No time to blog, no movement on the room, and I could wax eloquent for a while, but Joe and I celebrate our Anniversary today, and I'm going to spend the little time left in today with him. I did, however, finish my September self-imposed-sock-of-the-month-club, with hours to spare. (Just hours. It was a squeaker.)
Pattern: Cirque, from Knitty, and the yarn is Red Rocks Fiberworks Aspen Sock in "Betty Boop Blue"
This is the first time that I'm not sure I matched the pattern to the yarn very well, I think it might be a smidge too variegated to really show up the cables. They seem a little lost to me - but I still like them, still think they're nifty, and even learned a little something with the twisted 3-needle bind-off for the toe. It's cool.
Until tomorrow, my pretties. I have a date with the very nice man I happen to be married to.
The re-organization of the stash room proceeds apace, and hope is now peeking through the big window in that room, though things got much, much worse before they got better. My big plan was to take everything out of that room. All the yarn, all the fibre, all the electronics, all the magazines (Joe's and mine) all the patterns, all the books ... everything out, and then take down the counter (???) and the shelves, take out the existing storage thingie, and strip the wallpaper, then paint the place, whack in all the storage and then put all the stuff back tidily.
There turned out to be a whole lot of problems with that.
#1. I have no idea where I thought I was going to put all that stuff when I took it out of the room. A roomful of stuff takes up a lot of room (one, to be precise) and the other rooms I have already have their own stuff in them and are already really small rooms. Very tricky.
#2. The minute I pulled on the wallpaper I could see that I was on the cusp of a very, very serious mistake. That room has the original plaster and lathe walls, and they are very fragile. I could tell that very likely, the wallpaper was what was holding these walls up, and there was zero chance that I wanted to drywall that room when the plaster started to come down with the paper- which was absolutely what was happening when I pulled a corner. I stopped.
#3. I am doing this by myself. Moving all this stuff, especially the big storage thing turned out to be impossible. Even when I really tried to be otherwise, I was still a 5' tall woman by herself with a huge piece of furniture. I could shove it, but not get it out of that room.
Now, I'm not the sort of woman who comes off a plan easily. I like to do things the right way, but sometimes that just doesn't make sense - sometimes you have to be sort of tricksey to get through a mess, and this was one of those times. Sure, stripping wallpaper before you paint is the right way to do it, but as much as I wanted to, reducing a room to complete rubble in the interest of cleaning up seemed counterproductive. I opted for plan B. First I moved the boxes of yarn/fibre in my way to our bedroom. Then I got Joe's stuff out of there. I unloaded his storage bookcase and moved that stuff to our bedroom. Then I got Rachel H to help me get that bookcase down to the main floor, carried over the floors and stairs I cared about. After she left I essentially pushed the thing down the basement stairs, then climbed over it and pulled it to the corner and set it upright again. Then I hauled all his stuff down to the basement, one armload at a time, and replaced it all on the shelves. Now I had one clear quarter of the room... so I did something I'm sort of proud of.
Yup. Painted right over the wallpaper. This room, when it's done, likely won't have much wall showing, and I just plowed right over it. It felt both smart and wrong at the same time. Then I assembled a $69 Ikea Billy bookcase, and put that in the painted corner. With that up, I figured that I could now empty the shelves behind me onto that bookcase, then take down those shelves and paint that section, then put a bookcase up there and move the next section to that finished section.. you get it. That way I wouldn't have to find somewhere to put all the stuff, and I wouldn't have to carry it all out of the room and then back in, which was something that I was loathe to avoid, having just trucked Joe's belongings over two flights of stairs in about 20 trips.
I was moving the stuff over from one side of the room to the other, when I realized that the shelves were in the wrong spots. They're adjustable, so I lifted the shelf off and went to pull out the first of the four little metal pegs that hold the shelf up. Although in the Ikea picture, the people are doing this effortlessly, in real life I needed to get a screwdriver to pry it. I was wiggling it free when suddenly it came, I fumbled with my hand, and the peg flew across the room, bounced once, and then evaporated without a sound.
I started looking for it and though the floor of the room was pretty clear by now I couldn't find the thing. I started to worry that maybe it had gone down the heating grate, but told myself that really, a metal peg going down a metal duct would have made a sound... and this landing hadn't. I was starting to fill with rage, because the peg has to be somewhere, metal pegs don't really evaporate - and if I can't find that damn peg then that's a whole shelf I can't use until I go back to Ikea (and really please don't make me go back to Ikea for a while) and that screws up the whole plan and I already changed the plan and I was totally getting wound up when I saw it.
Not the peg.. the open, mostly full can of celery coloured paint sitting on the floor. No way.... right? It dawned on me slowly. That's why I couldn't find it. That's why it disappeared after a bounce. It bounced, then hit the paint, sinking soundlessly into the pale green mire. Without a thought, I plunged my hand into the paint, but the can was still so full that I couldn't put my hand in all the way without overflowing it... plus, it was gross. I stirred around for a while, then I took my hand out and sat there dripping paint onto the newspaper. Suddenly infuriated, I bucked my instinct to spraypaint the entire room with the bright blue words "SCREW THIS" and I washed my hands, got a beer and called a friend to unload the entire thing on her. The total and complete rage that I was being held up by a stupid little peg was more than I could bear. It was so hard already and then to have the shelving unit screwed up because of one part that was probably in that stupid can of paint that I should have covered anyway? She suggested maybe straining the paint through cheesecloth or pouring it from one container to the other... but in the end I had a second beer and walked away for the day. It was that or do something crazy, and I'm really trying to keep this room from getting crazy, even through that's sort of pointless because it's already crazy that I'm in this deep.
The next day I kept going with the plan, shifting things from unfinished zone to finished zone, as I finished them, with that empty crooked shelf just sitting there, infuriating me ever time I saw it... and by the end of the day I had two coats of paint round the whole room and ceiling, and the can was just about a quarter full. I have the original plaster in this room, and it's highly textured.
It drinks paint. It's not that horrible stuff that you can scrape off either, but the actual walls. I hate it. There's no answer but to take down the plaster and lathe though, and that's a nasty job. I took the can of paint downstairs to put it away, and right before I hammered the lid on, I decided to give the peg one last chance.
Victory was mine. Meg had a friend over and I'm not sure what he thinks of my sanity, or the fact that I called Meg over to take a picture, that's how thrilled I was, but I've got the peg, I don't have to go back to Ikea and that is all I care about.
All shelves in that unit are now present and accounted for, the whole room is a pretty pale celery green, and I'm beginning the rest of the Ikea assembly.
For the record, I'm taping cardboard over the heating vent until I'm done with pegs. I can't by taken down by a 3 cent piece of metal again. I don't have it in me.
I may have mentioned before, like seventy or eighty thousand times, that we live in an old house. I keep saying it's about 120 years old, but we've lived here for 14 years, so it's more like 135. There are things I love about this house, like the way it's unique and has character, and then there are things I hate about it. Like it's unique, and it has character.
Upstairs at the end of the hall, next to our bedroom, is this bizarre little space. It's a wee room, about 1.5m by 3m (5X9 feet). It's not even big enough to put a bed in, and I often wonder why it's there? (I first thought that maybe it was a tiny nursery, but Joe pointed out that that room didn't have heat when the house was built, and it's pretty unlikely someone would put a baby in an unheated room.) In any case, it's a tiny, tiny useless space, though it does have a great big window, and when we moved in it had a counter (???) and shelving along one wall. I did what any sane person living in a wee house with only two closets would do.
I started filling it up with stash- and by stash, I mean the expanded idea of stash, where stash includes yarn, fibre, patterns, leaflets, magazines, kits... You've got the idea. At the same time, Joe made a bold attempt to use it for his stash - which is sort of the same except for that you substitute wire for yarn, resistors for fibre, Popular Electronics for Interweave Knits, and Acoustic Design and Architecture for Vogue Knitting. I was more successful than he was- but he managed to get a whole lot in there.
Fast forward 14 years, and this room has become a storage space that we all hate. No, wait. Hate is not a strong enough word. Loathe. Despise. That's closer. The room is the only room in the house to still be decorated the way that it was when I moved in, and though I'm sure it was pretty to the people who lived here before, it's so not me. The ceiling is painted periwinkle blue, and there's wallpaper with pink and blue roses on it.
This is just about the opposite of me, and every day for 14 years I've walked by that place and thought something hurtful about that wallpaper. Gradually, despite weekly attempts to bring it under control and make the stuff fit better, the room has gotten unmanageable. The older I get, the tidier I like things. I think this is because you can't like spending time with three little kids and have things tidy... and now that they're growing up and away I can have it the way I like it.. but the point is, that room is a pit, I hate it, I'm even sort of embarrassed of it, but I've never known quite what to do - and after a while you just don't see it the same way. About once a week one of us says something like "That room is the only one in the house that sucks, can't we fix it?" but then we manage to wander off after shuffling some stuff around, realizing there's not enough shelves.
Enter that horrible tv show, Hoarders. I was watching it the other day, thinking "Those poor people, how does that happen to them" and then I just so happened to need some yarn and went upstairs and essentially waded through that stash room. The irony hit me just that minute and I flipped out. (For the record, if just one episode of Hoarders doesn't trigger cleaning behavior in you, I'm not sure what will. ) That room might not quite be a candidate for that show yet, but it hit me that not being quite sure what to do and piling more books on the shelf or counter (???) while you're thinking about it can't help. That rooms a mess. The books are piled high, there's yarn in boxes, fibre in bins... and magazines all over the place instead of put where I can find the issue I want. This is some of my favourite stuff, and the rest of the house doesn't look like this... it's like the worlds biggest junk closet, except it's the stash, and I'm tired of digging through the whole thing every time I need my copy of Folk Socks, which frankly, is pretty darned often. Time to take charge.
(I took this picture after I started unloading stuff from a bin on the other side of the room, so it wasn't really this bad, but it was pretty close.)
I checked around, in my bank account and basement, and I came up with a plan. I would take everything out of the room. I would take down the counter (???) and the shelving that's crooked, rickety and doesn't hold squat anyway, and I would paint the whole shebang. Then I'd buy some of those supercheap bookcases from Ikea, slam all of my books and patterns into them, re-use the big Ikea storage thingie that I used to have elsewhere into the house for yarn, score another one (not sure where, still working on that part of the plan) and put all the fibre in that. Then I'd make a rule that if it didn't fit in that room, I couldn't have it, destash stuff that shouldn't be here anyway, since it's not going to fulfill it's destiny, and essentially make this room - which is destined to be storage, really great storage. Joe's got room at the studio for the electronics, so this little space can be a proper, pretty stash room. I have always wanted that.
I took about half the stuff out of the room, brought the paint up, tried to find a hammer and wigged out, hit by the realization that I'm making things worse, not better, and that I'm totally and completely over my head...but I'm keeping on. Stay tuned. I have a vision of what this room can be, and I think I can make it work. It's going to have to be high on work and low on cash, but we'll see.
(PS. If you were going to put all your knitting books on shelves together... how would you put them? Alphabetical? By Author? By title? By subject?)
I was in the grocery store today, navigating the aisles, trying to find all I need, and there was a mum and brand new babe doing the same. I'm never profoundly happy while I'm grocery shopping, but this baby was absolutely miserable. She was certainly less than four or five weeks old, and screaming fierce and loud, with that horrible scratchy desperate breathless cry that new babies have when they are really, really badly out of sorts. She screamed her way through a few aisles, and then the two of them ended up in the checkout ahead of me.
Now dudes, oh dudes. I have been where this mum is. I can't tell you how many terrible trips I have made to the grocery store with a screaming wee thing who really needs to go home or be picked up, and there I am, in the checkout, knowing that I absolutely have only two hands, but absolutely am out of food, and absolutely have to get through this checkout and I'm only one person and the baby is crying and I can't pick her up but I have to get through this... and really... it gives me a horrible cramp just thinking of it. Those are tough times, so as I watched this mum struggle with a baby screaming beyond hysterical in the stroller and this exhausted mum, who probably hasn't slept right in weeks, trying to just check the hell out of that place so she could go meet this wee ones needs, right along with her own, I did what I always wished someone would do for me.
I stepped up and said this. "Oh my goodness. You poor things. Can I help you? I can hold your baby while you load groceries, or if that little bairn just needs her mama, I'd be more than happy to load your groceries while you pick her up. I've been where you are."
I thought this was pretty good - and for the record, despite what happened next, I want you to know (in case you're considering doing this yourself) that if anyone had said that to me when I was in that place, I would have taken them up on the grocery loading part in a heartbeat, and then likely kissed them full on the mouth. Instead, this mum glanced at me, then glanced at this little ball of pink heartbreak in the stroller, and said this:
"No, it's fine. She's okay, she's just screaming for attention."
Okay. Brace yourselves.
Here is what is true about babies, and you might have noticed some of this yourself.
They are very small.
They cannot move themselves if they are uncomfortable, they cannot get themselves food if they are hungry, they cannot scratch an itch if they are itchy, they can't read a book if they are bored and they cannot phone a friend if they are lonely or sad, and they cannot reason if they are frightened, or if their day is just plain sucking arse.
In short, babies are not really well equipped to solve the problems that they face. This is not their fault.
Most importantly, babies have extremely limited powers of communication. A baby has only one way to tell you that they have a big problem - and unfortunately for all of us (including them) this one way is really loud. Babies (except a baby who is hurt) do not just haul off and scream. They complain first. This sort of vague unhappy noise coming from the smallest of humans, is their way of saying "I have a problem, and I would like your help solving it. Man, do I ever wish I could tell you what it is."
If we ignore that, then they up the ante. The noise gets louder. Now the baby is saying "HELP ME. I have a problem and I need help solving it. I'm scared, or uncomfortable or so tired I can't cope, or really, you wouldn't believe what's just happened to me. I was being carried around for nine months in a warm, quiet rocky place, where everything was nice and I never experienced a single moment of hunger or want, and NOW I'M IN A GROCERY STORE THAT MAKES GROWN ADULTS WANT TO CRY AT THE END OF A WORKDAY, HOLY COW I AM SO FREAKED OUT. "
Babies, especially the little ones, cry because they have problems. They cry because they can't solve them, and they need your help, and before you tell me that they're manipulative and trying to get what they want, please remember that babies have an undeveloped rational brain. To try and control a parent, a baby needs rational thought and a developed glutamate system in their brain.
They don't have one. This means that not only aren't they being manipulative, they aren't really capable of learning the lesson we trying to teach when we don't pick them up when they cry.
While we're at it, let's look at that lesson. Crying is communication. It is the only way a baby has to tell you that something is going on. A baby crying in a stroller is exactly the same as a nine year old walking up to their mother and saying "Mum, can you help me?" For that matter, it's the same as your spouse walking into the living room where you're knitting, and saying "Honey? Hey Honey? Hello? Do you hear me? I'm speaking to you." Now imagine for a moment if a mum was ignoring a nine year old asking for help, or a spouse was ignoring their partner, all because they didn't want to give them the attention they wanted, because if they did - they might show that loved one that it was okay to ask for help. Would that be reasonable? Would you think it was odd when the kid or the spouse freaked out because they couldn't be heard or helped?
If crying is communication, and an attempt to flex a learning brain, isn't ignoring those cries showing a baby that there's just no point in talking to you? That we're just not listening, that they don't matter? Is that what we want to drill into that growing brain? Yes. They're asking for attention, the same way we all do when we communicate with others, and try to tell them we're having problems. Everybody does their best. We're never all going to be able to respond to babies everytime they need us. Sometimes we're going to be in the shower, or alone in a grocery store, or on our way back from our mothers in a snowstorm with a starving toddler and a five year old who really, really, really has to pee and then the wheel will break off of the stroller and the toddler will drop their gum and get snow in their face and all the while the baby is crying because you totally can't stop moving because really now you're a mother of three and you're a shark man, if you stop swimming you're going to drown and .... oh. Sorry. Flashback.
My point is that there are going to be times when you can't do that for the kid. That's life. Stuff happens, but really... when you can pick them up? When you can stop the crying? When you can show them that they don't have to do that really horrible scene from the Exorcist to get your attention, that really - asking nicely works better than the whole freakout thing... those times?
Can't you pick up your baby, and give them the attention they need?
Babies are like fruit. They only spoil when you ignore them.
Since I started the self-imposed sock club earlier this year, its really gone smashingly well. I matched up 12 patterns I've been meaning to knit with 12 yarns I've been meaning to use and put them tidily in 12 ziplocks and stashed them away, the goal being to have one pair done each month. I've loved it. I pull a bag at random, and it's a ton of fun to surprise myself. (I'd rather not talk about the fact that since I was the one who picked the stuff in the first place, it shouldn't be this easy to surprise myself, but it is.)
Every month the socks have been finished before the month's been out, and most months I've even finished early - and worked on another pair in the time left before the I draw the next months kit. It hasn't really even been that challenging, and I've congratulated myself heartily for meeting goal after goal.
That moment, the moment just a little while ago where I thought "You know, this is really going awfully well" is the moment when I took my eyes of the prize. It didn't really seem like it needed much work to happen, it was just working out, and I slammed this months sock-of-the-month onto needles and waited for the magic to happen.
It hasn't, and here I am on the 23rd of the month, the time where any other month I would be in the home stretch- belting out the last few rounds of the second sock, and I'm not even yet at the toe of the first one.
Cirque pattern, Red Rocks Fiberworks Aspen Sock in "Betty Boop Blue"
Ever since I realized this was happening, I've been trying to figure out why. I ran down the usual reasons for why knitting might be going slowly.
1. Am I bored?
No. I'm not bored. It isn't even the second sock yet. I love knitting, it's got charming little cables that keep me awake and I think the whole thing is pretty interesting.
2. Do I actually hate this knitting and am only kidding myself about liking it because I don't want to hurt the projects non-existent feelings?
No. Good yarn, good pattern, not annoyed by anything about it.
3. Are there limits around this project that make it hard to put in the time?
No. I can't knit it in the dark, but I haven't really been in the dark, I don't need to look at the chart, there's not a lot to keep track of, the needles aren't bugging me, I'm cabling without a cable needle so I don't have to perpetually hunt for something... I really don't think there's anything here that's difficult enough that it's slowing me down. Besides, a challenge usually speeds me up. Challenges are interesting.
The more I looked at it, the worse I felt. There's really no reason why this sock isn't done. I've taken it everywhere, I've had it with me all the time... why just the other day when I was finishing those mittens, the sock was right.....
Oh. Lightbulb. My inner critic asked question #4 and I knew right away what the problem is.
4. Have you actually been knitting on the socks, or are you a two-timing wench who thought that the socks would get done through the mystic efforts of the magic knitty wishes you sent in their direction while sulking off with a sexy new pair of colourwork mittens?
I'd prefer not to answer.
Back in July, Tina and I took a crazy run at a neat idea. We'll have a retreat, we thought. We'd done one in November and it was pretty awesome, so we thought we'd up the ante and do another one, three days long, with an extra teacher for spinning. (Judith MacKenzie . Love. Her.) We planned it for July, and we thought that if it wasn't fun, we just wouldn't do it again.
That weekend turned out to be so wonderful, so completely beyond what we were hoping for, such a great gathering of like-minded awesome craftspeople, that by the time we left Port Ludlow, we'd already booked the resort for November. (We'd also already ordered more silk cocoons and fun stuff...but that was a moment of weakness and glee.) That's how awesome it was. We are happy then, to announce that we're doing it again.
The retreat is November 12-15th, 2010 at the really beautiful Resort at Port Ludlow in Washington, and once again, our focus for the weekend will be working with silk. We’ll dye, spin, knit and play with silk of many kinds in many ways- the dyeing teacher is Tina (you knew that) the knitting teacher is me (you suspected that as well, I’m sure) and the spinning teacher is once again, the one and only Judith MacKenzie. (We were hers forever when she showed up to the retreat with an indigo dyebath in the backseat of her car. Who does that?)
If you’d like to think about coming, the level for this retreat is “established”. Not tremendously experienced, but a little bit. You’ll need to be able to cast on and off, knit, purl, increase and decrease easily, and you should be comfortable with most basic knitting instructions. For the spinning part, you have to be able to spin a continuous thread. (Note that we didn’t say that you should be able to knit well, or spin well. An basic beginner would be comfortable.)
The weekend begins when you check in on Friday night, and we all have an opportunity to talk, hang out (maybe have a drink) get to know each other and us, and you’re assigned to one of three small groups.
Saturday, Group one goes with Tina, to a big room with a floor covered in plastic and loaded with dye and silk, where you will explore every single nuance of colour in relationship to silk and its luxurious self. You’ll explore the qualities of silk as they pertain to dyeing, and play with it in various forms. Cocoons, yarn, carrier rods...You'll play with it all.
Meanwhile, group two goes with me for an all day exploration of knitting silk. We’ll look at the structure of silk, how it behaves, what it does and doesn’t do, what types of yarn you find made from silk and how to best use and knit them. We’ll talk about blocking and caring for silk, and we’ll explore knitting with unspun mawata (silk hankies). (It’s seriously cool.) You’ll need your knitting needles with you and you'll walk out of there with a cool project underway and lots of experience with silk yarns. (I'm sure there's a few people in the comments who want to talk about their experience with the true silk thread.)
Over in the pretty room overlooking the water, group three sets up their spinning wheels (or spindles - if you don't have a wheel you can do most of the class on a spindle and borrow a wheel for a while to do the bits that demand it- you must know how to spin a continuous thread on a wheel) to spend a day with Judith. (We would take a class from Judith on how to boil water. She’s just that interesting all on her own.) Judith has this to say about her class: "Sumptuous, luxurious, mysterious – silk is a fiber that catches both our senses and our imagination. In this class, we’ll learn how to spin a wide range of silks and silk blends including silk and cashmere and silk and qiviut. We’ll make silk yarn that is both spider web fine and lusciously large. Silk is perfect for making novelty yarns; we’ll make boucles, knot yarns , frosted and beaded yarns that will be as beautiful as jewels. Please bring your wheel and all its parts. Bring along any high speed pulleys or bobbins that came with your wheel. Bring four bobbins if you have them."
That evening, we gather to play more dye and paint games with silk - this time exploring ways to make plain silk scarves beautiful. You’ll have fabric paint (wait until you see what you can do) and if we’re lucky, explore a coldwater indigo dye bath (again, it was so awesome last time.)
Sunday, the groups rotate places for the day classes, and in the evening we have an exploration of the history of silk, the silk road - and some of the funky things you can do with a silk cocoon. We'll try making mawata (easier than you think) and play with reeling cocoons. It was tons of fun last time.
Monday we rotate for classes again, and Monday night we have a wonderful social gathering for Q&A and talking about all we’ve learned, and have a show and tell. We'll show you some wonderful pieces, and if you’re so inclined, we’d love to see what you’ve done with silk too. Bring your best. After that, we bid you farewell, and the retreat ends that evening.
The price includes classes, fun, all materials (except wheels, spindles and needles), and breakfast, lunch and dinner Saturday, Sunday and Monday. (The food is fabulous, and we promise that there will be good vegetarian options. One of our favourite things about Port Ludlow is the great food Chef Dan turns out.) We’ll even have a little store on site with things that you might like.
Accommodations are separate and you will arrange those on your own. We have negotiated special prices with Port Ludlow, and there are some shared accommodations (condos and town-homes) if you’d like to come with your friends. Simply call Port Ludlow and tell them that you’re with Knot Hysteria and the knitters, and they will help you get sorted with the special knitter price. They are lovely and helpful people.
Price for the three day/three class intensive with meals: $735. (Credit card or paypal are fine) All Materials (except knitting needles and spinning wheels) included. (We are especially proud that even though we added and extra day of teaching, another teacher, three more meals, and way more expensive materials, that we have only had to up the price by $120 from the two day version. That took a lot of financial dancing, but we did it.)
To register, simply send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Silk Retreat” in the subject line, and include your name, address and daytime/nightime phone number, and we'll be in touch. The first 45 knitters are in, and we can’t wait to see you. It's magic time!
1. On Friday I kidnapped my youngest kid and took her to the woods for the weekend. I didn't even tell her where we were going until we were pretty far from home.
2. I thought she might freak right the frak out when she found out that we were going somewhere with no computer, no tv and no phone and only her mum for entertainment.
3. She didn't. (That was pretty cool all by itself.)
4. We read, we canoed, we played a thousand games of Sequence (we love that game) we did mortal battle with a woodstove, since we were in an un-insulated cabin when it was 5C outside, which pretty much means it was 5C inside without the stove.
5. Taking your 16 year old to the woods with no contact with their friends feels a lot like kidnapping your own kid from a cult and deprogramming them.
6. We saw loons. We walked in the woods. She spoke to me in nearly complete sentences and made eye contact with me. We had actual communication.
7. There's only so much communication and mum time a kid can take, so sometimes there was knitting.
8. It really paid off, since now I have this year's first pair of dress mittens, all finished.
La Joie de Printemps, knit in lovely Gauja wool.
Sitting in the cabin with the cold trying to sneak in against the fire was the best possible way to finish these mitts. The whole heat wave thing we had going on in Toronto when I started them was sort of demoralizing, in the mitten department.
9. On the way home yesterday, Sam and I both noticed that the trees are starting to turn.
10. This makes me want to put down the sweater I'm working on and make more mittens.
11. That's dumb. A sweater will keep me way warmer than mittens.
The weather today is dismal. It's grey, rainy, cold and dark. When I woke up this morning it was raining, and there was so little light that I thought it must be still the wee hours. It wasn't, it's just that dark and I was dismayed for a little bit, until I realized that this day really just marks the beginning of knitter season. In the height of summer, I knit because I am a knitter, but when the weather turns, and everything about a day calls for an infusion of cozy, I just don't know how people manage that without knitting. I worked this morning (very productive writing day, if I say so myself) and got a lot done, and this afternoon, instead of being bummed about the weather, I'm celebrating. I put on a very big pot of tea (tea is more cozy than coffee. I feel certain of this.) slipped a pair of woollen socks onto my feet for the first time since probably - May, and put together a pot of tomato sauce to simmer for the afternoon. The house smells wonderful, the rain is falling outside, and I'm cozy on the chesterfield, cup of tea beside me, about to take up my knitting and ponder for a while.
Last night I went to Lettuce Knit, and took the stinky green Donegal Luxury Tweed yarn that I got to knit Jolie back with me. (Sorry about the Ravelry link guys, but I couldn't find a better one, my apologies to anyone who can't click it.) Oddly, after a careful sniffing, it would appear that only some of the colours smell like kerosene and after two glasses of wine and a good long think about it, I returned the green and took a pretty not-quite navy blue.
Exact same yarn, all those great qualities I really liked about it, and no smell except for wool. For the life of me, I can't figure out why some colours in a shipment would smell and others wouldn't, but it really doesn't matter now that I've got one that works. (I do regret the loss of the green though.)
I was returning the yarn, and telling Denny that this is a first. That I've never, ever returned yarn before, that I keep all my leftovers, and I've always found a use for all my yarn, and that I can't believe I'm returning yarn now... and Den laughed. "You're not returning it now" she said. "This is an exchange!" and I looked down, realized I was leaving with exactly the amount and type of yarn that I came in with, and I laughed too.
My record is still perfect. Technically, I've still never returned yarn.
I'm sure I mentioned that last week, on Wednesday to be precise, I got hit by a yarn bus. I was at my local, hanging with my knitbuddies and the next thing I knew I was standing on the corner, getting on my bike with a big bag of yarn, a dented debit card and a vaguely dirty feeling. I bought 12 balls of Debbie Bliss Donegal Luxury Tweed Aran, which was really the prettiest thing I've seen in a while. Me and the yarn had big plans, and I put the moves on it the next day, knitting a little "get to know you swatch".
I knew right away that something wasn't right. The yarn was lovely, I liked how it felt - and just to ice the cake, I got gauge the first time out, but there was a smell. I feel just awful talking about it, probably because I've got some pretty unnatural attachments to my yarn and I worry about its (non-existent) feelings, but really, I noticed it as soon as it came out of the bag. The yarn smelled... like chemicals, or gas, or something like that. I couldn't put my finger on it, but it definitely didn't smell like wool or angora (the two fibres in this yarn) and for the record, it didn't smell like any other natural fibre - or any unnatural dye I've ever been around. I reckoned that maybe it was spinning oil that hadn't been washed out, and finished the swatch, waltzed it into the kitchen and gave it a beautiful long bath in Eucalan and water hot enough to take the oil out, if that's what it was.
The swatch looked great afterwards. Really great. Still had gauge, I still liked what I was seeing - and although I could still smell the oil on the swatch, I thought it was because it was still wet, or because I was worried about it. I put it in the backyard to dry and enjoy a little fresh air and sunshine, which I was pretty sure would straighten it right out.
Later that day, Natalie arrived to help me out, and the yarn and swatch were on the table. I expected, because I was pretty wound up about the whole stinky yarn issue, and I know that I can get weird and fixated on things. that Natalie would reel me in. That she would tell me that the yarn wasn't that smelly, that I was imagining it, that it smelled like the plastic bag it came in and the smell would go away with time, that the swatch didn't still smell like gas after its bath and that I think too much, that I was getting weird again and that I needed to stop coming into the living room to sniff the yarn and that I should just knit the damn sweater and get on with my life.
Instead, Natalie agreed - and she's really sensible and not at all a neurotic over-smeller, so that meant something. Not only did Natalie think that the balls of yarn were particularly odiferous, she agreed - somewhat reluctantly, because I think she knew that her answer meant that I was going to get weirder, that the swatch still smelled.
I washed it again, this time putting it into a warm soapy bath for almost forever, then put it out into the sunshine to dry, and tried not to think about it, which was sort of hard, because I was pretty sure the swatch still smelled, the other balls of yarn were still reeking away, and for some bizarre reason, I was knitting with it.
It made sense to start the sweater, that's what I think. I was confident that whatever this smell was, it was at least temporary. I'd hopped online, read some reviews of the yarn, visited the blogs of some people who knit with it - and while some people didn't like its construction (which is personal and subjective, I don't mind it) not a single person wrote in their yarn review that it smelled like a 65 year old truck stop that's had an environmental incident, so I started knitting. The yarn is made of wool and angora. If it smells, it's something on the yarn, not in it, and if it's on it, then I can wash it off. So I knit.
Mostly I knit. Partly I worried, because a sweater is a lot of work, and this was a big smell, and also, as the knitting continued, the smell was bothering me as I was working. It was making knitting with it unpleasant. I went outside and sniffed the swatch. I was pretty sure it still smelled, but I was also pretty sure I smelled like the yarn just from working with it. I washed the swatch again, this time in Soak. Who knows. Maybe the Eucalan wasn't cutting it.
I went back to knitting, but round about the time that I was exclaiming for the fifty-seventh time that the yarn stank, I decided to twitter about it. I just asked if anyone had any experiences with this yarn and a "chemical smell". The responses started coming in, and as they did, I felt crazier and crazier. Knitters were telling me that they had this yarn and it was lovely and soft and smelled like nothing except for beautiful sheepy wool. There were lots of them, and they all thought it was totally weird that my yarn might smell that way, and the more I read, the more I thought that I was probably freaking out over something stupid. This happens all the time - I get scared by a spider in the bathroom, so then I'm all jumpy and I see spiders out the corner of my eye everywhere - or I leave the tap on once by accident, and they for a while all I can hear is water running... it's just like my brain gets stuck in a caution zone and can't get out. I bet the yarn is a little stinky, but not as stinky as I think, and now I'm just all fixated on it and I should just move on. After all, the yarn is really, really good looking, and I'm getting gauge and its going to be a great sweater, and when I go get that swatch from outside, it's going to smell like roses, and holy cow Stephanie, you really lost it on this one. I kept knitting, and I told myself that the headache I had wasn't coming from the smell on the yarn, it was from worrying about the smell on the yarn.
I came back to Twitter in a little while, and there were more warm and lovely comments about the yarn, but there was also this one from A Good Yarn:
Yes! Just got a shipment of the new Copper colour at my shop & it smells like diesel fuel! Older one's don't stink tho, weird.
In that moment, I had two flashes. The first one was "Holy cow, diesel fuel- that is EXACTLY what this smells like, this lady is bang on" and the second one was "Really? When did St. John's, Newfoundland get a new yarn shop?" (Which is slightly less relevant but my in-laws have a house near there and where the closest yarn shop is can be a really good thing to know.) Right then, the whole thing was confirmed. It does smell like diesel fuel, and right then, I stopped thinking I was nuts, put down the knitting and went and washed the swatch again. I still like this yarn, and I'd like for it to work out, but if the smell wasn't going to wash out, then I wasn't going to do it. I rewashed the swatch, this time with dishsoap and hot water, then put vinegar in the rinse water and let it soak, then rinsed it again, then back out to the sunshine to dry - for a fourth time.
Yesterday I wondered again, I think because I really, really like this yarn, if I could stand the smell and just knit it, that maybe I was just fixated on a smell that was going to dissipate over time - but truthfully, sweaters take a long time to knit, the process is supposed to be pleasant- so I went and collected the swatch up, gave it a sniff, decided it still smelled like a truck, washed it for a fifth time, and put it back outside to dry. While I was working with it, I noticed a few things. I noticed that it still looked fantastic. I noticed that the stitch definition, despite five washes and rinses and being manhandled and soaked and left in the sun, was still pretty darned awesome.
In short, I noticed that if I had no sense of smell, this yarn would be wicked good, and so - for some crazy reason, I decided that the yarn really was good, and I went back to knitting it. This had to be a solvable problem. I was sitting there, pile of yarn beside me, churning out a sweater (with a crushing headache that I was still pretending wasn't related to the smell) when Joe came home from work and stopped dead two metres from the couch and said "Why the hell does it smell like diesel fuel in here?"
It was a crushing moment. It was exactly like when you're in high school and you discover that the outrageously handsome boy you're crushing all over finally seems to like you back - and you're actually sitting with him just the way you've always dreamed, and suddenly, he opens his mouth and says something and in this terrible moment that shatters the whole fantasy, you can see for the first time that he's got all the good sense and intellect that God gave a rock.
I stopped knitting. I bagged it all up. This morning, when Natalie came back to work, I gave the yarn one more chance. I fetched the dry and pretty swatch from the backyard, where it had been resting in the fresh air and sunshine, and I gave it to Natalie to smell. I didn't say anything. I didn't tell her I could still smell a truck. I didn't tell her I had my suspicions that it wasn't going to work out. I just told her I'd washed it, and asked her to smell it.
Enough said. I don't know what's up with this yarn, or why it is the way it is, and I even accept totally and completely that there are other whole batches of this yarn that smell sheepy and woolly and wonderful. This batch doesn't, and so I am going to do something I've never, ever, done before in my whole knitting career of 38 years.
I feel bad about my plan, I feel guilty that our love can't be requited, that this really great yarn has a fatal flaw that I can't live with, I even feel shocked that after years and years of believing that all yarn is good yarn, you just have to seek it's purpose...
I'm returning the yarn to the store.
I guess there really is a first time for everything.
I'm a little under the weather today, and oddly, two of my symptoms (besides a sore throat and foul temper) appears to be that I have become organizationally challenged (not much of a stretch there really- but I walk so close to the edge that I hope this is temporary) and suddenly pen repellant. The organizational thing seems to be largely fixated around not being able to find things I have, or thinking I have things that I don't, or discovering that I can't find things I have because I don't have them because Joe does, but usually not until I've looked for them for a while. Being pen repellant is interesting too... I can't find them, if I do I lose them, if I find them and don't lose them they don't work... even my beloved light-up pen collection has gone all dark today. (What? I like to write stuff down when I think it up at night. You would need light up pens if you liked that too, and as a matter of fact I bet at least one of you just found out right this second that there is such a thing as a light up pen and now you need them too. Eh? It's not as weird as all that.) All of these difficulties have meant that today's been a bit of a struggle, and now that I've made it through the better part of it, I'm going to give up and let the rest of the day wash over me. It's going to be me, a cuppa tea, some really bad tv and a whole lot of knitting... if I could decide, which I can't- which means I might do a bit of everything. Or not.
I've got Septembers sock in the self-imposed sock of the month club on the go already. It was started a few days late because... well, to be completely honest I didn't know what the date was and gapped the beginning of September by about 48hrs. I have no explanation. (This unsettled thing might have been the theme of my week.)
Luck of the draw this month got me a combo I'm still deciding about. The fabulous Red Rocks Fiberworks Aspen Sock in "Betty Boop Blue" and Cirque, and I think they're both great, but maybe not together, but I'm not sure so... still knitting.
The Joie du Printemps mittens continue apace, trudging along slowly at a better gauge and looking very, very lovely (though in desperate need of a blocking)
but truthfully, still sort of big for my short hands,
although now the problem would be that my hands are abnormally wee, not that the mitten is freakishly large - in fact,
They're going to fit my normal sized friend Natalie just fine. (Sigh.)
The last thing in the weekend rotation is the result of a bizarre yarn incident at Lettuce Knit on Wednesday. The shop's in a new location (just a few doors west of where it was) and we all went down to celebrate with Megan and it's bigger and brighter and there's a nook to sit in and a table to knit around and I guess we were all overexcited about that, and then Andrea was talking about this yarn and this sweater and then she was showing me yarn and a sweater and waving the pattern around, and then Jen brought me another glass of wine and said the sweater was cute, then Dr. Steph said something like "that's a nice green" and then we were all measuring our busts and talking about yarn requirements and I said it was a nice green too and ...
Then apparently I'm knitting Jolie from Vintage Knits out of Debbie Bliss Donegal Luxury Tweed Aran. I even swatched. I'd feel worse about it but Andrea fell for it too. It was like a yarn bus hit me and I didn't even know it until I was packing it onto my bike.
I told you. I'm a little unsettled. Odd that always ends with a yarn purchase though. Damned weird.
I've got somewhere to be today, so to be completely honest there wasn't going to be a blog post at all today until what follows landed in my inbox last night.
You all know that I've got a thing for getting folks to hold my sock in progress. I think the humble genre of photography known to me as "the sock picture" is a noble pursuit, and I've scored some celebrities over the years, and a bunch of you nailed some yourself. (Tip of the hat here to Tracy, who got then not-yet-President Obama.) It was all cool until last night, when it got super-cool.
Behold, the coolness that is Amanda and her friend Lindsay, who turned a couple of knitters with concert tickets, backstage passes and a sock picture plan into THIS.
Yup. It's KISS. Really KISS. Not a cover band, not a dress up party, but really, actually KISS, posing with a couple of knitters, groovin' on the sock action- complete with Gene Simmons pointing at the sock itself, just like sock pictures are the most normal thing in the world and there's nothing dorky about it, which of course there is, and that's the beauty of it.
I've said it before, I'll say it again. Knitters. We're everywhere. Rock on!
It's always seemed to me that this day, the first day of school, is a more natural beginning to the year than January 1st is. The real new year comes at a low point for me. The winter is still deep and dark, nothing in nature changes at that time, the kids go back after winter break to the same schedule they had before and so do I. September though, the summer has ended, there's a big change in the weather, in expectations, in the routine... everything changes in September. The first day of school marks the end of the lazy, relaxed summer routine, where everyone can stay up late if they want, get up late if they want, where.. if you're a mum with a home office, there's little difference between a Saturday and a Wednesday. Come September, there's the rebirth of the weekend, the rebirth of setting alarms to get up on time, and of getting the laundry done since suddenly nobody can wear the same pants four days in a row without social stigma. (Except me. I'm a writer. I'm exempt from a lot of social conventions. You wouldn't believe how unkempt we can be before people think we're falling off the curve.) September is, for anyone with school aged kids, the month of obvious movement, advancement and comforting structure. Homework, meals at a specific time.. curfews and lessons.
I love the first day of school, and not just because I'm alone in my office. It makes me want to start everything new, tidy the house up, make everything organized, buy a new raft of post-its and make schedules and lists.
It's a fresh start. Happy New Year.
Sometimes I feel like knitting has a sense of humour, and it's not necessarily a good one -or maybe it is a good one, it's just sort of mean.
I started La Joie du Printemps mittens a few days ago. I didn't swatch. I admit it. I think mittens are wee, and that means that I don't mind ripping back if it turns out I don't like what I'm getting, and that means that I was very graceful when indeed I didn't like what I was getting. No cursing, no bad behaviour, just me and the mitten going back to the start. I measured the gauge and instead of the 10sts to the inch I was supposed to be getting, it was 8, and I can see how that would give me a mitten bigger than I wanted, so back we went.
I ripped it into nothingness, hunted up a set of 2mm needles and began again. Going down a needle size usually smartens things right up - and at such tiny tolerances, .25 of a millimetre is usually enough to get a 2 stitch per inch change with fine fingering weight... at least in Stephanieland, which is where I'm knitting, so it's all that matters.
I began again, and charged along, ignoring entirely that the mitten was still coming out too big. I told myself that it had to be smaller, that there's a big difference between 2.25 and 2mm, and every time my brain tried to tell me that for whatever reason, this mitten was still big, I slapped that intelligent part of my brain down and kept on knitting.
At Knit Night, my friends said the mitten was too big. There were varying opinions on how big was too big, or what I should do about the bigness, but not one of them said that it was totally fine. (Actually, Megan said it was fine, but Megan is notoriously anti-rip. She'll do almost anything to avoid ripping- and apparently this means she can forgive mittens excessive bigness.) Dr. Steph said that when a mitten comes out too big, sometimes she knits a liner mitten, and the too big mitten becomes a shell. (I know that if you're in a more temperate part of the world you might not see the advantages of double wool mittens, but this is Canada, and the sense of it is inarguable.) Someone else said that they would look for a big handed friend, or look for a male family member who wouldn't be emasculated by the rather feminine combination of these colours and this pattern. I participated in the conversation, but I didn't buy in. I ignored how big it looked when my friends slipped the mitten on, and told them they had really small hands.
At home, the voice in my head wondered out loud if maybe the mittens were really too big, but I gave my common sense a smack upside the head and told it that if I was getting 8 stitches to the inch at 2.25mm, then I was absolutely getting less at 2mm, and that meant the mittens were definitely smaller even if the didn't look smaller, and by the way, shut up.
I could have definitively won the conversation by getting out a measuring tape at that point, but I suppose part of me was protecting another part of me from shattering my delusions.
Last night I was knitting on the mitten, and I put it down beside me and examined it for the 47th time, wondering if perhaps it wasn't a little on the large side, when Joe happened to mention that it was sort of a girly mitten for a man. I assured him that it wasn't his Christmas present and that they were for me, and he gave me the weirdest look, like "how big do you think you are honey?" and even then I didn't take it to heart. I was tired, I was crabby and seriously there are rules in knitting. If you go down a needle size then the knitting will be smaller. This is the way it works. I've been knitting for a long time and it's absolute. Bigger needles makes the work bigger, smaller needles make the work smaller and I really don't care if this mitten doesn't look smaller because I KNOW THE RULE. I went down a needle size and these mittens are smaller. I went to bed early.
I got up this morning and ignored the mitten for a while, but it lurked at me. Just now I decided to sit down and knit for a minute, and somehow I was suddenly able to face it. The mitten is too big. Really too big. I measured the gauge, and unbelievably, its gauge is 8 stitches to the inch, the same as before I went down a needle size. I drank a coffee and glowered at it with sheer rage, infuriated by the audacity of its largeness.
How can that happen? How can you go down a needle size and still have the same gauge? It occurred to me that maybe I didn't go down a needle size. Maybe I accidentally used another set of 2.25mm needles. I whipped out a needle gauge and measured. Nope. 2mm.
I poured another coffee and stared at the mitten. This is something about knitting I've never understood, and it always puts me over the edge. The way it can mock at the rules and always be a surprise and just when you think you've got an rule figured out, it turns out that knitting doesn't give a crap what you think you know - its got an exception to your crappy little rule because really, there are days when knitting just likes to smack you around and keep you humble, because we all just think that knitting's inanimate, but that's not possible because it can't be that this is all just random, and really you'd think that we could find out a way to dominate this bloody thing because we're bigger and smarter and faster than yarn and ...
Something occurred to me. I went over to the table and picked up the 2.25 mm needles I used the first time. I slipped one into the gauge.
I've deleted my concluding paragraph 4 times because it keeps coming out with unladylike language. Feel free to imagine how I ended this.
The Village Idiot
I'm sure a lot of you are where we are, so I bet you'll understand when I say that as cool as it is that it's back to school time, it's a lot of work. It's really cutting into the blogging/knitting time, but I've still got a pair of socks to show you, and thought I'd take a minute to tell you that Diane is (according to the random number generator) the new owner of the copy of the Commemorative Edition of the Knitter's Almanac . I've emailed her, and I hope she's thrilled.
As I trucked from Portland to Toronto last week, these socks turned up.
Rogue Roses (my pattern, and one I love, as is so often the case with things you dream up yourself) knit in STR Mediumweight... a rare gem that I snagged from Tina's desk while she wasn't looking.
She saw I had it later, so I don't really consider it stealing. She could have reclaimed it if she really cared... that's the way I see it.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to convince a 16 year old that it is not possible that one's social standing can actually be ruined by having the wrong colour sneakers.
(It can't... right? Considering the state of my shoe closet, I'd like to think that character can overcome dodgy footwear.)