Friday, November 29, 2013

why and what we knit

I've written about all the good and healthy reasons for knitting: see In defense of knitting, parts 1-10, (written between Jan 23, 2012 to Feb 23, 2013). And whether or not we know all the science discussed in those posts, we know intuitively that knitting is a good way to engage our hands and pass our time.

But if we had asked our grandmothers why they knit, they would not have talked about health benefits. They would not have said I like the meditative state knitting induces. And they would not have talked about lessons in patience. They would have talked about knitting as product, not process.

I've talked about knitting as product before, to the extent of establishing my own personal rant: knit what you wear, wear what you knit. But I have recently discovered another entree into this subject, and I'm encouraged to share it with you.

Okay, if we think about knitting purely as product, why and what do we knit? 

1. Knitting as ART
How to define knitting as ART? We know it when we see it: a piece that hangs on a gallery wall, a piece that makes a statement! a piece from one of our renowned designers (someone who exhibits in the Royal Albert Museum).

We can replicate these pieces of famous designers, or we can create something of our own--perhaps a 72-row lace shawl in a hand-dyed. The results are wonderful and much to be admired.

But when a member of the general public (MOTGP) sees one of these pieces, she (and I use the generic she here) does not think Wow, I need to learn how to knit so I can do that! She sees an art sweater as completely beyond her abilities--and perhaps not even hand-knit. Unless she knows you well, she doesn't know that lace shawl didn't come off a machine in China!

And there's another thing to be said about knitting as ART. When we wear a piece of art, we can feel as if the piece is wearing us rather than us wearing it. (I will never forget watching a woman struggle with, and then throw down, her  Kaffe Fassett coat, saying I am tired of this piece wearing me! The coat was heavy and unshaped: it was beautiful but uncomfortable.) It goes without saying that walking around in a piece of art might not be something many of us can manage?

2. Knitting as CRAFT
And what is knitting as CRAFT? We know this when we see it too. It might be the best incarnation of our most well-known knitting techniques: fairisle (and please excuse my use of the machine knitting term), intarsia, Aran, lace, double or modular knitting. All of these are express our craft in its most recognizable and most beloved fabrics.

But when a MOTGP sees one of these pieces, she will--again--not think Wow, I need to learn to not so I can do that! These pieces are also seen as beyond her abilities. Yes, she will know it's hand knit, but she will not see it as something can ever make.

AND she might see one of these garments as something she would not easily wear. Think for a moment of these high-craft pieces with their complications of stitch and/or colour. To avoid difficulties through shaping, they are most often drafted as drop shoulders. And while I frequently find myself defending the drop shoulder in classes, students will insist that they don't like it: it doesn't fit, it's uncomfortable, it's sloppy, or it has too much fabric at the underarm.

So, when we knit for CRAFT--and hone our knitting techniques to their highest level--we can make garments that are beautiful but not necessarily flattering. (I will never forget a story told by a woman who made my set-in sleeved Gray Cardigan: the first time she wore it someone said Oh how exquisite! It looks hand knit, but then I realized it couldn't be because it fits you too well.) Wrongly or not, making ill-fitting garments seems to be our reputation: I wonder if knitting purely for craft doesn't contribute to this a bit?

3. Knitting as FASHION
I remember my friend, Lee Andersen, telling us in a workshops that we needed to know why we were knitting: which of these 3 was our highest priority, art, craft, or fashion? I knew I was knitting for FASHION. And I also knew I as in the minority.

Some students thought FASHION meant HIGH FASHION, so they didn't see that as a reason to knit. But I didn't take it that way. I took it to mean fashion something with my hands that would express my personal fashion

Another reason (I was in a minority) might be that, unlike our grandmothers, we of this generation knit for process--because we can afford to, because we can (with globalization) buy what we wear. We know that purchased garment is the right colour, the right length, the right size. None of these are guaranteed with our hand knits. So we knit for art and we knit for craft--worthy reasons to spend our money on yarn and our time on knitting.

BUT, as said earlier, we don't produce pieces that a MOTGP recognizes as attainable or wearable. So if we knit for FASHION, might this change. And what would those attainable and wearable pieces be?

Look in your closet: what do you wear most often? Simple shapes? Solid colours? Pieces that fit? Pieces with something of interest that raises them beyond the purely simple?

These are the things that express my personal fashion. And I can tell you that rarely do I wear a hand knit without a MOTGP (a sales person in a women's clothing store, a customer in a shoe store, a stranger at an airport, a member of the cleaning staff at a hotel, a waitress in a restaurant) stopping me to say  
  • I love your top / vest / sweater!
  • Where did you get it?
  • You KNIT IT? It doesn't look hand knit!!!
  • Was it difficult? 
  • Could I do it?
Or some version of the above. Every time. And I'm going to make a major assumption here by asking if this is not a reaction we'd all--at least occasionally--want?

How do we get that reaction? For every piece we knit as ART, for every piece we knit as CRAFT, we should knit one piece for FASHION! They won't be the most interesting or technique-heavy pieces we knit, but we--knitters, our community, our craft, and the MOTGP--will all be better for it!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Isn't marketing wonderful?

I wrote that title somewhat wistfully. 'Tho' I wish I understood marketing, I don't. I do admire it when I see it well done, but--sadly--my creativity does not walk that way.

Having said that, when someone points me in the right direction, I am happy to join the parade. So, in that vein, if anyone here is attending VOGUE LIVE in NYC in January, and IF you sign up for one of my classes using the following code, you will receive a free gift.


What's not to love?
Hope to see you there!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What makes a great design?

I've been drafting my own patterns since I was 11 years old. The reason for this is that a) I was naturally a loose knitter, b) my mother did not knit, c) I had no-one to tell me how to measure gauge (other than just pushing stitches around on the needle and laying the tape measure along said needle! DUH!) So I started drafting before I had the slightest clue as to what I was doing!

Best thing that every happened to me! I wouldn't have the life I have if any of a, b, or c had not been my reality. I believe (rightly or wrongly) that I would have knit but just followed patterns as written. OMG, who would I have become?  Probably a high-school Math and English teacher (who knit) and wrote (never-published-because-they-were-very-bad) novels.

But a, b, and c were my reality! And the advantages were legion!
  • I teach, but through books or in classrooms that could be anywhere in the English-speaking world.
  • I keep my brain alive and healthy by the very-good-work of pattern drafting (which Rudolf Steiner, who began the Waldorf Schools, recognized when he called knitting the perfect human activity and made mandatory for all 6-yr olds in his system--for its hand-eye coordination, promotion of math skills, heightened ability to focus, and generation of the ability to think spatially).
(Sorry for the length of that parenthetical item. My alter-ego English teacher shudders.)

But through those many years of drafting, I've designed (the conceptual work) some really nasty stuff. And I've also done some stuff of which I am really proud. Included in the latter is my new, all-time-favourite piece: L'ENVELOPPE (of course, available on Ravelry).

How can I say that this is my ATF piece? Because never before have I made six of something within one month of its birth. And never before have I made something that is admired every time I wear it.

So I wondered, What makes a great design? After just over 50 years of this design and drafting work, here's what I have only recently discovered and decided as my own personal criteria.
The piece must have some drafting challenges
The piece I have just done was probably knit three times before I got it right. And I'm grateful for that! I want that challenge: makes me know I'm alive and working! If the process is too easy, it's unsatisfying.

The piece must be easy to knit
While I'm not averse to complex knitting, my favourite things are easy to knit. This is where I probably differ from the majority, but I love stuff that I can knit while watching a move (with closed-captioning), reading a book, having a conversation. And I suppose I'm happy when I know the piece is accessible to a majority--which easier stuff might be.

 The piece must keep me engaged through the knitting
Here's the real kicker! To get something easy-to-knit but within which something is happening that keeps us engaged (and brain cells firing) is the best of all possible worlds. I love, love, LOVE when I can accomplish this.
I must love to wear it
Well, isn't this our bottom line??? What's the advantage to satisfying all of the above--or any other criteria--if we don't love wearing it.

Every time I wear it, it is admired
Clearly, I mis-spoke. This is our bottom line! We want people to notice what we are wearing, we want them to comment upon what we are wearing, we want them to want what we are wearing.

Unfortunately, this last one can have its downside. I do have this commented upon every time I wear it--by men, by women, by knitters, by non. And it's the latter who are sometimes a problem. Because they insist that I will make them one. (I believe they believe I should be flattered to be asked?) And, just sometimes, they don't understand thanks but no thanks for an answer. So then I, very politely, launch into The cost of our knits (which I wrote about here, Nov 1, 2012).

I did give one, very persistent woman the name of her nearest yarn shop and the link for the pattern, assuming the yarn shop could a) teach her to knit or b) find someone who wouldn't mind making it for her. I will see this woman again, so that'll be an interesting follow-up.

Back to the subject at hand, I have satisfied all of the above with this most recent piece. And I think I have done so with two others in my design history: the Einstein Coat and my Summer Sweater. Is three enough for one lifetime?

Whatever the "great design" criteria is for me, I'm not sure it would be the same for you. So I'm curious: how does this work for you? And how many do you own?  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

my round rant

What's a round rant? It's my rant against a fairly recent but widespread aberration (and I do not use that term lightly) to knit garments in-the-round. How do I know how widespread it is? Because I am asked for in-the-round garment patterns, because I am asked how to convert existing garment patterns to in-the-round, because yarn shop owners tell me they are asked for in-the-round garment patterns, because they say that's the first question they're asked about a new pattern: is it in-the-round?

Why do people think they want this? Because, when making sweaters, dresses jackets, or coats, they don't like to sew side seams.

Okay, so let's look at this from every possible angle to see if there are any good reasons to support knitting-in-the-round as an effort to avoid side seams or for any other reason.

Disclosure: what follows is long, comprehensive, and forcefully opinionated!

1. What happens after we reach the armhole?
So, I say, you knit in-the-round to the armhole. Then what do you do?

One answer is Oh, well, then I start knitting back and forth. I'll ask if their knitting doesn't look different when they go back-and-forth rather than round-and-round? Well, yes, but I don't like to sew side seams.

An alternative answer is I keep knitting in the round but cut and sew for the armholes. And I, quite honestly, wonder in what universe it's easier to cut-and-sew rather than to learn to sew side seams?

2. How difficult are those side seams?
One thing that confounds me is the wish to avoid side seams when they are, in fact, the easiest seams to master and the most invisible of our seams. If executed properly (and more of that in the next section), our side seams--in stockinette and with mattress stitch--are absolutely invisible!  They aren't invisible in sewing, but they are in knitting. Aren't we lucky!!!

Our shoulder seams aren't invisible, and they are more difficult to master. The same can be said of our drop shoulder or set-in-sleeve armhole seams: not invisible, not as easily mastered. So for most of our garments, we accept that some sewing is required. And we accept that they may be neither easy nor invisible. So why on earth are we so eager to avoid the one that is both easy and invisible!?!

3. Have we put thought into our selvedge stitches?
Having seen the request for in-the-round so often, I had to ask where it came from. And here's one thought.

Perhaps this comes from newer knitters who started with hats and mitts and cowls--without seams. So, they ask, why do I need seams in a knit garment. My head is round, my body is round: what's the difference? This is a very valid question, and I'll answer it in the next section.

It could also come from new knitters who started with scarves. Scarves are usually knit in garter stitch (knit every row), and for these we employ 2 popular selvedge stitches:
  • knit the first and last stitch of every row (offering a neat edge)
  • slip the first stitch of every row (offering a pretty edge, almost decorative, edge).
So we graduate and wish to produce a garment--probably not done in garter, some version of stockinette being the norm. And we notice rather immediately that the edge stitches are butt ugly. So we carry forward a memory of those selvedge stitches and think there's our answer! We can neaten the edges by knitting them or slipping them.

And it's not just newer knitters who use these selvedge stitches. There are many more experienced knitters (who I meet in my classes) who use garter or slip for selvedges. Some of them figured it out for themselves; some were taught to do this; some are following a pattern that directs them to do this.

So all these knitters--new or old--then wonder why they don't like their seams. Why? Because these are TERRIBLE choices for the execution of side seams!!!!
  • Slip stitches are pretty, but they transfer the ugliness of the stockinette stitch to the stitch next door: so the pretty slip-stitch goes into the seam, and the ugly stockinette stitch rides along the RS of the work. 
  • Garter stitches are pretty, but they want to lie flat--rather than nicely turning the corner into the side seam. So we get bulky seams, because this stubborn, knotty little thing fights our seam.
No wonder these folks want to avoid side seams!  With these selvedges, they are difficult to execute and look awful.
  • If selvedge stitches are worked as stockinette stitches, they are not pretty, but they roll to the back and produce invisible side seams. (The seam itself falls into the trough between stitches.) It's a wondrous and beautiful thing that doesn't happen in other stitches or crafts.
Once, when explaining all this in class, a student asked So why do patterns tell us to do this? My answer was that The pattern was written for the knitter not for the sweater. The knitter can say What a good job I did on this piece. But then she tries to seam it . . . and thinks the seam is the problem when it was--quite simply--her choice of selvedge stitches.

4. Why do we need side seams?
 So maybe I have explained why people don't like sewing, maybe not. But it's a very valid question to ask why we need those seams anyway?

Why? Because side seams are the skeleton to the garment, helping it hold shape over time.

Think about this. We do not own garments without side seams. Look in your closet: not only does everything have side seams but, if the garment is long, it has a centre-back seam. We don't own skirts or dresses or jackets or coats without both side and centre-back seams. Why? Because fabric needs structure so it won't stretch over time.

The only garment we might own without a centre-back seam could be a T-shirt made from a tube of knit jersey. And what happens after we wash it? It skews! The side seams go wonky. This is what knit fabric does.

And speaking of fabric, most of what's in our closets is not knit: it's fabric, which has inherently more structure than our knits. Still, all those pieces have side seams. Why, oh why would we want to remove this structure from our more flexible knits?

5. What further reason might we have for side seams?
I also know that when we knit in-the-round what we get is what we get. When finished, we block it and see . . . hmmm . . . who will this fit?!? No matter how experienced we are, gauge can surprise us. Yes, we knit a swatch. But no, the finished gauge may not have cared to play by the same rules.

So, if we knit back-and-forth (front and back as separate pieces with seams to join them), we can knit a piece and discover Wow, that's not gonna fit! It's too big! So we call it the front and make the back in a smaller size. And if it's too small, we call it the back and make the front larger. We can do this--and make something that fits--if we did not knit-in-the-round. (I explore this in my book KNITTING PATTERN ESSENTIALS, in the chapter When things don't turn out as expected.)

6. What exceptions are there to all this?
As I said earlier, it is perfectly appropriate to knit hats, mitts, cowls, etc, in-the-round.

And we may also knit garments in-the-round to avoid purling. When's that? When working two-colour (sometimes called fairisle) pieces. For these, the tradition is to knit in the round and to steek for front, neck, and armhole openings.

But I can honestly say that since learning (and teaching) how to purl with one yarn around the neck (and another in the right or left hand or also around the neck), I've converted myself (and students who've learned these technique) to knitting two-colour pieces flat and with side seams. Seems (sorry for the pun) way less intimidating than steeking, cutting, sewing, with all the skill set that demands.

 So that's my rant. It's supported by yarn shops who say Yes, we know they shouldn't be knitting in-the-round, but it's our job to give them what they want.

I see it as my job to help knitters make pieces that fit and will be worn--pieces that do honour to our craft. And this particular rant is a huge part of this mission.

Friday, September 6, 2013

when you can't just buy a blender . . . again!

Some of you may remember my knitting an afghan for my grandson's wedding . . . about a year ago. . . . from a Pat Ashforth design . . . bemoaning that I had to give this beautiful piece away because I just could not buy a blender for this precious young man and his wife-to-be.

And you might remember that just as I was finishing it I got a phone call that his sister was engaged. Another afghan to knit!

This time I worked up my own design--based on our family's love of the Log Cabin  design. For this young woman, softer colours were chosen. And, judging by her reception, they were the right choice.

I wish I had a better photo of it, but I was rushing out the door to a family reunion and the gift's delivery. What I can say is that it is very beautiful but also very traditional. And that it was fun to knit. Hers, which you can see here, is six squares x six squares, but I am about to do a smaller 4 x 4 one for myself: that's how much I loved doing it!

I've added it as a free RAVELRY download: I hope you'll consider making one if you need a wedding gift for a very special person.

By the way, while at the reunion, I stayed at my grandson's place and--of course--looked for the afghan. It was not in the living room as expected! I was so worried that they didn't love (and use) it as much as they said they did and would . . . until I looked in their TV room. And there it was, not neatly folded over the back of the couch but bunched up on the sofa! Clearly much loved and much used, exactly as reported by my grandson and by his sister. (I could kinda tell when she got hers that she was kinda expecting one and very happy to not be disappointed.)

What a lovely thing when you know your gift is appreciated. Not that a blender wouldn't be . . . but still . . .

Sunday, August 25, 2013

welcome to my knitting cave

As promised, photos of my new knitting room--which I've dubbed my knitting cave because of it's size and cosiness: 8½' x 7' (as opposed to my previously spacious 9' x 9').

But I love it! I sit and admire it, I take every opportunity to walk through it, and I had my first really good's night sleep after it was finished. (In the night, I'd wake . . . wrestling with things I wanted to get done: one whole night I lost 3 hrs of sleep, thinking about the wall calendar I'd make the next day!) But now, despite whatever other parts of the reno remain un-done, my knitting cave gives me peace and brings me home!

Here you can see a straight-on shot of my daughter's drawing (beside the larger one my son did, both mentioned in the previous post but not shown well): two drawings of girls picking flowers, one done when she was 4, the other when she was 5. Both are done on needlepoint canvas.

In addition, here's one she did later . . . of a sick girl in bed. (Don't you love the look on her face?) This one is cross-stitch embroidery rather than needlepoint--which, as you probably know, goes much faster. It sits on a wall opposite my knitting cave--a wall dedicated to family art (already in-hand or yet to come).

For those of you equally challenged by space, I recommend the following:
  • the up filer--shown in the photo below--instead of an on-the-floor filing cabinet (Other, not-so-used files are in the basket of my rolling cart.)

  • the ISO daybed--shown in the photo above (I really do need a space for a guest. Plus it's a comfy chair and recliner when not laid out to bed size.)
  • using the upper wall space for wire shelves that hold baskets of yarn--also shown in the photo above (numbered and recorded on my computer)
Again, I love my knitting cave and wish you the same corner of your home to thusly love and cherish.

the products you see
Thanks to the internet for allowing me to find the following products that I would never have been able to otherwise access.

BTW, I am in no way paid of even acknowledged for my mention of these things. I only put the information here to save any who are interested from having to ask.
  • For the up filer system,
  • For the ISO daybed, I can't find the company's website, so all I can give you is this: Perhaps you are better at navigating the internet to find the company itself?
  • For anyone who wants to know about the wall calendar, here's the DIY site for that: I did it with my granddaughter, and you might imagine her responsible for the uneven cutting and glueing . . . but . . . no, that would be me. Like an errant child, I love my calendar for all its flaws and idiosyncrasies. (But I do wonder what the people in the hardware store think when we walk off with 42 paint chips?)


Saturday, July 27, 2013

immortalizing children's art

Here are photos of my old knitting room.

And here's what I would wish you to see.
  • Because there was no ceiling fixture in the room . . . and I don't love standing lamps . . . and I needed yarn storage, my builder guy designed shelves to hold my baskets of yarn that also housed lighting. Very well done!
  • The loveseat is a sofa bed (which my granddaughter calls her secret bed), and on it is a much-loved and much-repaired granny squares afghan made by my grandmother. Much time was spent as a child, trying to figure out which square's colour combo I liked best. I believe that my love of fibre began with this piece.
  • On the bookcase is a previous gift--one of those double-layered bowls whose segments are filled with yarn scraps, presented to me by some Toronto knitters.
  • Over the desk is a quilt that is my window in a windowless room.
  • On the walls are pieces of needlework done by family members.
And this last is what I wish to pass along to you today--the concept of turning drawings into needlework.

Ignore the photo below for the moment, and notice what sits over the sofabed--a Four Seasons piece I did, based upon a scene in a J. R. R. Tolkein calendar. This is my least exciting piece (although it was done the same as what follows).

The other two (shown enlarged below) are based upon drawings my children did. (I'm sorry for the lack of detail and for the angle, especially on the smaller piece. I will be sure to take a head-on shot when my new knitting room photos are posted.)

One day my just-turned-five-years-old son showed me a drawing he'd done of a T-Rex. (Do you know a little boy who didn't go through a dinosaur phase???) I loved it and asked if he could do more . . . which he did. I immediately knew that these drawings (and this phase of his life) had to be preserved, so I did the following:
  • bought a large piece of needlepoint canvas,
  • laid it over the drawings,
  • traced his drawings,
  • worked them all in needlepoint in exactly the colours in which he had drawn them.
If I had know how much time it was going to take to fill in the background, I might have crowded things a little more! But I asked Jeremy to help fill some of the background spaces, and he happily did.

Oh yes, and I had also made him title and sign the piece, right onto the needlepoint canvas, and that was worked into the piece also.

My husband framed it, and there it is, probably the most precious thing I own. I can still name those dinosaurs, from right to left: Brontosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Tricerotops, Stegosaurus, Pterodactyl, Ankylosauraus, a head-on shot of Tricerotops, and Brachiosaurus.

But next I needed to do something to immortalize my daughter's drawings, especially since she drew constantly. So I found some faves I had saved--the egg-head "girl" drawn when she was four, and the second girl, drawn when she was five. She told me they were picking flowers, so I asked her to draw them too.

The process was the same as my son's, and she signed hers also. The frame came from a discarded piece of art.

You would probably recognize that this is really, really easy to do? And I have done others over the years that were just embroidered (or cross-stitched) onto fabric--without the need to fill all that background. But I don't love them as much as the needlepoint pieces, probably because I knew I was cutting corners.

However these are produced, they make great gifts. And to be true, the original idea came from a gift. A friend was attending a wedding with her son. To keep him busy during the ceremony, she gave him pencil and paper and asked him to draw the bride and groom. She then embroidered his picture, framed it, and gave it as a wedding gift.

I did the same when friends were building their home. I asked their four-year-old daughter to draw the house. I transferred the drawing to some cloth and then embroidered it--with long lazy strokes, so it looked like she had done the embroidery herself. This one took no time at all. We framed it, it was delivered as a house-warming gift, and it became a much-loved piece at the centre of their home.

I am now  living in a renovation. My new knitting room will be even smaller, but it will still have those shelves and will still feature the kids' drawings. Truly, they are the most precious pieces--moments in time from my little ones, drawing what they knew and loved.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

yin yoga

Knitters sit . . . a lot. And there are therapies we need that can help alleviate the tightness that results. So I offer the following.

Some years ago, my daughter told me about a new yoga she was doing. It felt like a role reversal as she told me the benefits and that You really need to do this, Mom. I explained how it wasn't gonna happen: I travel too much for a regular class schedule, I like to break a sweat when I work out, I don't have the discipline for yoga, yada, yada, yada. All foolishness!

So, one Christmas she was at my place, down on the floor in a pose, and I looked at her and said I need that! What is that?!? She rolled her eyes as only a clever daughter can and said I told you, Mom, YIN YOGA!

She explained a little about it: I got online to do some research. At that time, it was not easy to find a practitioner in my area, but there was a book highly recommended by everyone:  Paul Grilley’s YIN YOGA. I ordered it and began a study.

Okay, so I'm still not disciplined enough for the regular practice of it. . . . But I am informed enough to know how important it is. And when I get into trouble (stiffness) and do it (for only a few moments), I see immediate benefits.

Here's the deal. Yan Yoga (what we are most familiar with) works on the muscles—which are like elastic bands (lots of stretch and hard to break unless you pull violently). Yin Yoga (a rarer practice) works on the connective tissues—which are more like pull taffy (with not so much stretch and easily broken unless you pull gently and slowly). So Yin Yoga has the following features.

  • It's called the quiet practice because it's slow and gentle . . . and quiet.
  • You always do it sitting or lying, so muscles are not engaged (because when muscles are engaged, the connective tissue cannot be stretched).
  • You hold a pose for at least 2-and-a-half minutes—because that's how long it takes for the connective tissue to loosen and stretch. (As we sit in the simplest of poses—a forward bend—we may feel nothing for the first 2 minutes or so . . . but then the head slowly drops, and eventually it may touch the knees. I can tell you that never before—until I did this a few times—had my nose ever gotten close to my knees!)
  • As we get older, it's the connective tissue that we need to work on: no matter how much we strengthen our muscles, an over-time shortening of the connective tissue is what makes us older girls (knitters and non) stoop. (This from my chiropractor.)

So, a true Yin Yoga class may be an hour long with only a few poses—no more than 10. But even if you do only one pose—like I do when I wake in the night with stiffness—it will make us feel limber and stand taller.

There is much more to it than this, but I invite you to check it out. After introducing one student to it, she later said Thank you! I think you just saved my life. I don't know if that proved to be true, but certainly improving quality of life is a result of a yin yoga practice.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

knitting, the right brain, and making connections

If you've read much of my stuff, you know that when you are knitting (doing something physically repetitive, intellectually undemanding, and visually stimulating), you are in your right brain. And what the right brain does, among other things, is make connections.

So here are two that came to me recently.

The movie connection
 I was knitting while watching the movie TOAST. It's a pretty good British piece--based upon a real person and his memoirs--and I don't know what the reviews were like but I thought it quite good . . . good enough to recommend to a friend.

But nagging me throughout the movie was the father. Who was he? Where had I seen him before?

While watching this movie, I thought of another movie I'd recommend to my friend--one of my favourite-all-time movies, THE GIRL IN THE CAFE. No connection between the two occurred to me except that they were British.

But then I googled the father from TOAST and found that he was a major character in THE GIRL IN THE CAFE!

This is a fully characteristic right brain experience. It makes the connection--and solves your problem--even though you might not be aware that a connection has been made or a solution has been found. It's been said by many that to be creative, to solve problems, to harness intuition we need to listen very carefully to this wee, quiet voice that doesn't always explain itself logically.

The weather connection
We are having a deadly brutal heat wave here, and I don't know about yours but my entire family had a meltdown on Tuesday night. 

And then my right brain went for a wander. . . .

If we have meltdowns in the heat, what do we do in the cold? We don't get cranky, we don't vent, we don't meltdown. Rather, we do the opposite: we shut down, withdraw to our corners, find a place to cocoon.

Still wandering, I thought about knitting through the heat (pretty much all you can do when it's painful to move!) And I thought about what projects we might knit (small pieces) and what fibres we might wear (cotton).

We wear  cotton because it draws heat away from the body. If you hold a ball of cotton in your hand, your hand will feel cool because the cotton draws the heat out.

And what do we wear in winter? Wool. Why? Because it holds body heat in. If you hold a ball of wool in your hand, your hand will feel warm because the wool holds the heat in.

And then my right brain had a big WOW!  (Bear with me here!)
  • Cotton pulls the heat away from the body.
  • Wool  holds the heat in.
  • In hot weather, we vent (releasing emotion).
  • In cold weather, we withdraw (holding in emotion).
So in the winter we need to hold in our body heat and can't afford to get all passionate about stuff. But in the summer we need to release body heat, and so we get all worked up about stuff. And as silly as this all seems, it made me wonder if maybe it's not actually a stereotype that people from northern places are known for being cool (in the sense of restrained), while people from southern places are known for being hot-blooded. Maybe this makes as much sense as wearing wool or cotton? It's how we have learned to behave in order to survive.

Can this possibly make sense? I do not know. But this is what the right brain does! It makes connections. Sometimes they solve problems, sometimes they feel like pure silliness! The thing about the right brain is that is has no filter. It thinks all connections are equally interesting and worthy of consideration.

What I do know is that we are all desperate for this heat to be over!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

getting better at what we do

I was encouraged to do a 10K run 3 years ago, and I got hooked. But I have certainly learned a few things about taking on something new. And those lessons surely apply to our knitting.

What I learned from my first run 
I can do this!
A crowd (in this case, 10,000 runners) is very motivating.
Equipment matters: my running shoes weren't.
I would probably do better if I studied this!

I was proud of how I did in my first run. And I started dreaming of my second. Notice that I dreamt about it, rather than actually training for it.

What I learned from my second run
The motivation of the crowd doesn't help if you set unreasonable expectations.
I would probably do better if studied this!

So I thought about how it feels to learn something new. (I was learning how to run--something  thought I knew how to do, something everyone knows how to do, but which of course can be improved with training.) Now that I am training properly for a fourth run, I've looked at that training and realized how very much it applies to knitting.

So here's how we train to run, and here's how it translates to knitting.

Each week we do 4 kinds of runs.  
Translation We need to always have 4 kinds of knitting on-the-go.
How many of us don't do that? How many of us think we have to finish one thing before we start another? This is not, apparently, how one masters a skill.

Type number one is a short and slow run.
Translation This pattern will be easy and small--perhaps a pair of socks, something small for charity, something for a baby.
As we get better at something, we can easily forget the value of these little, carry-along pieces.
Type number two is a long and slow run.
Translation This pattern will be easy but long--a simple shawl in a lace-weight yarn, an Einstein Coat, a blanket.
This is the knitting we do while we watch a move--maybe a foreign film with subtitles--or as we read a book, or while in a meeting, or hooking up (forgive the pun) with friends. If the knitting for these events is too challenging, we could end up ripping long hours or work.
Type number three is anywhere between a half and the whole of our distance but approaching our race pace.
Translation This pattern will be more challenging and something we want to wear.
Race pace is the runner's goal, and isn't it a knitter's goal to knit what we wear, wear what we knit, have it admired far and wide?
Type number four is a short and very challenging, either sprinting or running hills.
Trranslation This might mean simply knitting complex swatches (from a stitch dictionary) or taking a class on a new technique. Or it could mean trying our hand at pattern drafting--short and simple to start, increasing challenges as we master it.
The results of the swatching or classes might be stuff we never use, but we'll be better knitters for the experience. The results of the pattern drafting makes us masters of our craft.

The other lessons I learned from my first 10K still apply:
  • join a group (a guild or a knit-and-chat circle) because they are motivating and we can learn from them;
  • equipment matters . . . because it just does.
And one final lesson . . . 
When we run, we are also encouraged to cross train: bike, roller-blade, lift weights, whatever. It doesn't make sense to do just one form of exercise, so we are encouraged to mix it up.

I translate this to knitting by believing that we should all be including other stuff in our hand-work: sewing, crochet, needlepoint, quilting, weaving, spinning, etc. We'll be better for it, and who knows what cross-over can produce. One of my greatest joys has been putting knitting and sewing together: if you have not already seen it, check out Nothing in recent years has been as exciting for me as the creativity that this cross-over has sparked.

We've all heard that it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something. But mileage without goals, without challenges, without training, without mixing-it-up doesn't make us better. What I've learned from running--and applied to knitting--is how to get the best from those hours.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

saving the world, one yarn shop at a time

We all find ourselves making decisions these days--for financial and ethical reasons. Whether food or shoes, we are thinking differently about what we buy, how much we buy, and where we buy it.

So, with this in mind, I'd like to share a sad story with you.

I was recently in a wonderful yarn shop (doesn't matter where). I spoke to the owner about what fabulous yarn she had, and she shared with me a not unfamiliar story . . .  that there are a significant number of customers who enter, fondle, leave, and buy the same yarn elsewhere--for a few dollars less.

So these were not people who had to buy online (those poor souls who do not live near yarn shop): these were people who
  1. wanted access to the yarn shop so they could check out the yarn but
  2. chose to buy it online for a reduced price.
I understand stretching dollars when times are tough. But we need to think long and hard about how we are doing this. Are we doing so in such a way that we undermine and threaten the viability of a much-needed business?

When we buy from a local yarn shop, we are supporting one of our community's entrepreneurs. And everyone tells us that the solution to economic growth is small business. These shops are essential to the well-being of our communities.

In addition, I will share with you some thoughts from The Watchman's Rattle. This is a book that lists the beliefs that hold us back from solving our problems. One of these beliefs is extreme business practices, which she defines as
  • the need for profit
  • the need for speed and efficiency.
When these, above all, are our motives, other important concerns can fall by the wayside.

So, to solve our problems and to save civilization as we know it,  we need to reject the need for profit and reject the need for speed for their own sakes. Neither of these will help us solve the huge issues that keep us awake at night.

Well . . . knitters are role models for this behavior! Given how expensive knitting is, nothing we do  can be done for the profit motive! Given how labour-intensive knitting is, nothing we do can be done for expediency! We should be rewarded for our rejection of business practices that don't serve the world!

(I would also guess that anyone who reads a blog about knitting is a role model for this behavior, so I am likely preaching to the choir??)

In addition, we could probably agree that pretty-much everything of value executed by human beings (art, family time, music, solutions to climate change, architecture, volunteer work) is, or will be, done without profit or efficiency as motivating factors.

So, back to the LYS. We absolutely must reject the need to go elsewhere to save a few dollars!!! The profit motive that drives us to do so might not be good role-modelling and does not serve us, our craft, our communities, our civilization.

Again, those ethical considerations we bring to bear on everything else we buy should be turned to knitting. Buy less? But buy local!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

What is an appropriate gauge?

Many of us start knitting with shawls and scarves . . . which means that we learn to knit worsted weight on a 6mm / US 10 needle. Once we graduate to garments, we find it difficult to use needles many sizes smaller. Add to that the fundamental characteristic of knitting that we love—its drape—and we are inclined to want to knit garments that are knit too loosely.

Whether we follow patterns or draft our own, it is our initial inclination to like a fabric that is too loose. (I know this, because I did this . . . and have watched many others do the same.)

But what happens when we knit a fabric that is too loose for the yarn?
  • The fabric is more likely to pill.
  • The garment is more likely to stretch out of shape—especially after we wash it.

So how do we find the appropriate gauge for the yarn that will give the best results for the garment?

When I was first drafting and teaching, I wondered if the math would give us an answer. Considering that stockinette usually gives us 5 stitches versus 7 rows to-the-inch (which is .71), I wondered if that .71 relationship would go awry if I knit a piece that was too tight or too lose.

So I knit a whole lotta swatches, and measured their gauges, and then did the division . . . and still came up with .71. Sadly, whether it was way too tight or way too loose, it still came up as .71.

For once, the math doesn’t help. So what does? The feel of the fabric. We want a fabric that feels firm enough that it will hold shape over time: and most often this is a firmer fabric, knit on smaller needles, than we initially were inclined to go for . . .

 . . . especially if you consider that this fabric has to be relaxed before we accept its gauge. And what is this? We relax the fabric when we either steam press or wash it. (Many fibres and stitch patterns can be steam-pressed, which is certainly easier than washing, but there are some which must be washed—garter stitch, for example.)

Like every other knitter, I’ve tried to force a yarn to the gauge of a pattern. But if this produces a fabric that is too loose, I’ll end up ripping—after days of knitting and trying to talk myself into a fabric that is too loose!

So don’t do this! Please learn from my experience! Especially if you are knitting a vest or cardigan—a garment that will be worn over another garment—don’t knit a fabric that is too loose. Knit a good-sized swatch, steam press or wash it, and be really critical of the fabric. Be sure it is firm enough to hold shape over time and reward you with years of wearing!

PS If this is a gauge that doesn't quite match your pattern, go to my post of July 11, 2012, which discusses re-gauging a pattern.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

the three realities of ripping

Recently, I made an horrendous mistake--by not reading my own pattern for which the back of a sweater is narrower than the front. Without reading my own pattern, I simply made the back the same as the front, and it was too big!!! Geesh!!

So what do we all do when this happens? We attempt to convince ourselves that it doesn't matter. We keep knitting past the error to the point where we can try it on. Then we spend hours in front of the mirror trying to argue ourselves out of the realization that this is not working!!!

We whine, we curse, we have our little hissy fit--all the while, not doing the one thing we need to do: rip it out and do it right.

While twirling in front of the mirror, I made the following realizations:
  • I had wasted a whole lotta time by knitting past the error so I could try it on and convince myself it didn't matter! Really!???
  • I am wasting time in front the mirror when I could be ripping;
  • I am wasting time trying to talk myself out of what time it would take to rip when the truth is that if I don't I will never wear the piece--which is a huge waste of time and money.
So I ripped--after probably 24 hours of avoidance. And guess what! I had that thing ripped out in fifteen minutes!!!!

Yes, of course, then I had to spend time re-knitting. But what was I going to do as soon as I finished this piece? Find more knitting?!?! I just found it.

  • The first reality of ripping is that we waste far more time avoiding it than it would take to do it.
  • The second reality of ripping is that we waste both time and yarn if we don't.
  • The third reality of ripping it that it gives us the one thing we want most in life--more knitting! (And we didn't have to spend any cash to get there.)

Bottom line: ripping saves both money and time, and this is a lesson I should have figured out a long time ago! What does it say about human nature that I did not?

And can I truly say I've learned the lesson even now . . . .

Friday, April 12, 2013

jumping the fence

There are fences we walk along. People tell us we should jump to the other side. But we hesitate. Doesn't yet feel like the right thing to do, no matter what others say: not ready, too much work, may mean a loss of control . . . whatever the reason and despite all the advice we are given, we're not goin' there.

What am I talking about? Here's an example. Get a cleaning service! People tell us that as working women, but we think
  • I can't spend the money,
  • I can do the work,
  • I'd have to do all that stuff before they take over!
This was me. But OMG, once you jump that fence you wonder what you were thinking that you waited so long! Major head smack!!! Once you cross over you are not goin' back. And you are now the one giving the advice to others: jump that fence!

There are other fences to be jumped that are kinda the opposite--where we don't give up the work to others but take on the task ourselves. Again, we think we're not ready, that it would be too much work, but this time the fear is that we don't have the skills. And so we walk the rut along the fence line, wearin' it down.

I was reminded of this yesterday when Nicole from Victoria (Hey there, Nicole!) wrote the following:

I just purchased the Kindle version of your new Knitting Pattern Essentials (and it’s nothing less than fabulous, as are all of your books), but I have a question about something that wasn’t addressed in the book.
I have a notebook full of design ideas, and I have several knitting design books, but I’m having a very hard time finding anything that specifically addresses large collars, particularly portrait-style collars. I used to do tailoring and dressmaking for a living, so I suppose I could buy a sewing pattern and use the pattern pieces as a template, but I would really like to have a resource from a knitting pattern designer who’s already worked out the bugs.
Any possibility you could point me in the right direction?
I answered. 
Nicole, I don’t know any more than I wrote in the book, which is the following.

  1. There’s a section on collars that includes the collar stand (or not) plus the increases that have to happen at the center front.
  2. There’s a small section at the beginning that explains that everything is simply horizontals and diagonals—number of stitches and numbers of rows.
My advice would be that YOU CAN DO IT. Find the model of one you like (on a blouse, in your head) and then work it out! Do understand that you WILL rip as you do this, but the good news is that this is JUST the collar, just part of the finishing, so ripping won’t be a big deal.
Remember that she said she had a book full of design ideas? So I continued.

When you have a book full of design ideas, it means you want to design. When you are ready to design, it means you are ready to explore a vision—definitely not always a vision someone else has written a template for! So this tells me that it’s time for you to have the confidence to do it. Don’t assume you must rely on others exclusively: get what you can from them, and then move forward yourself. You will be SO happy with yourself when you make that leap!!!!
And then, trust me, you’ll wonder why it took you so long to do this, and master it, and feel justifiably empowered!
She wrote back. (I was curious for this, not sure how she would react to my advice to jump that fence!)
I knew exactly what you meant – and boy, can you read me like a book!

I have totally been waiting for someone else to hand me all the answers, so I could just knit up my designs without a lot of trial and error. Sheesh.

I’ve literally looked at hundreds, if not thousands of designs, and not come across a single one that was exactly what I was looking for – that’s got to be a message, eh? There’s a whole design esthetic that I want that doesn’t really exist, or at least not my version of it.

You’ve convinced me…time to get off my butt and accept the challenge with passion and energy!

Thanks, Sally – you rock.
Sometimes jumping the fence means doing the work ourselves! And what a happy-dance day when we do! A whole world opens up, and we rock!

So what fence are you walking? Ready to jump?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

lessons from a traffic report

So a while back I was listening to a traffic report. Yes, I know my city and the streets he's discussing. But for the life of me, I am having trouble processing what's he's saying . . . because he's saying it too quickly. I think I was trying to visualize the intersection, and by the time I got close, I'd have lost the information. (Maybe the visualization was happening in the right brain, but the language required me to go to the left, and I was unable to do the to and fro as quickly as the information was coming.)

So then I wondered Has anyone called in and asked him to go more slowly? Am I the only one?

And then the light bulb went off!!!

At moments when I am teaching, especially at the end of class, I occasionally see blank stares after an instruction. With apologies that always accompany the request, I am then asked to repeat what we all know is a simple instruction. I will do so, often saying That's okay: at the end of a class, I say left hand and you hear yarnover (which sounds silly but is actually true).

But the day of the traffic report I then realized that my students were having the same experience! Even though I am very precise in my language, and I try my best to be clear, I am--at this moment in class--speaking too quickly. My students are hearing the language but also trying to establish the visual. I need to give them more time to do so.

So in my last two teaching venues, I have tried to keep this in mind. And I really do believe that the classes at Rumpelstiltskin Yarns (Sayville, NY) and Creative Yarns (Macon, GA) were the best. I do love all my classes and all my students, but I do believe there was a perceptible difference, and I think it was because I deliberately slowed down towards the end of class.

For those who have never taken one (and I do suspect I am preaching to the choir here), knitting classes are great fun, and time passes very quickly, but at the end you are worn out! Who knew it could take this much energy!? But if you have this reaction, you have likely learned a lot and know it was all soooooo worth it!

Speaking of classes, I am often asked if I will be in Ohio, NY, Florida . . . anytime soon. That information is on my website: under SCHEDULE.

And speaking of my schedule, I am really excited about an upcoming venue.

In May, I will be teaching at the Grand Hotel (from the movie of the same name) on Mackinac Island (northern MI for those who don't know). What a gorgeous venue! Who wouldn't want to get inside this place?

But you know who would very much like to do so? A girl who went to high school just north of there (Sault Ste Marie, ON CA), who went to Mackinac Island on dates and for high school graduation, who stared longingly at this landmark hotel, who thought that ever getting inside was unattainable. And that would be me!

Just goes to show you, as they say about knitting and baseball and all things wonderful: you never know!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

launch day!

Today is a day of celebration for me. It's the day my last, and most anticipated (at least by me), and most comprehensive book launches.

So how can I say those things?

last book
I know myself to be primarily motivated by teaching. Believe it or not, I never set out to write pattern books : I set out to teach, and the patterns were merely support for that. (I know that's a rather odd thing to hear when I am probably most known for a single pattern: The Einstein Coat. But teaching you to knit it was actually my primary goal.)

Even in Sally Melville Styles (my first book, on using up leftovers), I did not intend to include patterns. The garments I made to support the principles I was teaching were meant as illustrations: I was actually surprised when my editor suggested we publish them!

So it's in this book that I teach pretty much everything I know about producing great garments. I've dumped my knitting brain on the page and don't think I have anything else to teach.

 By the way, that same editor asked me "how many books I had" in me. I answered "I think seven," At the time, I had no idea where that number came from. It just sounded good (and isn't usually considered a lucky number?)

This book is number seven!

most-anticipated book
This is the book I've always wanted to write.

My knitting career started with this material. In the late 1970's, I wrote a 100-page manual (and called it Advanced Knitting Design). I taught it at my local yarn shop, my students and I established what was (at the time) the largest knitters' guild in Canada, we brought in teachers from abroad, those teachers pushed me out onto the international stage . . . and the rest is my professional life.

 It feels wonderful to offer this book, taking me back to my roots and allowing me to say thank you to the craft I love and that has given me the life I have.

This is where I put all the tools I have into your hands.

This is where you will learn skills that will keep your whole brain alive and healthy.

This is where you will find everything I can offer to make you a fully-empowered knitter!

It is based upon the premise that everyone one of us should be able to do the following:
  • go to our closet, 
  • find a garment we love but did not knit, 
  • measure it,
  • draft it,
  • knit it, 
  • finish it,
  • wear it with pride,
  • honour our craft!
To finish, here is my own example of how you might use the book.

I have a black vest I've worn forever and ever. Very simple, probably 20 years old. I have often told myself that I should knit it. And so I finally did--a simple round-necked vest, with deep set-in-sleeve armholes, with straight-sides . . . and with a bit of an edge in its unexpected use of zippers.

I will call it Zip-Study Vest, and the pattern itself will appear on Ravelry some day.

But in the meantime, the book offers you all the tools you need to do this for yourself. When you do this, the result really can--and might--be this simple. But these are the garments that are the staples of our wardrobe and that we wear day in and out.

This is how I work, and this is what the book offers you. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

balance through change

This should have been posted Feb 23: I was just too busy to get to it!
Also a warning: while I do come around to knitting in the end, this is more personal than usual.

You've heard all that good stuff: change is constant, life is change, the more things change the more they stay the same, etc. But no matter how much we are supposed to embrace it, change is rattling!

I am facing a big change. It's a change I chose, it's a change I have looked forward to, it's a change I am to be envied for. So why, for the past week while I've been packing up everything I own, have I felt grief-stricken and profoundly disturbed?

I probably need to re-learn and re-confirm some lessons I learned long ago.

lesson one
 Many years ago, something wonderful happened to my son: he won what seemed at the time a major piano competition, and he was only 12. We were so very excited for him,  . . . but it had a terrible outcome for us! He was much younger than the other competitors, but we were encouraged to allow him to stay in a university residence with the others . . .  and where we were told there would be adult supervision. But there was none--other than the lovely, teenaged, female competitors who kindly took him under their wing (which he adored). 

So this kid came home telling us that we couldn't tell him what to do anymore! He had designated himself an adult overnight (after all, he had lived like one for 4 days), and we plunged headlong and without warning into . . . unpleasantness.

The lesson from that experience was that no matter how good something seems, there's always a down side to it. 

lesson two
 And the obvious corollary would be that no matter how bad something seems, there's a lesson to be learned that will make sense of it.

lesson three
 And if nothing is ever wholly good or wholly bad, then nothing should be able to shake our foundations too terribly much.

This last lesson was sorely tested 4 years later when a much bigger change assaulted me and my 16-yr-old son and 14-yr-old daughter: my husband and their father died. Staying balanced through that was very hard but necessary. (After all, I had two teenagers at home!). 

lesson four
 From it I learned another lesson for survival-through-change. Find out what you believe in, and keep a steady grip on that.

No matter what storm is going on around us, we need to find what gives us meaning and hang on for dear life. I did that after my husband died, I did that after the heartbreak of my professional life (when my relationship with XRX ended), and I've done that through subsequent difficulties.

and now . . .
 So now a lovely change looms: I am leaving my condo to move into a house I have bought with my daughter and her (builder) husband. In 4 days I will move into their part of the house while they build an apartment for me; when it's done, I'll move into it; then after their part of the house is renovated they'll move in. We should all be enjoying the yard and pool by mid-summer.

So what's to mourn? In the end, it'll be wonderful! But it all came a little too early. (I guess that's the other thing about change: we can't always pick its timing?) I am not ready to leave my space and neighbourhood, so I am feeling a little sad as I pack.

lesson five
 Maybe there's the final lesson: it's okay to grieve. Despite all the comfort we can find from those other lessons, it's still okay to feel sad. If we swallow what ails us, doesn't that make us sick? And if I don't acknowledge my sadness, then I won't go looking for these lessons I've learned that help me get through it!

This whole thing is reminding me of mistakes in knitting.

    Acknowledge the mistake.
    Feel sad for a bit.
    Learn the skill needed to fix it.
    Fix it . . . and create something wonderful!
    Start a new project!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

We love you Ryan!

So, Ryan Gosling was asked, by GQ in Australia, how he would spend his perfect day. His surprisingly lovely reply was “knitting.”

Here’s how he continued.

"I did this scene in Lars And The Real Girl where I was in a room full of old ladies who were knitting, and it was an all-day scene, so they showed me how. It was one of the most relaxing days of my life.

"If I had to design my perfect day, that would be it. And you get something out of it at the end. You get a nice present. For someone who wants an oddly shaped, off-putting scarf."

We will happily forgive him his suggestion of the old lady and oddly-shaped knitting stereotypes. Because, really, who saw this coming? And what might this do for our craft?

I wrote, in the November 19th post, that one of the reasons knitters don’t get the respect they deserve is that men don’t do it. Something that is considered exclusively female just doesn’t get the credibility, mileage, or respect of something that is gender-shared. That’s just the way the world has worked for a very long time. (Never mind that the original knitters’ guilds were men only. That was a long time ago and now easily dismissed.)

Once the industrial revolution hit, and knitting (and the men who did it) went into the factories (where the money was made), hand-knitting became almost exclusively female: women at home did it because it was cheaper than buying the factory-made goods. That marginalized hand-knitting in a world that was increasingly motivated by profit.

Fast forward to modern times, where—with globalization—a hand-knit sweater is much more expensive than what we can buy in stores. And if money were the only currency, you’d think this would make knitting precious and special. But, no, people (well, really, women) who knit were people with enough disposable income and time that they could make what they could easily buy. In a world increasingly motivated by expediency, knitting made even less sense to people who didn’t do it!

It seems that we can’t win for losing!

But thank goodness for the movie stars. Someone watches Julia Roberts knitting, or hears her rave about it, and knitting is hot and sexy and the new best ever thing. (That’s what happened at the turn of the century.)

And now we have one of our hottest male stars saying the same thing! OMG, how fabulous! I cannot wait to see how this unfolds! Maybe knitting will become the best new trend among gorgeous young men! The possibilities surely make this old heart beat faster. 

PS If you have not seen Lars and the Real Girl, you now clearly must. (It really is a lovely movie. But even if it weren’t, it’s probably something we all must do in support of our new guy?)

Friday, January 11, 2013

What keeps us from moving forward?

My last post, plus the New Year, lead me to address the following (posed long ago on Ravelry): "I keep wanting to experience new things with my knitting. But then I go back to what I know how to do. I seem to be stuck somewhere within my comfort and can't seem to blast myself through that wall that's preventing me from moving forward."

I have a virtual arsenal of quotes, and stories, and opinions on this subject. And I'll begin that assault in a moment. But before I do, just let me say that while we can speak to this from our heads, we cannot think ourselves out of this place of safety. It is our feelings—usually fear—that need be conquered. So while you read what follows, listen to what resonates emotionally.  If you feel something, a button has been pushed . . . and that's where you need to go looking.

Okay. Let's start with a concept that I embrace.

There is no such thing as a mistake.

How in the world can I say that? Because you cannot be born knowing everything there is to know. (There are people who think they are, but we're grateful we're not married to them.) Your parents, your teachers, your knitting instructors could not anticipate and teach everything you need to know.

So . . . there are things you don't know and mistakes you are capable of making. And you will make them . . . until they bite you . . . and you think That isn't serving me very well. And so you do the work to learn what you need to learn to not make that mistake again.  And what can we conclude from this?

If we are capable of making a mistake, then we needed to make that mistake in order to learn what we needed to learn to not make that mistake again. And so the mistake is just an experience we needed to have so we could learn and grow.

Maya Angelou said it much better: You did the best you could until you knew better. And when you knew better you did better.

If all that seems too theoretical, let me give you a practical example, paraphrased from the book Art and Fear, by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

On the first day of class, the pottery teacher announced a new way the class would be graded. The half sitting to the right would be graded on quality (the usual way): one perfect pot would earn an A, etc. The half sitting to the left would be graded on quantity: 50 lbs of pots would earn an A, 40 lbs a B, etc.

When grading occurred, a curious fact emerged: the pots of best quality came from the quantity side of the class. That side had turned out lots of pots, exploring ideas to produce some really good work. The quality side, on the other hand, had produced no wonderful pots: they had sat theorizing about the perfect pot rather than putting in the hours of trial and error to actually get there.

Unless we dive into our materials and just give it a go, often what holds us back from moving beyond our comfort is fear—of frustration, of failure, of waste (time or money?), of humiliation.

How do we deal with our fears? By embracing the following truths.

  • Frustration is painful but an inevitable step on the road to learning. As Winston Churchill said Creativity is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.
  • There is no such thing as failure. As Henry Ford said Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.
  • I believe that there is no such thing as a waste of time. Our left brain, which is the clock-watcher, is also where established patterns reside. So when we try to establish a new pattern, this side of the brain feels out of control,  gets critical, and accuses us of wasting time. This is no reason to give up. And fortunately, knitting is a right brain activity in which time is irrelevant. (I truly believe that whatever we are doing in any given moment is exactly what we were meant to be doing in that moment. This helps me get through life.)
  • There is no waste of money in knitting: we are much to be envied because we can rip out our materials and re-use them.
  • And finally, humiliation is something we do to ourselves. (No-one can do it to us unless we let them.) And why would we do this to ourselves? We should treat ourselves as we would a grandchild.
So, what to do when we find ourselves stuck? *Try something new. Be prepared for frustration. Ignore the yammering left brain. Be persistent. Be prepared for mistakes. (Understand that these are lessons to learn before proceeding.) Learn (or teach yourself) every fix-it technique available to knitters. Employ them until you achieve success. Repeat from *.

And, sadly I suppose, be prepared to produce an occasionally truly ugly sweater. We could have a competition. But I promise you I'd win! I'd have to, if only because—over 56 years of knitting—I’ve produced a great volume. But I look at these sad pieces and comfort myself with a quote by Chekov: One would have to be God to look at both success and failure and know one from the other.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

flow, persistence, and buyer’s remorse

The other day I watched a documentary on happiness which talked about the concept of flow as being an essential component. It mentioned knitting as a way to achieve flow, which made me think of re-visiting this subject.

The word’s been around for a long time to describe a state of being we might all wish to achieve. But the American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gave it a particular definition and set of parameters that should help us understand and achieve it.

He made a simple, two-axis scale in which skills oppose challenge. And his premise for a state of flow—which he called the flow channel—is that we achieve it when skills = challenge.

 But Csikszentmihalyi went further—describing the states we are in when outside the flow channel. And here’s where things get more interesting and—I think—instructive.

If challenge is too high for our skill level, we are anxious, frustrated, stuck. If skills are too high for the task, we are bored. And the kicker is that human beings are much less happy when they are bored!

So what does that mean for us?

Let’s just establish that knitters are never bored and look to the other side of Csikszentmihalyi’s chart.

It’s not difficult to get frustrated with our knitting: wrong yarn, wrong pattern, wrong level of challenge, wrong garment for our body, wrong garment for our wardrobe. The mistake, however, would be to pitch the project. Much better to
  • figure out what’s wrong with it,
  • rip it out,
  • do the work to fix it.
When we do this, we produce a result that’s worthy. And—in doing the work of figuring, ripping, re-figuring, and re-knitting—we raise our skill set. And so the next time we tackle a similar project, we are higher in the flow channel! This is a result much to be desired and remembered every time we pack away a not-wonderful knit result.

Buyer’s remorse
So we’ve all bought clothing we should not have. The sales person told us we looked “cute” (not a word I think should ever be attributed to my 63-yr-old self, so there was my first clue), or maybe it was “on sale” (but what kind of bargain is it if I never wear it?!?!), or maybe we were having a good hair day or out-of-body experience (so everything looked good). Whatever! Been there, done that! (Hang with me, this does relate to my previous discussion.)

I have had this experience many times with clothing . . but . . . never with yarn!!!!! I have never regretted a yarn purchase!!!

Yes, I’ve knit with yarn that didn’t work out. But even so, I have not regretted the purchase. I’ve just learned that it was the wrong project for the yarn. Good lesson! And what comes next? Rip and re-knit!

Imagine how lucky this makes us! No buyer’s remorse because we can use this yarn again. Add to that an opportunity to raise challenge and enter the flow channel at a higher level because we’ve learned something that raised our skill level. Nothing to regret no matter the outcome!

Is this New Year’s Optimism speaking? I think not. This is the nature of my world, a place I happily inhabit!