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!