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.

Friday, July 20, 2012

shoes, shawls, and repeat offenders

I really really like shoes. There is a pair across the street that are gorgeous, that are comfy, that are now half price. But even though they sing to me through the walls, I walk by every day without going in. I'm being a good girl.

And, truth be told, my mad money has been spent . . . and I feel really really guilty . . . because I did it again! I commit my most common knitting mistake--buying yet more yarn for a shawl I will never wear!

How did this happen?
  • One gorgeous yarn shop, 
  • three aisles of hand-dyed fingering yarn (that I cannot buy at home),
  • easy access to a credit card.
This shawl (knit in two days but too short in the tails and too deep in the centre) will be ripped out. The yarn is gorgeous so shall not be wasted. All I need do is create a shawl whose shape I will actually wear. That should keep me busy--and out of the shoe store.

 But in the meantime, I've been wondering . . . Why did I do this? . . . Why repeat the same mistake with as much eagerness as the first time I made it? What is it about this accessory that makes it such an exciting and repeatable mis-step?

And I've decided that buying yarn for a shawl is like buying another pair of shoes. I make a purchase, without getting naked, that I imagine will miraculously fix my wardrobe (and, by extension, my life).

I suppose there are worse delusions.

And did I mention that the shoes and the shawl match?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mixed bag (lys, negativity, re-gauging)

The first point in my previous point (knitting with austerity) was to buy yarn from your local yarn shop (your lys). I said I would talk about that in this post, and I will.

I have many reasons for supporting my lys (as opposed to a chain store), but because I know I’m “preaching to the choir,” I won’t repeat them here. (Another reason is that I have already listed my reasons in a post of March 13. Duh!)

So instead, I’ll offer some things Cat Bordhi said when she spoke to our guild lately—again, in support of the lys. (And it’s worth noting that Cat’s talk was against both chains and online stores—sources that don’t have a store front--which are not the wonderful lys’s who have mail order businesses we cherish.)

Before giving this list, there’s one thing Cat said that was very heartfelt.

These are difficult days for any small retailer, and they can be immeasurably hurt by one negative comment, typically made on social media. (Remember the triumph of the negative, two posts ago? Human nature says that one negative comment overrides 100 positive ones.) So we must be very careful, very aware, very responsible, and very sure before we go public. So sayeth Cat, and I concur.

Okay, so back to my take on the rest of what Cat said.

Local yarn shops offer the service we need to buy yarn, and then they offer the service we need to use our yarn. If knitting is to survive and thrive, we need local yarn shops. Consider the following.
  • Many of us learned to knit in a local yarn shop.
  • Once we learned to knit, we were offered comfy spaces to sit and knit—amongst like-minded folks while we developed our skills.
  • Once we passed through basic skills, there were high-level classes to take: sometimes dedicated to a particular project, sometimes to a skill set. Whichever it was, we kept knitting and learning.
  • Local yarn shops bring in teachers who take our skills to yet higher levels. (Without yarn shops who bring me in to teach, I would not be able to do what I do.)
And let’s go back to the simple act of buying yarn. Those who work in a local yarn shop know their stock and can help us buy the right yarn for the project. And if it’s not the right yarn for the project there is usually someone there with the expertise to fix the problem . . . by finding an alternate pattern or by helping us re-gauge the pattern we love.

In case everyone in your local shop doesn’t know how to do the latter, here are the steps.
  1. Make a swatch in the yarn you have chosen—on the needles that make the right-feeling fabric, not necessarily the needles suggested by the pattern.
  2. Divide the gauge of this swatch by the pattern’s gauge—to find the ratio between the two. (If you get 18 stitches, and the pattern gets 20, your ratio is .9.) (My example has the ratio less than 1: it's equally possible to achieve a ratio greater than 1, and the method will still work.)
  3. Take the number of stitches that the pattern wants for your size (100?) and multiply it by your ratio. (100 X .9 = 90.)
  4. If there is a size with close to this number of stitches, knit it instead of your size. (You could find yourself knitting a S but achieving a M or L.)
  5. If there is no size with your number of stitches, then you can re-gauge the pattern by multiplying all numbers of stitches in the pattern by your ratio. You may need to round up or down—to a whole number, to an even or odd number—and you might have to adjust for stitch pattern repeats. But knitting is forgiving enough for all of this to serve us well.
  6. This works really easily when most lengths are measurements rather than numbers of rows. For this reason, it’s best to start with simple garments (without side shaping) that are not raglans.
This is a pretty rough guide, but once you work with it you’ll see how easy it is . . . and you’ll find yourself applying it to more complex patterns.

And there you have my mixed bag of thoughts for today!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

knitting with austerity

I wrote a 10-part series earlier, in defense of knitting when times are tough. And by tough times, we all assume a diminishment of disposable income. (Of course, there are other ways to define tough times, and much of that 10-part series spoke about the value of knitting as a calming, creative, and meditative act that would be helpful through difficulties.)

But there are few of us who have not felt some loss of disposable income over the past few years. Yarn shops say that their incomes have dropped (which always happens in the summer anyway) and  that their customers are spending less money on each purchase.

It’s okay to spend less money each time. We are all part of a new economy that must examine its relationship to consumerism. But how do we make the most of what we have?

  • What yarn you do buy, buy from your local LYS. (We cannot afford to have them go out of business. But this is such an important topic that I’ll cover its many reasons in a following post.)
  • When you do buy yarn, buy finer rather than heavier. (It’ll take more time to knit and probably be more flattering to your body.)
  • Knit something really big from yarn that is really fine. (I’m working up a pattern for a huge shawl of fingering weight yarn—some new, some stash. I’d like it to take months to knit, and I know that I will wear it because it’ll be big enough and the right shape for me—all mistakes I’ve made with previous shawls.)
  • Combine yarn + fabric: buy 5 balls of yarn for the shaped bits, buy 1 yard of fabric for the bulk of the ‘yardage.’ (I was in a fabric shop recently, introducing the owner to my friend Cat Bodhi, and the shop owner apologized for how expensive a piece of fabric was. We looked at each other . . . then at him . . . then spoke as a chorus. Do you know how much it would cost to knit that same surface area!?!? He was shocked that knitting was more expensive.) Here is a photo of my pattern that does this. I’m working on lots more—all to be available on Ravelry.

  • Knit gifts. (I am spending much of my summer knitting a version of Pat Ashforth’s A New Angle—as an afghan/wedding present—and I’ll post a photo here when it’s done. The afghan my grandmother crocheted was and is a treasured piece: I hope to offer the same to this couple.)
  • In the same vein, knit for Christmas (or whatever you celebrate)—decorations, presents, stockings, a Christmas tree skirt—and start now. (I have a favourite Christmas tree skirt and plan to make one for each of my children, but please don’t tell them. It’s in my book Warm Knits, Cool Gifts, it’s easy, and it’s gorgeous.)
  • Find something in your closet you love to wear then do the work to measure it, draft the pattern, knit it (which should include lots of ripping as you do whatever it takes to get it right). This will all take time but do wonderful things for your brain and your knitting skills. (If you don’t yet feel confident to do this, my next book will guide you through the process. But don’t let fear of failure force you to wait. Go for it now!)
  • If  a trip to the yarn shop is not within your budget at the moment, do not stop knitting! Find something you have knit but are not wearing, for which the yarn is worth recovering, then rip it out and re-use the yarn. (Before doing so, figure out what’s wrong with the piece so you won’t repeat the mistake.) I have a pile of sweaters ready for this and am currently knitting my Cable-Edged Vest from Mother-Daughter Knits in a brown yarn I’ve ripped and recovered.

I’m sure there are other ways to make the most of your disposable income + knitting time. Anyone have further ideas?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

the triumph of the negative

Some time ago (perhaps a year), someone attained my password and planted a virus onto my website. (I had to spend money to have my tech guy fix it--and set things up so it wouldn't happen again.) Why would someone do that? Why would someone spend energy and intelligence hacking onto the site of an old knitter?!?!?!?

So I thought about the people who do these things--who spend their time on negative and destructive stuff--and it reminded me of a conversation I had a couple of years ago. I was talking to a writer about a very bleak book--a very good book but a very dark book--and he said "You know, it's easy to write a bleak book. It's a lot harder to write a book that's positive!"

And he's right! Try walking around the world being terminally optimistic! People think you're (at best) uninformed and insensitive . . . and (at worst) stupid! While each of us is generally personally optimistic (about our own lives), we are--on the other hand--socially pessimistic (about the way the world is going). We give a lot of credence to the intelligence of those who are negative, judgmental, critical.

Consider this quote.
Five years have seldom passed away in which some book or pamphlet has not been published pretending to demonstrate that the wealth of the nation was fast declining, that the country was depopulated, agriculture neglected, manufacture decaying, trade undone.

Since this was written, nothing much has changed: the media tells us to worry about our country's wealth, the world's population, the food supply, and globalization. The only thing this writer didn't know to add to the list was something about the environment.

And why did he miss that issue? Because the car had not yet been invented. That quote was written by Adam Smith at the start of the industrial revolution!

I've just finished a book on this topic: The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley. He argues every issue of our time and explains why we can be optimistic. And he bemoans the fact that pessimism sells, wins awards, gets grants, creates movements, precipitates hysteria. (Remember Y2K?)

There is no single answer to why we believe in the negative: Ridley gives his own reasons, and here are mine.

I think it's because language, logic, judgment, cynicism all reside in the left brain. We launch an articulate army when we judge, criticize, doom-speak. In addition, the left brain is where experience resides: and, yes, logic and experience tell us that is we keep doing what we know--and keep going the way we are going--we will come to disaster. In addition, because it holds experience, the left brain does not like change. So it sees the solution to present problems as returning to an idealized (but generally untrue) version of the past.

The right brain, on the other hand, is the positive, "Let's all get along together" side of the brain: innovative, imaginative, optimistic. BUT it doesn't have the same forces (language, logic) to marshall. It can't mount the same convincing offense, and so it loses most arguments against the nay-sayers. And it can't describe a future that has not yet happened.

But the point Ridley makes is that we don't have to live under gray clouds. Humans (and their right brains) have always found ways to make things better. It is, just simply, the course of human history . . . the way things have been and should continue.

So as intelligent as they seem, people who are crtitical and mean and judgmental and destructive and pessimistic and negative are not smarter nor righter! (Yes, I said "righter!") They're just stuck in their articulate left brains which makes us and them think they are clever. And this can be confirmed when they sell lots of books and get the whole world on their side.

What's to be done to save us from them?
  • Get informed, reading with an optimistic mind-set.
  • Challenge basic assumptions (which is what the right brain does well).
  • Work on improving education.
  • Teach the world to knit! 
Yes indeed, getting everyone knitting would be a great thing. Because knitting, and activities like it,  take us out of the left brain and put us into our more positive and imaginative and optimistic right. The world would not only be a better place if everyone knit, but we'd believe it to be so!

And isn't that where we'd rather live anyway?