Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanskgiving: Winding Up

I didn't use my computer this holiday weekend.  After a lazy Thanksgiving day, I was busy shopping, cleaning, and moving furniture.  My older son had been begging me for months to remove his double bed from his room and replace it with something smaller, since the antique bed took up more than half the room and didn't give him any space to move around much or relax.  After scanning piles of ads for Black Friday sales, I found two stores selling futons at bargain prices.  Luckily, the futon box fit in the back of my station wagon.  But moving furniture was the easy part of this process--cleaning my son's room, especially under his bed, was another matter.  After two days of vacuuming, tossing out food wrappers, scrubbing stains on the carpet, etc., his room now resembles a comfortable den, cozy but with room to stretch out.  My husband and I are both eyeing this space greedily, anticipating my son's departure for college three years in the future and the potential knitting/spinning/sewing room or office this area could accomodate.  We are neither eager nor ready for our son to leave home, but the challenges of four people (three quite large) living in a relatively small house can be difficult at times. 

My house is located on a street of modest houses in a pre-planned community, one that attempts to create a nineteenth century village feel.  There are Charleston-style row houses, craftsman bungalows, brick row houses, and a myriad of homes in other styles.  My town is one of the first of such mixed pre-planned, pedestrian friendly, and incorporated communities, where income levels and ages vary.  There is even an area with maintenance-free ranches for senior citizens.  In the 1990s, billboards on a major local highway used to advertise this community with the slogan, “Union County’s finest neighborhood” and people used to jokingly compare my town to the one featured in the movie The Truman Show.  Now, however, after years of rapid growth and development, my house is located on the less fashionable side of town.  A year or two before the real estate bubble burst, it seemed that everyone was moving across the highway, to an area with bigger yards, better schools, and closer upscale (or at least a step above our nearby Wal-mart) shopping.  Before the recent economic downturn, I used to feel stigmatized by the lack of status my home represented.  My blue collar neighbors were moving up and out, but my family had to stay behind in our small (by recent standards anyway) house.  We have no bonus room for a flat screen TV (we don’t have one of those yet, either), no extra bedroom, or space for an office.  Heck, we don’t even have room for the ubiquitous island in the kitchen. 

My house, though, is warm and cozy.  We have a new roof, and while it the siding is vinyl rather than brick and architectural details such as nice moldings and turned columns are absent, its plain colonial style is timeless.  What puzzles and makes me wonder, "Are we poor?" is that so many of my neighbors have recently moved in, not because they loved the neighborhood (which is very quaint and attractive overall) and wanted to purchase a modest house, but because they have experienced financial difficulty.  Our neighbors on one side lost their former 3,500 square foot house to foreclosure when the husband found himself unemployed for over a year.  Renting the house next door (which is larger than mine and impeccably maintained) was a big step down for them.  Another couple with three children has only one vehicle, a van with broken air conditioning that the family used to drive to their son’s baseball tournament near Atlanta during broiling temperatures last summer.  This family counts every penny, and brought pizza they’d purchased with coupons to Atlanta with them to eat on their one-night trip, so that they could avoid spending money at restaurants.  Other neighbors have five kids in a 1700 square foot house they rent.  I know from their landlord that this family is often late with rent payments. Sometimes I feel dejected that my home, of which I’m actually quite proud, seems to be located on a street that is associated with stepping down in the world or financial struggles. 

I must remember that people from some other countries would fail to think of my street as one where people fallen on hard times must resort to living.  I can remember when my husband and I sponsored an au pair from Lithuania.  When she saw her small bedroom and the tiny bathroom she would be sharing with my two boys (who were doubled up in another small bedroom), she began weeping—and surprisingly these were not the tears of a spoiled girl, suddenly aware that she ended up with the only au pair sponsor family without a Mcmansion, country club membership and beach house.  These were tears of joy.  She had grown up in a family of four (sometimes five when her grandmother lived with her family) in two rooms.  Our house, with its two and a half baths, dishwasher, and microwave oven seemed positively lavish to her. 

As we celebrated  Thanksgiving last week, I had to remember Beata’s (our au pair's) tears and view my life with a perspective that doesn’t concern itself with the Joneses or with what’s trendy or fashionable what’s a “good neighborhood.”  At this time, I must remember that I take myself with me wherever I go, and that the grass is not always greener on the other side.  I must count my blessings. 
What I’m Thankful For

My husband’s compassionate (sometimes saintly) nature he displays as he silently suffers and goes along with each of my latest whims, including my trip to Italy last spring and my upcoming visit to Vogue Knitting Live this coming January
My sons, ages 11 and 14, despite the fact that they rambunctious, sloppy, and determined to sometimes tease me till I cry with frustration

My treasured close friends

My cozy house

Good wine (better yet, wine with flavor that betrays its cheap cost) 

Fresh, unprocessed food and delicious recipes for preparing it 

Processed fast food--for those busy working mother evenings on the run

A lovely Thanksgiving meal, shared with family on a horse farm in the country (including four pies and one cake for nine people)

My cat and dog and the hours of entertainment they provide
My teaching job, however draining (more like life sucking) at times

My students on those days when my lesson meshes with their moods 

A job with summers off

Jane Austen novels and other good literature and the thoughts they provoke

Formulaic chic flicks and novels, for the escape they provide

Bookstores for browsing (let's hope some survive)

My favorite local knitting store and its warm atmosphere

And of course knitting and spinning with all of their psychological and aesthetic pleasures

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Where's the Sheep?

As part of a project for my English IV class, my students created blogs where they reflected on their experiences learning how to knit or do other crafts.  One of my students cleverly entitled her blog Gone with the Wool, where she discussed the challenging process of making her first knitted hat.  The student used yarn that I had given her, some I had bought to create a black and orange scarf for my younger son’s former taekwondo teacher.  The scarf was going to be a Christmas present last year, but I didn’t finish it in time for the holidays, and then soon after, fencing replaced taekwondo as my son’s sport of choice.  I was left with $250 worth of sparring gear, new financial obligations (for fencing lessons and fencing shoes), and two big balls of chunky black and orange wool. 

While I had quite a few skeins of Red Heart yarn in my classroom, purchased because of its affordability, it was interesting to see how my students migrated toward the soft balls of wool I’d brought in (such as that orange stuff) that were leftovers from my personal stash.  I didn’t want to emphasize my fiber preferences to them, as I know that they don’t have money income to blow on yarn (although judging from their Smart phones and tattoos, they probably have more disposable income than I do).  I did tell them that natural fiber has more stretch, so it can be easier for a beginner to use.  I also didn’t share how I shy away from synthetic fibers and always have, even before I was a knitter.  When I was a teenager, I had a collection of 100% wool Shetland sweaters, purchased by carefully combing the aisles of discount stores and scrutinizing fiber content labels.  I couldn’t afford the expensive sweaters in the Rumson Roulette, a boutique in a neighboring town, a geographic locale that was included in Lisa Burnbach’s Preppy Handbook.  At this store, a bastion of horse-faced WASPY snobbery, one could purchase kilts, Shetland sweaters, cashmere scarves, and a variety of expensive home goods.  While I couldn’t afford to shop there, I could find comparable stuff with time and effort. 

I once shared my penchant for natural fibers with a friend and co-worker.  She was young, around 23 (close to my age at the time), and was the managing editor of a magazine where I worked.  She was a very dramatic emotional person, prone to self-destructive behavior  at times.  Her boyfriend at the time, with whom she was madly in love, dumped her in the waiting room at the dentist’s office, just before she went in to have her wisdom teeth removed.   (This really happened.)  This event occured in late August, and I’d been similarly deserted by my boyfriend around the same time.  I was a newly hired employee, and we instantly bonded over our heartache, sobbing and drowning our sorrows  together, night after night.  She had been raised by her grandmother in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, and was the illegitimate child of her mother and a barroom piano player—the product of a one-night stand.  Coming from an equally dysfunctional family with an absent father, I was, like her, a bit too sensitive and naively romantic, relying too much on finding my own self-worth through my male partners.

In retrospect, I didn’t help this co-worker, but, rather, created a monster, when I discussed the inferiority and cheapness of certain materials when we were shopping together.  She apparently absorbed my comments, and, still horribly depressed because of her breakup several months earlier, sobbed hysterically on Christmas morning when she opened a package presented to her by her mother and found a polyester, rather than a silk or cotton, blouse.  Her heartache, coupled with her newfound appreciation for natural fibers, obviously put a dismal damper on her family’s holiday festivities. 

Although not sobbing, I was distressed during a recent trip to my local yarn shop, when I learned that wool yarn prices, much like the cost of food, are set to spike steeply.  I noticed, too, on an excursion to an upscale Charlotte shopping mall last weekend, that I could not find a pair of wool slacks—at least in the petite sections of two major department stores, nor were there many wool sweaters.   Of course, while saddened, I must take the positive view—I now I have a reasonable excuse for yarn and fiber hoarding.   Maybe they’ll be wool shortages?  Yarn speculation?  And I could make a fortune by selling my stash or my handmade knitted, wooly items.

Alas, even if prices go through the roof, I don’t foresee any profit in knitting and I’m not likely to part with my collection of yarn and fiber.  If bleak economic times come to pass, I can, however, find solace in lots of contented hours, crafting clothing for me and piles of handmade gifts for friends and family.  Whatever the economic woes or shortages of goods, I will cling to my yarn hobby.  Knitters such as I are industrious people (Marie Antoinette, when in captivity, apparently asked for knitting needles and yarn, and when refused these items, took apart a tapestry to use as yarn and made her own needles to use to while away the hours.) 

If shortages or steep price increases are in my future, I see myself standing amidst a paltry and declining stash, clutching a hank in my fist and raising it to the heavens, asserting, “If I have to go hungry, I will survive.”   Gone with the wool, or not. 

Recently completed mohair lace scarf.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Where Women Create

While perusing knitting magazines in the bookstore over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed a
publication on the racks entitled Where Women Create, a lavish, thick magazine with pictures of whimsical spaces where women craft or sew or engage in other artistic activities.  The images of the spaces where these women work are eye candy for the reader.  Otherwise why would anyone spend $15.00 to look at rooms where women make greeting cards or knit socks?  Another magazine by the same publisher followed on the heels of Where Women Create, entitled Where Women Cook provides additional saliva inducing glimpses at  work spaces, or, rather, boutique spaces, as the craft rooms and kitchens in both these magazines are as staged and stylized as a Ralph Lauren or Anthropologie store.   

Despite my efforts to the contrary, I am always drawn to these publications and to the images of the happy, industrious women on their pages.  However, my relationship with these titles is one characterized by both love and hate.  In fact, I sometimes I try to force myself to hold back and not open these magazines, but somehow  I always find myself looking at an image of a smug woman standing in front of 500 vintage glass mason jars filled with colorful buttons, cunningly arranged along shelves on the wall of an entire room.  The afternoon sunlight spills warmly across her rustic work table, a piece that the aforesaid woman “picked up” on a trip to the south of France. 

In my world, however, there are no workspaces filled with antique vases of double-pointed needles or aesthetically pleasing wall bins with cleverly arranged colorful skeins of yarn spilling over their edges.  There are bags and bags of yarn stuffed in the back of my closet along with a plastic storage bin filled with a snakelike mess of circular needles.  There are a spinning wheel and antique yarn winder in our too-small den and a serger and two sewing machines that have to be cleared off of the dining room table before we can have a meal there (usually a once-or-twice-a-year event).  There is a nomadic dress dummy given to me by a home economics teacher.  Her hard-knock life shows in her raggedy covering and off-kilter stance (the dress dummy’s not the teacher’s, although the profession isn’t kind to the looks of its members).  The dummy takes up residence in the garage sometimes, but likes to hang out in the kitchen and dining room too.  There were a bunch of these dress forms at my old high school that, much like the many copies of thick classic novels with small print, were moldering from lack of use. 

My dining room, like the dress forms and complex novels, shares this neglect.  But I’m a traditionalist, and in a world where my children are assaulted on all sides from a culture that I often find vulgar and disjointed, the dining room, with its collection of inherited furniture and knick-knacks, is a way of reminding my boys that there are other ways to live—that our drive-through lifestyle isn’t normal—or at least isn’t ideal.  So I don’t convert my little used dining room to a permanent workspace.  And I don’t have enough bedrooms to turn one of them into a studio, or do as the mother of a friend of mine who transformed her master bedroom into a work room—she needed a large space for her quilting frame.  Her husband is, needless to say, an admirable model of for all other similarly burdened crafter/sewer/knitter spouses to follow.      

I do, however, create all over the house, as I have been doing this weekend.  I’ve been sick with a virus and have been in bed or on the couch since Thursday night.  While my illness put a damper on any plans for meals out or trips to yarn shops, I was able to make some real inroads into my holiday knitting—even if I had to leave my sickbed to spend time on my knees in my closet, digging through bins to find a cable needle. 

Fiber Trends Clogs I finished this past weekend (shown here before felting).

After Felting
Adding the felted designs is a lot of fun.
 This weekend, I’ve also had time to sit still and to think about my craft room, adding it to my to-do list.  As we move into the holiday season, this list is ever-expanding. 

1.        Finish lace scarf for my mother-in-law.  She’s allergic to wool and I purchased some acrylic for this that’s a bit rough on my hands. 

2.       Finish scarf for my son’s football coach.

3.       Finish cabled chunky vest—while trying to keep in mind that the pattern has five errors in it.

4.       Finish novelty yarn poncho and decide whether it’s tacky or artsy.

5.       Cast on shawl with lace weight yarn purchased in Italy last May. Be sure to finish this by Christmas, as it is a gift for my mother.  Hmmm, I’ve never knit with lace weight.  Those ladies in Estonia do it.  Right.  It can’t be too hard. . . .

6.       Finish pink worsted and twisty, colorful, fluffy yarn hat (another attempt at “artsy” rather than “classic” knitting).  Half of it has been on needles for six months. 

7.       Finish sewing girls’ dress and coat made using a vintage pattern (from 1957).  This project was started with an aim of selling the dress and coat (a $60.00 investment so far) on Etsy, to help pay for my knitting habit.  The dress is almost done.

8.       Learn how to professionally finish stuff—my back-stitch seams are ruining my projects and I can’t seem to teach myself any other method of seaming.  I must have some kind of special learning deficit—the instructions in my how-too books don’t translate into the movements of my hands.    

9.       Figure out the math in spinning.  I’m just turning the wheel and drafting—the books say there’s much more to this process.  Maybe I’ll have time to really study the science of spinning next year. 

10.   Figure out how to create a craft room, or at least a craft nook to store my knitting accoutrements. 

11.   STOP KNITTING, SEWING, AND SPINNING!  So that I can grade papers, prepare final exams, shop for the holidays, help my sons with their homework, sort eight million pieces of Lego, organize mountains of receipts and statements, and, in general, get on with my life. 

Of course, my local knitting  shops don’t have to worry about dips in revenue anytime soon.  And my kids aren’t going to escape having a mom who is no longer a “crazy knitting lady” in the near future.    I figure there might be a realistic chance that I’ll finish items 1-9 in a year or so, and by then I’ll have lots of other projects on the needles that will require my attention before I can ever get to number 10 on my list.  Along the way, my students’ papers will be graded and other tasks will be attended to, although not without the beckoning of knitting projects and crafting room creation in my ear.  But while I knit, the clamor of to-do lists is silent.  That fact is what, perhaps, keeps me at it, even if knitting clutters up my life and creates a conflict in my obligations.  When the rhythmic motion of the needles begins, I am lost in the process itself.  A very Zen activity, I suppose, and very necessary in my hectic life.  When I am engaged in the act of knitting, I don’t think about the need for visually stunning or practical work spaces.  Where I create becomes irrelevant.  The process itself takes hold, driving and shaping the experience.    
This is a cabled vest -- another item on my to-do list. 

The hat that became a cowl
The yarn I used, Karaoke, seems to grow as I knit.
This particular color is also no longer made, and I
ran out of it before my Hagrid-sized hat was finished.
After trying to no avail to order more, I finished this piece
off. It actually looks great on the wearer.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Causal Relations: Knitting and Its Consequences

                Looking for inspiration for a new blog post, I turned to a trusty copy of The Bedford Reader.  Bedford provides a guide to different college writing modes (narrative, comparison-contrast, classification, etc.)  The class set I have of this title was purchased some years ago when I taught Advanced Placement English (when public school money hadn’t dried up and it was easier to purchase texts for advanced students).  I hoped to somehow make a leap from a list of suggested writing topics in the book, such those found on a list in the definition essay chapter that includes “sorrow,” “responsibility,” and “dieting,” to my own future blog post about knitting.  Needless to say, the topics related too closely to my own existence to pique my interest by their novelty.  And none seemed to relate to knitting.  Wait, maybe responsibility (or lack thereof).  I could use the fact that my whole October food budget was spent at the Southeast Fiber Arts Fair to support whatever thesis statement I developed.   

     Moving on through the text, I skimmed through the chapter entitled “Cause and Effect.”  Either the cause and effect essay or the definition essay prompt will appear on the state-mandated tenth-grade writing test for which I prepare my sophomores each year.  (We don't know which mode of the two forms will be required of the students until the actual day they sit down to take it.)  While the test typically presents students with a specific topic on which to write, when they write practice essays in class or for homework, I often give them some choice.  Oddly, students typically choose to define "a good friend" or “a smile” or some form of abuse (alcohol, child, etc.) or to rework those same topics into cause-and-effect essays.  Judging from their choice of topics, maybe all this testing has left them uninspired as well. 

                When I turned to the list of suggested writing prompts in the cause-and-effect chapter, which instructs the student to  explain either the causes or the effects of a particular situation or practice, I found some attention-grabbing, but irking writing prompts, including: 

Friction between two roommates, or two friends

The growing popularity of private elementary and high schools

The fact that most Americans can communicate in no language other than English

The increasing need for more than one breadwinner in a family

     I don’t care to write about those topics, as I deconstruct them every day in grumbling sessions I initiate with my husband, who is unendingly patient as I regale him with tales of the horrors my teaching day, my relationships with strong-willed female friends, and of my financial distress.  (My husband is both an Anglican priest and a public high school French teacher, so some items on the list hit home in areas of concern to him--the last suggested writing topic is particularly relevant to both of us.) 

                There is one subject listed on the page, however, that jumped out at me:  “Some quirk in your personality or a friend’s.”  Wow, I thought.  I have what others perceive as a quirk--my knitting hobby/obsession.  What are its effects?  

      ·         I have begun to purchase all of my clothes (and some of my poor, unwitting children’s) at 
               Goodwill, so I have money for yarn, fiber, and tools. 

·         My house fails to have a unified design scheme or style.  The enormous yarn swift clamped like some festive umbrella to the sideboard in the dining room and the bags of fiber by the fireplace for spinning (the cat especially likes these) foil any attempts at “shabby chic” or “faded gentility” or “oversized football-player friendly” or any other styles my house might at one time have possessed.

·         I have become a bag lady.  (It’s not that I knit at work . . . really. . . . But just having one or two of my projects with me behind my desk makes me feel prepared for any contingency.  (I’m comforted by the fact that if we have a five-hour lock down—where lights are off, doors are locked, and students and teacher crouch on the floor to avoid getting shot at by campus intruders—I’ll be ready.)

      ·         We have steak a lot less often.

·         My 11-year-old has one more reason to have a dramatic fit.  “Pleeeaaaase, don’t knit on the car line,” he wails with tears in his eyes.  “It’s embarrassing.”  He’ll probably undergo years of therapy someday because, after his pleas, I continue to knit as we wait to move up in the torturous line of mothers in mini-vans dropping off their kids at his school.  We have a VW Jetta and my son’s discomfort is compounded because his peers can look down into my car.  (The fact that there are piles of fast-food wrappers, empty cups and soda bottles, and other unsavory detritus of the life of a working mother in clear view surprisingly leaves him unfazed, though.)

·          I spend even more time in the bookstore.  Like the shoes the elves provided the shoemaker, each day there are new knitting magazines (some with nifty freebies) on the racks at my local Barnes and Noble.  Not to mention books.  I spent nearly an hour anguishing in the bookstore last night about whether I should buy Stitch London. This book has some neat patterns for cute little bobbies and the queen and her corgis in it, but I really only covet it because of the pigeon pattern and included yarn and needles cunningly tucked inside the front cover.  Not only is the pigeon absolutely adorable, there’s a Facebook page where knitters can post images of their pigeons.  I don’t even want to plumb the depths of what my desire to post a stuffed pigeon on Facebook says about the effects (or causes) of my knitting passion. . . .

·         I have begun a slow process of brainwashing my husband.  “Just think, dear.  We can open `The Good Shepherd Sheep Farm and Wedding Chapel,’ or maybe `The Pastoral Pastor Anglican Chapel,’” I told my husband a few weeks ago (after a visit to the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair where I interacted with all sorts of adorable four-legged fiber producing creatures).  My husband, who is allergic to wool (he really is; he breaks out in hives), and who grew up burdened with doing farm chores in rural North Carolina, shares none of my romantic aspirations.  The pained look that crossed his face at my words is reminiscent of the one he had when I told him, a couple of years ago that I’d registered us for a weekend alpaca workshop in Asheville, NC. 

·         I talk to strangers, of all races, ages, and nationalities.  Knitting, whatever its potentially adverse effects, draws people in.  I’ve discussed my hobby with German, Indian, Nigerian, Japanese, Greek, Chinese, South African, and Greek individuals, to name a few.  I’ve had little girls tell me about their grandmothers and great-grandmothers.  I’ve made connections in stores and in on-line communities.  I felt like a celebrity the year my son attended tutoring at a Kumon Learning Center, because, as I sat in the waiting room, I always had an international crowd asking me questions and listening to my suggestions for yarn and pattern sources.

Knitting is a well-spring, impacting  many areas of my life.  If my sophomores handed in a cause-and-effect essay with the structure of this blog post, I might take my red pen and question their structure and organization.  “Limit your topic,” I might write.  But, ultimately, I’m not certain if the results of knitting can be circumscribed in an essay or blog post adhering to the prescriptions of a writing guide.    The consequences of my humble hobby are unfixed and open-ended, much like student essay responses that are worth reading. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Knitting with Zombies

I was surprised to hear on the radio yesterday that zombies are a billion dollar industry in the United States (a fact that is somehow related to our stagnant economy).  Of course, as a Jane Austen fan, I’ve seen retellings of her works featuring characters reinvented as zombies and vampires (and even read a few), but I’d never conceived that this craze for the undead is currently generating so much income.  As I am a teacher and married to one as well, I seem to be in a constant struggle to have enough money to provide for my two boys (who have hollow legs and a propensity for trips to the emergency room and pediatrician’s office) while having any funds left for vacations, good clothes, etc. I am always toying with ways to make money, and would love to incorporate yarn, knitting, or spinning into any future revenue earning endeavors.  Hmmm, I thought as I drove my son home from school yesterday and heard “zombies” and “billion dollar industry” in the same sentence.  Maybe there’s some way to combine fiber and zombies.  A vampire knitting book seemed to sell well a few years ago.  But the only thoughts that came to mind seemed rather too weird and morbid—lacy shroud like hoods made out of white mohair, for instance or weird stuffed animals dripping with blood with their arms straight out.  

Putting aside my ideas for zombie-inspired knitwear design, I asked my eleven-year-old for ideas to combine writing about knitting and zombies, maybe in a fictional work.  James is a very creative kid, one who spends hours building with Lego or reading about historical weapons and analyzing which ones are the most lethal.  (His Christmas list includes a set of throwing knives and an extension knife that pops up from its case the wearer straps to his wrist.)  James seemed like a good source for zombie idea. 

“You can have some crazy knitting old lady zombie who spreads the knitting virus throughout the world,” he said.

James already thinks all knitters fit this description, so his words weren’t really new and didn’t spark any great insights in me.  I decided to let the zombie idea ferment awhile, went home and had dinner, took James to his fencing class, returned home, worked on a scarf, and went to bed.

When I drove James to school the next morning, an idea came to me.  I don’t have to create any fantastic, fictional worlds featuring knitting and zombies.  I live in that world right now.  Some of my worst knitting nightmares have been the result of my transformation, on many evenings, into a zombie.  On one such evening I went to a wonderful local knitting store (Cottage Yarn) for help with a complex baby sweater pattern and found that other middle-aged women suffer from the same disease—the “I-can’t-think-or-do-math at night virus.” 
I found this in my classroom.  Zombie knitwear, maybe???

In contrast, in the morning, when the sun is shining, I find that I can master a difficult knitting pattern or chart.  The “aha” moments seems to flow like smooth waves at Carolina beaches at low tide.  But, at night, exhausted from running to an fro all day and dealing with the whines and requests of my pubescent public (in English classes where I am on stage every day), my thoughts don’t click.  The connections don’t come, and I’ve learned that it’s much wiser to work on pieces whose stitches and pattern repeats I have already mastered.  At night, I am a zombie. 

The result, of course, is that I long for daytime hours—to drink coffee, knit, walk the dog, clean the house, do the laundry, cook dinner, shop for my family, make doctor, dentist, and veterinarian appointments, get my hair cut, pay bills, check my younger son’s school agenda, nag the older one to do homework or to pick up his dirty clothes, cook, clean out the pantry and junk drawer, visit my lonely 86-year-old mother-in-law, etc.  Instead, I have a couple of evening hours as a zombie woman to sometimes accomplish one of these tasks.  I leave home between 7:00 and 7:30 each morning and don’t get home usually until around 6:00. 

On the weekends, the chore list, coupled with reams of student essays to grade, bears down upon me.  But, blessedly, for a few hours anyway, I am bright and fresh.  I tackle new knitting projects, studying their instructions and casting on.  Then it’s time for the chores and cooking ahead for the week to begin.  I’m saddened when other women my age spend their weekend hours camping or picnicking with their families, volunteering at festivals and fairs, or taking their kids to amusement parks or other types of entertainment.  They are fortunate enough to not be zombies.  They somehow have time during the week when their children are at school to tackle the myriad demands of raising and family and caring for their home while simultaneously pursuing their knitting hobby.

I know that I am not alone, though.  There are many knitting zombies, and the magnet pictured below, that I found after I wrote this blog and Googled “knitting zombies” is true to the mark.  Zombies aren’t good knitters, and we sometimes struggle to be competent homemakers and moms.     
You can purchase this magnet at tinaseamonster, an Etsy shop.


Monday, November 7, 2011

A Purpose in Repurposing

During the summer of 2010, I purchased a wool Banana Republic vest from a local Goodwill.  It was a beautiful garment, but unfortunately was too small for my once-petite-but-now-a-bit-plump frame.  I carefully unraveled it, a difficult process as some of the yarn in places had actually almost melded together.  After a few days of tedious activity, I’d unraveled the whole thing, and I then wound it into a large hank, washed it, and hung it out to dry.  The result?  Beautiful yarn with honeyed tones. 

The next step, of course, is to create something—I’m thinking a cabled cowl.  But before I undertake that endeavor, I have to decide the size needles I need.  Is this yarn “chunky” or “bulky”?  I’m still a bit of a novice knitter in many ways.  I’ve tackled some complicated projects, but am impatient sometimes and haven’t studied gauge and yarn weights.  I’m ashamed to say I’ve only made one or two swatches in my three years as a knitter. 

But I’ve decided that I need to expand my education and refine my skills, so I’m going to create a swatch using 11 needles and then do another one in a larger size.  I’m also determined to learn how to discover the weight of yarn in ounces or grams relates to yardage and consequently to appropriate needle sizes, so that maybe I can continue to be a bit lazy and avoid creating swatches for simple projects, such as scarves and cowls.

In the process of attempting to learn such information, I found a great resource site, and, surprisingly, its creators are close to home—in Gastonia, NC, which for me is only 45 minutes away.  Here’s a link to their Yarn Standards chart:

This discovery of yarn weight information led me in a completely different direction, however, but I suppose an easily distracted mind is a prerequisite for creative endeavors—or at least for embarking on numerous ones at the same time. 

When I found the yarn chart, I also found information about teaching knitting and about a charity program entitled “Warm Up America.”  While the Council sponsored an essay contest and provided free materials to educators in the past, it is not doing so now, but their website still provides clear information about teaching knitting and a link to instructions for creating uniform afghan squares for donation:

My blog last week was devoted to my endeavors to teach high school students to knit.  (I’ve included a few more photos of my students below.)  I was excited to find this opportunity for charitable work, not only because my students can collaborate on a worthwhile venture, but also because the task of creating an afghan (or afghans) is a manageable one (or like most projects it seems to be, until the actual work gets going).  The knitted and crocheted squares are a mere 7” by 9”, so students should be able to finish a square by Christmastime and the onset of colder weather.   The Council’s web page not only provides instructions for young people and adults to learn how to knit, but also gives instructions for some other techniques, such as the seed stitch, so that the afghans can be created to include texture and interest.  Creating part of a large project such as this might also serve as an impetus for students to learn how to knit or crochet or to improve their technique by experimenting with patterns. 
An ambitious knitter, the student on the right, whom I taught to knit last week, is already reading a simple pattern to create a textured scarf. 
This student is using a Nifty Knitter here, but she's also started another project knitted with needles. 

I’m not certain whether the Banana Republic vest will find its way into a future warm covering for a needy person (as the Council recommends using worsted weight yarns and corresponding size 7 needles), but, it and its former owner—who graciously donated it to Goodwill—all played a part in what I hope to be a unifying and worthwhile activity for the students in my English IV class, fiber arts club members, and any other interested persons in my school community.   

Friday, November 4, 2011

Coaching My Compulsion

     “I have to go upstairs and get the Alpaca out of the bathtub,” I said to my husband, who was busily preparing my boys’ lunches for school the next day.  My husband turned from the counter and gave me a quizzical, but surprisingly calm look.  In fact, nothing—especially fiber-or-knitting related --seems outrageous enough to ruffle him in our insane, chaotic household.  When I’d had a moment to process the apparent meaning of my words, I started to laugh.  “The alpaca fiber, I mean—I have to get it out of the tub so I can take a bath.”

This incident made me take pause.  As I rinsed and rinsed the fiber in the tub numerous times, until the espresso colored water ran clear, I ruminated on how far I had come since I first took up knitting less than three years ago.  I now had a huge stash of yarn and needles and other tools—whose combined cost could easily fund the purchase of new kitchen countertops (to replace the chipping Formica ones where my husband stood making and packing sandwiches) or serve as a solid down payment on a much-needed new vehicle. 

Burdened by these guilty thoughts, as I finally soaked in the tub, I might have questioned my own sanity.  But so much knitting-related reading I’ve perused, which even includes an online quiz to see if one is truly an “addict,” continually reassures me that if I am crazy, there are plenty of other people who share my affliction.  In the tub, this thought comforted me, and I leaned back, inhaling the fragrance of lavender essential oil I’d added to the water.  (Naturally I’d scrubbed the stained tub with cleanser before filling it.)

At that time, as I stole a few minutes out of a hectic day, I realized that while my fiber and knitting interest is both an obsession and an addiction, one that no one in my household shares, I can ease the burden of feeling like a lone crazy by “pushing” my addiction onto others.   I already have the stash, and I have a bunch of young impressionable souls at my disposal.  In fact, many of these young people have approached me about my habit and about how they can take it up.

Last year I started a fiber arts club at my school.  (Read about it in the spring 2011 issue of Knit Simple.)  While I didn’t create a huge number of converts, I found one willing victim who, once she’d mastered the garter stitch, uncontrollably knitted hats in the round for the remainder of the school year.  She told me, “I can’t stop.  I’m knitting on the bus.”  Periodically I spy her creations on students at their lunch tables. 

This year, I am teaching two classes of thirteenth graders.  No, they're not slow learners.  Students at my high school earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree simultaneously, but must stay technically enrolled in high school for the entire five-year period it takes to complete both programs.  Consequently, I am teaching English IV to a group of young men and women who are for the most part working a minimum of 20 hours a week and taking four college classes simultaneously along with my course, one which exposes students to a limited overview of British literature.  After Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales,  and Macbeth, the students were ready for a break, and several of them in my third period class kept pleading with me to teach them to knit.  I began to teach a few girls in one class, so they could practice while I read Alexander Pope’s witting mock heroic The Rape of the Lock aloud to them, but then my fourth period class of 13th graders got wind of the knitting lessons, and wanted to learn, too. 

In order to not entirely deviate from the state curriculum and find myself in hot water as some kind of Dead Poet’s Society, “Seize-the-Yarn” instructor, I devised a lesson plan I named “Celtic Craft Week.”  I gathered information and materials for several projects—glass painting (to mimic stained glass), “crayon-resist” illuminated manuscripts (where crayon and paint meet and “resist” one another on the paper), and mock medieval self-portraits.  Students could complete one of those projects or create an item by knitting, weaving, or crocheting.  Not wanting to be viewed as a knitting Nazi and understanding that for some reason (unbeknownst to me) knitting might not have universal appeal, I didn’t want to force my passion on every student.  But many of them availed themselves of my instruction, and surprisingly a handful of them are males.  One male student is now beginning work on a cabled scarf.  Other students of both sexes are making hats and scarves, and the crocheters, whose craft of choice can produce more of a basic item quicker than knitting, are well into their scarf projects.

A few students have opted to use Nifty Knitters.  The other students jokingly call them lazy loomers, but these weavers seem unfazed by the playful teasing and are well on the way to completing their projects.

I have to admit some prejudice, too—a bias which I try to downplay in class. I can’t help but get excited by my newbie knitters who are so captivated by the craft. One student is knitting furiously at home while watching television, and several have purchased their own yarn and needles, rather than use the needles and yarn I’ve amassed from forays to yard sales and from culling my own stash. While the students have purchased acrylic yarn—some of it rough and unyielding to the hands-- and inexpensive metal needles, it’s amazing to see how they gravitate toward the soft wool leftovers and bamboo needles that are in my collection of classroom materials. 
This student took to knitting right away and completed a hat in a couple of class periods. 

I have also shared my knitting magazines with them and tell them about possible careers as knitwear designers or in editorial work for knitting or craft magazines.  My experience with these students affirms a belief I have held for some time, that the act of creating “fabric” is somehow programmed into human beings, either through genetics or some type of collective memory from ancient times, before there were inexpensive machine-knit fabrics with which to cover ourselves.  For some people, like me and some of my particularly enthusiastic knit students, there is not only a natural affinity for the craft, but a drive to learn it well.  The addiction or instinct we share creates in us not only a natural affinity for one another but a classroom environment that is, blessedly, calm and productive, perhaps bolstering us before we forge ahead and break into our next unit, on the depressingly dystopian 1984.