Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Free Knitting Pattern: Snow Days Cowl

          I'm in the throes of writing pages and pages of reflections about my teaching along with compiling video clips, documents that serve as "evidence" of professional growth, and student work samples to submit to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in order to renew my National Board Certification.  Let's just say that the 10 or 12 hours I spent this past weekend solving a technical problem related to video submission instructions specifying that videos must be time and date stamped haven't aroused an eagerness in me to sit down in front of the computer during my spare time.  I did, however, write a long diatribe about my computer woes as a form of therapy on Sunday afternoon, but have decided to spare anyone who happens upon this blog the details of the whole mess.  Let's just say that it involved purchasing Chinese software replete with awkwardly written instructions and hieroglyphic commands, calling a techie relative several times who ultimately solved my deciphering difficulties, finally extracting time and date data from a series of videos (this process took roughly six hours), and then returning to my classroom on Monday and noticing one sentence in small print towards the end of the the vast tome of instructions I'd printed out that said that I didn't have to time and date stamp my video if I had a school administrator sign a one-page document found in a series of forms at the end of instructions.  Ugh!

          Anyway, this seems like a good week to avoid long periods of exposure to technology. Short and sweet is definitely appealing right now.  I'm including some simple instructions below to make the cowl shown here.  (I'll post a PDF pattern soon--maybe when I've submitted my Board Renewal stuff.)  A month or so ago, my friend Lauren asked me to make her a cowl and some cuffs.  The cuffs are still on the needles, but the cowl was easily and quickly knit up.  It's a perfect project to do in a couple of snow days spent home from work or school--if one has some time free from writing volumes about the effect of one's professional growth experiences on student learning!  The yarn is Lion Brand Amazing, a worsted weight, and this quick project only takes one skein.  I'm not certain what colorway I used here, but you can go to Lion Brand to check out color options.  

Snow Days Cowl

Materials:  One skein Lion Brand Amazing Yarn, 1.75 ounce, 50 grams, 147 yards, 135 meters; waste yarn for provisional cast on

Tools:  Size 8 US needles; Size J crochet hook

Gauge:  4 stitches per inch in pattern


Using waste yarn and provisional cast-on method, cast on 30 stitches.

Row 1:  K2; *K1, P1; rep from * to 2 stitches before end of row; K2.

Row 2:  P2; *P1, K1; rep from * to 2 stitches before end of row; K2.

Repeat these two rows until cowl is 26 inches long.

Remove provisional cast on and place stitches on size 8 needle

Use a 3-needle bind off to join live stitches on both ends.  Sew in yarn tails.  Block.  

I finally finished this Garter Stitch shawl, a project which uses merely one skein of Noro sock yarn.  Like the cowl, this shawl will be given away to a dear friend.  I hope she likes the vibrant colors.     

Monday, March 17, 2014

Seasons of Love

This Noro sock yarn makes a bright shawl.  

This past Friday night some women I work with headed to uptown Charlotte to go to a bar named Howl at the Moon.  The place is loud, where dueling grand pianos, electric guitars, and drums compete for attention on the stage.  It is also a spot where guests, if they choose, can use long neon straws to slurp cocktails from huge shared plastic buckets, or those less inclined to take part in such communal sipping can gulp down Jello shots.  After a week spent cooped in a trailer teaching teenagers, an evening at this loud bar, filled mostly with twenty-somethings, didn’t appeal to me, so I decided to bow out and spend a quiet Friday evening at home. 

Besides, my thirteen-year-old son needed to choose a Broadway show tune for an audition for a magnet high school he wants to attend next year, so I thought I might rent the movie version of The Producers and see if something from that work struck his fancy.  The show is funny and irreverent, and Will Ferrell is in it, factors that I’d thought might make this work appealing to a thirteen-year-old boy.  After showing a trailer for The Producers to my son, who was slouched on the couch with his hair over his eyes, and after listening to his accompanying derisive comments, I decided to change direction.  No full version of The Producers.  Threatening bodily harm, my husband and I did make James sit through video clips of songs sung by male performers from shows such as Oklahoma, My Fair Lady, Camelot, Rent, A Chorus Line, etc. After an hour subjected to youthful sarcasm and accompanying contorted facial expressions, though, I was convinced that maybe going out wasn’t such a bad idea, even if no song had been selected.  So my husband and I exited in a hurry, trying to shut the door as fast as we could on the teen angst, so that it wouldn’t seep out and follow us into the car.  

The Bradford pears were in bloom this past weekend.

The weather on Friday was mild, and daylight savings time had extended the hours of sunshine.  On dark winter Friday evenings, I can be found at home, knitting while watching something on television, or sometimes I read.  Maybe the fact that spring was in the air, more than my son’s attitude, had prompted this decision to go out. I don’t know.  I was still tired, however, so, rather than head for the city, my husband and I drove to a wine bar in Monroe, a small nearby town.  The tranquil little place, Hilton Vineyard, on quaint South Main Street, was just the medicine for this tired teacher and frazzled mother who can’t figure out how to get an adolescent actor  to sing  “Seasons of Love” or “The Rain in Spain.” 

          Changing my usual routine felt like officially ushering in springtime, although now it’s Monday and the temperature is in the high thirties with rain, so that night seems more like a long-ago prelude to the season, a brief taste of warmer, more relaxing days.  My knitting, too, this past weekend was inspired by spring, as I began work on a top-down T-shirt I’m designing using Patty Lyons’s techniques (learned at a class at Vogue Knitting Live), and I’ve also been plugging away a shawl made with Noro sock yarn—in brilliant colors that seem perfect for high temperatures.  Maybe in a couple of months warm weather will be here, the audition will be over, and I’ll have the energy to drive uptown to Howl at the Moon.  For now, though, working on my lightweight knitting and sipping some of Hilton’s plum wine in the evenings seems the perfect activity to see me through the next few weeks until spring break.  

This is some silk yard I've had in my stash for some time.  This top-down sweater starts with a crew neck.  

Monday, March 10, 2014


This is a cowl I recently completed for a friend.  The simple moss stitch didn't require learning any new techniques.  

Magical periods in life exist, where days just flow and tasks are completed in a seamless way. As a high school teacher, there have been times where I have gone to work, taught, and created lessons, and was so completely absorbed in those activities that each day had a comfortable rhythm.  But now, on a daily basis, attending rounds of meetings, learning new technology, meeting the standards of some new "data-driven" teacher evaluation system, and familiarizing myself with new forms of end-of-year testing interrupt getting into this groove. 

The same phenomenon occurs in knitting, although, unlike in the classroom, such interruptions often occur as the result of personal choice.  This past weekend I experienced this occurrence when I decided to cast on a hat, envisioning immediate gratification.

This book is an excellent resource for learning new techniques.  

I'd found the pattern several weeks ago, when school was closed because of heavy snowfall.  I used some of my time off to sort out my yarn stash, and I also looked through some books in my knitting library. In Knitting Masterclass, I discovered a pattern that calls for the same weight Jamieson's Shetland that I bought in Oxford last summer. I had a couple of skeins left over from making a shawl.  On Saturday, I woke up around 3:00 a.m. (ugh) and couldn't go back to sleep, so I decided to cast on. I'd assumed that working this hat would be easy and that it was included in the book in conjunction with a lesson dealing with knitting lace (a skill with which I already have some experience). When I sat down to read the pattern closely, though, I noticed that it calls for a tubular cast on--a technique that requires using waste yarn to cast on and then changing to the main color and picking up stitches on the wrong side.  

I could have taken the easy route.  A hat doesn't have to have this type of edge.  But, apparently, the cast on edge would be both "stretchy" and "invisible," at least according to the book, one which contains tutorials for knitting techniques beyond the ordinary knit, purl, etc.  (This volume also contains appealing knitting patterns incorporating these techniques. I'm itching to knit several items I've seen, especially a scarf with a color-work Celtic knot design.)  So I decided to learn something new, and, ultimately, after some studying and then taking a break, I had a cast-on band, although it wasn't finished until much later in the day.  

Here is my tubular cast on, along with a glimpse of the finished product.  

In the same manner, last week, a new task at school slowed me down a bit.  I'd  prepared for and then underwent a peer review visit--where a team of nine educators and administrators from other schools observed in my classroom and then reported back to me and the school administration.  Following a strict protocol, the visiting team sat in a circle with me in a conference room, where they shared "I saw . . . " and "I wonder . . . " statements.  This interruption in the flow of teaching, grading, and planning was unnerving and seemed to confirm that the arrival of a time to rest on my laurels, reaping the rewards of practice and experience, is just a pipe dream. 

While last week was a trying one, the near 70 degree temperatures this past weekend helped ease some tension.  I snapped this while walking my two dogs.  (It's not the best image, but it's difficult to get a good shot with a huge Labrador mix tugging at the leash.)

I'm not certain if reaching that status is as unattainable in knitting as it seems to be in teaching.  The benefits of experience are self-evident to anyone who has ever asked for help from an accomplished lifetime knitter. These individuals have achieved mastery and typically the respect that comes with it.  If experience truly is "the teacher of all things" (Julius Caesar), shouldn't we all reach a point of mastery in our work and even in our personal lives?  Maybe I'll know the answer to that question years down the road.  For now, I guess I'll have to keep learning new things.  

I finished another top-down sweater using a pattern I designed.  Shaping a sweater to fit
 is a technique I am happy that I learned--even if the math to do so is challenging.
The front waistline darts and side hip shaping are shown here. 

These Downton Abbey-inspired fabric squares were sent to me by my blogger friend, Mrs. Thomasina Tittlemouse, along with the pattern to make "knickers" from Trixie Lixie (a fabric store in the U.K).  I unearthed my sewing machine and serger this past weekend, but probably won't get to work on these projects (the "knickers" and maybe a bag from the squares).  Even though this is officially a knitting blog, I will share my results here.  I am so blessed to have a friend who is so thoughtful and generous.  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Done or Perfect?

I rode my bike around my neighborhood today--a perfect Sunday afternoon.  (A neighbor gave me this vintage bike when she was cleaning out her garage.)  

The other day I saw the words, "Better Done than Good," posted on Facebook by writer Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame).  Gilbert also added a brief excerpt from an interview where she discusses how this maxim has helped her in a profession where she puts herself in the vulnerable position of sharing her creative work with the public and is, therefore, always open to criticism. Gilbert's post got me thinking.  I did some searching online and found lots of references to "Better done than perfect" (rather than better done than good), but however one says this phrase, the meaning is the same.  

In many ways I fancy myself a perfectionist, but I am also hyper-sensitive to deadlines. When I used to be a yearbook adviser, I was a tyrant about page submission dates and exacting about content--spending hours and hours at home, just tweaking a photo or checking and rechecking and rechecking for errors, inconsistencies, or omissions in text. This practice was certainly damaging to my personal life but beneficial to a quality finished product.  When working on a team at school, though, I am aware that my peers often view tasks as things to "done," so that accomplishments can be checked off on a list to submit to higher-ups, so I have the nagging suspicion (more like confirmed conclusion) that I am a source of annoyance when suggesting ways to make things better. So I'm stuck.  Which is preferable?  Getting things done?  Or getting things done well?

I rushed to get this head-wrap finished to give to Genny, a co-worker for her birthday, which my school's faculty celebrated this past Friday.   With a time crunch, small projects like this are the way to go.  That way, they can be done and still good, too.  (This is my Manhattan Head wrap, found on my Free Patterns page.)

When I think about this question in light of the Gilbert's discussion, I realize that this sense of putting myself out there leads to perfectionism . . . and sometimes anxiety.  I am not alone.  I had coffee with a teacher friend yesterday, a woman who spends hours and hours every weekend reading curriculum and analyzing student data.  She also spends tons of money she doesn't have on materials for her students.  She worries constantly  about whether she is a good enough teacher and whether she will get fired, even though she has worked wonders with a class of third-graders from poverty-stricken homes. We like to get together and share our woes.  When she and I talk, our words probably sound like something from a Woody Allen movie, one where characters parse words and over-analyze every nuance of their behavior or, in our cases, also continually list items on our to-do lists.  

Something needs to give for both of us.  The warm weather today here in the South reminds me of that fact.  I hung laundry on the line today, enjoying the mild breezes. I rode my bike, and then sat outside with my husband and savored a frozen yogurt with hot fudge sauce. I also knit some on my next top-down sweater. It's the second top-down raglan I've worked on since January 17, and it's my own design.  I'm in a rush to get it finished, so that I can start some lighter, summery projects.  Right now, I don't have an answer to the good vs. done conundrum (but would enjoy reading some other people's opinions on this matter), so for now I'm just racing along, knitting, tearing out, redoing--in an effort to make this sweater done and maybe not perfect . . . but pretty good.  

Even though spring seemed to arrive this weekend, freezing temperatures are predicted for later this week.  Maybe I can finish this and wear it before the fall.  I'm using Malabrigo Worsted (Azul Profundo).  

This statue is in my neighborhood.  Just had to share, as I like the posting of different virtues
on each side.

I bought ten skeins of this DK weight yarn on Saturday.  It was $5.49 a skein, with 40% off.  I'm trying not buy yarn but couldn't resist.  I'd love to make a sweater for Saint Patrick's Day with this, but can't put myself through deadline stress.