The power of quiet

When I was a child, I was known as a day-dreamer. I spent most of my time wrapped up in a fantasy world, often with my head in a book, but just as often not. I could spend many hours happily in my own company, and rarely felt lonely. I took up handicrafts very early, in the beginning mostly embroidery, needlepoint, weaving, macrame, and ceramics, later mostly knitting.

I know that I enjoy the creative aspects of craft; it fills up a very important place in my psyche. But from a very early age I was also aware of the peaceful aspects of handicrafts, especially ones with repetitive motions, like knitting. I liked being in my head while engaging in the creative process. It is restorative, like meditation or yoga. Looking back on it now, I think that maybe there was more to it: being in your head makes people uncomfortable. The saying “idle hands make idle minds” may not be said all that often anymore but I think it invaded much of the philosophy of child-rearing when I was young. If I was caught day-dreaming, that was bad – it showed me to be a dreamer (and not in a good way). If I was caught knitting, regardless of the fact that I was just as much in my head, I was seen to be industrious and creative.

This reminds me of a story my husband tells. As a young man he worked in a paper mill in the summer. As he tells it, if you took a break to smoke a cigarette, this was acceptable.  You could stand by yourself and have ten minutes of peace. If you tried to take a ten minute break without a cigarette in your hand, you were seen as being idle and were told to get back to work. It didn’t take long, Doug says, until the whole crew took up smoking.

This “being in your head” is not idle – some of it involves elements of fantasy, while it also encompasses thinking about philosophy, history, politics, fashion, books you’ve read, problems you are trying to sort out, designs you are creating, people who you know or would like to know, paths you want to follow. I find this space both peaceful and invigorating. I also find it necessary. It rejuvenates me.

Knitting, therefore, has many different functions for me. It is a creative outlet, it produces beautiful items, it allows me to develop skills and mastery over an ancient craft, it links me to a history and fellowship of needlework, and it also allows me space and freedom to be in my head.

As my life has gotten busier, I find that I have tended to relegate my knitting time into a multi-tasking experience.  I knit, usually, while doing something else: watching TV, chatting with friends over coffee, waiting in line. A few years ago, I went through a time where I resented the fact that knitting took up reading time and vice versa, and to solve this I started buying audio books and knitting while listening.

I recently noticed that my knitting time was thus almost always accompanied by noise. If I picked up my needles, I would turn on an audio book or tune into a podcast. Sometimes, I would suddenly become aware that I had missed some of the book, and would have to re-wind and listen again, often three or four times as my mind would wander. I came to two realizations at almost the same time – I was not enjoying the knitting as much, and I was finding quiet to be lonely. I was rushing to fill up blank space.

Doug has been gone for a few weeks (day before yesterday he was climbing the Great Wall of China) and I have had a very busy teaching schedule. But, while he was gone, I set my alarm clock for very early every morning, got my cup of coffee, and settled down to knit, in absolute silence. And I came to a conclusion I already knew as a very young child: there is power in quiet.

I am knitting something new, which I am designing myself, and enjoying every stitch.  I am feeling more at peace with quiet.  I am feeling more in my head.  I don’t NEED there to be quiet to enjoy my knitting – I still knit while watching TV (currently “Miss Fisher’s Mysteries”) or listening to an audio book or podcast.  But creating a space for knitting in silence is good.   I have come to appreciate, once again, that there is a specific joy to be had in not multi-tasking, in enjoying the peace of knitting all by itself, and listening to the quiet.

Knitting treats from Copenhagen

I was teaching on the weekend and so was unable to make my way up to Edinburgh for the Edinburgh Yarn Festival. I admit to having felt rather sorry for myself. For the entire time I was doing the MBA I was unable to make any yarn shows. I planned to remedy that once I finished, but then I took a job (teaching on the very same MBA programme) which meant a lot of working weekends. The universe (or at least the people who schedule yarn shows and MBA classes) seems to be conspiring against me, as they are mostly scheduled concurrently. Oh well. I am not so desolate as I have a Danish consolation prize or two (perhaps three).

A few weeks ago I was in Copenhagen with my friend, Erun (and with Sarah and Sara). One of my top priorities was to make it to Somerfuglen, a knitting shop that I had long wanted to visit.

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I know you won’t believe me but I didn’t buy any yarn there. Why? Because I loved everything and couldn’t choose and I had a plane to catch. That is not to say I didn’t make any purchases. I bought two lovely knitting books. First, I bought Issue One of the new knitting periodical, Laine.

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This is a lovely book. It is filled with knitting patterns, beautiful photography, articles, designer profiles, recipes, and has high production values. Even the ads are lovely! This issue had profiles of Joji Locatelli and Helga Isager among others. It seems to me that this will be a collectable and I am happy to have the first issue.

I also bought this amazing book:

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By Annette Danielsen, it is filled with stunning photos of Greenland and absolutely gorgeous sweaters. I want to knit them all. I particularly want to knit this one, Fjelde, which coincidentally I have in my favorites file on Ravelry:

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© Annette Danielsen

Here is the extra special goodness from my trip to Sommerfuglen:  I tried this jacket on! And it was scrumptious. It fit beautifully and was a dream to wear. As a result, I have purchased the book and now somehow have to teach myself to read a knitting pattern written in Danish! Never fear, dear readers, I WILL accomplish this eventually (perhaps with some help from my friend, Erun, and her mother, Liv)!

Hanging in the window at Sommerfuglen was a very smart jacket by Hanne Falkenberg. I was able to try it on as well. I am a big fan of Hanne’s designs and yarn as you can tell from this post from some years ago. This jacket also fit perfectly and I could not help but notice that it was precisely the kind of thing I need for my working wardrobe. I thought about buying it right then and there, but was prevented because (1) I couldn’t check any luggage on my flight home and (2) the shop didn’t have kits in the colour combos I liked.

Once I got home, I continued to think about this jacket, however, and ended up ordering a kit in the same colourway as the shop sample (colourway #1). Here it is:

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The design is called Sofi, and it is knit in two different yarns – the sleeves and main colour are knit in her No2 shetland 100% wool and the contrast colour is her No4 Sofistica 60% Cotton & 40% Linen. Here you can see the two different yarns from the kit:

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So, even though I didn’t make it to Edinburgh, I can console myself with these lovely Danish knitting treats. I have heard that the festival suffered this year from its excessive popularity – by all accounts it was very crowded and hot. I would have braved both to see Kate Davies’ stand (and all of the other goodness) but perhaps by the time I do make it up there, the venue will be bigger. In the meantime, I have plenty of knitting to keep me happy.

When you need a rainbow…knit one!

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I wanted to do a quick project this week.  I rooted around in my yarn stash and found a bag full of half-used balls and remnants of Rowan Fine Tweed.  I really like this yarn and used it to knit my Peerie Flooers hat and my Soumak Wrap, both very colourful projects, meaning lots of bits of many colours leftover.  Rowan has now discontinued this yarn, carrying on its great tradition of discontinuing nearly every yarn I love (knock on wood for Kidsilk Haze).

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I had in mind a quick pair of mitts based on Follow your Dreams, a very cute pattern available for free on Ravelry by Vlněné sestry.  Here is the pattern photo:

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© Vlněné sestry

I spent some happy time playing with all of the leftover colours when it came to me: I could knit a rainbow!

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I used a light grey for the background and picked out five rainbow shades for the arrow motifs.  I didn’t think I had enough of the grey, so I knit the ribbing around the wrists in rainbow stripes as well.  The colours are reversed, so the wrist ribbing uses red, orange, yellow, green and blue, and then the arrow motifs work in reverse order from blue to red. Thus, the mitts are framed by the red.  At the time, I had no inkling that the red would match my beloved Acer cardigan so well, but I think that together they are fabulous!

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The only other modification I made was to make the mitts mirror images of each other (so that the arrows point in opposite directions).  I loved making this project.  I could easily imagine knitting up many pairs of these, using lots of different colour schemes.  It is a great project for using up small bits of fingering weight yarn.  Using stripes for the ribbing meant many extra threads to weave in at the end, but it was totally worth it.

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Some time ago, I wrote a post about the use of gussets in mitts and mittens.  In that post, I mentioned that I had always knit mitts with gussets, and I speculated that gusset-less mitts would be uncomfortable to wear.  Based on my lengthy observation consisting of wearing this one pair of mitts for a few hours (how scientific!) I would venture to say that gusset-less mitts can indeed be comfortable.  I will now have to do more research on the topic, thus necessitating knitting more mitts.  All in the name of science of course!

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We took these photos this morning in Henley-on-Thames, a beautiful old market town on the Thames a few miles from my home.  (I work there and shop there.)  The sun was shining and everyone was smiling; it was a perfect day to walk along the river and to wear my new cardi and rainbow mitts.

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I wish you all sunshine and rainbows this weekend!

Aces!

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I’m very happy to have finished my Acer Cardigan while it is still cold enough to wear it. The above photo was taken last weekend in Copenhagen.  It is such a gorgeous city, but can be very windy.  A squishy, warm cardigan definitely comes in handy.

Amy Christoffers designed the Acer Cardigan in 2010 and nearly 900 projects are documented on Ravelry.  When you get that many knitters using a pattern, you know in advance that the pattern will be good and won’t need any “fiddling”.  I followed the pattern exactly; the only modifications I made were to knit it one inch longer (and use two extra buttons), and also to cast on more stitches for the edgings (see below for details).

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I used Berroco Ultra Alpaca, a worsted weight yarn that is a 50/50 wool and alpaca blend.  It is a very sturdy yarn and has good definition; this latter is very important for this pattern which combines cables with lace.  I am still not sure what I think of the yarn.  It comes in lovely, rich colours, works cables beautifully, and comes in at the inexpensive end of my yarn buying spectrum.  On the other hand, it is a bit itchy and I am worried that the alpaca might become “fuzzy” with use.  I will need to wear it and wash it a few times before I can pass judgement.  Here you can see the great stitch definition:

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I knit this in a size 42 and find the fit to be spot-on, with about one inch of positive ease. The shoulders fit really well, although I find the sleeves to be a bit tight.  I like the fact that I can button it with no gapping.  I used a US 6 needle and US5 for the button bands and neck ribbing.

I found only two problems with the pattern, fairly minor ones, but useful to know about in advance.  Although Amy lists two needle sizes at the top of the pattern, noting that the smaller size is for “edging”, she doesn’t actually note within the pattern itself to switch to the smaller needle when knitting the button band and neck edgings.  This is a VERY niggling point, but I see on Ravelry that many knitters didn’t switch and wish they had. The other problem is actually a small error in the pattern; she has you pick up stitches along the neck by a factor of four, but you actually need a factor of four plus two, so that the ribbing will both begin and end with two knit stitches.  I picked up more stitches than the pattern called for: in my size, she suggests picking up 83 stitches for the button bands and I picked up 103 (though recall that I added an inch to the sweater length), and for the neck I picked up 118 instead of 108.

Here is a photo in front of the Copenhagen Contemporary Art Gallery.  I am standing in front of the exhibition Wish Tree Garden by Yoko Ono. (If you are by chance in Copenhagen during the next two weeks, I loved this exhibit, which will close on the 5th of March.) Thanks to Erun for taking the Copenhagen photos.

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I love the buttons I picked.  I had planned to use a pair of plain wooden buttons, but saw these and instantly thought they’d be perfect.  (I bought them at Loop in London.)  I think they add just a bit of flash to the cardigan.

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This was the second worsted weight cardigan I’ve knit in a row (the first was the Tinder cardigan I knit for Emma).  Unlike Tinder, this cardi flew off the needles; it took me 6 weeks to the day to knit, even including washing and blocking and sewing on buttons. This made me think “I need to knit more worsted weight sweaters”, but now that I have been wearing it, I must say that it is VERY warm.  I think that my next few sweaters will use a fingering or sport weight wool.

It is a dreary day here in England.  I must admit to loving dreary Saturdays – no feeling guilty for knitting all day!  Happy weekend!

Real sweaters. Real people.

I have just returned from a long weekend in Copenhagen.  While there, I finished my latest cardigan.  I was going to show it to you today.  But then my friend Erun wore this:

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Wow!

I’ll just say that again: Wow!

Erun’s mother, Liv, is a knitter.  (I have written about Liv in this post, which tells the tale of how she located a Norwegian knitting pattern book for me, and how it made its way from Norway to the UK via Singapore.)  During the weekend, Erun and I were discussing the iconic Marius sweater, a staple of Norwegian knitting and style. (Estimates are that over 5 million copies of Marius or Marius-inspired patterns have been sold, and at least twice that many commercially knitted Marius sweaters.)  Marius is usually knit in shades of red, white and blue – the colours of the Norwegian flag. Erun is a golden girl, however, and Liv knitted her one in shades of gold.

Not only is this sweater totally gorgeous, but it is knit in wool that is so soft and cozy, you would never want to take it off.  Liv even knitted a matching  winter headband:

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I am pretty sure that this is the loveliest Marius sweater ever knit.  Erun, you are so lucky to have a mother who knits you such beautiful things.  And Liv, how lucky you are to have such a knit-worthy daughter!

Lazy Sunday

It is 3pm on a Sunday, and I have managed so far to spend the entire day lounging in bed, listening to an audio book and knitting.  In fact, if not for the need to take a photo for this blog post, I might not have stood up at all.  I take this as proof that blogging is a physical activity, and will now say with confidence that I am indeed a sporty person.

I have been making good progress on my Acer cardigan, perhaps because I am being totally monogamous; no other project has managed to tempt me away.  I have reached the bind-off for the armholes, and have finished the left front.  (The body is knit in one piece till the armholes, and then the back and fronts are knit separately.)

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Doug and I were invited to dinner on Friday by some friends who have an 8-year old daughter.  She was fascinated by my knitting and asked about a hundred questions.  She was particularly intrigued with the functions of the stitch markers and we embarked on a long conversation about the purpose of each and every one.  (It is astonishing how smart and articulate an 8-year old can be; thank you, Amrita!)  Answering her questions made me realise that others may wonder about this too.  In the above photo, you can see two different types of marker. First, there are the markers which look like a tiny ball of yarn hanging from a loop – you can see these across the top row of the body of knitting, in purple and pink.  These just indicate the boundaries between the patterned and the stockinette portions of the sweater.  Until today, I also had similar markers in yellow which marked the side seams of the sweater.  These have now been removed because I have bound off the underarm stitches.

The other type of stitch marker can open and looks like a little plastic safety pin.  These are used to mark places on the knitting itself.  The markers are colour-coded.  In this sweater, I am using three colours – purple, orange and green.   The purple ones mark where I have made waist decreases, and the orange ones mark the increases.  You can see that I made three sets of paired decreases and three sets of paired increases.  I use the green markers to note the pattern row.  The cable and lace pattern for this cardigan has a 16-row repeat. The green markers indicate every time I begin a new pattern repeat; in other words, there is a green marker on every Row 1 of the 16-row repeat.  These are absolutely invaluable. They mean I never lose my place in the cable pattern.

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I used to mark all of my increases and decreases and pattern rows on a piece of paper as I knit.  This was tedious. The paper always got lost.  If I put a project down for a few months and then picked it up again, I couldn’t figure out where I was.  Now, I mark everything important on the pieces themselves, using removable stitch markers.  As long as I leave the markers in until the very end – when I am ready to block – I never have problems with remembering where I am or with matching one piece to the next.

As I am getting close to finishing this cardigan, I am spending some time thinking about what to cast on next.  I have only one constraint: I can’t spend any money. One of the prime contenders is the Wren Fairisle Yoke, a pullover designed by Marie Wallin:

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I have a kit for this pullover, purchased from baa ram ewe, thus the cost outlay to cast on is zero.  It is not a sweater for the faint-hearted, however; not only is there stranded colourwork involved, but the yarn is fingering-weight.  This project will eat up considerable knitting time, especially for slow knitters like me.  Before I think about casting on, however, I have a question to pose.  Wren is knit from the bottom up, in the round.  I am considering using a provisional cast on for the yoke, and knitting the yoke bottom-up, and then picking up the provisional stitches and knitting the sleeves and body top-down.  The pros (as I see them):

  1. I am worried about the amount of yarn I have in the Main Colour.  If I knit the sleeves and body top down, I will not have to play yarn chicken; if I don’t have enough, I can use a contrast colour on the ribbing.
  2. I think that the sleeves and body look too baggy on the pattern photos (see the Ravelry page, here).  I think it will be easier for me to try on and decrease appropriately to get a better fit if I am knitting top-down.
  3. The Yoke is more fun.  Life sucks right now in many ways.  Fun is good.

The big con (as I see it) is knitting the sleeves while having the whole sweater pooled on my lap; much easier to go around and round on tiny needles without the whole weight of the sweater to deal with.  Have I missed any pros or cons?  Do any of you have experience with this kind of thing? I welcome your advice.

Now that I have finished writing this post, it is time for me to indulge in some physical fitness.  Thus, please excuse me while I walk up the stairs and pick up my book.

 

New projects: knitting and sewing

Observant readers will have noticed a new project in my last post.  I wonder how many of you figured out it was the Acer Cardigan, designed by Amy Christoffers.  Given that there are currently 871 Acer Cardigan projects on Ravelry it is not unlikely that many of you tagged it.  Here is the pattern photo for the design:

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When I got home from Vancouver, I was in the unenviable position of having nothing on the needles.  What to knit?  I fretted for a few days before having a light bulb moment and deciding on this project.  Acer has been in my favorites since the pattern was released in 2010.  That’s YEARS I have been thinking of knitting this cardigan.  Plus, I just happened to have an SQ (sweater quantity) of Berroco Ultra Alpaca in a deep red. Perfect! (The photos look slightly more rasberry; the real colour is a deeper wine red.)

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I whipped out both sleeves super fast (no sleeve island for me this time!) and cast on for the body.  As you can see from the above photo, the body – back and fronts – are knit in one piece until being divided at the arm holes.  This makes the rows fairly long and slowed me up a bit, but I am still making very quick progress.  As of this morning, I have 9 inches of the body done.

Last weekend, I went into Loop in London and found the perfect buttons:

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I absolutely love these buttons!  I think they will be gorgeous on the finished piece.

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I am really moving fast with this sweater and hope to be wearing it in a few weeks.  I am also very happy to be making it from stash; no money spent on yarn this month! Hooray!

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Not spending money on yarn gave me more to spend on sewing lessons!  Yes, that’s right, I have decided to take the plunge and try to get into sewing again.  My plan is to take a dress-making course, but I decided to start with an afternoon intro to sewing class, just to get back in the swing of things.  (I was never a terrific seamstress, probably because my mom is a true expert, and it has been decades since I last did anything other than hand sewing.)

The class was great fun!  It is such a lovely way to spend an afternoon.  I took the class at Ray Stitch in Islington, London.  The instructor, Luisa, was both helpful and nice, and I had a great time with fellow classmates as we figured out sewing machines and made tote bags. (Of course, we all know that they are actually knitting bags, because what else would you need to tote?) Here we are with our totes: Louisa, Judi, Asia, me, and Alicia.

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Knitting is a comfort to me right now as the world reels from political craziness.  It helps keep me (relatively) sane.  My advice – find ways to make your voice heard, don’t watch the news before bedtime, and keep a project handy for when you need talking down from the ledge.