Thursday, December 8, 2011

Christmas Knitting: Bugs and Bugaboos

bug·a·boo

1. An object of obsessive, usually exaggerated fear or anxiety:

2. A recurring or persistent problem: (source:  The Free Dictionary)


In North Carolina, at least for the last twenty years or so, public schools are closed for a two-week Christmas Break.  At my high school, students take their exams and wrap up their semester classes in what always ends up being an end-of-year frantic whirl.  Without fail, by the time break rolls around, I am exhausted, frazzled, and barely able to muster the energy to prepare for the holiday celebration.  For the last three years, I went to our local Dollar General store and bought a couple of bags of frosted pine cone ornaments to decorate our tree, because I literally lacked the energy--and the courage--to climb up into our storage space over the garage and navigate through the jumble of suitcases and cast-off toys to extract our ornaments.  (Luckily for me, I have two boys and a husband who don’t have any aesthetic or sentimental views regarding Christmas decorations.) 

No, I’m not typically weak or frail.  I’m not a Grinch, either.  I used to love decking out my house and baking for the holidays.  Rather, by the end of a semester, my tank, which has run on empty for many weeks, seems to finally consume and burn up its last drop of gas.  After completing all of my grades for each class, giving exams and grading them, shopping for Christmas presents for family and friends and purchasing and dropping off other items for my sons’ teachers and classroom parties (as well as for my own school festivities), I typically spend much of my winter break sick and in bed.  It’s as if I finally am able to take time to relax, and my body just shuts down.  My husband has brought me more plates of turkey and ham from Christmas dinners I’ve missed than I care to remember.

This year, however, the illness came early, and, after an exhausting bout with a virus three weeks ago, with a wracking cough  that still lingers, I now find myself sick again, this time with an upper respiratory infection, sinus infection, and laryngitis.  Exams start Monday at my school, but I’m in the bed, unable to talk, and generally having a difficult time focusing on much except a marathon of back-to-back episodes of America’s Messiest House (I think that’s the title—my thought processes are a little fuzzy right now).

I haven’t been able to knit a whole lot, but I have picked up a slouchy alpaca hat and worked on it.  I thought it was complete last night, but then I realized that it was so loose, there was no chance it would stay on the wearer’s head.  I still don’t get this whole gauge thing—some yarn just seems drapier (I’m not sure this term is actually a word) than others.  Whenever I work with worsted wool, something standard like Patons or Cascade, I have wonderful results, but when I deal with luxury fibers, the results are sometimes surprising.  Anyway, the hat was knit with size eight needles and is worked from the center out and finished off with ten rows of ribbing.  Last night, in a NyQuil induced haze, I tried on my giant hat which threatened to swallow my face, and then ripped out the ten rows of ribbing.  I switched to size six needles and will knit the ribbing again today, to see if the hat fits a little snugger. 


The pattern is a simple one, found in Patons Classic Wool’s booklet entitled, “Fall in Love” (number 500864), but I’m creating the beret using Cascade Yarns Eco Duo, a wonderful mixture of baby alpaca and merino wool.  The gauge of the Eco Duo is not exactly the same as that of Patons classic wool, but I thought I’d take a chance--never a good idea.
When I’d purchased the yarn last Saturday at Cottage Yarn, my wonderful local knitting shop, a couple came into the store, and the woman, standing beside her wisely docile and silent husband,  told the owner that she needed help.  She then began to extract an item out of a bag.  As I stood there, I anticipated that this woman was stuck, maybe not grasping the intricacy of an instruction or chart pattern, but, instead, she unfolded a voluminous mud brown sweater—completely finished--from her bag.  I hate to use my Hagrid analogy again (employed in a previous post to describe another over-sized hat project of mine), but this sweater would have fit him nicely.  My instinct was to crack up hysterically or exclaim something too inappropriate for a public school teacher to post in her blog, but I remained quiet and was summarily impressed by the tact of the knitting store owner and her staff who led the woman to a wicker chair in the front of the shop.      Having her sit down before telling her what could only be disheartening news was probably a good idea, as I don't see how this unfortunate project could be “helped,” other than by tearfully tearing it out and starting over.  But I was in an enormous hurry to complete a laundry list of holiday errands that day, so I didn't wait around to hear the staff's diagnosis.  I brightly said, “It would look cute over jeans,” and paid for my own ill-fated alpaca yarn and hurried off to Costco. 

I might now believe that there was something in the air that day, some dire purveyor (or at least an omen) of mischief and ill-fitting knitwear, but on that same day I finally broke down and purchased a much coveted copy of Stitch London.  Immediately, I was able to create two tiny birds—Cooey the pigeon and my own yellow version (Dewey the duckling, I suppose).  These fellows are tiny and cute—no problems with gauge here—and I plan to sew some loops on them so that they can decorate my sorry yet-to-be-put-up Christmas tree.
Cooey and Dewey, future heirlooms?
 

As I stay in the bed today between finishing marking papers and entering semester averages into my digital grade book, I hope to finish the re-sized alpaca hat and maybe knit another miniature bird or animal, or two.  The bugaboos of illness and oversizing will not dishearten me.  And, when I'm feeling better, I'll have a wonderful, perfectly sized alpaca hat for someone to open after we share a Christmas meal together.    



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