Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bridging the Continental Divide

This past Saturday dawned sunny and warm.  Springtime, early this year, was  displaying her full riot of color and greenery, along with her overgrown weeds.  I should have spent my morning trying to bring some order to my flower beds or cleaning my neglected, dingy patio furniture.  Doing yard work, however, didn't have the siren call of a much-needed escape to a knitting class.  As a full-time working mother, I haven't participated in much formal knitting instruction, but curiosity about the continental style and a convenient weekend class offered at my local yarn store won out over yard and household chores.  I, therefore, hastily made some pancakes for my sons and headed over to Cottage Yarn, a shop in Mint Hill, NC.

There, Michelle, one of the store’s knowledgeable employees and knitting teachers, coached me in how to knit in the continental style.  While holding the yarn in my left hand initially felt awkward, I have to say that I could almost immediately see the benefits of this style of knitting, which (when the knitter comfortably masters the technique) allows for faster completion of projects due to fewer required hand movements.  Continental also allows for much easier maneuvering between knit and purl stitches, as it eliminates “throwing” the yarn back and forth with the right hand.  This method is also wonderful for left-handed knitters, such as Michelle, who explained that it eliminates the confusion of the left-handed “mirror image” technique which doesn’t match up with knitting patterns. 

Image from The Learning Channel.

I enjoyed spending time working on this new skill in the recently painted and redecorated sun porch of the old cottage.  As I attempted knitting, purling, and yarn overs in the continental manner, I made some of the same mistakes novice knitters do, including slipping stitches and creating unwanted extra stitches, but, after practicing a bit at home on Sunday, I am beginning to develop a more fluid and accurate style.  Contemplating switching my knitting method is a bit daunting, but, ultimately, the idea of speed and easier purling and ribbing may win me over, so much so that I plan to knit a ribbed cape using the continental method.  Using this mode of knitting will facilitate a speedier creation of this garment (provided I practice enough to loosen up my now tightly clenched novice hands a bit when I use this technique). 

Since I started knitting a little over three years ago, visiting this cozy and inviting store in Mint Hill, NC has provided me with numerous brief respites from my weekend chores.  (Cottage Yarn's website aptly sums up the store's atmosphere:  "The Place Where Everyone Feels At Home!" ) The shop's owner, Sara Furr, and her staff are always pleasant and obliging, and the environment of the store is so cozy and welcoming, that I find myself releasing the tension of the work week when I enter its door.  What makes these visits not only soothing but also interesting, as well as appealing to the senses, is that there is always something new to see—some display of new yarn or knit-up samples arranged in an aesthetically pleasing manner.

Pretty shawl for springtime.
This Spud and Chloe yarn is a wonderful mixture of cotton and
wool.  I'm going to start working on Spud (the lamb) soon.

Other samples on display.

This yarn looks interesting.  I'll have to go back and buy
some for a bright spring scarf or shawl.

On most weekends, I am so caught up in the hustle and bustle of household responsibilities--ones that are typically ignored during my hectic, over scheduled week--that I rarely sit down until dinnertime. Learning a new skill not only provided me with a challenge, but also with an opportunity to sit, clear my mind, and enjoy the tranquility of pleasant company and a soothing environment.

There is yarn for sale in different rooms of the cottage, as well
as seats available to use to sit and knit awhile. 

Monday, March 26, 2012

Thank You, Knit Grrl

I returned home from a knitting class on Saturday morning to find that the Jordana Paige knitting bag I'd won in a contest sponsored by Knit Grrl had finally arrived.  I promptly filled it with some Spud and Chloe yarn and a pattern for an adorable lamb. 

This has been a hectic time as I am planning a large knitting class/luncheon at my house this coming weekend.  I did, however, take time out of cleaning to take a class in continental knitting at Cottage Yarn.  I'll write more about this experience and this great knitting shop later this week. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Charlotte's Booties: Vintage Knitting Pattern

Charlotte Letitia Bawden
Last year, an aunt gave me a copy of a knitting pattern that belonged to my great-grandmother, Charlotte Letitia Bawden.  I never knew my great-grandmother, but have heard that not only was she an avid knitter, but, like women of her times, she also tatted, crocheted, and sewed.  Her dauther Ruth (my grandmother) was also adept at creating garments and was a highly skilled seamstress.  (I don't know if my grandmother knitted, but she did teach me to crochet when I was around seven or eight years old.  I can recall happily using my new skills to make slippers and dollhouse rugs.) 

Picture of my grandmother taken in Middletown, NJ,
when this area was a bucolic locale. 

As I am not schooled in updating vintage patterns, I have typed this pattern here almost verbatim.  (I changed a few spelling inconsistencies but, otherwise, left non-standard punctuation and capitalization.)  I am going to attempt to make this pattern and would love any assistance or pictures (if a brave soul is able to use this pattern to create actual booties).  If someone can rewrite this pattern, creating modern instructions, I'd be happy to send you some baby yarn as a thank you.   

2 thread fm top
three thread slipper
any color

Set up on four needles - 48 stitches - (16 on each of three needles) work two rounds plain knitting beginning first needles - throw strand yarn over, knit two together - all round  (for top of sock in white).  Leaving Then plain knit one - pearl one all around this completes first row of holes.  Repeat until there are 12 rows of holes.  Knit two rows plain then break off white and commence little slipper attach with color knit one row plain, then one row pearl, this makes little ridge, knit plain three rows then make row of holes for ribbon.  This you do by throwing thread over needle knit two together one stitch plain between until you have completed row of holes - then knit three plain rows then pearl row this completes little strap.  Knit three plain On two needles commence heel.  Knit three plain then rib until you have 7 ribs narrow heels, bind off heel together.

On front needles begin white and knit row of holes like top until you have 7 rows of holes, knit back plain break off white, leaving front needles - then with two needles pick up the stitches on two needles and knit as heel until you have five rows of ribs.  Continue until you can knit across the white of top and finish toe with 6 rows of ribs - bind off toe as any sock - finish top with little crochet.

Narrow toe until you have nine stitches.  Narrow fourth row on end with first and last two stitches - To narrow the toe first side knit two stitches the other side knit one slip 1 stitch, knit the next, then bind this last stitch off

on first needle at the end within three stitches knit two together knit one.  On second needle knit one slip one knit one.  P.S.S.O knit one the third needle the same then after each row knit one row all around. 

Charlotte on her wedding day. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Stitch in Time

Click here to learn how to knit this clock cover. 

Real Simple magazine’s April 2012 issue deals with a topic that I find myself returning to in my blog: time. In the magazine, in her editor's note, Kristin Van Ogtrop discusses how completing an endless stream of chores at home has been found to produce increased cortisol levels in women.  Some of these tasks include meeting current expectations for parenting. As a full-time working mother, I have often lived under the shadow of guilt, not only for leaving my children in the care of others, but also for my unwillingness or, perhaps, more precisely, my physical and emotional inability, to live up to the “helicopter mom” standards that have been so in vogue.

Several years ago, in addition to my teaching job, I served as the yearbook editor of a school with over 1,600 students (a role which included running ad sales, organizing fundraising events, scheduling portraits and athletic photos, as well as constantly taking phone calls or answering emails from parents).  At this time, I began to resent the homework my sons’ teachers sent home for me to do.  Almost every evening there was an activity that my younger son, who was five or six at the time, could not seem to complete by himself—measuring the length of our den, for instance, or graphing the heights of both humans and animals in the family.  Additionally, his older brother had complex assignments, which, when left to himself to accomplish, were completed rather shoddily.  Coming home in the evening from our high school teaching jobs, for my husband and me, was not a welcoming respite--to regroup, to nest, to nurture, to bond--but, rather, a time to be assaulted with  yet another to-do list. 

This is a photo from a family collection. I wonder if these
women ever had time to relax as they are doing here, or
are they merely posing?

The article in Real Simple highlights the necessity for women to find time to unwind and relax, free from interruptions and chores in the evening.  When my children were little, I was faced with the fact that I could not function well at work or at home if I spent the few hours I had at home acting as my sons’ teacher or doing laundry or cleaning.  I wasn’t a knitter at that time, but after dinner and baths each night, I spent an hour or so lost in novels and magazines.  As a result, my children sometimes lived with consequences for my failure to keep up with their schoolwork.  For instance, when my younger son was in the first grade he forfeited field day and its ice cream because he hadn’t turned in a reading log with its requisite daily parental signatures.  (This item was probably buried in its blank state of the bottom of his bookbag.)  I can only imagine how children who are raised by non-English speaking parents fare with such expectations.

This is a knitting blog, however, and my ramblings about time do relate to this subject.  Even though other working mothers tell me they don’t have the time for such an activity, for a little over three years now, I have been knitting every day.  As I carve out time for this hobby, I have seen how I have become a more relaxed, healthier person.  But making this decision for “me time,” like all choices, means sacrifices in other areas.  I hire someone to clean, even though our family budget really doesn't allow for this luxury.  And while I do ferry my boys to a round of athletic activities and tutoring, I am also not the model homework coach or parent volunteer. 

The most recent project to occupy my time--Natalie Mitts from the latest
edition of Interweave Knits magazine.

Each day I encounter plenty of women who are on call round the clock, examining the contents of their children’s backpacks every night, checking class websites and completed homework papers, volunteering at athletic events, acting as Girl Scout troop leaders, teaching Sunday school, etc.  When I review each of these women’s schedules, I say to myself the familiar line (and the name of a novel and a movie), “I don’t know how she does it.” 

Viewing other women’s jam-packed schedules also makes me wonder.  Is the fact that I spend time outside of work knitting, cooking, reading, gardening, and browsing yarn stores or attending fiber events detrimental to two boys?  Boys who have no interest in any of my hobbies?  I don’t know.  For the most part, for hundreds of years parents had their adult sphere of activities and children their own.  Is the fact that I sit knitting while my older son is at football practice and the younger builds Lego creating an unhealthy family dynamic? 

Click here to sign up for Real Simple's Fourteen Days
of Delegating newsletter.

Ultimately, I have to have faith, and say, “I can’t be certain. But I won't be whole and happy if I live any other way.” Maybe my kids won’t go to Harvard because I have allowed them to live with the consequences for their academic mistakes. But, on the other hand, some awfully successfully and happy people, have had childhoods without the constant hyper-attentive parenting styles of today. The idea that a parent’s job is to provide a roof and to put food on the table might seem harsh in our current era of parental protection and hovering, but what toll does the other extreme take on a mother or a father and, ultimately, the entire family?

For me, along with working and parenting, I will keep knitting.    My boys like the fact that if I’m off at some fiber event, they will probably be allowed more video game time and that, even though my husband does cook many meals, there is a higher likelihood of their enjoying fast food burgers.  With the uncanny wisdom of young people, they recognize that invasive control isn’t fun and that vigilance and happiness make strange bedfellows. Along the way, they might also gain some skills in self-reliance and responsibility.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Defusing the Stress Bomb

Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is a nobler art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.
Lin Yutang

Friday night, I impatiently worked on a rectangular piece of knitting with a large pink flower in the middle.   I was hoping to finish this item, affix it to a pillow backing, and post a pattern for it here--as well as a photograph.   I'd also initiated an unsuccessful sweater recycling project that night.  Spin-off magazine’s most recent issue contains a comprehensive article about using a spinning wheel to unravel and wind yarn from a sweater.  The results displayed in the magazine are gorgeous.  Unfortunately, the two sweaters I’d bought at Goodwill were made of yarn that stubbornly refused to unwind, so I ended up paying $8.99 for a cute set of rhinestone buttons I salvaged.   

Saturday morning dawned sunny and clear.  After spending some time knitting the pillow top and making some progress on the item I am making for Subway Knits Downton Abbey exchange, I headed out in the morning  for a 9:00 a.m. haircut and to  run a few errands.  I found an incredible bargain and was able to pick up 14 sets of Wrights size 10 bamboo knitting needles for less than $11.00 total at Tuesday Morning as well as four skeins of 100% wool Universal Yarn, which was also very inexpensive.  I am planning a small "Knit and Learn" gathering at my house in a couple weeks, so I was happy to have obtained yarn and the needles for  participants to use if they show up emptyhanded.  The teenagers in my my Fiber Arts Club at the school where I teach can also use the needles.

Here are the needles I bought.  This container was
dug up, along with other 19th century refuse, in the
woods behind the house where I grew up in New Jersey. 
After I scored such an incredible deal on the needles (which would cost well over $100 dollars at their regular retail price), I was feeling quite satisfied with bargain hunting skills, but the pressure I’d put on myself to stay home to work on my flower pillow hadn’t dissipated.  Despite this unfinished project looming in my mind, I decided not to go home to knit, but to go to Trader Joe's, since I was in the vicinity of this store.  For those who aren’t familiar with this name, Trader Joe's is a chain of discount grocery stores with a fun, offbeat atmosphere and lots of high quality food.   People drive from all over to buy the company’s fresh and frozen food and Charles Shaw or “Two-Buck Chuck” wines. 
The red is a cheerful color!

I parked my car in the always packed, too small lot by the small strip mall that houses the store.  When I approached the sidewalk in front of Trader Joe's, I had to smile when I saw that someone (or some people) had yarn bombed a bicycle rack in front, as well as the handle to the adjoining bread store.  The sight of the yarn-bombed items cheered my spirits immensely.  I breathed out a bit and, for the first time that day,  took note of the sunny skies and mild temperature.   Perhaps this sighting was some type of message, I mused, some indication that I didn’t need to make knitting a job with rigid deadlines on my weekends. 
With such an inviting door handle, I had
to go in and buy some cinnamon bread.   

Oddly enough, I didn’t see the yarn as a reminder that I needed to get home and finish my pillow (or do laundry).  Instead, I returned home, walked over to a neighbor’s where I enjoyed several cups of tea, cooked a dinner with my Trader Joe’s purchases, and settled in to my typical relaxed evening knitting—alternating between my pillow project and my Downton Abbey inspired piece.  Thank you, Yarn Bombers, whoever you are for reminding me that taking the time to play a little bit can renew our optimism and creativity. 
Late Saturday afternoon, I relaxed a bit winding yarn I'd bought earlier
that day.  I'm not sure I love the color, but it will work to teach knitting.
$3.99 a skein for Universal Wool--not a bad deal. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Throw Me a Lifeline

“With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown.”
                                          -Chinese Proverb

Objective:  Create a Downton Abbey inspired piece of knitting for an exchange sponsored by Subway Knits.

Recently, through Ravelry, I signed on to take part in a knitting exchange.  This podcast event pairs two of my favorite things:  knitting and the  BBC costume drama, Downton Abbey.  After much rumination about what to create, I decided to take on an ambitious “expert” pattern from a holiday 2009 issue of Vogue Knitting magazine.  The pattern, despite including circular lace medallions, really didn’t seem to be look too difficult.  It asks the knitter to create two large medallions and two small, join each small round to a large one at several points, fold the joined pieces in half and sew together. 

Image of lace medallion mitts
from Vogue Knitting Holiday 2009.  I
will attempt to tackle this project again
this summer, when I'm well-rested. 

The problem arose when I tried to cast on this piece on a Friday night, after a typically busy school week, a week which included teaching full time every day and running around to my children’s extra-curricular activities in the evenings.  I had some Debbie Bliss Cashmerino in my stash and a set of double-pointed needles.  As I cast on I wondered what cruel taskmistress didn’t include at least one row of knitting or purling before asking me to do increases using four or five needles and starting with only five tiny stitches.  After a couple of glasses of red wine (obviously not a good idea) I made some progress, but basically spent three hours struggling and ripping out.

This diagram shows how the medallions are joined. 

I dug in my heels.  I would prevail against this test.  I would prove myself able to tackle an expert knitting pattern.  At around midnight, with a sharp cramp running down my sciatic nerve and aching fingers, and experiencing a fugue, I had completed 17 rounds of a 21 row medallion. Overwhelmed with fatigue, I crawled into bed.  When I woke at around 5:30 the next morning, I still felt tired and hurting, not recovered from the physical and mental exhaustion of the night before.  I knew that I should do something else, housework maybe?  But contradicting my instincts (of course, I can’t say that doing housework is ever an “instinct”), I picked up my knitting bag, containing the ill-fated project, knit a round or two and realized that my count was off. 

I won’t repeat the words that exploded from my mouth at this time.  Since I’d been impatient and perhaps a bit too self-assured, I hadn’t used a lifeline.  After a couple of hours of attempting to rework the medallion, I ended up with a pile of squiggly Cashmerino all over the bed.  Even though I’m a huge Debbie Bliss fan and have made several items with Baby Cashmerino, after this turn of events, I needed to step away from this yarn for a while.  I decided I’d been conquered and contrived Plan B.

I love this yarn, but have to put it away for awhile. 

As I’d just made a huge purchase last week at Cottage Yarn, a wonderful knitting shop about eight miles from my house, and didn’t want Sara, the owner, to think that I’m obsessed (a ridiculous notion, of course), I decided to take a longer drive to The Yarn Shop by Rainy Day Creations, a large store with knitting and spinning supplies in Pineville, NC.  The woman who helped me was very kind, probably sensing my desperation as  I burst into the shop, pouring out the account of my traumatic experience.  She helped me to look for some yarn to attempt the project again, but, ultimately, relieved and happy, I exited the store with yarn, beads, and a package of special needles (to make threading beads easier) to make another project, one that definitely evokes a Downton Abbey feel with its lovely color and beadwork. 


The beads on sale at Rainy Day Creations inspired me to use some materials I had at home to make these stitch markers. 

I was really tired by the time I returned home after doing some other errands, including a stop at Tuesday Morning where I found some great bamboo knitting needles and felting templates dirt cheap (around $1.99).  I sat down and happily strung the beads after a frustrating few minutes trying to find the “eye” discussed on the needle package.  (I’d never used beading in my knitting before, so this special needle the shop owner recommended presented a conundrum to me.)  The needle had two points on either end, but no visible eye.  In the manner of Ada Doom in Cold Comfort Farm (a great BBC film based on a humorous novel by Stella Gibbons), I screamed, “I shall go mad,” as I tried to “twist” the needle per the package instructions or “insert fingernail” into the nonexistent eye.  Finally, I realized that there was indeed a slit in the middle of the needle.  The middle! 

I happily knit and beaded and ended up with several rounds of a beautiful leafy lace pattern banded by a row of beads.  I can’t say what the project is here, however, in case my Downton Abbey knitting partner is one of the five or so people who happen upon this blog each week.

I was using size 5 double-pointed needles.  After I’d knitted an inch or so, I noticed that my project looked large.  Really large.  I had arrived at the circle of hell where Dante sends wayward knitters.  I looked back at the pattern, which read,  “Size 1 (2.25 mm):  set of 5 double-pointed needles (dpn).”  Size 1!  Size 1!  Five size 1 needles, not 1 set of size 5!!!! 

Fortuitously, I did have a set of size 1 circular needles with a long cord.  I decided to forgo double-pointed needles and use the magic loop technique.  Ultimately, after what amounted to at least 10 hours of toil over two days, I had nearly a half an inch of a beautiful, delicate, very Edwardian project.  Whew!

Today, I have several inches.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll slow down and thread a lifeline through a round.  For right now, I’ve got to keep knitting.

Hint:  The item I'm making would match Maggie Smith's outfit perfectly.  I found this picture on a great Jane Austen
blog that also includes lots of Downton Abbey information.  Click here to go there.