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

Posts tagged ‘Knitting’

Knitting Pride

Are you proud of your handwork?

I recently shared this essay on a Ravelry forum. I got some insights on how I tick. Pride, enjoyment, accomplishment, completion. Are these interchangeable?

Substitute your hobby, craft, or avocation with my word “knitting.” I will share later some of the responses and reactions to what I wrote. Meanwhile I just started purple baby hat #6.

* / * / * / *

Am I proud of my knitting/crocheting?

I finished a baby blanket/throw after starting it over 18 months ago just “for something to do” while waiting with Mom in the emergency room. I pieced it with some odd lots of unloved acrylic yarn left over after my sister died. I forgot about it for a while and recently completed it to get it out of the way.

Valentines Day Baby Blanket Massacre, © JustHavingFun

Valentines Day Baby Blanket Massacre, © JustHavingFun

I suffer from chronic depression and have a hard time starting things and following through. As a sign of trying to overcome this, I showed this item and a baby hat I just started to my therapist and she loved them! As an artist she complimented the color blocking. As a non-knitter, she marveled at the stitch work. She asked, “Are you proud?”

I didn’t feel proud. I just felt null. I mean:

  • I can knit–no biggie there.
  • I can follow a pattern or instructions how to make a stitch.
  • I can even improvise.
  • It was just some oddball yarn I didn’t love.
  • It wasn’t brain surgery.
  • I’m not keeping the thing for myself.

I haven’t made all that many projects that are complicated. Maybe that’s the factor that stimulates a bit more excitement/pride from me. Yeah, maybe I felt a bit proud when I finished my first socks, the first stranded pattern, or when I completed the mint-green vest that is too huge. They were more complex.

Purple baby hats #1 & #2. © JustHavingFun

But overall, I’m not too impressed with myself. These little baby hats are patterned on a basic stranded pattern, but I have no excitement about the yarn or the pattern. It just zips along quickly. People who see me knitting (doctor’s waiting room, waiting to pick up a prescription, etc.) ooh and aah, but I think that’s because they have never seen anyone knit, and I’m happy to describe what I’m doing.

So I asked my community on Ravelry to see if they have pride in their handwork… all of the time? Or do they just do it sometimes “for something to do”?

Purple baby hat #5, © JustHavingFun

I tend to see the imperfections but am trying to let that go because we humans are not perfect. I haven’t started a project with my beautiful Icelandic wool because I’m not sure my skills are good enough yet. Besides, I can’t decide on a pattern.

Proud? It’s something to aspire to.

Does any of this sound familiar to you?

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Hospital Wait

I wish I had my knitting with me.

I’m at a local hospital Emergency Department. My blood sugar has been wonky and I’m out of medication. [While this could become a screed about the state of medical insurance in the United States, I will refrain from explaining how it happens that I cannot get my meds.] I need to see a doc.

Emergency Department

Emergency Department. © JustHavingFun

There are many service units here: Registration, Triage, Laboratory, Urgent care, Intermediate Care, Rapid Evaluation, etc. Monitors on the wall let you know what place you’re in. After my blood was drawn they estimated it would be 3 hours to see a doc. Well, they do need to analyze the samples….

I’m OK waiting. There’s wi-fi, and I have a phone charger so my weak battery problems won’t frustrate me in the absence of my knitting. I’m hungry, though, but they don’t want me to eat or drink. Writing is fine. So is listening to podcasts.

Waiting List

Waiting List. © JustHavingFun

Dang it! Why don’t l take my knitting with me everywhere, every time?

Fortunately I borrowed a phone charger so I don’t have to sit like a lump or watch a half-heard television show I have no interest in watching. Some people are doing nothing at all. How can people do that?

There’s an odd cross-section of humanity here. I am hot, but many patients sit wrapped in blankets. A two-year-old child runs into the Triage area and her father corrals her. She’s laughing now, but was shrieking a little while ago. Someone who looks like an older sister is braiding an African-American girl’s hair. The couple seated next to me pass a phone between them, playing a video game together.

Did I mention I potentially have a 3-hour wait?

I wish I had my knitting with me.

Postscript – Indeed it was a 3-hour wait, but there was also a 3-hour treatment & observation phase! Wouldn’t have been able to knit because an O2 sensor was attached to my index finger. Glad I found the Game Show Network and spent some time with Cash Cab, and Family Feud (oooh, love that Steve Harvey). “Survey says” … I’m tired and need to go to the pharmacy to get my prescription filled.

Not Perfect

I’m attempting to knit a lacy shawl, my first really big lacework piece. I’m relieved because…

The Problem

Not Perfect

Not Perfect © Just Having Fun
(The green yarn simply holds a stitch)

Something’s not right. I can’t see it, but I can tell. It’s not symmetrical, I can’t see the pattern emerge. Nine rows into the piece, before I start the next section of the pattern, I have the certain recognition that I need to start all over. Again. What is this, the 20th time maybe? There are supposed to be a certain number of stitches on the needle at this point and I keep ending up with one less than what’s needed. Grrr!

Persistence and perfectionism, perfectionism and persistence: these two perverse sisters taunt me. On the one hand the project lacks the clear definition of stitches that I would expect to see. On the other hand I feel like I am learning something, mastering this thin, woolen yarn and these slippery circular needles. My drive for persistence reinforces my yearning for perfection. And on and on. But doing the same thing over and over, no matter how patient I am, does not get me the results I need. Something’s not right. 

I Could

I should do something different. I could get a different set of needles, ones less slick. Plastic or bamboo? Ugh, not pleasing. I could watch some tutorials on YouTube and try to get a handle on what I’m doing wrong. I could go to a LYS (local yarn shop) and ask a human being to observe me while knitting and dropping stitches. I could try the pattern with different yarn—a thicker one, maybe acrylic—to see if this lovely wool is confounding me. There are a lot of things I could do… but don’t. I should do something different.

What I Did

Baby Blanket In Progress

Baby Blanket In Progress © Just Having Fun

I’m relieved I didn’t torture myself any longer. I put the lacework away for several months. In the interim I picked up something easier, a baby blanket made with leftover acrylic yarn that I don’t want to use for anything else anyhow. Despite my eyeballs burning from the red red Red yarn, the rhythm soothes my jangling nerves and lets me be less perfect, less precise. This project doesn’t laugh at me in the face and make me knit the same mistakes over and over again.

Sometimes I just have to get over myself and stop trying to be so perfect all of the time. I enjoy the process of knitting more than having a finished item. So it’s OK to have a simple piece to work. This is just a modified basket stitch in some random colors I have in storage. The baby won’t mind, whoever he/she is. The repetition provides the relief; the soft clicking of the needles and the shuttle-like motion of my finger wrapping yarn around them provide a focused mindlessness. From here I can soar, race, crawl, or rest. I don’t have to be perfect.

I shouldn’t think it over too much. I may destroy the magic.

Trump Day

Finally, my shoulders can be lowered from up around my ears.

trump-presidential-inauguration-silver-commemorative

President Trump Inaugural Commemorative Coin,” © The Revolutionary Mint.”

On Friday, President Trump manned the helm of the country. Whether you love him or hate him, voted for him or rallied against him, he is the President of the greatest country on earth. Let us at least honor the Office of the President, fer gosh sake, and disrobe Uncle Sam from the clown costume he’s been sewn into. The world is laughing at us. Really. HATRED makes us look stupid and ineffective.

Will everything be smooth after this? I’m not buying any bridges in Brooklyn, no siree. However, I hope that the political bashing will cease and let us move on. Time to buck up, soldier on, get over it.

Ever since November—nay, even before the election—this country has been swamped with waves of vitriol and bile like never before. Sure, we’ve had protests in the past—I grew up in the 60s—but few so personal, aimed at an individual. As a contrast, participants in Viet Nam anti-war protests thought they would have an effect on policy and force the United States to end its participation there. There were not enough volunteers to continue to fight a protracted war and young men did not want to be drafted. The War was the enemy. While President Nixon was hated for what he did, unpopular to start with then becoming embroiled in the Watergate fiasco, Trump hasn’t done anything!

Unprecedented hatred targets Trump, the man. Timothy Burke, a professor in the Department of History at Swarthmore College wrote an article entitled “The Anatomy of Anti-Trumpism: Ten Thoughts and Reconsiderations.” Reasons people cite range from “Trump is a liar,” and “Trump is stupid,” to “What is uniquely wrong with America?” and “Now terrible things are going to happen to innocent people.” Trump didn’t help his own image with profligate (Twitter) tweets during the campaign, but he has his own agenda, and keeps people off-balance. That is not worthy of the viciousness aimed at him in my opinion.

obama-coin-new-england-mint-t

President Obama Commemorative Coin” © The New England Mint

Politicians lie (remember something about cigars?), the man is not stupid (he’s attention-seeking), and “welcome to the world after 9/11.” I don’t agree with all Professor Burke says and doubt he was a Trump supporter. He voices some cogent points, however, about how the system is broken. That doesn’t cultivate the best of the best and the most idealistic candidates.

I didn’t drink any Kool-Aid. My eyes aren’t closed. I just want to relax and breathe without being exposed to the ugliness seen in the media this past year. It’s been a long election season. Don’t string up Mr. Trump because of the rhetoric; it was  his best tool and weapon.

May G-d bless this country, its leaders, and its people. Especially its leaders. As much as I like knitting projects, take off the Pussy Hats and go home. And, Mr. Trump, please stop tweeting off the hip.

 

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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.

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.

Gallery

Waiting is the Hardest Part

These are some of the yarns I have just waiting for a project!

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