Saturday, August 6, 2016

low-tech hobby

NOTE: I have re-written this post--because of a thoughtful comment that made me return to the incident for clarification.

I have a friend--an excellent knitter and designer--who was in Kinkos . . . waiting . . . and so pulled out her knitting. One of the guys there thought it was interesting to see someone in a high-tech environment using what he called a low-tech hobby.

She laughed . . . and then said that it could get really technical. It was a cute exchange, but that was the end of it.

As someone in the comments mentioned, knitting is "low tech"--if you see it as sticks and string. But I think of "tech" as more than just equipment: I think of it as not so much tools as a set of skills? Perhaps I am over-thinking it, but I do believe it would be interesting to have a conversation with the technical folk, to see if they can appreciate how a low tech hobby can develop highly technical skills. I want to believe that they would be interested in the following.

So here is what I might have said.

Okay, so there was this guy--brilliant guy, actually--Rudolph Steiner. He lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he was a philosopher, and he was an educator. You might have heard of the Waldorf Schools? He established them. And he insisted that every 6-yr-old in his system learn how to knit.

I remember speaking at a men's event and chatting beforehand to a gentleman, over dinner, about my talk (creativity) and what I did for a living (knit). I remember him being a little startled at the latter, so I thought I would lend the conversation some credibility by telling him about Steiner's stipulation. And he said Oh God, imagine spending all that money for your kid to go to a private school . . . to learn how to KNIT?!?!?!

He was rude, he was dismissive, and he was not then prepared to absorb anything I had to say. But had he listened . . . he would have heard that Herr Steiner called knitting the perfect human activity because it teaches the following, essential, important skills.
  • hand-eye coordination
  • the ability to focus
  • math skills
  • spatial relationships
I have seen young Waldorf students knit incredible stuff: the flags of the world, free-standing structures, a giraffe.

I would add that it teaches persistence through challenges and the ability to re-examine and persist through what we think of a failures. And I think of this full list as the skills we need to develop and handle high tech stuff.

And, yes, to develop these skills, the Waldorf students do not use patterns. And so when we do not use patterns, we develop these skills--skills that are great for the brain and contribute to all sorts of intelligence, let alone longevity.

Of course, when someone from Kinkos sees you knitting, he (I will assume a he) does not know if you are using a pattern. I would assume he might not even know what a pattern is, and it might be interesting to find a parallel in his world?

So then, no matter how low tech our activity appears to be, there would never be an assumption that we are doing something really simple, without much of a skill set, and without the same kind of challenges that relate to his world.

All of this might be the reason I have knitter / friends who have worked in the following professions--while also juggling mother- and/or grandmother-hood.
  • data analyst
  • engineer
  • neurologist
  • English professor
  • psychiatric nurse
  • math teacher
  • regional customer service manager for a telecommunications giant
  • accountant
  • dressage trainer
  • policy advisor for the Justice Department
So after I give him this list, I might tell him about Rudolph Steiner.

And then I might ask if he wanted to learn to knit!

Friday, July 15, 2016

You never know . . .

Live long enough, and this phrase becomes a constant. You never know what single, simple decision will change your life.

So here is a little-told story of how my knitting career--at least, the book-writing part of it--came to be.

By the way, my first book was about using up leftovers, which is my most recent Craftsy class, so if you do not want to read further--but just want to check out the class--here is a link to the trailer
. . .
. . .
and here is a half-price link to the class
. . .

(You might have to copy and paste into your browser: somehow, on this page, my links never come through as working links! They do work in my Ravelry group, but not here. However this works, I invite you to pass these along to any knitters or groups or shops who might be interested.)

So, back to the story.

I had taken the Study Skills Advisor job at the University of Waterloo, as a favour to a friend (who was taking a 2-year leave and probably not returning, although she did not tell her boss that last part), and because my husband--who had died 6 months earlier--thought I might need the money. (Turns out, I did not.)

So I trained myself and then counselled students, taught workshops, gave presentations (on any of the following topics and to groups of any size), and wrote a website (which was an entirely new concept in the late 90's) on learning and remembering, time management, exam preparation, note-taking, text-reading, concentration and distraction, creative problem solving. I had two offices--one in Counselling Services (right below the president's office) and one in the Engineering building.

I loved the students, and I loved the stuff I learned. But I disliked working in a small space (exacerbated by the fact that the air exchange was through the parking garage, so we were all gray by noon and couldn't get through the day without a 20 minute nap!). And I loathed working 9-5. (I know, I was spoiled, but I would look out the window on a sunny day and think of where else I could and should be.)

So, at the end of the two years, my boss offered me the job full-time. (My friend did not, indeed, return.) I said "No thanks, Bob." He was--quite rightly--shocked!!! "But why? We really like you in this job!" But I did not like me in this job, although I must surely have mumbled something more polite? He then asked what turned out to be a very important question: "But what will you DO???"

And here is the moment in which my life changed. I was knitting a sweater for my daughter's boyfriend, using up whatever was in my knitting room (as a nod to the knitting curse) but wanting to make it pretty (in case we broke the curse and he did stick around). I looked down at the sweater, which I happened to be holding through the conversation, and said "I am going to write a knitting book on using up leftovers. Someone will buy it."

NOT someone will publish it (which turned out to be a bit of a struggle), but someone will buy it!

With faith that this plan would somehow materialize into a book, I worked out all the issues of using leftovers, knit lots and lots of garments, and eventually found a publisher. On the photo shoot (which was held in Canada, because NAFTA made it difficult to get garments across the border), my editor asked "So, Sally, how many books do you have in you?"

"I think SEVEN!" 

(This final statement turned out to be oddly prophetic, although it had no basis in an actual plan in that actual moment.)

Because the book on using up leftovers was very successful and, I think helped by the fact that there was not yet a glut of knitting books on the market, I was allowed to do what I wanted next--THE KNIT STITCH.

And, as they say, the rest . . .

So, I would end by encouraging a) you who have leftovers to check out the class and b) you who have lived long enough to wonder if you have had similar moments in your life--when an odd decision changed all that followed?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

20 years have passed!

I thought to call this post "coming full circle," but I have an aversion to that phrase. So, I'll get to it another way. . . .

Last summer I made a garment out of leftover sock yarn
(which you can see at right, and which I wrote about in my post "in praise of tedium"), and it reminded me of the work I did on leftovers--20 years ago--that started my professional knitting-teacher-author career. (There was a book that resulted, Sally Melville STYLES). At the time, I thought how wonderful it would be to take another look at that material. . . .

. . . And then CRAFTSY called, to ask me to do another class . . . on using up our leftovers!

So I worked up the old material, added some new material, wrote some new garment patterns, then filmed the class in early June. It goes live July 11th.
In the meantime, there is a giveaway--a draw to earn the class for free. All you have to do is click the following link (although you might have to copy and paste it), and they will do the rest.

I do not have a large social media presence--well, actually, practically none, since I am not on Facebook or twitter, and this blog plus a Ravelry group are the extent of it--so your chances here are good!

The class covers the issues associated with using up leftovers (different weights, textures, fibres, colours, amounts)--expanded from the book I published 20 years ago. And there are new options for stitch patterns and what you can do with them--from making the "swancho" class pattern, to using the class's stitch patterns for another garment, to "what else can you do with rectangles!"

Saturday, June 4, 2016

a wonderful encounter with a customs agent

So, I recently flew home back to Canada from LAX and passed through customs and immigration in Calgary. My turn came up to meet the agent. And here is what happened!

Where are you coming from?
Los Angeles
What business were you doing there?
I write for an American publisher who requested that I speak at events there.
What kind of books do you write?

COOL?!?!? WOW!

Wow, that's not the usual reaction I receive.
I knit.
You do?? One of the US customs agents where I live knits too: I often think more of you should knit, since you often have to sit sometimes.
I have not knit for a while, but I will again. And here's a story about a friend of mine.  
He went to the doctor with high blood pressure, and the doctor said "I have medication for you, but I am not going to prescribe it yet. Here's what I want you to do. 1. Learn to knit. 2. Come back in six months. If your blood pressure is still high, I will prescribe the meds."
He learned to knit, he returned in six months, and his blood pressure was normal!
Wow! I should tell that story!
Yes, you should!

So here I am, telling the story! How wonderful was that?!? Please spread the word!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

the joy of tedium

I was going on a long trip and needed knitting--something that could keep me engaged for the 10 day trip I was taking. I was visiting knitting friends, we would spend lots of time at our needles, so--as you know--this is a serious issue for someone who can finish a scarf in 2 days or a sweater in a week!

In addition, I needed something that would not take a lot of space in my luggage but would keep me engaged for many hours of knitting. Okay, lots of time, not a lot of space. You suggest fine yarn? You would be right! And while the obvious solution is lace-weight shawl, that is not my style. Nor does its chart-checking suit the amount of time I would spend in serious conversation. What to do?

Well, I had seen a pillow made by a friend--modular, garter stitch, sock yarn--and thought, okay, that works. Fine yarn, easy stitch pattern. But I have 10 days, so let's make a sweater!

I first gathered my sock yarns, made a pile of colours that seemed to work (greens, browns, grays), knit a swatch . . . so far so good. But I did not want to travel with--let alone knit with--piles of tangly balls of sock yarn, so then I unravelled my swatch (after measuring it for gauge) to see how much yarn each square took. Eight yards! How many butterfly wraps in 8 yards? Thirty two! (Am I the only one intrigued by this four-to-one relationship???)

Okay, so now I know how much yarn each square takes. And I also know I need a whole lotta squares . . . which translates to a lot of time making butterflies! Where and when shall I do this rather tedious, advance task? At the car dealership! Perfect!

And so yes, after a couple of hours waiting at the dealership I had approx one hundred and twenty butterflies. (I was sitting in front of the service desk, wrapping, listening to an audiobook, totally in my happy place. But I know the man behind that desk was not intrigued by my wrapping nor my four-to-one relationship. He likely thought I was the most boring woman on the planet . . . as he turned back to his video game.)

The knitting of the sweater took two months! Wow! Yup, that's a long time! So much more than those 10 days. And it is one of the few garments to which I can answer that completely and totally inane question, "HOW LONG DID THAT TAKE TO KNIT???"

But you wanna know something?  The first thing I did when I finished was start another! Why did I do that? Well, those who know me know that's just what I do. But another answer is that I was soon going on an even longer trip--a month through S America, with Craft Cruises. All through that month-long trip, I worked through my (this time) red and orange butterflies, often enough wearing the original garment. (So when people asked that other most common question, "WHAT ARE YOU MAKING?" I could show them!)

I have to say that this garment is the most admired I have ever worn. The knitters of S America studied it, the Europeans on the cruise exclaimed over it, the young knitter-protographer on the cruise took its picture!  

And never did any knitter to whom I said "BUT IT TOOK TWO MONTHS TO KNIT!"  look in the least intimidated!  Aren't we amazing, that we can appreciate the beauty and joy of tedium?!?! I am so impressed with knitters who do not care how long something worth making and owning and wearing took to execute. In fact, the only question they ever asked was "When can I have the pattern?!!"

And so I wish you, for 2016, a tedious project of your own that gives you even a portion of the joy this one did me.

(Oh yes, in case you would like to see more photos, you can find it on Craftsy or Ravelry as the Memories Sweater--because I can remember every pair of socks that was made from each yarn!)