motivation . . . which ends with a job well done!

Monday, August 13, 2012

knitting through the Olympics

So, I finished my Olympic project—just as I watched the closing ceremonies! How did you do with yours?

Mine was a pair of scarves—made from recovered yarn from two of many scarves I have made but not worn. Some of those scarves were easy, some were lace, but all suffered from not being quite the right shape for me—triangles with not enough tail and/or not enough curve at the neck.

So I thought about what had worked for me, and that took me back to my Shape It! Scarf from The Knit Stitch (a center triangle with long tails for wrapping). Could I use that as a model? It was garter: I want this one to be lace. How to shape the lace?

Many, many, MANY swatches followed. Finally I had a plan . . . and then I had the base . . . and then I started working the extensions . . . and then I ripped . . . and then an altered plan followed . . . and then I ripped some more.

I finished two scarves, but I think I knit the equivalent of four! Rip, knit, rip, knit. That was my Olympics.

Which was perfectly appropriate while I watched the challenges faced by the best athletes in the world. Why should anything wonderful be easy? Don’t we learn most from struggle?  And doesn’t the combination of struggle + triumph give us our podium moments?

I have met knitters who refuse to rip—some from denial, some from sheer stubbornness. (One student hung up on me at the end of a knitting call in which I suggested she rip.) And then there are those who will rip, but sadly and with an assumption of failure—that they have wasted time and effort and should have known better.

Not so! Albert Einstein said Anyone who never made a mistake never tried anything new. Henry Ford said Failure is an opportunity to begin again, more intelligently. And in my next book (dedicated to pattern drafting and all the skills that support it), I talk about the necessity of ripping. It is, simply, an inevitable part of the process.

This is how it is with athletics. All through the Olympic coverage, we heard of the challenges each athlete faced. Despite their successes, they were more defined by how they overcome adversity. And why should knitters be different from inventors, artists, or athletes? Learn, *struggle, learn better, do better; repeat from *. This is life.

So here’s one version of my Olympic project. The pattern will be up on Ravelry—as the Lace-Meets-Leaf Scarf—as soon as I get home to a model and a good camera. (That’s the other thing about athletics or knitting: the right equipment matters!)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

finding your focus

I showed photos of the rocks-in-my-river in my last blog post. But here’s an interesting extension to that photo.

On my son’s first visit to Ottawa after my move, we (he, my daughter, I) all went down to the rocks. John, the artist, was also there. We had a conversation about his rocks, and then the fun began.

Jeremy took photos of the rocks, and Caddy began leaping into the frame. John loved what he was seeing and brought out his camera. Some months later, we all shared our photos.

So here is one of Jeremy’s.


        And here is one of John's.


 Do you see the difference between the photos? Besides the poses and the rocks, what’s different is that
  • in Jeremy’s photo, the rocks are in focus and Caddy is not,
  • in John’s photo, Caddy is in focus and the rocks are not.

Unlike the human eye, the camera has to choose what to focus on: Jeremy (taking his sister for granted) chose the rocks! John (taking his rocks for granted) chose Caddy! (An interesting follow-up is that each guy preferred the other’s photo! Is that like wanting curly hair when yours is straight?)

This made me think about focus—the need to take nothing for granted, the need to focus on the forest (the big picture) and the trees (the details). We don’t have to choose (like a camera) but can do both (like the miraculous human eye).

When we knit, what are the details? All the little techniques we know, love, sometimes take for granted. (I have an ESSENTIAL SKILLS workshop in which we look at all of these, exploring choices and the reason for them. It's a much-loved class for a thinking knitter.)

When we knit, what’s the big picture? For me, it’s the answer to the will I wear this question. Does it fit me? Does it suit me? Will it fit with my wardrobe? (My favourite workshop, KNIT TO FLATTER AND FIT, is a very personal exploration of this subject. It's important, it's fun, and it's often a revelation.)

When I teach, I want to teach both workshops, because the forest and the trees both matter! And when I knit, I need to keep both the big picture and the details in mind. 

A quote I love but cannot attribute is The hardest practices to change are the ones we take for granted. In whatever we do, we should ask the question: what are we focusing on to the exclusion of something that matters equally . . . but that we are taking for granted?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

finding your geography

I live in Ottawa, the capital of Canada (in case you ever need this piece of trivia). Yes, it’s cold in the winter (but not the coldest capital in the world, only the seventh—another piece of trivia). It’s also surprisingly hot in summer and absolutely spectacular in spring and fall. And because it’s the capital, it has lots of cool stuff.

I moved here—as many women my age do—to be near family (my daughter). We had started writing books together, and the 5-hour to-and-fro was not working. Plus I was pretty sure she was going to have little ones, and I wanted to be near. And, although it was not a factor, after multiple visits, I had come to love the city.

What makes a city lovable? Before I left Kitchener-Waterloo (where I had lived for 40 years, and which still had my step-family and friends plus a monster knitting guild that I loved), I was asked by a woman in the guild "Why Ottawa? Where did you grow up?” At that moment, the light bulb went off!

  • I was born in Toronto, a big city on the water.
  • I went to high school in Sault Ste Marie, a small city on the water, huddled against the rocks.
  • Ottawa is a big city, on the water, huddled against the rocks.

I had gone to the University of Waterloo, in a small city surrounded by rolling farmland with little water and no rocks. (Be careful where you go to university: you might get stuck there!) And—even after 40 years of living and working and raising a family there—it had never felt like home.

So my move to Ottawa had me finding my geography. I immediately felt the sense that I was home. My condo is near the river, the river is full of rocks, and I go down there to give thanks every day.

There is a flat plateau in the river near me (at Remic Rapids) where the artist John Felice Ceprano creates "balanced rock" installations each year. Every fall the winter waters wash them out: every summer he creates them anew. This is a small section: go to to see more!

I had heard, but never understood, how much geography mattered. My research on creativity said that it was important to find your space (where you need to work) and your geography (where you need to live). I had gotten the former but not the latter. But now I get it. And I would wish for you to find the same.

Because it is a great gift to know that I will live my final years in a city that makes me happy to the deepest spaces of my brain, my bones, my lungs, and my heart.

If you are tourist to this part of Canada, do not miss a trip to the capital. It is a city of only 800,000 with
  • national galleries
  • the national theatre
  • fabulous architecture
  • lots of pageantry
  • 2 rivers and 1 canal
  • so many parks that you can be in the middle of the city and not be able to see it
  • bike paths and trails
  • the kind of festivals you’d expect in cities twice the size
  • quick access to small mountains and lakes
  • yarn shops!

Welcome one and all!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

making an addict stop whining

Apparently it does not matter if one's drug is legal (serotonin, endorphin, adrenalin) or not (all that other bad stuff): one whines when one is not getting any.

But my whine of the other day was so very uncharacteristic, that I had to positively problem-solve around it--which is my more natural frame of mind.

So, here's what I have figured out.

  • If one is over-tired, it's difficult to get to sleep.
  • If one is stressed, it's difficult to stay asleep.
  • If one stays up to late, one is more likely to wake up early. (Little kids are wonderful illustrations of this.)
  • I have recently learned that sleep is a two-day cycle, so a bad night's sleep is still manifesting two days later.
I can solve a lot of this by taking evenings off and going to bed before 11pm. Having done so for two, post-whine nights, I am thinking more clearly.

  • I need to knit every day--doesn't matter what else is pressing.
  • I need an Olympic Project!
I think it was Stephanie Pearl-McPhee who introduced this concept, and I've had these for the past 3 Olympics. For some reason, I lost sight of this. Because I was editing, my precious knitting time has been spent on something rather pedestrian--a 5th version of my Cross-over Top, which I love and need a summer version of but which didn't have the fun-factor and challenge of an Olympic Project. 

We can get stuck in our knitting when we're putting in time on something we know how to do and are just trying to get done. To feed our addicted knitter, my advice is to always have more than one thing on the go! (A student once asked if she could have a note to this effect to show her husband!)

 My plan for the project is to make the shawl I need--one that is the shape I want and uses all the gorgeous yarn I have otherwise wasted on shawls that I'll never wear. The yarn is ripped out and ready, the stitch dictionary is at hand!

If you have an Olympic Project, I'd love to see it. Can you take a photo and add it to a comment here?

The Olympics
I gotta watch!
  • I took the night off to knit and watched the opening then went to bed early--which fed all my addictions and got me back on track.
  • My tv is on all the time. (It's amazing what one can do with one ear alerted to breaking developments.)
BTW,  I loved the opening! The film sequences of Britain made me weep, and the Queen + Rowan Atkinson made me laugh 'til I wept. I always weep at the lighting of the flame, and I frequently weep at the commercials specifically produced for the event--honouring parents, tugging at the sentimental in us all, and totally working on me!!!

Despite the distractions, I finished the last big edits for my last book an hour ago, so the whining is over and the celebrations begin! What better way to celebrate than to knit and watch the Olympics!


Friday, July 27, 2012


What does it mean to be addicted? One dictionary reads the state of being addicted, especially to a habit-forming drug, to such an extent that cessation causes severe trauma

Notice that there is no qualifier that the habit-forming drug be illegal. By this definition we can be addicted to our natural drugs: endorphins, serotonin, adrenalin. Under this umbrella, we are all  addicts--addicted to the chemical secreted when we sleep, addicted to our own body's "good-time" drugs (endorphins), addicted to the natural high of an adrenalin rush.

Common knowledge also says that an activity can be considered addictive when it interferes with normal functioning.

Why does this subject come up today? Because I have two addictions not being attended to and another one approaching which I fear will not be served.

--sleep I love my sleep, and it's been mightily disrupted lately--by the work of editing the first dummy of my next (and last) book. Can you tell that this makes me grumpy?

--knitting You had to know I was going there? Of course it satisfies the addiction criteria (especially if we start obsessing over, quantifying, adding to our stash). Sadly, the book editing is also cutting into my knitting time. Grumpier still!

--the Olympics I am a complete Olympics junkie. When they are on, my life is organized around watching. Consider that for the winter Olympics, I rarely left my couch from noon to midnight each day. I had everything I needed--food, phone, knitting, measuring tape--within reach. The remote was also within reach, so I could check another country's coverage. If I had to leave my home during those hours, I'd get really anxious . . . until I could make some plausible excuse (Gotta run, something's burning in the crock pot!i)
So, okay, the book edits will be done by Aug 1. Maybe I'll just miss the first few days? 

But, oh no. As soon as I can, I must drive 9 hours north to spend the next 3 weeks at a country place--with a 17" television that gets only one channel and on which events appear to be happening in fog if not blizzard.

What was I thinking?!?!? That I love my family? That I need some fresh air? That I like picking corn and shoveling manure? That the Olympics will surely come again???

Try telling any of that to an addict.

But, yes, enough of the whine. I will get to knit.