Back to Basics

This is a peak at my sweater in progress.

     Every so often I see an exclamatory statement about knitting posted on Facebook:  "I hate ribbing!" or "I can't stand sewing/seaming my knitting!" When I see such assertions, I am always a bit taken aback, as they make me question the extent of my obsession with my hobby.  I love knitting, so much so that I view every aspect of it as a challenge over which I must be victorious.  Steeking, seaming, swatching--perhaps not exactly fun, but, when I attempt these skills, they are approached by me with discipline and determination.  Of course, the enemy that always lays in wait in the background is impatience.

     When I start a project, I want it FINISHED!  It is so tempting to cut corners--not swatch, not study ALL of the directions first, not go back right away to fix a mistake that my intuition tells me will matter very much later on in my project--so much that I end up tearing out numerous rows to right it.  But I'm learning from the past and trying to focus on details. In the area of knitting trying to up one's game in this manner means aiming for accuracy, neatness, and aesthetic appeal.  And, as I tell my students in my English classes,  a person can't be truly accomplished in any area of activity without first mastering the basics.  (But the basics aren't much fun!  I'd rather discuss novels or life with my students than drill them in grammar.)

     So I have been working doggedly for a couple of weeks now to knit up a sweater pattern I created using my measurements.  This is not a fancy sweater.  This is your basic stockinette stitch garment. But, like so many simple things, when executed properly, it is beginning to have great appeal--sort of an understated classic look--not exactly elegance, but style none-the-less.

     In the same way, sometimes great food is the result of simple attention to detail.  I recently followed a cupcake recipe from the Magnolia Bakery--in an attempt to recreate the delicious cupcake I'd purchased there for my fiftieth birthday treat.  I'd noticed something unusual when I'd eaten this item. It was wasn't as air-filled as some cupcakes and lacked the typical dome-shaped top.  It was a bit flattened, and the top had a delicious buttery, slightly dense, almost crunchy texture.

I made sure my eggs were room temperature and my butter wasn't too hard!  Patience certainly is a virtue--and, like so many other traits worthy of praise, presents a challenge to impetuous and impulsive souls like me.  

This is the top of the baked cupcake--so buttery good.  

     The recipe I used called for two types of flour--self-rising and basic. Yesterday, a week after I experimented with the recipe, I caught a few minutes of The Splendid Table on NPR and listened as the host discussed biscuits with a southern chef.  The chef discussed the importance of using southern self-rising flour in the biscuits, as this flour is the product of winter wheat and, therefore, has a lower gluten content than plain old flour, which, here in the US, is grown in the winter--typically in the Midwest and Northeast. This flour results in baked goods that are a bit denser than those made with all-purpose flour.  It is also more similar to the product early settlers here in the South found back in England and Scotland.  

My cupcake photos were overexposed--a problem I didn't notice until the cupcakes were already eaten!  Tried to play around a bit with this photo to make it presentable.

     The fact that the cupcake recipe didn't call for any additional leavening ingredients and mixed all-purpose and self-rising flours resulted in my cupcakes having a similar consistency and appearance to those at the Magnolia Bakery--as did the fact that I carefully followed other directions--making sure that my eggs were room temperature and that I mixed the ingredients in the manner suggested.  The fact that I used the entire pound (!!!)  of butter and more than seven cups (!!!) of sugar called for to make the batter and icing also contributed to a superior end product.  

This beautiful scarf is a birthday present from Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse.  Her work reveals careful attention to detail and sense of aesthetics.  She used Liberty Lawn for the lining and Jamieson's Tweed for the front of the scarf.  Check out her blog to see more of her beautiful crocheted--and culinary--creations.  

     So whether knitting or cooking, my experiments have yielded some important lessons.  Acting methodically is  well worth the effort. Although, if I'm honest, I still struggle.  And while I can't say that I "hate" any aspects of knitting, slowing down while not getting carried away in a surge to finish a project requires such painful self-control. As my students race ahead, turning in final essays, which are more like rough first drafts, typed hastily in the wee hours the night before deadline day, I have to temper my irritation and remember that it's taken me years to develop patience and discipline.  And still, sometimes in a rush of enthusiasm--or irritation with tasks I view in the manner my students view essays--I ignore my own advice and end up working twice as hard to tear out mistakes or to explain why my bread didn't rise or my cookie batter (too soft as a result of microwaving frozen butter rather than patiently waiting for it to soften) runs all over the cookies sheet while it bakes into a paper-thin contiguous mass.  

So I'll continue on--trying to focus on details.  Of course, in my pattern-writing haste, I did miscalculate my sleeve decreases, so today I'll be tearing out a bit and experimenting with using a smaller-sized needle for the ribbing. I should do a swatch first.  But it might be faster to just experiment on the sleeve itself.  I can always tear out my work again, if the gauge isn't quite right.  

Mrs. T's gift-wrapping is a work of art as well.


  1. You are so much more meticulous and painstaking than me, Liz! I never, never swatch things and I know I should but when it comes to it I am so impatient to get stuck in that I charge in anyway! This may explain the uneasy relationship I have with knitting and why crochet which is a bit more forgiving of unravelling suits me better! Perhaps I should read, mark and inwardly digest that! So lovely to see your birthday parcel has arrived all intact at its destination! Have got a bit behind with blogging this week as have been looking after a friend who has broken her ankle rather spectacularly. Another reminder to me to be patient and not rush about like a mad thing! E xx


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