Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Reaching the Finish Line (or Mastering the Mattress Stitch)

"Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson


When I was in high school, I sewed a calico sundress using a Gunne Sax by Jessica McClintock pattern.  McClintock’s dresses were popular at the time and, at around $100 (if I recall this amount correctly), were relatively expensive purchases.  The dress I made turned out well, and I received lots of compliments at school.  I can remember that when applying eyelet lace to the bodice, I made certain that the turned corners were even and neat.  I also recall, though, that with the typical impatience of a teen, I did not finish the raw edges inside the dress.  Taking time to work on details that no one would see required a kind of punctilious attention that was overshadowed by my eagerness to put my new creation on my back as soon as possible. 
The pattern for this sweater is in Debbie Bliss's Essential
Baby Knits. (I didn't use the mattress stitch on the
shoulders, so they're still not perfect, but the sides look great.)

Older--and having amazingly morphed into a bit of a perfectionistic seamstress who always spends time putting finishing details on sewing projects--I nevertheless still have some problems with a lack of patience.  I started knitting three years ago but until this past weekend often still found myself eager to sew up pieces of knitwear quickly, so that I could clap finished garments on my back mere hours after they'd come off of the needles and had been blocked.  When I was packing to go to Vogue Knitting Live, though, I looked at a sweater I had made, contemplating whether or not I should bring it to the event, but, ultimately, left it at home because the back-stitched sides seemed bulky and not neat enough to subject them to the scrutiny of experienced knitters (let alone knitting teachers and designers).   I had attempted many times, using instructions in at least five different books, to teach myself the mattress stitch, a seaming technique that makes a virtually invisible seam.  But, oddly enough, I must be riddled with some kind of learning disability related to spacial  understanding (or reading instructions), because I could not teach myself using the illustrations and photos. 
This past weekend, however, I decided to take action.  Once again, I picked up Knitting for Dummies and a few other books to study the sections on seaming.  But, still, I could not make an invisible seam.  I ended up with a baby sweater with a lumpy side seam with visible horizontal joining stitches.  I managed to remove the seam, though, and hunted down my laptop under the piles of food wrappers, hoodies, shorts, and towels in my older son’s room.  

I then found an instructional video on Youtube. (Click here to see it).  And, lo and behold, I was able to create a beautiful invisible seam!  The moment of seeing my two pieces meld into one was satisfying; I had learned something new that could vastly improve my work.  Now, I can look forward to finishing pieces, rather than dreading how I might mar them with sloppy needlework. 

Here are some things I learned from this experience:
No knitter is an island.
Sometimes, even able students armed with the best textbooks, need to observe a teacher modeling a process in order to learn a new skill.
The process of knitting requires diligence, focus, practice, and patience, but, amazingly, those characteristics can be an intrinsic part of something that is entertaining and fun! (If I examine this statement, I can also surmise that I am getting really old.)
The sense of accomplishment that comes from learning something new never pales.
We have to risk failure in order to learn (the gnarled remnants of a piece of a vintage baby sweater stuffed in a bag in my closet are a perfect illustration of this maxim).
When we learn a new skill, we are like Lucy stumbling on an antique wardrobe in C.S. Lewis's novel--we have no clue where we might go next, but we can be certain our experience will be enriched in myriad, unanticipated ways. (Who knows? I might just be a middle-aged knitter now, but if I continue to expand my knowledge and skill set, I might be on the path to an exciting future career.)
Unlike Lucy's experience, we must recognize that, as Abigail Adams wrote, “Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.”

Friday, January 27, 2012

Yin, Yang, and Yarn: Balance in a Crazy World

"Balance is the perfect state of still water. Let that be our model. It remains quiet within and is not disturbed on the surface."

This pattern is available from knitvana.com.  Click here. 

Last weekend I happened to catch a little bit of a program where Oprah talked with self-help guru Wayne Dyer.  In the past, I typically changed the channel when I came across Dyer lecturing on PBS—to my skeptical mind, he always seemed too self-assured that everyone could achieve health, happiness, and balance.  But for some reason, this past Sunday, Dyer’s message of harmony and common humanity drew me in.  My life now seems to have demands that are maddeningly split—between home/family and my profession—and his words were compelling to me, speaking to my desperate need to achieve some balance between these opposing forces, much like yin and yang, in my life. 

On the one hand, if I completely ignored my family and home, I could be a phenomenal teacher—attending workshops, implementing new methodology, pouring over students’ papers all weekend, planning culturally enriching field trips, and making certain to call parents all the time (to praise their children or to express my concern about their progress).  On the other hand, if it were financially feasible, I could stop working and be a good mom—one who doesn’t feed her children fast food on a regular basis, one who signs her younger child’s school agenda every night, one whose home has fresh sheets on neatly made beds and that shelters a well-groomed and regularly exercised dog.  This mom wouldn’t bark orders as she runs for the car at 7:00 a.m. each day to begin the marathon 10 or 12 or 13 hours she will be away from home. 
This mom would not experience anxiety about finding time to have her car inspected, to drive kids to dental and medical appointments, or to attend events (or volunteer) at her children’ schools.  She would also not buy enough socks, underwear, ketchup, and mayonnaise to supply the needs of the Duggar family because the only time she has to organize drawers, closets, and cupboards and actually take stock of their contents is during school breaks. This woman--or the career woman without a family--not experiencing the endless tug of war of home vs. work, might actually sit down once in a while and just breathe.

Superwoman is a myth.  No one can simultaneously fulfill family and professional roles to any high standard.  Something has just got to give.  However, the reality is what it is, so I must find snippets of peace and harmony.  Obviously, knitting is one method to relax, breathe, and stop thinking about to-do lists.  Much has been written about the meditative state knitting produces—perhaps that’s why I look forward to knitting on the weekends as much as my younger self anticipated going to clubs and parties. 
I have one side  of this vest completed (pattern from Kertzer); I need
to finish the other.

This weekend, I am anticipating finishing a baby sweater found in Debbie Bliss’s book Essential Baby Knits.  I’m using Cashmerino to make it and also plan to knit a hat to go along with it.  I’ve also been finishing up my lavender Viveca beret and then it’s back to the black sweater with the lace yoke.  I finished the front, but a baby shower and birthday party (and the requisite hand-knitted gifts to create) necessitated putting some projects on hold.  In the early morning, when my teen and tween are sleeping, and my husband is engaged in his own early morning activities, I will have quiet to knit, rhythmically working away the knots and stresses of my busy week. 
This sweater's soft green color is soothing and peaceful. 

On Saturday night, I plan to go see Love, Loss, and What I Wore, Nora Ephron's humorous play about memorable outfits and the stories that correspond to them.  Perhaps with a lots of knitting, and a little humor, women like me can all find some balance this weekend.   

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Free Pattern - Manhattan Head Wrap

Ironically enough, last weekend, during my visit to Vogue Knitting Live, I found myself on the street in Manhattan  without a hat.  Naturally, I own enough hand-knitted headwear to keep the heads of a football team warm (in a very colorful and eccentric manner, I might add), but I’d only brought one hooded cowl with me to New York and neglected to wear it when  was walking a friend to the Port Authority.  There I was in the nippy January air in Times Square with freezing ears.  Fortunately, every street vendor seemed to be selling cute knitted head wraps (or bands) with crocheted flowers on them.  I bought one, and when I returned home to North Carolina, I attempted to replicate the pattern.  I know that my wrap is not constructed in the puzzling way the one that I purchased was—with funny grafted pieces meeting in the middle of each end—but I was ultimately happy with the results.  I’ve only been knitting for three years, so this simple pattern is a baby step for me, towards developing the skills to create more complex patterns. 

The best thing about this wrap is that it is a true stash buster.  I was able to use about two-thirds of a skein of wonderful Baby Grande Alpaca that had been sitting in a trunk.  I love this yarn—it’s amazingly soft and lofty, but could never find anything I wanted to make using such a small amount. 

There are lots of ways that this band can be altered to add interest, adding a thick cable in the middle, for instance.  I’ll post any future adaptations.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Lost Love and Vogue Knitting Live

(This is the second part of yesterday's post about my recent trip to Vogue Knitting Live)

"Footfalls echo[ed] in the memory/ Down the passage which we did not take/Towards the door we never opened."
                                                                    -T.S. Eliot    

Bleary eyed after waking much too early after a late night out, I headed to the cafĂ© in the lobby, where a friendly Vogue Knitting volunteer chatted with me.  She had an extra ticket for a free continental breakfast and treated me to a meal.  What a nice person and fearless, too.  Recently divorced and 48 years old, she plans to obtain a teaching job—in Brooklyn no less—even though she hasn’t been in the classroom for over 25 years. 

After wishing this woman well, I headed to a class given by Debbie Bliss focusing on using cables and ribs to shape garments.  Bliss was genuine and friendly, and came equipped with samples she let the class try on.  Three hours later I emerged, with two skeins of wool, a triangular swatch (which when replicated in a sweater, would make a stylish peplum), and Bliss’s reminder, “It’s about definition,” in my mind.  I also exited the class with a new sense of how decreasing the space between ribs and even decreasing the cables themselves can shape garments to give them a figure-flattering look. 

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Modeling a Debbie Bliss creation.
Practice swatch I made using cable shaping. 

After a quick lunch, the friend who’d visited me from Massachusetts headed home, and I returned to the Marketplace, where I bought a very reasonable priced kit from Black Sheep and Ewe to make a scarf with Noro yarn.  I saw a bit of a fashion show of Skacel knitwear, too.  Thoroughly tired, and with a frightening realization that I might not have room in my already stuffed carry on bag for my purchases, I then took a break at the Beginner Lounge.  Even though I’m not technically a novice, I was invited by a friendly woman manning a table to sit down and work with some yarn.  Later, Vickie Howell herself came over with a friendly smile and told me to take the yarn and the needles I was working with home with me.  I was also able to listen to most of a panel discussion given by important women who work in the knitting industry.  The owner of Jimmy Beans wool and  Debbie Stoller were among the panelists. 

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Panel discussion featuring key players of the knitterati.

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Model in Skacel show.

Finally, I headed back to my room to face a challenge of the weekend not related to knitting:  preparing for dinner with an old flame I hadn’t seen in 25 years.  After applying every concoction I could find to add moisture to my skin and hair, I put on make-up and a dress and heels.  I was probably a little overdone, but if this weekend was an epic quest, then I, the hero, I was in need of protective armor. 

I first met this man when I was a junior in college.  He was a good-looking, sharp-witted student at a prestigious university who sometimes went by the nickname "The Saint" (a character in a TV show by the same name that starred Roger Moore).  When I first laid eyes on him, my response was visceral.  I was Lavender Brown gooey-eyed over Ron Weasley, or credulous Bridget Jones falling for smooth Daniel Cleaver (over and over).  Marrianne Dashwood also comes to mind when I reflect on my unbridled enthusiasm for this guy.  When I called a drama teacher friend and talked about my this relationship, she responded by reciting love-sick Helena’s words to Demetrius in A Midsummer Night’s Dream:  “I am your spaniel.”  If you know anything about spaniels (and I do because I own a cocker spaniel) they are unwavering in their loyalty to one master, displaying a devotion that verges on obsession.  Many spaniel owners feel as if they have an extra appendage, one which happens to have soulful eyes. 

Marrianne and Willoughby, before the heartache. 

This guy is an attorney now and has been married for twenty years.  (I've been married for 17.) He'd contacted me a couple of years ago, and we'd exchanged pictures of our kids and some short correspondence.  When we shared our reunion dinner together, after 25 years, he told me that he was sorry for his previous callous treatment of me, and I assured him that I was probably equally culpable in forging our skewed prior relationship. 

I won't share all that we talked about, but at one point his conversation did compel me to discuss with him the rewards of fulfilling one’s duty and following the “narrow path” in life.   I talked candidly to my seventy-one-year-old mother on the phone the next day, and her words reflected the practical dispassion of time and experience that I have yet to achieve.  After hearing a recap of my evening, she said, “He sounds like a brat, but I always liked bad boys, too.” 

My much-anticipated dinner ended in fact so early that I was able to return to my hotel room to watch Downton Abbey on PBS. I’m not certain that coming home at the perfect time to watch Lady Mary’s silent suffering over the fact that her love Matthew Crawley is engaged to someone else was exactly a serendipitous coincidence, but the program did remind me that human experiences of the heart are universal. As I sat knitting my hat and watching television, I still couldn't help but mourn the loss of the blind romantic faith of my girlhood.  

Lady Mary and Matthew just have to get together. 

Another red-headed knitter (from Downton Abbey) who
has experienced romantic troubles. 



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This spaniel was relieved to have me home.

It was time to leave the city and return to my real life.  I didn’t have a class or lecture, and the Marketplace was closed, so I packed my belongings—stuffing wads of yarn into a crammed carry-on suitcase and backpack.  I then headed out for a three-hour walk, which included stops at Rockefeller Center, Bloomingdale's, and Saks.  It was a freezing cold day, but the exercise was invigorating.  I returned to the Hilton, checked out and headed to Laguardia.  My flight departed without a hitch, and I was  soon at my house with my family,  where my husband (who, like Marianne’s Colonel Brandon, fell in love at first sight with his future bride) waited with a homecooked meal and a tidy house.  The reassuring familiarity of home welcomed me, but the memories of my educational and enlivening break at Vogue Knitting Live will sustain me during the dull and tedious times of my everyday routine.    

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Visit Home . . . to Vogue Knitting Live

“The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been.”
                                                                         ― Madeleine L'Engle

Ebeneezer Scrooge heard the rattle of Marley’s chains to signal him that he would be haunted by his past.  While I eagerly packed for an anticipated first-time trip to Vogue Knitting Live, I also was faced with a ghost, not a literal one in fetters, but a more figurative one that arrived in the form of a bittersweet sense that I would be coming face to face with my own history.  I was traveling to the city I’d explored as a teenager on visits to my Manhattan-dwelling father, the city where, in my early twenties, I worked  in publishing and then left to pursue a teaching career in North Carolina, and the city to which I hadn’t returned until now--17 years later.  Over the years, traveling there had always seemed prohibitively expensive and impractical, but my passion for all things knitting was ultimately the impetus that removed these obstacles from my consideration. Hence, here is part one of a two-part post presenting highlights not only from my trip to Vogue Knitting Live but also down memory lane.    

Friday, January 13
I was set to teach school all day, and then leave for the airport to catch an evening plane to New York, but I received a call that morning, stating that my flight was cancelled.  Rather than accept the flight offered to me on Saturday, I agreed to fly to snowy Chicago in the afternoon and from there on to NYC.  When I finally arrived at Laguardia—after de-icing delays and one missed flight and a combined nearly 11 hours of travel time—I was delirious with exhaustion, partially due to the fact that my diet the entire day had consisted of Diet Cokes and a small bag of overpriced airline nuts.  Wanting to save my money for the pleasures of yarn purchases, though, I chose to take a local bus to Manhattan and then switch to the subway over paying for an expensive cab ride. 

When the dark bus filled with shadowy figures in equally dark over-sized coats, this tired now North Carolina girl felt a bit like an epic hero on the part of his quest where he must travel to the netherworld (in my case, in search of yarn rather than self-knowledge or fame).  My trip on the local bus through Harlem, though, turned out not to be like some frightening voyage to the Underworld, but, rather, a fascinating experience, one where I was able to soak up some local atmosphere.  One man in his fifties or sixties got on the bus, took a seat behind me, and proceeded to make several booty calls (excuse the slangy diction) to different women.  This guy’s slickness was impressive—he even remembered to wish one of them a happy birthday, before asking her to join him that evening.  His seasoned pitches were hilarious, and my conversation with another jovial older man (whose ragged appearance could not entirely hide the vestiges of what must once have been a very handsome face) made me thankful that I hadn’t returned to my old stomping grounds merely as a tourist but, had rather, seized an opportunity to interact with real New Yorkers.  When I grabbed the subway near Columbia University, I was also able to appreciate some impressive 19th century architecture and still-lit holiday lights. 

After checking in, a quick $15.00 glass of house wine at the Hilton bar (I knew I was in NY then), and a walk to a nearby grocery store for some provisions, I worked on a hat using a free Viveca pattern from Berrocco and then went to sleep around midnight.  

Viveca hat in progress.
Saturday, January 14
Maggiknits Fashion Show

Exhausted, but too hyped up to go back to sleep after I woke up at 5:00 a.m., I worked on my hat for a while, and then joined the already long line of knitters formed in front of the Starbucks in the lobby before its opening time of 7:00 a.m.  Fueled by caffeine, I was ready to participate in the mad rush when the Marketplace opened at 9:00 a.m. and immediately received my early bird rewards:  a free book, entitled Comfort Knitting and Crochet Afghans and a bag of other goodies from Berrocco, by agreeing to try on one of their samples for fit.  I also purchased a Vogue Knitting Live tote bag from the magazine’s booth and then proceeded to enjoy shopping and viewing the exhibits until lecture time. 

Artsy display at entrance to upper-level of Marketplace. 
U.K. Yarn Bombers splashed color over
a pillar in the Marketplace. 

Jo Packham’s lecture at 10:30 was inspiring.  She is a 35-year veteran of the publishing industry, one whose storied career, including producing her brainchild Where Women Create, attests to the fact that stick-with-it-ness is probably the most important criterion to success.  Her insights into getting one’s work published and making a name for oneself as a designer were particularly inspiring to me as I aim for a future career related to my love of knitting.  Her talk also made me wistful for my own time spent working in the industry.   
Cabled dress I think I saw in the last
issue of Vogue Knitting.

Mochimochi Land
After lunch at a French restaurant a few blocks away, I was rejuvenated for more Marketplace shopping, and viewing a fashion show with witty Maggie Jackson showing off her latest Maggiknits designs.    I then met a friend from Massachusetts who came down to spend the night in the city.  I hadn't seen her in nearly a decade.  Her appearance, due to a recent bout with cancer, was  altered, a sobering reminder of years elapsed since we were college girls.  I bolstered my maudlin thoughts about the rapid passage of time with the anticipation of an evening out, though, and we headed downtown on the subway to Sheridan Square.  After an amazingly inexpensive meal in the Village, we sought out Marie’s Crisis, a place my parents used to go back in the fifties, and where my father had taken me when I was in high school.  Barely bigger than the den in my modest suburban home, this piano bar filled with lively and talented customers and staff who sing along to show tunes.  After joining in rousing renditions of numbers such as “One More Day” and “On the Street Where You Live,” my joyful exhilaration (Yes, I am back!) was tinged with remembrances of this nightspot that brought to light the transience of my experiences.  

I went to bed much too late, looking forward to a morning class with Debbie Bliss. 

Look for Part II Tomorrow:  "Lost Love and Vogue Knitting Live" (where I meet Debbie Bliss and have dinner with an old flame)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Socks and the Single Mother

The other day, I was talking with a friend whose unmarried niece recently had a baby.  I was expressing how difficult single motherhood must be for this young woman.  I recalled how, when my children were little, I barely functioned as a rational (let alone presentably groomed) human being, and I had a husband to share in household chores and childcare.  I can remember a time when my younger son was three weeks old and I suffered from an agonizing case of Lyme disease, and could barely walk.  In other instances I was laid low by stomach viruses, fevers, and respiratory infections.  (Note:  Both my husband and I are teachers and our children attended daycare at this time, so we basically lived our lives in a petri dish of infections.)  When I was sick, my husband took up the slack—bathing and feeding our children and keeping the pets fed and the house in order.  At this time in my life, even when I was healthy, as a full-time working mother, there was little time for hobbies such as knitting.  (“Mothers’ Morning Out” doesn’t exist when mom is at work all day, and her weekends are spent cooking, cleaning, and caring for children.)  I learned the hard way that hobbies are, in fact, truly a product of leisure and affluence, and, to me, it seems almost inconceivable that single mothers (especially those without a network of family and friends close by to offer support) have time for knitting. 

It was only when my children were a little older (my two boys are now in middle and high school) and when I secured the services of a twice monthly cleaning service that I actually had a tiny bit of spare time to have a hobby.  At that time, I learned to knit and have been going full force ever since.  This past weekend, however, my husband was ill with a fever and respiratory infection, and I was reminded not only of the days when I didn’t have a moment to spare for myself but also of the difficulty single mothers must have simply running a home and caring for their children, let alone finding time to unwind or pursue personal interests. 

My husband typically begins doing a week’s worth of laundry on Saturday morning, while I am out grocery shopping and completing other errands (some of which sometimes include a drop in at Cottage Yarn for supplies and conversation).  I did my errands as per usual (some of which were related to my trip to Vogue Knitting Live this coming weekend), but my husband slept in a chair all day.  I woke up on Sunday morning to mountains of dirty laundry, so I began to run them through the washer and dryer.  I have a new appreciation for 19th century women and their grueling Monday washing day, because even without the time-consuming necessity of having to boil water or run clothes through a wringer, I started my laundry at 6:00 a.m. and wasn’t done folding and washing a week’s worth of clothes at 6:00 p.m.  Not only was there laundry, after I’d cooked a homemade meal on Sunday, I was left to complete the cleanup tasks solo, with a little help in clearing from my sons.  My boys did some other chores, too, but, ultimately, they have a long way to go before they can rival my husband in housekeeping abilities.  This weekend, I realized that I need to train them to do laundry, but I wasn’t in any mood to have a class.  I teach adolescents English all week, so sometimes rallying up the energy to teach new skills to my own children during my free time just doesn’t happen.  (I also knew that my children would welcome my instruction with as much enthusiasm as the average student greets lessons in grammar and composition in my classroom.)

Needless to say, by the end of this interminable day of washing, cooking, and cleaning up, I was exhausted and very frustrated at what little progress I’d made on my knitting projects.  Naturally, I didn’t touch the spinning wheel all day.  This experience reminds me of how fragile my family’s balance of labor is, and how while I don’t have time during my working day to pursue my knitting passion, I must be thankful, because my time could be more limited than it already is.  I know that I wouldn’t be knitting if I didn’t have a partner to share in the duties of our home and family. 
This is a sweater I hoped to be further along on. 
I included a link to the pattern booklet this
is from in my last blog post.  (Note:  ignore the
cat hair.) 

When my children were little, I longed for “an extra set of hands,” so that I could sew or garden or read on my time off.  This dream didn’t happen.  I had to wait until my children grew older and could use their own hands to dress themselves or make a sandwich.  I can only imagine the stresses and dreams of single mothers who must face the dependent stage of childhood by themselves, especially those who don’t have a grandma or an aunt taking up the slack.  They could certainly benefit from the mental and physical escape of knitting.  Offering inexpensive (or, better yet, free) knitting classes with childcare might not be a bad way for me to contribute to my community.  I just have to find the time.   

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Getting Primed: Vogue Knitting Live

My students and I began our spring semester this week.  For me, the first day was coupled with the onset of yet another nasty virus—one characterized by congestion, exhaustion, and a renewed niggling pain in my ribs.  This discomfort was brought on several weeks ago (before Christmas break) when I was overcome by a violent coughing fit in the midst of my first period class.  I recall being bent double in pain, nearly hacking my brains out onto the floor, as I waved away an urgent student request to "borrow some White Out."   

Mustering up the strength and enthusiasm to teach high school, especially to begin a new school year or new semester (when teachers here have new students and new classes) is a formidable task when one is well, but pair this activity with ill health and the result is a challenge worth of any reality show competition.  Teens, so absorbed in their own trials and tribulations, are often not sympathetic to the mental or physical state of adults.  And, at the beginning of a school year or new semester, first impressions count, so when adolescents are presented with a washed-out, fatigued teacher, the resulting dynamic won’t be good.  Young people have an uncanny ability, sort of like that of wild animals, to smell weakness, and woe to the individual who isn’t physically or mentally up to the challenge of managing a classroom.  I have seen such a scenario in practice, observing substitutes and interim teachers crumble, self-esteem crushed, due to the cruelty of a pack of predatory adolescents, who, scenting fear, banded together and went in for an attack. 

In the midst of summoning up the strength to go back into the classroom while avoiding such a situation, I am also preparing for a trip to Vogue Knitting Live.  This upcoming weekend jaunt was impetus for me to go to Urgent Care two nights ago to arm myself with antibiotics and codeine-laced cough syrup, in the hopes that I will be in fighting shape before embarking on a journey to the frigid North.  I haven’t been in the Manhattan since 1995 (I grew up in NJ and worked in the city for five years), but I do remember that icy January winds sweep down the streets, piercing one to the bone.  Of course, I do have the advantage of possessing an impressive stack of woolly knitwear to arm myself against these blasts.

I haven't worn this over sized cowl/hood yet, to which
I've added an I-cord drawstring (to keep it snugly on),
but even though it's not black and chic,
it should be just the thing for NYC in January.

In the midst of worries about weather and health and about how I can lose 20 pounds in a week (so I will be recognized by an old friend I plan to meet in NY whom I haven’t laid eyes on in over two decades), I received an email yesterday that brightened up this demanding time for me, one that said that I need to bring size eight needles for a class I will be taking with Debbie Bliss.  This bit of correspondence, a bright reminder of this class in shaping knitwear with cables, lifted my spirits when I first read it and made me think, “How amazing is that—a class with the Debbie Bliss?” My curiosity is also piqued even more than it already was when I registered for this class, as I now wonder what kind of yarn we will use.  Luckily, I received a gift certificate to Cottage Yarn from my husband for Christmas, so last week I was able to purchased much-longed-for interchangeable Harmony needles.  I should now have no trouble locating some size eights easily, rather than foraging through storage boxes filled with a mish mash of knitting supplies.
Harmony Needles.  Image from Beautiful Knitting.

I’ve never been to Vogue Knitting Live, nor have I ever had the good sense to plan a plane trip in mid-January, the time each year, like clockwork it seems, North Carolina experiences an ice or snow storm (a storm which sends everyone scampering out for milk and bread and then shuts down the schools and hampers plane travel).  But I will remain positive.  I’ll get better.  The weather will cooperate.  Next week, I’ll rub shoulders with the knitterati and learn some new skills.  I’m come armed with new needles and return home, I hope, with fresh inspiration and renewed spirits to tackle the challenges of both the classroom and my knitting projects. 

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Revolution

No.  The title of this post is not a typo or malapropism. In a quandary about which particular goals, both professional and personal, to pursue this new year, I have settled on a resolution—to attempt to keep my spinning wheel revolving at least once a week . . . or maybe once every two weeks.

As a mother of school-aged children who is employed full-time, adding spinning to my already insane schedule doesn’t make much sense. Doing so seems as practical as a modern mother's deciding to can all her own preserves and vegetables and sew her children's clothes in-between racing to soccer practices and zooming through the drive-through in the evenings (after harried days spent at the office). I’ve had to accept the fact that women in my circumstances just don’t have enough hours in the day to study and practice, to learn the technical aspects of spinning—such as worsted vs. woolen, or short draw vs. long. So I don’t want to set any unreasonable goals in this area.

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This is wool mixed with metallic purple stuff
(kind of like Christmas tinsel). 
I worked on this little bit yesterday.

I have been knitting for three years, and spinning for a year and a half.  I’ve always sewn and also loved cooking, gardening, and other areas of creative expression.  In the past, having to put these things aside, along with any aspirations for a home with any kind of decorating theme or firm sense of order,  has sometimes been painful.  But my enthusiasm and desire to knit and spin, and to further my education in these areas and the lack of time that I have to pursue these passions for long chunks of time each day, has been, for me, a heartrending experience. 

But this blog post is about resolutions, not wistful longings or depressing tirades about time management.  So, rather than lament or be impractical and set monumental goals for the New Year, I will optimistically contrive aims for 2012.  Of course, I understand that I am merely a victim of media brainwashing.  After two months of inundation with cover lines and advertisements seducing me with images of obscenely calorie-laden desserts and expensive electronic gear, now the checkout line magazines and TV shows are impelling me to focus on fitness, stress reduction, order, and balance.  For a few days anyway, I believe such utopia is within my reach, but, ultimately, I have to cede that the world presented by the media is a fantasy, one that makes for much figurative self-flagellation on the part of women who fail to live up to its standards, materially, professionally, personally, etc.

Even though I recognize that setting New Year's resolutions testifies to my easily manipulated, sheep-like nature, I have resolved to eat better and exercise this year.  Yesterday, in a burst of naive enthusiasm, I shopped at Earthfare and tormented my horrified children with a colorful vegetarian meal, including a salad made with cranberries and yellow beets, pasta fagioli (the recipe on the bag of Goya great northern beans is wonderful), and homemade apple sauce.  The pleasures of this fare, which I paired with a wonderful Italian rose wine, were a bit dimmed by the fact that it took nearly two hours for my 11-year-old son to be cajoled (more like coerced with language I can't repeat here) to finish his modest-sized bowl of pasta and beans. 

Aside from inflicting my dietary and fitness goals on my family in the coming year, in the areas of knitting and spinning, I will do the following:

 Use my spinning wheel more often (as discussed above) and maybe take some classes this coming summer, so that I can have a more technical understanding of the process of creating yarn.

Learn how to knit entrelac.  I’m a self-taught knitter, but I think that a course is in order for this skill.  At least at a knitting class, if I turn my cell phone off, I can be assured of a few hours of uninterrupted practice.

Finish the flower pattern I actually designed, graphed, and began knitting.
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Here's a preview of my design.  I'll add a link to the PDF pattern, when
I've finished knitting up the pillow I'm creating.

Do something with the alpaca fleece in the garage (purchased with a deluded sense that, yes, I could fine the time to learn how to card and comb and then spin this huge bag). 
Continue to knit using the stash I purchased in Italy last summer. 
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Detail from poncho I finished yesterday, made
with wool/acrylic blend yarn from a trip I took to Italy. 
Cabled poncho pattern is from Chicks with Sticks.  

Continue to explore how to fit my new enriching new hobby into my personal and professional life. 

Understand that saying no is not a personal failing.  (For instance, I had contemplated having a knitting class for some women at my home last week, but, ultimately, after a bit of a struggle, I decided not to, as rest and precious limited family time seemed more outweighed the effort to clean and plan for a get-together.)

Not be concerned if I reach any of my goals for this year.  As long as my family is thriving and I have the luxury of some time to engage in creative activity, each day is enriched and has moments to savor.