On Post-Covid Recovery and Losing my Authentic Voice

I’ve been writing this blog for over 10 years. This is my 588th post. So it is fair to say, that I feel comfortable here. I know my voice, I know how it feels to be in the flow, and I know when my voice feels authentic.

Since I tested positive for Covid almost 7 weeks ago I have really struggled to engage in any way with the blog, and at a more fundamental level with my knitting, or with anything else for that matter. In the beginning, in the acute phase, I literally had no energy, and also no breath, to do anything. No knitting, no reading, no writing. I suffered from brain fog and fatigue, and a vicious cough.

I was very nearly finished with a great knitting project just as I got sick. It needed only about 5-6 hours of work, adding a small amount of ribbing to armholes and neck, and weaving in ends. I think I expected that I would recuperate, and then pick up the knitting and blogging again without issue. What I have found is that there are many ingredients to this blogging experience, and I am recovering at different rates for each of these.

It started with my being able to knit. Not for long, as exhaustion really rode me hard, but after a month of no activity, I could pick up the needles and do some knitting. However, I couldn’t manage anything that involved thinking. A few days ago, I tried to pick up some stitches under the arm on another project – 12 stitches – and knit them in pattern. The pattern was K2P1 – not rocket science. I spent an hour trying to do it, and finally gave up. I could knit, but I couldn’t concentrate on a knitting task. So, the fingers worked, but the brain fog got in the way.

I finished the Myrtle tank 2 weeks ago, and it is beautiful. I want to share it with you. I want to blog about it. Every day I thought “Today I will brush my hair, and put on the tank, and model it, while Doug takes some photos.” And every day, I just couldn’t do it. I never noticed how much effort that part of the process took. Today, we finally took some photos. They are not the best photos given that I still look sick and pasty, but the knitting looks good.

So: sweater finished: check! Photos taken: check! And I can’t write the bloody post. I tried three times today to work on the post, and no matter what I write, it doesn’t sound like me. It feels fake. It feels like someone else is writing it. I want my voice back! (Funnily enough, writing this doesn’t seem too bad, so maybe that means that my whiny voice is back, while the rest of me is lost in translation.)

In the first week with Covid, Doug and I both lost our sense of taste and smell and it still hasn’t returned. Everything feels flat when you can’t taste. That’s sort of the way my writing feels: flat. It’s missing the sweet and sour, the spicy and umami, the bit that gives it character. Has anyone else experienced this? I expected the fatigue, the brain fog, the effort, the lack of mojo, but not the loss of authentic voice.

Please bear with me. I’ve got some good knitting to show you, once I get all the ingredients back.

It’s all about the sleeve

Do you remember when the sleeve was the most boring part of your sweater? When you would get stuck on “sleeve island”? When you reached the point where all that’s left is the sleeves, and you realised that you absolutely must cast on something new right away? When how long someone’s arms were was a good indicator of whether or not they would be on your sweater knitting gift list? (I once even wrote a post entitled “Do you love your husband enough to knit the sleeves?” It was a rather silly post, but still wins a prize for title and sentiment.)

Well, I don’t know if you have noticed, but today it seems it is all about the sleeve. I see more and more patterns where the sleeve is a definite focal point. Here are a few recent ones that I like:

Mulgi by Aleks Byrd:

© Aleks Byrd

Ornata by Teti Lutsak:

© Teti Lutsak

Kote ( 籠手 ) by Hiroko Payne / The Hare And The Crow:

© Hiroko Payne / The Hare And The Crow

Trinity by Jennifer Beale:

© Jennifer Beale

Giselle Blouse by Fabel Knitwear

© Fabel Knitwear

Are you planning a new project with fantastic scene-stealing sleeves? If so, let us know.

(Health update: Both Doug and I are recovering, but much more slowly than anticipated. I have finished a project – my Myrtle tank – but don’t yet have the energy to photograph it and write it up. Hopefully, I can show it to you soon, because it is really cute.)

When is a hobby a hobby?

In today’s FT Magazine, there is an interesting article by Rosa Lyster, called The Tyranny of having a hobby. It is a rather tongue-in-cheek observation about how hobbies have been re-framed during the pandemic to become a vital and serious form of self-care, rather than simply being fun. I enjoyed the article, which had some keen observations, but was particularly struck by the below characterization of a hobby:

“Even taking these difficulties into account, however, it seems obvious that birdwatching, knitting and playing bridge are classic adult hobbies, the kinds of activities you would adopt if you were an alien trying to pass as a believable human being. They are absorbing, enjoyable, nonremunerative, can be mastered but are resistant to professionalisation, involve practice and reward diligence, and they grant immediate passage into a world full of others with the same interests, knitting woolly octopuses for premature babies and making unforgiving observations about the wrong way to play bridge.”

The tyranny of having a hobby, by Rosa Lyster, FT Magazine, 09 June, 2022

As I was pondering this (and thinking that knitting octopuses for preemies is a bit of a narrow take on the knitting community), Doug was busy aiming the remote at the TV. This is the height of activity for us in our covid-induced brain fogginess. He landed on an episode of Midsomer Murders. “Quick,” he said, “which episode is this?” It took me 30 seconds to announce “It’s the one where they kill off the orchid collectors!” (Given that the scene was one in which there were literally orchids everywhere, this 30 seconds is not a sign of my clever observation skills, but rather indicative of brain fog.)

If you don’t know Midsomer Murders, it is a series of rather tongue-in-cheek murder mysteries taking place in the mythical, pastoral town of Causton and its environs, and all shot within a short radius of our home. It has been filming for over 20 years, and for us, there is a cool game of spot-the-location which we play in the background, as we try to identify every building, turn of the Thames, and village green being used as a location shot. It is also the case that in every episode as least three people meet a grisly comical (or comically grisly?) death, which usually revolves around their having made the poor decision to join a club. Orchid collectors? Dead. Amateur astronomers? Dead. Bee-keepers, comic book fans, bell-ringers? Dead, dead, dead.

And suddenly, it occurred to me: no knitting club. All of these years of hobbyists meeting their premature end in ever creative fashion, and no knitting club. Perhaps, I thought, this is the true definition of a hobby. Not that an alien would adopt it in order to blend in, but that by taking it up you would meet an untimely death in Midsomer. If that is so, I am pleased to declare that knitting is not a hobby. Which means, of course, that it must be a spot of self-care.

Thank you

Let me start by offering a heartfelt thank you to all of you who left messages for me here and on Ravelry. Your best wishes were very much appreciated, and gave us some cheer. As Emma reported previously, Doug and I have both been struck down by Covid, and it was nasty. My word for everyone: be cautious.

I have read comments from knitters about how having Covid gave them lots of opportunity to sit and knit. That has not been my experience. We were both quite sick and have had some unsettling and scary consequences brought on by the infection. We have been at the hospital three times in the last two weeks, had paramedics in the house multiple times, and had two late-night ambulance rides. Doug has had multiple brain scans, and managed to scare me to death at least once.

We have also been overwhelmed with the kindness of neighbours, friends, and colleagues, who have kept in touch, checked up on us, and done shopping and pharmacy runs. We have also been very well supported by the NHS in every way, and have had the best experiences and interactions with everyone – doctors, nurses, paramedics, technicians, porters, receptionists; all of these overworked people have been professional and kind and reassuring.

We are not through this yet. The virus is cycling and neither of us has very much energy. We still have significant brain fog. We are very sad about losing our sense of taste/smell. I am still coughing and Doug has debilitating headaches. Doug has some extra complications we are trying to sort out. For almost three weeks I was unable to knit, and really struggled to read, or watch TV, or do much of anything. In the past few days, I have begun to pick up my knitting and have been watching Wimbledon, so definitely things are picking up. I managed to put in the ribbing on my Myrtle, so it is all done except for weaving in lots and lots of ends:

I don’t have the brain space for weaving in ends at the moment, but hopefully within a week or two, I will have a little more energy. I hope to bring you finished shots of this beautiful project soon. Thanks again!

A brief, unscheduled intermission

Hi folks, Emma here! Mom has asked me to write everyone a quick message to assure you that she has not forgotten about the blog, and to reassure you that she will be back to all things knitting soon.

We have had an eventful week at chez Knitigating Circumstances, culminating in an ambulance ride and a very long night at the hospital. Both Doug and Kelly are currently down with covid, and myself and Leah are recovering from acute anxiety relating to trying to decide if we need to fly home. I am happy to report though that all is well – covid aside – Leah and I are still in Canada, and Doug and Kelly are in bed. Luckily (?) I had covid back in February so we were pretty prepared for how the disease works and the timelines to expect, but it has still been pretty miserable for them. Brain fog has also meant that Kelly doesn’t trust herself to knit! So she is feeling a little extra miserable. I don’t have much to add, but I will keep everyone updated if Mom is still out for the next week.

In the meantime, Kelly will still be reading comments, and well wishes are always appreciated! Thank you everyone for your understanding. Over and out!

In pursuit of resistance (to buying more yarn)

Today is the last day of a 4-day weekend here in England to celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. I have no interest in matters or personalities royal, and I had to fly to Copenhagen on Thursday and teach all day Friday, thus my 4-day weekend is in fact a 2-day weekend. This dampens the holiday spirit a little. However, I have been facing one very tempting aspect of this general glee: every single UK yarn shop and yarn producer and knitting designer (or at least it feels that way) has sent me an email with all of their special deals on scrumptious yarn, knitting kits, bags, and books. They are sitting in my inbox tempting me.

In a (possibly) vain effort to resist the pull (possibly because there are still 11 hours remaining for me to fall), I have decided to make a list of the current projects in my immediate queue. These are projects for which I already own the yarn and the pattern, and am good to go.

1. Short-sleeve sweaters and tanks; summery

I have two of these on the go already and would very much like to finish them soon so as to get plenty of summer wear out of them.

Myrtle. I have only the ribbing and finishing left on my summer tank version of Kate Davies’ Myrtle pattern. This is what it looks like currently:

Flores. This is the project I am concentrating on at the moment, as I am hoping to wear it on upcoming summer holiday breaks to Germany and Spain. The pattern is by eri shimuzu and I am using the divine Linum by The Uncommon Thread. A taster photo:

Collar de Pilar. I recently bought a kit for this Kate Davies pattern:

© Kate Davies Designs

Jenny Flower. This is a super cure knitting pattern by Julie Knits in Paris.

© Julie Knits in Paris

I plan to use two of the three skeins of Madelinetosh Prairie which I purchased in Copenhagen (at Ulstedet) some years ago (blogged here). I am leaning towards the brown and blue combo, but may go with blue and silver. Decisions, decisions! Oh my!

2. Cardigans

Coral cardigan. I bought a pile of silk mohair in bright coral recently and plan to make a cardigan with it. I have the pattern in mind, but am not willing to commit to it yet publicly. (This is not cheating as I know what it is and already own both yarn and pattern.)

Winterfell. I plan to knit this with the Road to China Light in brilliant fuchsia which Doug bought me some time ago. (This is the one that I had swatched for, and then lost the swatches. Growl.)

© Katrin Schneider

Hirne. I recently bought a kit for this lovely wooly cardigan from Kate Davies:

© Kate Davies Designs

3. Shawls

I’ve got two on the go, but one of them has burrowed far into my WIP pile and might not ever see the light of day. I am about 2/3 of the way through the Gresham Wrap and not even half-way through my fingering-weight version (why didn’t someone hit me over the head?) of the Koko Wrap. I also have six skeins each of a DK weight yarn and a worsted weight yarn which are destined for two of the shawl patterns in 52 Weeks of Shawls. I keep changing my mind about which ones to knit.

4. Cowls

Attitude. I have a kit for this cowl from Julie Knits in Paris:

© Julie Knits in Paris

Gruggle. I recently bought a kit for this cowl from Kate Davies.

5. Hats and Mitts

I was going to show you some of these that are in my queue (with yarn and pattern purchased), but I think I’ve made my point. I have three hats ready to go, and at least 6 pairs of mitts, if not more.

Given the terrible pressure of all of the shiny new patterns, yarns, books, kits, bags, and tools, is the weight of this queue sufficient to keep my will power firm? If not that, then perhaps the knowledge that I have been knitting less and less and slower and slower lately, and if this trend proceeds on its present course I will be able to finish the above in approximately 6.8 years? Yes, these are good arguments! My will power remains firm! I am resolved!

But, oh my, have you seen Aleks Byrd’s book, Traditions revisited? What a lovely, lovely book. I am so tempted to pick up this book and a kit or two. Like maybe for this Tiivad Shawl:

© Aleks Byrd

I am so tempted!

That’s it from me. Two international trips within a week just about killed me. (And I don’t think I mentioned that my flight back from Johannesburg was delayed by over 6 hours?) Travel these days is not what it used to be. Come to think of it, I’m not what I used to be. Good knitting, everyone!

Wool-shedding sheep

I am in Johannesburg on a teaching trip, the first since the pandemic struck in early 2020. I am absolutely knackered, although I am enjoying teaching face-to-face again. I have been busy each day since before dawn until I crash into bed at night and despite so carefully planning and packing my knitting for this trip, I haven’t managed a single row. (Not even on the 13 hour flight! And yes, I know it’s an 11 hour flight, but we spent an hour on the tarmac each side, so I am calling it as I see it.)

In any case, I wanted to stop by and say hello, and I saw a very intriguing article today which I thought you might be interested in, so here I am for a drive-by post. The article is called “Shear desperation: low price of wool pushes farmers to opt for moulting sheep”. Here is an interesting quote, from farmer James Edwards:

“Wool is a man-made thing,” says Edwards. “Naturally, sheep don’t have big woolly fleeces, because there wouldn’t be anybody there to shear them. All forms of early, primitive or wild sheep either shed their wool or it falls out.

“We bred them to have massive fleeces because of the wool trade; that was great, because wool was a fibre that was incredibly popular. Fast forward to now, it’s simply not worth anything.”

From: Shear desperation: low price of wool pushes farmers to opt for moulting sheep | Farming | The Guardian

Not worth anything? How disturbing!

Let me know what you think. I will fly home on the weekend and hopefully life will settle down enough for me to pick up my knitting again.

Best from sunny Jo’burg!

Peak Wisteria

Two weeks ago we had peak bluebells here and I couldn’t resist putting up some bluebell photos. Since some of you went out of your way to say that I wasn’t boring you with flower shots, today I’m here to show you wisteria.

It is definitely peak wisteria this week. In fact, it must be peak spring, as everything has burst into a spectacular display of colour and fragrance.

These photos were taken today at Grey’s Court (the same place where I took the bluebell photos). The wisteria here is 130 years old and is simply breath-taking.

Grey’s Court have had a wisteria watch on social media and must have put out the word that today was the day – with the blossoms in full bloom and the skies clear and blue, the place was packed. However, we live nearby and can walk in, and as National Trust members we frequently walk the grounds here.

Here, Doug took a photo of me taking a photo of him:

It’s impossible to capture the full lushness of the experience, but you get the idea.

I love that you can walk under the wisteria.

The photo below doesn’t have wisteria, but it is a nice shot of me wearing my Treit tee, knitted from a Kate Davies pattern (and which I blogged here). So, if you are only here for the knitting, I am throwing up Trait to appease you. (I love this project to bits and am thinking of doing another; wouldn’t it look great in a wisteria-purple?)

I have both bluebells and wisteria blooming in my back garden, so I’m off to do some knitting while the sun is shining.

A beautiful solution to knitting needle storage

Last weekend was the Henley Arts Trail, a yearly event in which artists local to Henley-on-Thames open up their homes and studios for the weekend, and showcase (and hopefully sell) their work. It is great fun, both for the opportunity of being exposed to artists in a friendly way, and also for getting to see some wonderful spaces. Doug and I try to go every year. This year, we hit 13 locations and purchased pieces from 6 different artists.

At the very first stop we went to, I saw this restored chest and instantly knew it was the solution to my knitting needle storage problem:

First, let’s talk about the chest; isn’t it lovely? The artist, Sue Davies, specializes in “Painted furniture, Shabby Chic, Murals, and Painted Furniture Workshops”. Look at the stenciling on the side of the chest:

And here I am to give you an idea of the size:

I have written numerous times over the year on the problems of storage for all of the paraphernalia which we knitters tend to collect. (We won’t even touch on yarn storage here.) My most recent post on this topic was this one, written earlier this year, in which I included some photos of my large and messy collection of knitting needles. Like this one:

Consider that horrible mess, and then look at this beautiful chest; doesn’t it get the little grey cells activated?

Just look at my knitting needles now, displayed in the drawers of my beautiful new chest.

Let’s go through them, one at a time.

Drawer 1. This is for fixed circular needles and straight needles, sized US9/5.5mm and above.

Drawer 2. Here I have my fixed circular needles and straight needles, sized US8/5mm and below.

Drawer 3. This contains my Knit Pro Karbonz interchangeable needles and my micrometer (for accurately measuring needle width).

Below is a closeup of the set and the open micrometer box. (The needle set is complete, but not all are in the box right now).

Draw 4: This contains my Chia Goo interchangeable needles. These are my most used needles. I reach for these all of the time. I have many sets of the needles in most sizes, and multiple cables.

Below you can see the inside of the carrying pouch. Note that lots of these needles are currently on WIPs, so this isn’t the complete set.

Drawer 5. This contains all of my DPNs, short fixed circulars, cable needles, stitch holders, crochet hooks, and various doodads (to use a technical term).. The DPNs are only partially sorted, but at least they are now all in one space.

Included in there is a lovely soft knitting case, which also contains DPNs and doodads, and here you can see the inside:

Drawer 6: This drawer has no knitting needles but contains lots of extra stuff like buttons, ribbon, measuring tapes, stitch markers, pins, etc.

Isn’t it wonderful? Not only is it ORGANISED (sacre bleu!), but it’s beautiful! I know that I still have hidden stashes of needles all over the place, but now, when I find them, I have a sensible place to put them. (Doug wants to know if I will still be able to find a size 5 needle when I need one. Oh, ye of little faith!)

I hope you are enjoying something beautiful this weekend.

Project update

Upon finishing my “We do so hate to be bored” tee, I struggled to pick up another project. I had a few things on the needles, which have been in hibernation, but none of them was saying “Knit me! Knit me!” I really wanted to start a cardigan with the Road to China Light yarn which Doug gave me for Christmas (not last year but the year before), but I am annoyed at that project. I plan to write a post about that soon with the title “The case of the lost yarn swatches”; clever readers will be able to figure out the source of my annoyance.

In the meantime, I desultorily kept going with my Gresham Wrap. The reason I am not enthused about it has nothing to do with the wrap itself, which is fun and pretty, but rather with the fact that the cream-coloured portion in the middle goes on FOREVER and furthermore is basically knitted in ribbing (it has a textured stitch which is the equivalent of knitting every second row in 1×1 ribbing). I have decided it is the TV knitting project and so I am slowly making progress; unfortunately for it, I am not much interested in watching TV. Here is a nice photo of it curled up in its place on the couch, catching the morning sun:

When we returned from Wales, I found a giant pile of yarn on my doorstep:

I recently took part in Kate Davies newest club and she gives a 10% discount during the club for any purchases from her store. I waited until the very last minute to place an order, both so that I could see each new design before committing and also because I couldn’t make up my mind. I ended up ordering kits for three projects (none of them from the current club):

Gruggle:

© Kate Davies Designs

Hirne:

© Kate Davies Designs

Collar de Pilar:

© Kate Davies Designs

All of this luscious yarn will certainly keep my needles busy all year. However, when I was deciding what to cast on next, my Linum yarn from The Uncommon Thread jumped out at me. The yarn is a blend of 50% baby alpaca, 25%linen, and 25% silk. I pre-ordered it last summer and by the time it arrived, summer was over so I put it aside.

I can’t even describe how beautiful this yarn feels, and once I had knitted a swatch, I knew I had to cast on immediately. It is so lovely and the feel of it is fantastic: light and airy, it weighs nothing and is so soft.

Today, I tried it on just to make sure the fit was right, and it is perfect! Here you can see the shoulder:

Doug took a photo of the back and said “Are these stitches supposed to be falling off the needle?”

Argh! I shifted the stitches onto a long needle before trying it on, and still managed to lose some stitches. Thankfully, I have a husband who actually notices things like that!

I am so into this one. Doug is now making noises in the background: “Why can’t you knit a tee shirt for me?” etc etc. I dare anyone to touch this swatch and not want one.

Doug is cooking dinner and by the yummy aromas emanating from the kitchen it is nearly done! Good knitting everyone!