"If it's not fun, why do it?"

Posts tagged ‘Knitting in Public’

Knitting Competition

Time to tink (i.e. rip out the stitches and start again).

Time to Tink (i.e. rip out the stitches and start again).

Knitting is not a competition. We don’t have to declare we are only crocheters or only knitters. We love creating and the magic synthesis that happens with a few clever, small repetitive motions of our hands and a bit of colored string. Never mind that the string, also part of our obsession, can be lusciously dyed wool or friendly, serviceable acrylic.

Mikey from The Crochet Crowd recently sat knitting in an airport. He’s a novice knitter and remarked upon the comments he received. He also mused upon the differences between knitting and crochet and, while he’s quite skilled at crochet, it doesn’t flow naturally into knitting. He needs to practice.

Knitting disciplines me and allows me to focus in on details that get me into a flow state. I’ve started this lacy shawl project with a lightweight yarn on slippery metal needles. Never having done lace nor shawls, I jumped right in. The pattern uses a starting technique called a garter-stitch tab… for which I became an “instant expert” by watching YouTube videos. Yeah, right. Stitches slid and loops grew at a frantic rate. I started the first row at least 5 times, then read the pattern again. I made novice mistakes, but I finally got one row on the needles.

Oh what a tangled mess we weave... er, knit.

Oh what a tangled mess we weave… er, knit.

I did this in public—well, in a circle of a few knitters—on a dark Sunday night. The others steadily added length to their projects as I diddled and “tinked” (i.e. ripped out stitches, “knit” backwards). But I persevered. After finally getting the base row done, I read on and started Row 1.

I think I figured it out and finally had a small swatch of about 5 rows. But why wasn’t it clear what the pattern was supposed to be? Why couldn’t I “read” the stitches? I still had two stupid stitch markers dangling because I didn’t read the pattern right. I handily did the repeat before the ever important k1 center stitch (highlighted in yellow) because I knew better – you always do the repeat between *s first. I didn’t process the instructions the first, second, or third time. Like walking into a room looking for your glasses when they are on your head, I couldn’t process the evidence until I did it over and again.

shawl-1-instructions

Parsing the Instructions.

The process became my own personal competition, not against myself, but for myself so I could improve my skills. Someone who can read music simply doesn’t just sit down at the piano to play Chopin. There’s practice involved, familiarity with the piece. The work needs to sound melodic and not a mess of clashing dissonant chords.

Sometimes my knitting doesn’t flow naturally. That’s OK; it’s a process. The trip is the fun part. I know what I need to do: start over. Armed with my color-coded instructions which I painfully parsed, I shall restart this shawl. I’m anticipating the magic synthesis that happens when wool comes together with time. And eventually I’ll have a lovely shawl to wear or gift with love.

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Bicolour Ladders

Bicolour Ladders pattern sample

Bicolour Ladders pattern sample in Day Glo Green and Army Olive. © JustHavingFun

Sometimes you just have to do it even if it isn’t perfect.

I was itching to knit again in a big way. My last project was completed over a year ago! I’d been diddling around with swatches (test squares) using all sorts of yarn on all sorts of needles for several different patterns looking for the right combination that would propel me into the “zone.” I gazed at patterns on Ravelry.com until my eyes bugged out. I tried to match the types of yarn in my stash with patterns for which I had sufficient yardage. Yawn. Socks? No, that didn’t feel right. A sweater? Not enough yardage. I longed to knit but nothing spoke to me.

Knitting has two basic stitches: knit and purl. Gauge and pattern determine if the project will succeed. Gauge relates the number of stitches across to the number of rows in a particular pattern using a particular size needle and yarn. Two knitters using the same equipment can get different gauges due to variations in how they knit! The typical “knit” pattern (called “stockinette”) requires you to knit across one row, turn the work around, and purl across the second row. There’s a flat side and a bumpy side. Then you count the number of stitches and the number of rows in 4″ x 4″ area and that’s your gauge. Easy peasy. Patterns are like recipes, written in abbreviations or charted, and keep you on track. If you consistently make your stitches with the same tension, it is likely the project will come to look like what it’s supposed to look like in the size it’s supposed to be.

I can knit. I can purl. I can do stockinette squares. So I swatched.

Ugh! So many times my gauges did not even approach the designer’s requirements! My stitch counts exceeded the recommended number for the patterns so I changed needles to adjust the stitches per inch—didn’t work. The lovely Rowan yarn seemed too dark; the fluffy Knit Picks yarn was too thin. I didn’t have enough of the tweedy yarn from England to do knee socks, and I’m not quite skilled enough yet to use the unspun Plötulopi from Iceland I’ve been saving. That’s when I put it down and waited.

I even tried crocheting a yarmulke (kipa; skullcap) for my son. As I’d crocheted lace when I was younger, I was not afraid of this task. But yikes! I couldn’t see the stitches!! My 30-year old eyes were much sharper working with white cotton, and working with black crochet cotton and a teensy steel hook was madness!!!

But I was itching to knit. The idea buzzed around in my mind like a mosquito seeking fresh skin. Knitters reading this are nodding. They know the feeling.

Mon Tricot Knitting DictionaryI decided to just do it. Starting was hard. I swallowed, took a deep breath, and went to the yarn stash. It wasn’t going to be perfect. It wasn’t going to be the dream project I’d wanted to do with the lovely yarn in my stash. Oh no. With my fingertips I teased out the fugly yarn I’d inherited from my sister Michele. Acrylics. Oddball colors. Strange textures. Lumpy ends. I decided to do what all knitters must do eventually; I started a stash busting project. I picked up my 40-year old copy of Mon Tricot Knitting Dictionary that my sister loved to snitch from me and found a stitch pattern that required a multiple of 6 stitches plus 5. I cast on the unusual number of 29 Day Glo Green stitches while squinting. Then I proceeded to knit.

Did you know that people advertise for volunteers on LinkedIn.com? I saw an ad for some organization requesting knitters to make scarves and hats for charity. A light bulb lit up in my mind. I could have my yarn and knit it, too. Although I was uncomfortable knitting this combination, I was more uncomfortable not knitting.

Hence, I’m stash busting.

To get in the zone, I had to get out of my comfort zone. I simply had to move where I saw no room to go forward. I needed to circumvent my usual route, the safe, comfortable path, and go outside the walls of perfection. Surely this scarf will win no prizes when it’s finished. My stitches are neat and regular but aside from that, the colors clash and the pattern is bumpy on the other side. Someone will wear it, though. It will be warm. It will be made with love. It will scratch my knitting itch. It’s an experiment, a new beginning. I will knit on the subway and get odd stares or elicit conversation. I will knit in the pizza shop after washing my hands to while away the time until my next appointment. I will traipse these sad skeins of yarn throughout New York City while I eyeball a good place to sit and knit. And knit I shall.

These bicolour ladders will let me climb to a new, sublime place where I can be my imperfect self, working toward a higher goal, and getting some good knitting time while doing it. Plus, I’ll use up the ugly yarn and not have to look at it ever again!

Sitting in Starbucks

Knitting in Public - aqua afghan

Knitting in Public – aqua afghan at Starbucks, March 20, 2015

At a Starbucks in New Jersey this time, taking refuge from traffic as we travel to our Shabbos destination. An impossibly heavy snow started falling shortly before our departure. Snow obscures my vision on the road. We left early and I drive slowly. We’re early and stop to savor time and a cup of warmth. We’ll leave in an hour, closer to the time we’re expected at our hosts. My nostrils twitch in anticipatory pleasure, a nice cappuccino to soon pass my lips. We settle on the leather armchairs near the front window and wait for our order to be called. I wait; he goes and fetches the cups.

The lady in the corner knits. I see her following the instructions with her finger. Bright orange highlighter marks the lines. I ask what it is, outing myself as knitter. It’s an afghan, she says. A most captivating color of aqua green spills over her lap.

I guess her age to be in the 70s. Seeing I am wearing a headscarf and long skirt, she tells me that her mother was from Poland, the youngest of 8 children. This is a form of Jewish geography, the unconscious attaching we do to connect ourselves in time and space. Her grandmother was very religious, she continued, praying copiously. The grandfather died at 39 leaving a widow to cope with all those children. How they made it to the USA was not disclosed. Despite the religious grandmother, l can tell that she is not, but she’s Jewish, too. She wears youthful blue jeans and a trendy hairstyle. She peers over her bifocals at me, one finger on the page, the other hand gripping the knitting needles. 

When I came in she had been talking with the man with a very strong New York accent. They compare their respective histories in the vast country of Brooklyn, discovering they had walked the same streets. Although he traveled all over the world, he never shed his Brooklyn voice. In New Jersey, however, it doesn’t hinder him. He tried to learn Spanish to no avail although his wife is Colombian and the children are bilingual. She lived in Vermont, Texas, Florida, North Dakota, California, and five other states, and lost most of her Brooklyn voice. She can camouflage herself almost anywhere while his New Yorkese blared as loudly as a foghorn. Together they walked through their remembered neighborhood. How they came together on this snowy afternoon is happenstance, coincidence, fate.

A second man joins Mr. Brooklyn. He speaks with a strong Spanish accent but he looks foreign to me, not like local Spanish. Maybe it’s his clothing or sibilant S’s that strike me as different. They launch into a discussion of pipes and fittings, fire sprinklers and city codes. Soon-to-be business partners I surmise. I don’t pay attention to their conversation. I let the business details patter around my hearing, so many wet snowflakes melting as they touch down.

They smile, plan, gesticulate. Ms. Aqua knits. I sip. Hubby reads. Snow falls. The hour inches closer to Shabbos and the time we will continue our trip.

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