The ingenuity of a knitter

A few days ago, I pulled my half-knitted Exeter jacket out of storage to start knitting again.  I was about a third of the way up the back when I put it away a few months ago.  Exeter is a very densely cabled jacket.  In addition to the cable pattern, which requires some concentration, the jacket has some slight A-line shaping.  The perrenial problem I face when I try to start up again on a project that has been put away for awhile, is trying to remember exactly where I was when I stopped knitting.  In the case of Exeter, the 16-row repeat of the cable pattern is fairly easy to read from the knitting itself; a few minutes of thought and I could figure out which row of the repeat I should be on.  The decreases for the A-line shaping are a different matter.  How many sets had I made?  When to make the next one?  Easy peasy.  Here is the piece I was working on:

IMG_7310See the little green removable stitch markers on the right side?  I put a stitch marker on each decrease row.  This means that I don’t have to count.  I always know where the decrease was made.

Perhaps this doesn’t seem revolutionary to my fellow knitters.  Perhaps you have always been marking your knitting this way.  However, this is a new thing for me, discovered about a year or so ago.  This is the way I used to keep track of increases and decreases:

IMG_7317I would write everything down.  The one on the left is from my Laresca pullover.  It has a chart, in which I note the left side decreases, center decreases and right side decreases in three columns; each row is numbered and circled as I finish the row.  The one on the right is from the purple pullover I knit for Leah; this is just the sleeves.  I write down every row, numbering each one in turn, and then putting an arrow under each decrease row.  You might be able to make out that the first sleeve was too tight, so I ripped and started again.  The second I called “sleeve – mach 2”.  After finishing it, I knit the second sleeve making the decreases on the same rows.

This is the system I used for years and it has a number of very big drawbacks associated with it.  One – it means I have to interrupt the rhythm of the knitting every row to grab a pencil and make notations.  (This is a bigger drawback than you may think.  The rhythm of knitting is intrinsically pleasing and part of the reason I knit.)  Two – I sometimes forget to write down a row.  This can be disastrous.  Three – it makes my knitting much less mobile as I have to juggle paper and pencil in addition to knitting.  And four – if I lose the piece of paper, I am screwed.  I cannot tell you how often I have done that – I usually make these scribbles on the backs of receipts, or on napkins, or other such scraps of paper.

It was about a year ago that I noticed (in a way that it sunk into my psyche) that the really good knitters whose work I admired on Ravelry always marked everything (increases, decreases, buttonhole placement, pattern repeats, etc) ON THE KNITTING ITSELF, rather than on a piece of paper.  I bought lots of removable stitch markers and I have never looked back.

IMG_5800Above is a photo from when I was knitting the Audrey sweater for Emma.  You can see that I use different colour removable stitch markers – green for decreases and orange for increases.  I cannot even begin to tell you how much easier this makes my life.  For example, I almost always increase and decrease at a different rate than the pattern calls for.   If I do this, and don’t keep careful track of what I did, then I can’t make a second sleeve to match the first, or match the front to the back of a sweater.  Now, I don’t worry about it, the markers show where everything happened, and I leave them in until all of the knitting is done.

To me, these removable stitch markers are nothing short of a miraculous tool for the modern knitter.  Why did nobody tell me this when I started knitting?

Now, I will indulge in what may seem like a sharp change of topic.  (It won’t be, but you have to stay tuned for the punch line.)  In June, we went to Lebanon for a fabulous family holiday.  My husband is a second generation Lebanese-Canadian.  His grandparents immigrated to Canada circa 1905.  Doug has been to Lebanon many times to visit with his extended family there, and finally succeeded in convincing me and the girls to visit.   (I have always been worried about the political situation there which I felt would not be safe.)  It was the most lovely family holiday I can remember, with beautiful scenery, fabulous food, and lovely people.

Our cousin Amira planned a great day of extended sightseeing, which ended up in the late afternoon in Byblos (Jbail).  Here is a snippet from the Wikipedia entry for Byblos:

Byblos is the Greek name of the Phoenician city Gebal or in Bronze Age times as Gubal (Greek: Βύβλος, Byblos  Lebanese pronunciation: [ˈbiːblos]; Arabic: جبيلJubiyl  Lebanese pronunciation: [ʒbejl]; Phoenician: 𐤂𐤁𐤋, Gebal and Gubal ; Hebrew: גבל‎, Geval). It is a Mediterranean city in the Mount Lebanon Governorate of present-day Lebanon under the current Arabic name of Jubayl (جبيل) and was also referred to as Gibelet during the Crusades. It is believed to have been occupied first between 8800 and 7000 BC,[1] and according to fragments attributed to the semi-legendary pre-Trojan war Phoenician historian Sanchuniathon, it was built by Cronus as the first city in Phoenicia.[2] Today it is believed by many to be the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Leah is fanatical about history and standing in Byblos was a magical experience.  You can stand on the site of Phoenician, Roman and Crusader ruins, along a beautiful coastline.  Among the ruins here are the Temple of Baalat Gebal built in 2700 B.C.E. and Byblos Castle, built by 12th century Crusaaders (from the remains of Roman ruins).  Byblos is also thought to be the birthplace of the alphabet.

IMG_691620130618_172318The photo below shows Leah standing in the remains of the Crusader Castle.   Amazing, no?  And to think that the Medieval ruins there are so young compared to the layers of Phoenician, Assyrian, Persian and Greco-Roman remains on the site; it gives me goose bumps.20130618_17083620130618_171835Byblos is a truly wonderful site, so seeped in history and so incredibly beautiful.  It was also, on the day we were there, hot.  We scrambled over the ruins, with no shade, at the height of the afternoon sun, with the temperature nearing 40C and plenty of humidity.  As a measure of our lack of planning, between us, Emma, Leah and I had one ponytail holder and one hair clip.  We spent the first hour at Byblos sharing them, with two of us putting our hair up and one with her hair down, and after 20 minute or so, switching around.  Finally, in desperation, I emptied my massive handbag out, searching in vain for another ponytail holder.  And what did I find?  Yes, you guessed it, the magical all-purpose miracle removable stitch marker:

IMG_7312Please note, dear reader, as evidenced in the above photo, how very tiny these stitch markers are.  How, you may ask, could this help in the aforementioned predicament?  My response: never underestimate the ingenuity of a knitter!

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What to knit when your brain takes a holiday

My body might be going to work every day, but my brain is definitely on holiday.  It all started, in a predictable fashion, when I went on holiday with my family last month.  When you are on holiday it is a very good thing if your brain comes along for the ride.  Luckily, my brain cooperated and I spent a week in which I never thought about work.  The day we got back, we all came down with a ghastly bug, which meant we spent a week being truly, horribly ill and then two weeks being queasy, pale and shaky.  Unfortunately, work intruded on this time and I dealt with it as well as I could, but my brain decided it was still off-duty thank you very much. And this was followed by a heat wave which is now stretching into its second week.  I love the heat so am not complaining, but clearly my brain has used this opportunity  to put up a metaphorical “Off fishing” sign, and shows no intention of returning to duty any time soon.

When I packed for my holiday, I took far too much knitting.  I took my Neon cardigan, which was done except for the finishing, and I took the back of my Exeter cardigan, a densely cabled piece.  Both of these required more than the normal amount of concentration.  Why did I take them on holiday?  I am not sure.  I think I imagined sitting by the side of the pool with my feet up, gazing at the view and knitting.  What I didn’t realize was that when you go somewhere new (Lebanon) to visit family that you have never met, and furthermore, when that family runs into the hundreds of people, you don’t spend your time gazing at the view and knitting.  I loved absolutely every second of my holiday, and Lebanon is truly a wonderful, magical place, full of absolutely fantastic people.  It was not the place to take the kind of knitting that demanded concentration.

Luckily, at the very last minute (while the taxi was pulling up to the door), I threw a skein of Wollmeise Lace-garn into my bag, and printed out a copy of the pattern for Viajante, a shawl (of sorts) by Martina Behm.  This is the skein of wool:

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It is really a gorgeous blend of purples and blues which I had purchased at Knit Nation 2010 in London.  That venue, by the way, was the first time I had ever come into contact with Wollmeise yarn.  They had the most amazing display of wool that I have ever seen, before or since, and practically started a stampede by yarn buyers.  I kid you not; it had to be experienced to be believed.  While there, I purchased three skeins of Wollmeise Pure, and then couldn’t resist this skein of Lace-garn, even though I had no plans for it, and don’t often knit with laceweight yarns.

A skein of Lace-garn has 1591 metres per 300 gram skein.  My skein weighed in at 338, so it has even more.  (Wollmeise skeins are often generously overweight.)  Do you have any idea how long it takes to hand wind that many metres of laceweight yarn into a ball?  Answer: it takes a very long time.  Eventually, the whole family got into it.  Emma and I took turns winding while a number of cousins lent a hand.  (Note that this was done by the pool, in front of a lovely view.)

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Viajante is a completely gorgeous pattern.  It is a sort of a combination of shawl and poncho, and is a really clever, original design.  I loved it the minute I first saw the pattern on Ravelry.  Here are a couple of the pattern photos:

copyright Martina Behm

copyright Martina Behm

copyright Martina Behm

copyright Martina Behm

Even though I loved this pattern straight off, and even had the perfect yarn for it sitting in my stash, I still had no intention of ever making it.  This was for two reasons.  First, the idea of knitting this enormous shawl in laceweight in stockinette seemed like an act of torture.  Surely, I reasoned, it would take a year to knit and cause me to pull out all of my hair in the meantime.  Second, even though I think it is completely gorgeous I really couldn’t visualize myself actually wearing it.

Enter Rachel.  Rachel is a colleague of mine at the university, and the only one who knits.  She gave a talk a few months ago, and I went to hear it.  The talk was truly fascinating, but I must admit I could not keep my eyes off the Viajante shawl which she had just finished knitting, and which she wore to give her talk in, in an obvious ploy to make me jealous.  As soon as the talk was done, I ran up and asked her if I could touch it.  “Here,” she said, pulling it off, “Try it on!  I knew you would want to.”  I was completely smitten.  Would I wear this?  Absolutely.  I decided at that point that if I was ever insane enough to want to knit endlessly in stockinette with laceweight yarn, I would knit myself a Viajante.

Viajante can be worn as a poncho or as a shawl.  It is knit in a tube.  It is totally mindless knitting (and when I say that I really mean it – there are hundreds upon hundreds, maybe even thousands, of tiny, laceweight stitches on tiny needles knit in the round).  It is the perfect “my brain is on holiday and I can’t be bothered to think about anything” knitting.  You could knit this while sleeping if necessary.  You could definitely knit it while laughing and talking and eating fabulous food with hundreds of newly-met relatives.  You could also definitely knit it while recovering from the flu and barely hanging in there.  You could certainly knit it in 30+ degree heat with humidity, even while imbibing gin.

IMG_7248So, my friends, here you have it: what to knit when your brain takes a holiday.  Do yourself a favour and send your brain packing today.  You won’t regret it.