Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Yarn Relief

The Hillsborough Yarn Shop is located on a quaint, downtown street.

Last Wednesday, I caught a snippet of a TV news broadcast, where the anchor discussed the chairperson and CEO of Xerox, a woman named Ursula Burns, who recently revealed that the key to her success is having married a man 20 years her senior.  Burns didn’t cite any attempts on her husband’s part to use money or influence to promote his wife’s career, but, rather, she noted the fact that her spouse was able to retire and stay at home with their kids once her job got more demanding.  As I heard this account, I couldn’t help but acknowledge the sound basis of this successful woman’s statements.
At the time, I was in Chapel Hill, NC, at a two-day conference on the European Union financial crisis.  This event is one of many opportunities I’ve taken advantage of since my husband retired from teaching last June and took over much of our domestic duties.  This school year, for the first time in over a decade, rather than hang my head and grumble when additional duties are presented to my school’s staff or come to me via email, I’ve taken part in workshops, designed an online book study for teachers, and written grants, through which I’ve received materials for my fiber arts club and funds to pay for a trip to England this summer.  I’ve even taken two classes in social media at my local community college and also had time for fun—going on a weekend knitting retreat this past October and attending Vogue Knitting Live in New York this past January.  

While learning about the debt crisis in Cyprus and Greece, the history of
environmentalism in Germany, the effect of referendums on European politics,
and other topics, I worked on this knitted cowl using some alpaca from my stash.
I’ve felt liberated from cooking, cleaning, laundry (although I still help with these duties), and the endless sea of conflicts that used to exist related to coordinating staying home with sick children, attending extra-curricular activities, and scheduling dental and medical appointments as well as home and car repairs.  I’ve been eating well, too, and have been finding time that used to seem nonexistent to walk my dogs when the weather allows. 

But my year-long vacation was interrupted last week, when my mother-in-law made an emergency trip to the hospital and, after five day of tests, received a pacemaker and is now at home in her house in the country.  In addition to my concerns about her health and my wistful sadness at the passing of time, I’ve also been dealing with the reality that my brief respite from struggling to balance home and career in a positive way is suspended for now.  
My husband is busy caring for his mother during the day and is spending much of his time embroiled in all sorts of care-related phone calls and paperwork.  In him, I am also seeing vestiges of the tired high-school teacher he was before he retired.  In addition, last Tuesday, during my mother-in-law’s hospital stay, I tripped over an extension cord in my classroom and sprained my ankle, bad timing as I had to drive 150 miles the next day to Chapel Hill.  
Struggling with the decision to stay home or go brought back all of the overwhelming feelings I used to experience in years past, times when stay-at-home moms used say to me, “I don’t know how you do it,” and I'd think to myself, I'm not doing it very well.  I headed to the conference, however, and found myself feeling like a terribly selfish person when I took some time out for me and stopped in Hillsborough, North Carolina on the way to stop for an early lunch and to check out a yarn shop I’d found online.  Hillsborough Yarn Shop offers an extensive selection of yarn made from natural fibers.  As I’m still technically on a “yarn fast” (at least where yarn for items for me is concerned), I was able to find some wonderful yarn made in Vermont to give to a friend who lives in England.  Unless one goes to fiber festivals, farm shops, or shops online, I’ve learned that it can be really difficult to find yarn made in the US at independent yarn shops—let alone big chain craft stores.   

The yarn in the Hillsborough shop is conveniently arranged by weight.
I paid for my walking around Hillsborough, however, as I woke the next day to find I had an ankle the size of a baseball.  Sitting through sessions all day was uncomfortable, to say the least, and the drive home that afternoon was awful.  But if I needed confirmation of knitting as my drug of choice, I found it when I made a quick stop at Yarns Etc. in Chapel Hill before heading down the road.  Perusing this shop, which stocks some of my favorite yarns, made me forget my ankle pain for a few moments.  Wanting to get home, though, I didn’t spend too much time there but did buy a Rowan book of spring designs and drove to the interstate.  

I was in a hurry to get home when I took this, so I
didn't notice the reflected cars until I got home. 
Further confirmation of need to reduce my stress level this week is the fact that I headed to Costco on Saturday and found myself, instead, at Cottage Yarn, my local yarn store.  I found some Berroco cotton and acrylic blend yarn in a bright pink to make my mother-in-law a shawl and picked up some Debbie Bliss Cashmerino.  The design for the shawl is by Amy Swenson and is from Stitch Red, appropriately a book with a portion of its proceeds going to further women’s heart health.

I finished this shawl for my mother-in-law last night.  The design is very simple and easy to knit up quickly.  I can't believe I completed this in less than a week's time. 

Buying yarn and knitting to deal with pressure must reveal some type of addictive personality, but, as long as I don't indulge in too many luxury yarn sprees, I suppose I should be relieved that I don't turn to destructive methods to cope with the inevitable tensions and difficulties of life. In fact, Tamara Grand in a Gaimlife blog post entitled, "Can Knitting Give You a Runner's High?" asserts that knitting and exercise share a commonality, in that they both "make you feel better and . . . help to ward off depression."  She adds that "they mitigate stress and facilitate better sleep" because both knitting and exercise have an effect on the mood-related neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins.  Grand also discusses how "people immersed in repetitive spacial-motor tasks show remarkable similarities to those engaged in deep meditation."  I'd heard about this connection before, but now have personal proof of its truthfulness. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Knitted Shrug for Lauren

“The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.”
                                                                                      ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

I moved to the Charlotte, North Carolina area to take a teaching job over a little over two decades ago and shortly afterward met my friend Lauren, a woman who possesses seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm for life. She sings in the Opera Carolina chorus as well as in a church choir, travels extensively with her husband, is up on the latest shows and music and happenings about town, has a flair for decorating, works full time at a very demanding job, is a doting aunt and young grandmother, and makes time to comfort and support others. Lauren’s compassionate nature and listening ear have seen me through years of life’s trials, while her genuine praise and glowing compliments have celebrated my triumphs as well.  

Whenever Lauren and I can get together, she always presents me with a goody bag, filled with magazines and brochures related to my interests and thoughtful souvenirs from her trips (items such as scented soaps and stationery that appeal to my penchant for the frilly and Victorian).  Lauren and I have also gone away on a few girls’ weekends together, times when she’s always been good-natured about indulging my desires for where to eat, where to site see, etc.  On one sojourn, she even graciously volunteered to sleep on a small narrow cot and give me the double bed.  On that particular trip, we shared a honeymoon suite, decorated with rose garlands, lots of doilies, and photos of brides and grooms, in a quirky bed and breakfast near Asheville, North Carolina.  (I, of course, was responsible for finding this lodging at a bargain price, but Lauren was a trooper about agreeing to go along with my plans.   She didn’t even seem too fazed when I woke her up at 5:00 a.m. by shutting the door as I left the room to go do some early morning knitting.  And she refrained from making comments to me about the copious amounts of teddy bears and Disney memorabilia that literally covered every available surface in this bed and breakfast that seemed more like someone’s eccentric grandmother’s house.)

Rowan Tweed is a beautiful yarn.  The pattern
calls for Louisa Harding Grace and Grace
beaded, though.  Next time I'll try those.  

The pattern for the "Beauty Shrug" is found in
Louisa Harding's  The
Three Graces. 

A year or two ago I made Lauren a lacy black mohair scarf, but knew I needed to knit something special for her.  I didn’t get much Christmas knitting done this year, but last week I completed this shrug and dropped it off at Lauren’s house.  The yarn is Rowan Tweed, in a DK weight.  The port wine color is rich and beautiful, speckled with bits of black.  The garment design is simple—the item is worked in one piece and then the sleeves are seamed together.  I’m trying to refrain from buying any yarn until Easter, but I know that some beautiful DK weight is first on my shopping list, as I’d like to make a couple more of these shrugs.   

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Greenwood Wrap - Free Knitting Pattern

This wrap has a nice organic look to it.  See below to link to the PDF for this project.  

"Trying to force creativity is never good."
(Note:  I posted this yesterday but accidentally didn't make the link to the pattern public.  I've fixed the problem and the pattern can be accessed now.)
It’s funny how my decision to refrain from buying yarn until Easter has impacted my knitting hobby.  Using materials at hand forces one to be creative, and since my yarn fast I've been motivated to sketch out several of my own designs and actually to knit up a couple of them.  In an effort to foster this type of resourcefulness in students, when I assign three-dimensional projects in my classroom, I always tell my class, “Do not buy anything,” although some individuals have a difficult time grasping the concept of using what’s at hand. 

     I can remember assigning a scrapbook project to a senior English class nearly ten years ago. After choosing a character in a novel he or she had read, each student was supposed to create a scrapbook from the perspective of that character.  I’d shown the students clever and sometimes beautiful scrapbooks crafted by students from my previous school.  These were made with cardboard, fabric, odds and ends of paper, ribbons, etc. I'd hoped these items might inspire them.  After the project was assigned, though, every day, day-after-day, for a couple of weeks, one girl  would come in and grump and grouse about how much money she was going to have to spend on purchasing a scrapbook and items to go in it. Her grumbling would permeate the classroom, the discontent absorbed like spilled milk sopped up by a dish towel, until there was a resounding chorus of complaint in my classroom. The gripe fest would then move beyond the scrapbook project to include other general criticisms. When this wave of dissatisfaction happened, I felt as if I would implode from frustration. 

I wish I could find someone else to model my creations for me,
but here's a look at the wrap on me.  

     Of course, it was my first year at that particular school, and even the most experienced teachers are put to the test by students when trying to navigate unfamiliar territory, while at the same time attempting to establish a professional reputation.  And I bore the added onus of having, at the end of the summer, suddenly replaced a beloved inspirational, yet irreverent, male English teacher.  The unaware students, who'd been so looking forward to being in his class, were not happy to find his eclectically decorated room tidied up--with me in it--on the first day of class.  So it wasn’t just isolated scrapbook moaning that impacted my reaction to the class’s poor response to a project that the students at my other school had loved doing.  

     Finally things came to a head.  One day in a pique of built-up anger, I grabbed some materials I had in my classroom and quickly threw together a book cover.  I must have looked like a red-haired madwoman, as I wielded a glue gun, slammed a cardboard box on a desk,  and shrieked in a shrill voice, “You cut out a rectangle and cover it with fabric or paper!”  I coupled my dialogue with glares in the direction of the girl who instigated the daily effusion of objections. I then proceeded to light into the class with a litany of expressions of outrage that I can't quite recall now.  

     This was an advanced placement class, and my project assignment was not out of line with the expectations of my co-workers for student work.  The other senior English teacher required all of her students to create both a life-size wooden medieval sword and a shield.  My husband spent a long night in our garage using a hand saw to cut out a large circle of plywood for Lara, an exchange student from Germany who was living with us (that same year as the scrapbook incident) and attending the school where I taught.  I know it was after midnight when my frazzled  spouse--vision impaired from his sawdust-speckled glasses--finally staggered inside the house.  Lara was up for several more hours more painting and embellishing the items,  but she actually loved completing the project.  She even dressed up in a medieval costume the next day, in order to earn some extra credit points.  

     Alas, not everyone is a "maker," but Lara's pleasure in completing her project (with some help) was balm to my wounds as was the wonderful cardboard and tinfoil thank-you sign she made for my family before she returned to Frankfurt at the end of the school year.  Not everyone can see the possibilities for transformation in everyday objects, but those who do find immense satisfaction in creating something of value from what's at hand.  

      The day before yesterday I enjoyed creating a simple pattern for a head wrap and knitting it using some yarn I’d purchased last fall.  The wrap is made with bulky yarn, so it works up quickly.  You can access the PDF file HEREI know spring is on its way, but this small wrap is perfect for windy days.  I also know that those of my students who thoughtfully created their books by repurposing found items were ultimately proud of their finished products. 

Friday, March 8, 2013

Charlotte Tam: Free Knitting Pattern

This hat is made from Malabrigo sport-weight yarn. 

Well, it's Friday.  Wednesday came and went and I did not post another “Works in Progress Wednesday,” but I suppose I have an excuse as I was home sick from work for two days (this has been a long, hard winter) and spent a good deal of that time bundled up on the couch working on designing a hat. 

I am a novice designer and am definitely a slow learner when it comes to mathematical calculations.  I also know that there isn't a void in the marketplace for my creation, as there is certainly no scarcity of wonderful knitted hat patterns to be found.  I undertook this project, however, as more of a personal challenge to increase my skill set.  Ideally, I’d like to be able to look at a person, take a few measurements, do a little sketching and some simple math, and be able to set to work to make a garment.  I know that knitters of old were probably able to work this way; of course, most of them probably had needles in their hands from the time that they were little more than knee high. 

I can recall a scene in a book I read years ago that attests to this type of skill. When I was ten or 11, one of my favorite books was a nonfiction work entitled The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig. This story recounts how a young Jewish girl (10 or 11) and her family are deported to Siberia from Poland during World War II. The adults are put to work in a gypsum mine, and the family begins to endure years of terrible privation. In an attempt to earn some extra money, Esther agrees takes on a project--unraveling a rich Russian woman’s dirty old sweater and using the wool to knit her a new one. After taking measurements and spending hours engaged in painstaking work, Esther delivers her finished garment, only to find that it is too small. The woman indifferently informs the Esther that she has recently purchased a cow, whose milk and cheese have made her gain weight. Quiet and resigned, Esther returns home, and, if I recall correctly, she tears out her work and knits the sweater again. I wasn’t a knitter when I read and reread this book, but each time when I came to this part of the story, I was both awed by Esther’s skill and filled with a young person’s strong sense of injustice at the woman’s callousness. At the time, too, the idea of calculating how to knit a sweater fascinated me, even though, at that time, I’d never knit anything.

I knit one of the eight sections in orange
worsted weight to check the math. 

Anyway, I haven’t tackled a sweater design yet, but HERE is a link to my hat pattern in PDF format.   I would love feedback from anyone who makes this hat. I have proofread and edited and checked the math, but I find that it’s much more difficult to check my own work than that of someone else.  If you find a mistake, I'll try my best to send you some yarn.

I also did another in green. 

This lace chart looks so neat here
and certainly doesn't resemble the pages
and pages and pages of mathematical
scribblings I created before putting my final
results into a chart-making program.