Failure, resilience, and knitting

I have been thinking a lot this week about the nature of resiliency.  Why?  As Programme Director for a global MBA, it pops up a lot on the job.  It turns out that resilience is important:  it is a key quality of effective leaders and managers, it is vital for companies trying to survive in fast-changing business and technological environments, and it is an important factor in whether students will flourish and grow (not to mention graduate) during their MBA studies.  Given how crucial resilience is, we might think about how one develops it.  How does one learn to be resilient?  Well, it often derives from failure.

I once read an essay written by a professor at an Ivy League university who had served for decades on admission panels. He commented that these elite schools have a tendency to accept students who have never failed at anything.  These students arrive at university and suddenly find themselves in a high-stress environment filled with high achievers who have always been at the top of their class. The point of the essay was that these students often turn out to have very poor resiliency; one little setback and they crack.  A history of continual success can lead to perfectionism and unrealistic expectations.  On the other hand, exposure to failure often leads to resiliency and the development of skills which allow you to pick yourself up and flourish. This professor speculated that accepting students who had overcome barriers or difficulties would be a better barometer of success.

One of the things which I try to impart to students is that failure can be good; that success is built upon learning from mistakes.  This is true of business and true of design – a good design usually develops by prototyping, an iterative process which often consists of getting things wrong in order to get them right.  Many successful companies develop this way too, starting small and building on mistakes, a type of constructive prototyping analogous to the design process.  I try to give students skills to help them become more adaptive and more resilient; I encourage them, in the safe space of the classroom, to push past their comfort zones and embrace risk.

Why am I blabbing on about resiliency and failure in my knitting blog?  Well, we knitters can tell you people one or two things about failure! Knitters positively crow about their failures!  Ripping and frogging (that is, pulling out your work by unravelling it) is almost a badge of honour.  We learn by doing, and often that means learning by doing it wrong. It helps, of course, that knitting is so intrinsically unravel-able (I made up that word!): if you don’t mind the loss of time and effort, almost everything in knitting is fixable by ripping it out and starting again.

Not only are we knitters experts at failure as a part of the learning process, but we do it with a sense of humour! If you don’t believe me, you can look at some of my posts detailing failed efforts, like How to be stupid at knitting, How not to block a sweater, and Stupidity strikes again!

Business consultants, self-help gurus, professional coaches – even futurologists – make a fortune by teaching people to be resilient.  We knitters have no need to pay for such advice.  We learn it the natural way!

Knitters of the world, stand up straight and proud, and repeat after me:

“I AM A KNITTER!

I LAUGH IN THE FACE OF FAILURE!

RESILIENCE IS MY MIDDLE NAME!”

This and that

Here is a little bit of this and that.

1.  I changed the needle on the Tinder cardigan and it seems to be helping:

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In my last post, I noted that I was not happy with the feel of the yarn, Shelter by Brooklyn Tweed.  I had been knitting it with my Knit Pics circulars, the gorgeous wooden needles you can see draped over the knitting in the above photo.  I have switched to Chia Goo metal circulars and I can report that the change has made the knitting a bit more enjoyable.  (I love my Chia Goos.)  Obviously, the needle makes a difference; with some yarns I prefer a wood needle, with others metal, and with others bamboo.  I think that I started this project using the Chia Goos and switched to the Knit Picks when I was flying; I am always worried that metal needles will get confiscated by over-zealous security personnel.

2. I am making progress on the cowl I am knitting with the lovely Woolfolk yarn, Tynd:

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This yarn is actually a much prettier bronze-toned brown, but I just can’t seem to get the camera to capture it.  In every photo, it looks pretty washed out and boring but in real life it’s a richer hue. It is so lovely to knit with – I will certainly have more Woolfolk yarns in my future.

3. I cast on a little something on the plane last week.  This is the lovely skein of Shibui Silk Cloud in the colour Tango which I bought as a part of my birthday present.  I have only one skein, so this is destined for a light, lacy cowl.

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4. Speaking of that birthday present, I set up my swift and ball winder earlier this week and caked the rest of the Shelter skeins for Emma’s cardigan.  While I was at it, I caked up these two skeins of Kate Davies’ lovely Buachaille, in the colours ptarmigan and yaffle.

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Oh, I love this yarn.  I will be casting on soon to make Kate’s Funyin hat:

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© Kate Davies Designs

5. I mentioned some weeks ago that I had purchased the kit to make Marie Wallin’s new pattern, Wren.  I’ve so far neglected to show you any photos of the yarn, so let’s rectify that.

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The yarn is Titus, by baa ram ewe, and is just luminous.  I think this is going to be a very fun knit.

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Just posting these photos makes me want to cast on immediately!

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6. Last but not least, while North American knitters are waxing euphoric over this week’s New York Sheep and Wool Festival, otherwise known as Rhinebeck, I direct you to my post from last year, entitled “Warning! This post is not about Rhinebeck!”.

I will be teaching all weekend, so there won’t be much knitting happening chez Knitigating Circumstances over the next few days.  To all of you knitters at Rhinebeck and elsewhere, have fun!

 

How to make a long flight bearable: the knitter’s solution

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In the past five days, I have flown from London to Johannesburg and back again!  That is a seriously long way to fly for such a short period of time.  I was there on business (to teach a workshop) and so can’t even give you many impressions of the city; I had no time for sight-seeing.  I can tell you that everyone I met was super-friendly and that the students I taught were amazing – so dedicated and optimistic and smart!

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I approached the flight as any knitter would: what project would make the best airplane knitting?  I had finished up all the projects I had been working on so needed to find something new.  It had to be lightweight, take up no room in my handbag, and be fairly monotonous and repetitive.  There was one obvious choice.

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Last year, I bought a dozen balls of Rowan Kidsilk Eclipse in the colour Virgo, just after it was discontinued.  I used five balls to knit my Gossamer pullover, but put seven balls away with the intention of knitting another Reversible Cabled-Rib Shawl.  I knit one years ago, in a vibrant grass-green, and it remains one of the favorite things I have ever knit.  You can see it in this post, where my enthusiasm for the project is hard to miss.

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This shawl will be gorgeous in the Eclipse!  It knits up incredibly sheer, with lovely texture and movement.  The pattern was designed by Lily Chin for the Winter 1999/2000 edition of Vogue Knitting.  It has since been published in many anthologies of Vogue Knitting patterns and can also be purchased on Ravelry (link).  The green one took me over 18 months to knit!!!!  Not, I might add, because it is difficult, but because it is a boring and monotonous knit and kept getting put aside for more exciting projects.  I can say with absolute authority, however, that this shawl is worth every minute of knitting time.

I can also say, that with 4 more trips to Johannesburg planned this year, I am likely to finish this one in less time!  I have a good 18 inches done (unblocked), which means I have one-quarter of the shawl already knit.

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And now, I think, I deserve a nap!

My yarn has opinions

I can’t help but spend time staring at my beautiful, sunny hand-dyed merino and silk yarn from The Uncommon Thread:

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I ordered the yarn to knit the Aisance cardigan pattern with it.  But, truthfully,  I must admit that the more I stare at this lovely yarn,  the less I feel that it wants to be an Aisance:

© Carrie Bostick Hoge

© Carrie Bostick Hoge

Yes, my yarn has opinions.  It knows what it wants to be.  Unfortunately it doesn’t speak, so part of my job is to be an interpretive artist.  It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it.

I still want to knit Aisance, but maybe not with this yarn.   As with most hand-dyed yarn, there is a fair bit of variation in colour both within and across skeins, so it would need to be alternated.  However, it is hard for me to see how best to alternate skeins in Aisance –  it is knit in one piece and the long edges of the fronts need to be very neat and sharp.  Once doubt settled in, it was hard to shake.  My yarn could sense my doubts and took advantage.  “Find another pattern,” it said.  “Find the PERFECT pattern for ME.”  (I have tried, believe me, to coax my yarn into being more specific.  It refuses.  It wants me to work for this relationship.  It wants understanding.)

I have spent more time than I care to admit sorting through cardigan patterns and looking at the yarn:

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It is the most gorgeous shade of orange.  It is luscious.  It is happy.  This yarn is special and I want to knit exactly the right thing with it.  And although I am dying to knit with this fabulous stuff, RIGHT NOW, I won’t do it until I have the perfect marriage of pattern and yarn.  I have knit up a lovely swatch:

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I like the look and feel of the fabric at this gauge, 24×36 knit on a US4, and would be reluctant to knit at a looser gauge. I am lucky to have 2000 metres (5 skeins).  My yarn and I are happy to take suggestions.

PS – This is my 200th post.  Thank you to all my readers who keep this fun!

Knit one, crochet two

I am going to come right out and say this:  I like knitting much more than crochet.  Now, please, dear Readers, hold off on the lynch mobs.  I’ve seen tons of beautiful crochet, and I’ve also seen tons of horrid knitting.  And, back in the day, I dabbled in crochet myself, even once making a beautiful filigree blouse in fine white cotton.  It must be said, however, that both aesthetically and as a creative process, I prefer knitting.

A few months ago, when I had the very good fortune to go to the Headquarters of Rowan Yarns in Holmsfirth (you can read about it here), I was given a goodie bag.  In that goodie bag was a new pattern collection by the fabulous Marie Wallin, called Filigree, Collection 3, subtitled “10 crochet designs for women by Marie Wallin”.  Five of these designs are made by combining knitting with crochet.  And I mean this not in the sense that I normally see, in which a knitted sweater has a crocheted edging, but rather in the sense that for each of these patterns, both knitting and crochet feature as a design element.  The combination of the two modalities is an intrinsic part of the pattern.  And I have to tell you, these designs are gorgeous!

I’ll show you my three favorites here.  To look at the others (including the five crochet patterns which are also lovely) go the the Ravelry page for this booklet, or to the Rowan  page.  Here is a lovely cardigan pattern called Buttercup:

© Marie Wallin, 2015

© Marie Wallin, 2015

I tink this is a charming mix of sweet and sexy.  I can imagine this styled so many ways. It’s a nearly perfect summer cardigan.  Even so, I must admit to liking the next one even more.  Here is Anemone:

© Marie Wallin, 2015

© Marie Wallin, 2015

I love how this is so crisp and sharp but still girly and pretty.  Regular readers will know that I have a thing for patterns that are architectural – as soon as I saw this pattern I thought about iron filigree bridges.

In order to demonstrate to you what I meant I did a search for “iron filigree bridge” and found this lovely photo:

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This is a photo of the Iron Bridge at Coalbrookdale, which was built in 1779 and is “the oldest surviving cast iron bridge in the world.”  The photo and quote come from a post from the blog The Happy Pontist: A blog from the UK about Bridges and Bridge Design.  I have only read this one post, but you can bet that I will be giving this blog a serious look.  Many years ago, I used to work on Wall Street and live in Brooklyn and I would walk across the Brooklyn Bridge to get to work.  I just love a beautifully designed bridge.

Is it just me or can you see this too?  Buttercup is, well, buttercup-y – all soft and flowery, but Anemone is sharp and edgy with  hard edges, but incorporated into a soft package.  I love it.

I think my favorite, however, is this one, Tulip:

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The use of crochet in this pattern feels very innovative to me; it is interesting and fresh.  The Knit rowan site writes:

Designed by Marie Wallin using our beautiful soft matt cotton yarn Summerlite 4ply (cotton), the main section of this top is knitted in a cable and lace stitch with an unusual welt section made up of double crochet strips.

If you can, zoom in on the crocheted section.  It is really a cool design.  The design makes me think of a modern, crisp take on a 1920s flapper dress.

I love these patterns.  In fact, I love them enough to overcome my crochet bias.  I am thinking that only the amazing Marie Wallin could do that!

Turtleneck in Tart

Last week I finished knitting and blocked my turtleneck based on Hannah Fettig’s Lightweight Pullover pattern.  I then procrastinated for a week before weaving in the few ends.  Finally, this morning, I was able to wear it!

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I love how this turned out.  The fit is perfect.  This might be because I tried it on every few inches and knit it to fit.

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I mentioned in a previous post that I was considering making the seed stitch border at the hips a bit longer.  I ended up doing this, taking out the cast-off border and adding half an inch of seed stitch for a total of 2.5 inches.  The pattern calls for ribbing at the cuffs and hem, but I really like the look of the seed stitch; I think it gives the sweater a bit of a dressier line.

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I knit this with Madelinetosh Tosh Merino Light in Tart.  I wet blocked it, giving it a good soak.  I poured a cup of white vinegar in the water to help set the dye.  It definitely ran – if you are going to use Tart in colourwork I strongly recommend you wash all the dye out first.  I put it through a gentle spin cycle in the washer (inside a bag for delicate wash), and then laid it out to dry.  I didn’t need to pin it as the size was already perfect.  A warning, however, Tosh Merino Light does grow lengthwise after a soak – the sweater is two inches longer than pre-blocking.  Luckily, I was expecting this and the length came out perfectly.

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I am particularly pleased with the fit in the shoulder and arm.  I mentioned in a previous post that I didn’t follow the numbers in the pattern, but just winged all of the math.  This method works well when knitting top-down in the round since you can try it on as you go.

Most knitters will alternate skeins every row when using hand dyed yarn to avoid pooling.  It turns out that I am terrible at doing this when knitting in the round; the join always looks messy.  Besides that, it is awkward and I hate doing it.  For this sweater, I only alternated for an inch or so every time I joined a new colour.  I was lucky and didn’t get much pooling.

I love the fact that this sweater is so versatile.  I wore it above with dressy navy slacks and heels.  Here it is with a skirt.  (It would look better with a navy,brown or black skirt, but you get the idea.)

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Once I finished posing for the photos, however, how do you think I styled it?  Well, how else does one wear a jumper to go walking in the muddy English countryside?

Answer:

  1. You put your hair in a ponytail.
  2. You wear your wellies.  Wellies are essential; trust me.
  3. You borrow your husband’s way-too-big-on-you coat.  Why?  Why have a husband if you can’t wear his clothes?

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Now I’m off to find a muddy field to trek through….

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(By the way, I asked Doug to look at this post and he said “You should have named it Tart in Turtleneck instead of Turtleneck in Tart”.  He deserves to have his clothes stolen!)

Loft in the post

There are few things as cheering as yarn in the post.  Today, I received a package of Brooklyn Tweed Loft yarn in three rustic shades of grey.

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I am hours away from finishing my Lightweight Pullover.  Once it’s done, I will have only one – yes, just ONE – project in progress.  That one is the beautiful Exeter jacket which seems to be hibernating at the moment.  I love it, but I don’t feel like knitting it this winter, so I have put it away till next year.  As every knitter knows, it is an imperative to have a new project lined up before you finish with the old.  I simply cannot face the prospect of having no project on the needles. Therefore, I have been wracking my brain for weeks trying to come up with a new project or two.  I finally chose something.  Hence, the Loft:

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This beautiful pile of soft, wooly yarn is destined to become this:

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

This pattern is called Escher, and is designed by Alexis Winslow for Brooklyn Tweed; it appeared in their Wool People volume 8.  I love its unusual, funky construction.  Here is a shot of the back:

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

© Brooklyn Tweed/Jared Flood

It was a rather compulsive purchase.  I have been considering many other patterns over the past few months.  I have looked at this one a number of times without it ever standing up and shouting “Knit me!”  But a few days ago, I came upon it again and it hit all of the right buttons.  I was looking for a lightweight cardigan that would fit well with my wardrobe.  I didn’t want something too warm as it is unlikely I will finish it before spring.  I wanted something interesting and fun to knit but not overly complicated.  I love the way this is styled in the photographs.  It looks new, stylish, slightly architectural, modern, but still cozy.  I love the soothing greys and the soft wool.

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I am so excited to have a new project ready to start!  Let’s just hope I have the fortitude to finish the turtleneck before I cast this on.

I will let you in on a secret: because one project is not enough, I have picked out another one too, which is as different from this one as day from night.  The yarn is being hand-dyed to order and won’t get to me for a while so you will have to be patient.