March 28, 2013


Without a word of a lie, I can swear to you that all week long I have known that this weekend is Easter, and I have known all week long,  that Easter is proceeded by Good Friday. I mean, I have a calendar.   Somehow though, this knowledge didn't really translate into the understanding that this week really only has four days in it to accomplish anything - rather than five, and it was Sam who brought it home for me this morning.  Joe's away, and so I have the car, and Sam's been bucking for a drive to school.  She usually takes the subway, but a drive lets her sleep in - and so she's always keen to hook a ride. School is on the way to work for Joe, and so he usually dumps her on the way a few times in a week.  Monday she started working on me, and me, I have a busy week, so I put her off with a promise that I would drive her one day this week.  One day for sure.  The days have passed in a blur, me stuck at my desk, on the phone... working on something that needs to be done this week.  This morning - Sam was particularly slow moving, and when I suggested that she put a little hustle on it, she reminded me that I'd said I would drive her.

"One day this week!" I exclaimed, sort of distractedly, as I rifled papers on my desk, figuring out what I would do today, and what tomorrow. "Not today Sam."
Sam looked at me like there was something totally wrong with me, and then, as delicately as possible, pointed out that this was the last day of school this week. That tomorrow is a Statutory holiday. Nothing is open, not school... nothing.  Canada is, she reminded me, closed.
First my head exploded, then I got my car keys, because a promise is a promise, and then, then I drove her there while working through the trauma of a lost day, making a desperate list in my head.  

Saturday (where am I going to buy baskets?) was the day I was planning on having (oh, man. I need to do the Easter grocery shop) this little sweater (Wait! This means I have to go to the Post Office today) done.  I've got the body done, (body - dammit, I need to get the body of that essay written) and now it's on to (hold on, I can't go to the bank tomorrow now) wee arms. Saturday (how much of this can I do Saturday?)  is starting to look like a silly goal, with all I have to do today (crap, I forgot to buy eggs)  I suppose I shouldn't give up yet (where the hell is that statement)  a baby sweater arm is really less work than the leg of a sock (hot cross buns. I need hot cross buns)  and after all, tomorrow (I need to buy that birthday present before tomorrow too) everything is closed. 

Maybe I can knit.
(Oh no.  I forgot about buttons.)

Posted by Stephanie at 3:33 PM

March 26, 2013


Until recently, I have had a non-cooking husband. When I've had to be away from the family, he's coped with the things I leave in the freezer, simple meals, takeaway and salad. (Everyone can make a salad.) There was a lot of scrambled egg sandwiches - mostly with burned eggs.  The kids would all cringe when they saw his "cooking" coming. After a while, they offered to cook just so he wouldn't.  He didn't use recipes, and thought that cooking was either something you were good at, or bad at, and that he was simply bad at it.  It was hard to argue with him, standing there looking at another ruined pot of food with the smoke detector blaring, but I managed. 

I won't post the whole nature of my arguments, nor his defences. They were mostly rooted in my firm belief that anyone who uses π every day at work is totally smart enough to learn to cook if they care, and that he should care, because he's a adult male in his 40's, who should be as able as his wife to care for himself and others.  He did not need to become a chef, I said - but it is way past time for him to learn the basics of following a recipe. I put it in engineering terms. The same way he has learned to write and work electrical schematics, wire stuff and calculate sound waves,  design circuit boards... making a decent mac and cheese, I maintained, was nothing in the face of the mathematical stuff he breezes through.
Besides, I said. It's not fair. We're in this together. Dude should be able to put dinner on the table now and again.  

Joe set about learning. He got some recipes, and he started trying. The first few weeks were nuts. Joe made a fabulous black bean espresso chili. It was delicious, but it took him about ten hours, and the kitchen looked like he'd been fending off a pack of wild dogs while stirring.   Then one night day he made tian and socca, and made breadsticks. From scratch!  Yes, it took about nine hours, but he's new.

(My favourite thing about that picture is that Joe had to look up not just how to do all this, but how to set the table properly. He made it look just like the instructions, so despite us only having one course, no soup, no desert and no salad, all the utensils are there for it.  Just in case someone busted in with a cake I guess. Mercy, he's charming.)

He bought a pasta making attachment for our mixer, and that was like the power tool of cooking for him.

It turns out that Joe is an amazing cook.  He's not an inventive one, or one that has enough experience to trust his instincts, but he can totally do what the recipe says, and make great stuff.  I'm feeling super proud of him.

There was one thing that made this possible... while he was learning to follow the recipes, he'd find them missing information.  Joe would be in the kitchen and he'd shout out "What does it mean if it says to dice?" or "What's al dente? It says to make this al dente..." or "What the hell is the difference supposed to be between braise and boil? Don't I just put this ^&*(^!! in a pot?" "Do we have a crepe pan?" "Do you think a tart is the same as a pie?" "Is this searing - or sauteing?"  "What's a simmer? Should there be bubbles?"  Straightaway, we realized that Joe was going to need either a more patient wife, or a reference book.  He tried looking things up on line, but every site had a different definition, and he couldn't have confidence in that. We set about getting him a proper book, a great one, and now he goes through the recipe, looks up everything he needs to know, reads about it, and then goes back to the recipe.  He's looking way less stuff up every time. He's gaining skills.

I realized when I was reading the comments last night from yesterday's post, and some people made a connection between recipes and patterns, that it was a great way of saying simply what I was trying to say in that really long post.  Recipes don't tell you how to saute. They might say to do it, but you have to go find out to make the  recipe work. Similarly, patterns  might tell you to perform a technique, but not how to do it. You need separate skills to make the pattern work - just like a recipe.  Great way to explain.  The book we got Joe is How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  (There's a version for carnivores too.) It's got actual detailed instructions and diagrams on how to chop an onion, and how you're supposed to identify a tart pan.

I thought you might want to know my favourite knitting books that do the same thing.

Finishing School
Knitter's Handbook
The Principles of Knitting
The Ultimate Knitting Book .  (Not pictured, currently on loan from the collection.)

There are definitely others, but these are the ones that I know to be accurate and helpful, and that I turn to again and again when I come to the knitters version of an instruction like "blanch for three minutes" or "caramelize the onions." Solid books all, and they keep me from having the knitterly smoke detector go off.

(Most of the time. Sometimes I'm still me, despite everyone's best efforts.)

Posted by Stephanie at 1:45 PM

March 25, 2013

Shades of Grey

On Saturday morning I completely snapped, bailed on the autumn coloured project and went in search of a project that would scratch my spring colour itch. There's a baby coming in my circle, and I was tickled to get the go ahead to start knitting, and frankly, it was the perfect excuse.  I took a cup of coffee up to the stash and pulled down my bin of baby yarn. Now, the bin of baby yarn is far from perfect. Truth be told, it's mostly leftovers, and I quickly discovered that there wasn't enough of one colour to do a whole sweater.

My go-to baby sweater in a pinch is a garter stitch top down sweater that I've been making for years.  I think that originally the pattern came from a Phildar baby magazine from the 80's, but I've remade and revamped it so many times that I don't even have instructions any more.  I cast on, I increase, I make sleeves... off I go.  Little Lou had a sweater like this when he was born, and I thought I'd just do the same thing. I had a ball of white, and several colours, and although one ball isn't enough for a sweater, I sort of thought that adding the other colours would stretch it. Like adding more potatoes to a stew when company arrives.

After a few hours of knitting, I realized that there was a few things going on.
1. It was cute, but too busy.
2. The gauge I'd settled on meant that I was going to run out of white anyway.
3. It wasn't at all what I thought it would be. 

The sweater start above was unceremoniously ripped of the needles and pitched back into the baby yarn bin, and I went to the yarn store.  I was back home a little later with balls of baby yarn in....

Grey.  I know, I know.  The whole other thing was dumped because I craved spring colour - I can't explain myself, but I do know I was super excited to start, and start I did.  I decided to make Fanasaeter. It's a pretty fussy baby jacket, knit at 32 stitches to the inch with lots of knit/purl decoration, and embroidery at the end.  I'm in love, and as it always goes with love...

It's fast.  Time flies when you're having fun, and by last night I had the body done to the armpits, and had flown up the front, and was ready to start the neck shaping.  There isn't much, and it's not that fussy through that bit, but like all Dale of Norway patterns, there's not much in the way of directions.  Like most older patterns, or most non-North American patterns, the instructions for the first side you work has the shaping, and for the second side, it simply says "Reverse Shaping."  I had ignored the instructions for which side to work first, so I was starting with the side that was worked in reverse, and it was late and I couldn't face even the simplest of things, and went to bed.  On my way up, I tweeted:

"Reverse shapings to match other side". Bad instructions for late on a Sunday night.

Now, let me be clear.  I don't think that "reverse shapings" is a bad instruction. It was just bad for a tired lady who couldn't have cared less at that moment. I'd say that almost every pattern I have upstairs (in print) includes that direction. Some of the older ones have directions that are even more vague. Hell, I've got a booklet of sock patterns from the 40's that have instructions for the patterned leg, then the direction "MAKE HEEL".   It seems that back then, the onus was on the knitter to know how to do these things... and that's what I've done all these years.  An instruction says "Work in seed stitch" but there's no instruction for seed stitch? I go look it up in a reference book.  "Cast on, using German twisted cast-on"? Okay, back to the books. "Reverse shaping"? There was totally a time with that would have sent me to a reference to see what it meant.  My expectation has always been that knitting is a skill, and it's totally okay for the designer to expect me to have some - or get some.  Now, twitter is only 140 characters, and it's not a format that lends itself to a super-huge amount of clarity, so I'm often not surprised when people there say things I wasn't expecting.  I figure my original wording wasn't... well, wordy enough for clarity, but I still was surprised when a super large number of very reasonable people said that saying "reverse shapings" was lazy pattern writing.  They wanted it written out, they (very reasonably) thought a designer should do that for you.  A conversation ensued, and it was enlightening, and interesting. 

In the end, there were many people who felt into one of two camps. Either that it's lazy pattern writing,  that knitting is meant to be fun and relaxing and there shouldn't be figuring like that in it - and the opposition, who think that it's reasonable to ask a knitter to do that, that it's part of knitting, and increases skill and ability to do it.  I have no proof, but I suspect that this strong difference is personality.  There are knitters who find the challenge of that sort of thing super fun, and then there's the opposite,  knitters who just don't find it fun at all, and that means there's not a right answer there, and I judge neither camp. It's like whether or not you like cilantro, there's no morals attached to it, but both sides aren't going to come round to the same decision.

The interesting thing for me, is this. I think it is very normal to ask a knitter to seek further information, or gain information on a skill they might need to complete a pattern - to some degree.   It's not like patterns tell us how to cast on.  It just says "cast on 161 stitches". It's not like patterns tell you how to do a bind-off.  It will just say "bind off 6 stitches at the beginning of the next two rows." There's an assumption there that you already know, or that you'll go find out.  Over the last few years though, the degree to which this is up to the knitter seems to be changing.  Like I said, virtually ALL  the patterns I own (and let's be clear, this would be thousands) that are in print, or books or leaflets, give the knitter a lot of responsibility for this stuff.  They assume that if they say "reverse shapings" that you're going to know (or go find out) that the reverse of a k2tog is an SSK.  European and Japanese patterns go even farther. They often simply provide you with a schematic or chart and figure you'll really, really do the figuring.   This seems to be changing.  With the advent of electronic patterns, where space, paper and ink are less of an issue, patterns can be wordier, more complete... a knitter can be catered to for a very great number of things.  Directions can easily be given for both sides of a sweater shaping. You can go on for four pages about how to do a German twisted bind-off... and I wonder if this is changing the expectations of knitters?

One person said (and she was unequivocally right) that assuming a skill (or the ability to go get one) is fine in patterns that are for experienced knitters, but that beginners can, and should expect more hand-holding.  She makes an excellent point, but how about this?

My Aunt Helen had been knitting for eighty years when she died.  She was a knitting machine.  Countless sweaters, hats, socks, scarves, mittens - what she knit in a lifetime would boggle your mind.  I think we can all agree that she was experienced.
How about this: Helen knew one cast-on.  She knew one bind-off. She knew one increase and two decreases. That's it.   Now, I can right now direct you to many knitters I know who have way less "experience" than Helen. They've been knitting for way less time (like, seventy five years less) and they've made way fewer things - but their knitting would knock you over with the beauty of it all. Lace shawls, complex colourwork, many different techniques and skills, all demonstrated absolutely skillfully - just like Helen's.   Experience is subjective. Just because someone's done a lot of something doesn't mean that they're experienced. It might mean they're super experienced at just a few things, like Helen's knitted-on cast-on.  The woman knit for seventy-five years and she only ever used that one, and never thought it reasonable to learn another. Experienced? Yup. At that - so I think that saying that "experienced knitters" would be fine with instructions that assume you have a skill is tricky.  If you'd have told Helen she wasn't "experienced" she would have slapped you out of your chair and buried you in her handknit stuff for emphasis.  On the other hand, while she only knew one cast-on, she wouldn't have balked for one second at the expectation that she reverse shapings.  Heck, she could have invented them, and conversely, some of the best knitters I know, willing to make heirloom shawls and ridiculously complex things want that totally spelled out for them.

This has gotten ridiculously long, and clearly we are talking shades of grey here, but I wonder a whole bunch of stuff, stuff like, where's the line? How much should be spelled out in a pattern? How much should it be assumed that we know? Is the idea that you'd look something up in another book, and figure it out going away as (almost) unlimited room to explain things in patterns arrives?  What is it a designers responsibility to explain to you? If they don't explain everything, should they, or is it just turning us into knitters who can't/won't/don't skill build on our own? 

The whole thing reminds me of something else that Helen could do. She was a human calculator. Like everyone her age, she could do all her sums in her head, or at least on paper. Me, I have a calculator, and if you ask me to sum up three things, I'm going to go get it.  I don't need to know how, and frankly, I don't.  I couldn't do long division on paper if there was a gun to my head.  I wonder if "reverse shapings" is like that.  If we don't have to learn... will we? Does that even matter? It's not like using a calculator has ruined my life, it's just what I've replaced Helen's skill at sums with.  I'm totally fine. So was she. 

I think it's interesting to think about how this stuff shapes us as knitters, and to talk about our expectations of designers and their expectations of us.  Is the responsibility for knowing skills shifting to them?

Like with cilantro, I'm sure there'll be lots of opinions. Like cilantro opinions, they'll all most likely be right.

Posted by Stephanie at 12:54 PM

March 22, 2013

When the Going gets Tough

I was going to post yesterday, I really was.  I was all over it, it and about eight million other things, and then right when the going got tough...

This gal got going out for poutine* in the afternoon.  It was Jen's idea, and it's hard for me to refuse her anything, especially poutine on a snowy afternoon. I fight a daily battle not to go for poutine in the afternoon,  (In the interest of full disclosure, poutine was just our starter.  We had nachos for our main. We regret nothing.) By the time we were done lunch, knitting, and looking at the snow while going over some stuff.. that was it. The day was gone - and today I keep trying to feel bad about it, but I just can't. This time of year takes its toll, and I think you've got to cling to all the joie de vivre you can create. 

I worked on Color Affection while we were there, and then last night, and I realized that everyone in the comments who said that they thought I wasn't digging it because it's autumn colours rather than spring? They nailed it.  That feeling I have when I look outside and see brown and white and grey... that's how I feel when I look at this shawl.  I love these colours, I even love them together a lot... I just think that they've got no place in my soul right now.  Every time I look at them a wave of ennui hits me and I think about lying down somewhere. 

See that? Lovely, sure. Very nice.  Now look at this though...

Eh? See that? Feel the joy leap in your heart? The colours of tulips and flowers and grass and hope.  I chain-plied the single this morning, and the whole time I almost giggled.

I took it upstairs afterwards to have a little bath in the sink, and couldn't stop looking at it. 

This is the least Stephanie-like yarn ever, and I can't stop smiling at it like it's a baby or a pony, or a 50% off sale on my favourite yarn.

I think I need to change what I'm knitting.   I'll come back to the other colours when my knitting isn't the only thing in the world that has any.

*Since I know someone is going to ask, yes, vegetarian poutine. Lots of it is. Yes, we do have a favourite spot. We like it at Utopia. I am proud that they don't know me there. Self-control, my friends. Self-control.

Posted by Stephanie at 2:35 PM

March 20, 2013


Sorry for the late post today, I went to the dentist, and it seems like my brain unfroze when my mouth did.  (Lucky for me, this is the last visit for a while. I can start trying to think of my dentist like the nice guy he is again, now that it's over.) In the meanwhile, while I puttered, waiting to unthaw, this bobbin of single yarn is sitting on the wheel. Resting.

I've been told many times that singles left to rest for a day or two have the twist quiet down and are easier to manage.  Being me, I find this period of waiting almost impossibly difficult.  Difficult enough that I've actually asked several competent and renowned spinners over the years if the period of waiting is actually required or important,  or if it's just some crazy made up thing designed to delay gratification for the betterment of our souls.  They always agree that the energy will still, the yarn will be easier to manage... the waiting, they agree, is helpful, and not personal.  (For the record, the only spinning teacher who's ever technically disagreed was Judith MacKenzie, and all she said, when I asked her if I couldn't actually go ahead and properly ignore the rule, said "You can if you like."  If you know Judith, then you know that when she says that, what she actually means is that it's a terrible idea. If you asked her if you should set yourself on fire, she'd look stern, shake her head no, and then say, head lowered, eyes askance "You can if you like." It's the strongest statement she can make, being the paragon of grace that she is.)  I've decided, since I want to chain-ply this bobbin, and it not being my very best thing, that I'll wait.  No problem.  I can knit.

This here is my Color Affection in progress.  I love it a lot, but not tons.  I wanted one with low contrast, sort of a blur of the colours I like, something not too stripey, not too far outside the curve.

I wonder now if I've gone too far the other way. These colours are not similar in hue - but the are similar in value. A deliberate choice on my part that may have been too timid.  Still, I feel that I'm not far enough in to pass judgment, though really, I caught myself last night thinking that maybe I won't know until I'm done, until the whole thing is there in its entirety.  Sigh.  Keep knitting.

Maybe I'll knit socks. Maybe it's just me, or people who live in a climate like mine, but I stared out at the snow yesterday and thought "TURN." I'm ready for a change. I feel right on the cusp of it, right on the edge of some big change, and for the life of me, I can't help but think that it would all happen if the snow would stop. 

Posted by Stephanie at 8:12 AM

March 18, 2013

Quickly Before The Snow

I'm rushing today, trying to get all that I need to done ahead of what will be another craptastic winter storm.  I try to welcome the weather and love the earth and all of that, but this winter has officially outworn its welcome, and I'm no longer able to love it.
The news this morning that a storm's headed our way was almost met with tears.  (I realize it's March in Toronto and I have no right to disappointment, but I still managed.) I'll leave you with a picture of the Fiber Optics braid in progress:

and tell you that it's a dream to spin. Almost enough to make me forget the snow.  I can also tell you that I had one of the best weekends ever, spinning that, but also hosting a fine surprise party for my sister's 40th that I don't think she'll soon forget.

There was merriment and debauchery, but the highlights for me were when Meg and Sam performed "Hey Ya" for Erin on the ukulele as a tribute to years and years of car singing.  (I actually think I like it better as a sweet Uke duet.)

and when my Mum, taking part in a challenge to write a limerick for Erin as a present, came up with not one, but three poems- and in the finale rhymed "vagina" and "angina".  I won't say how, but know that it was brilliant. 

I offer you this crappy iphone picture as proof that I a) dressed up and b) pleased my sister.

We should all be glad it's blurry.  For St. Patrick's we hosted a tiny feast, and I present you a gratuitous Lou/Ken picture as evidence.

Except for the snow, I bet you are all awash with jealousy.

Thanks to everyone for their generous bids on the yarn. Ann H nosed out the competition on the multicoloured skein, I'll be shipping it off with my thanks, and there were two people tied for the blue skeins, and in an executive decision that just plain felt right, I opted for the offer that was in my city. I'll walk the yarn to over to the right house, and donate the shipping costs I saved myself. More money for the cause, and a nice hour out for me. Thanks for all your support on this.  There will be more to come as I march towards another epic ride. Right now I'm waiting for winter to lift enough that I can get out there for training. It's hard to believe this winter will ever end. I try to be hardcore, but considering how much I fall off my bike in fair weather, I don't think I'll try it while there's still ice.

Posted by Stephanie at 2:32 PM

March 15, 2013

Actual Space

I've finished a full week - plus a little, of Spinning First.  I went over by a few days because frankly, I didn't make the progress I thought I would.  Don't get me wrong, I met the commitment. I spun first every day, I spun first when I thought of sitting down to knit, I left the wheel front and centre in the living room for a week and a bit - and I was right to a certain extent. More spinning certainly got done than when I'm not... um... spinning - but there wasn't this massive exodus from the stash that I thought was going to happen. 

Perhaps that expectation was just as nuts as what I was talking about yesterday. This crazed idea that I'm going to get so much more done in the time I have even though it's essentially the same time I've always had?  Perhaps that expectation was also nuts because it was "Spinning First" not "Spinning only". Knitting has continued at the same time. (I'm bashing out another Color Affection. The urge overwhelmed me.)

Three skeins is what I ended up with, and they're pretty skeins too, and three skeins is nothing at all like no skeins, which is what I would have had if I'd not done this, and I'm not sure why I thought there would be so much more.  (See above delusion.)

I can tell you one thing I discovered though - I've clearly played this "let's make room" game in the stash before, because that collection of spinning fibres is super light on the fast stuff.  The big braids of BFL that spins up quick into bouncy big yarns? Gone. The fun batts that practically spin themselves? They did. What's left up there now is mostly slow fibre.  Delicate things intended to be laceweight, precious things too expensive to knock off for fun.. or dear things, gifts, souvenirs, pretty fibres that haven't revealed their destinies yet.  There's the raw fibre too... fleeces that need washing or carding or both, before they can be spun.  Obviously a week of spinning first isn't going to change all that. 

As I sifted through it I realized that what I've done is a little like what would be left in your stash if you decided to knit twelve hats in a few weeks. The chunky, fast yarn is gone. 

This is going to take more than a week.  I see that now.  Next up -

This oh, so pretty Fiber Optics braid that I've been in love with for a while now.  It's going to take a while, and it won't create a lot of space, but it will be worth it.
As for the three skeins that I did get done? I'm going to take the advice of several of you in the comments and turn them loose.  Send me an email (stephanieATyarnharlotDOTca) telling me you would like it, and which skein(s) you want, and the best offer of a donation to my Bike Rally efforts gets it mailed to your house. (Remember it's just handspun, and not even the most excellent handspun. The blue skeins in particular have some thick and thin parts.)  The blueish-turquoise is 50/50 merino/silk,  and it's about 300+ metres of a DK to light worsted.  The multicoloured one is a mix of merino, romney, alpaca, bamboo, silk, Angelina, Firestar, silk noil and Starbright. it's got a little sparkle, and it is about 160 metres.

Turning fibre into yarn does make it take up a little less space. Mailing it out of your house? That's actual space.

Posted by Stephanie at 11:42 AM

March 14, 2013

Bad Breaking

Good morning Doves, sorry for the absence over the last few days.  I planned to be away from here on Tuesday, but Wednesday just sort of got the better of me. A few times a year Joe leaves the Studio and goes to work at a college, teaching film students and mixing student films with them.  The place isn't really near here, there's a two hour commute, usually some snow and ridiculously long hours. Joe's been leaving the house at eight or nine, and I don't see him again until midnight.  Yesterday I saw him for three minutes in the morning as I handed him a container of soup and told him to have a good day.  He looked sort of unfamiliar.  In the past, when this period of being away has coincided with the March Break, it has been a challenge to our relationship. (Understand that by "challenge" I mean that by day four I was a lunatic screaming "How come YOU get to leave the house" while the three children I was sick of who were desperately sick of me looked at him like he was the last lifeboat leaving the Titanic.) This year, when Sam announced she'd be away, and Joe announced that he would be away at the same time, I sort of did a little dance in my soul. 

I love me a good mumcation - just me and the cat, both of us relieved of our responsibilities (sort of) five days stretched out in front of me like an oasis.  I could do (sort of) anything I wanted for five days? Anything? I imagined wonderful things. Coffee and long meanders through knitting books, then catching  up on all my favourite blogs.  I would spin and knit of course, like never before, skeins of newly plied yarn piling up by the wheel as whole sweaters came together by my knitting chair.  It would be like I lived with elves.  The house would be spotless, I would make myself nutritious little meals, and go for runs, and I would probably lose at least five pounds.  It was going to be amazing.

I have no idea why I thought this, except that the delusions that take over a woman in March in Canada are varied and crazed.  Case in point: on Sunday it was so lovely out that I thought it was spring. I got all happy about it and looked for flowers.  Lunatic. It's MARCH. There's at least three snows to go.  It's desperation I tell you, it makes you deranged.  That same kind of wild thinking had me believing that this five days, this five days mid-week, were going to be a poem written about filling your own heart with time spent lovingly with yourself.  

It was total bullpuckies.  This week has been almost the same as any other.  I don't know what I thought was going to happen to all of my jobs, but I still need to write, edit and manage my inbox, I still have errands to run, the cat is still committed to barfing somewhere random on the stairs at regular intervals (I know what's happening. She's trying to make me step in puke. It's not going to happen I tell you) and of course I filled up the week with a thousand extra little things because I was going to have all the time in the world - which is nuts I tell you. Nuts.  I have the same amount of time, and Joe always works a ton and Sam's not that much work - the only difference between this week and any other is that I have been working super hard to be busy, because it turns out that for the first March Break of my life, I am a tiny bit lonely. 

I know that somewhere in Northern Ontario there is one of you who is snowbound with three kids who haven't been to school in six days and just read that after stepping on lego and there's banana smeared on your leg while three kids say "Mum? Mum? Mum? Hey, Mum? Mum...." and right now you're staring at what I just wrote and saying "LONELY? Tell me more about this loneliness.  Is it nice? Do you like it? Is it that thing that happens when you're alone, because I WOULDN'T KNOW."

I don't mind a little lonely.  It's just what being alone feels like, and I like being alone quite a bit.  I just have to remember that it's cool to feel that way. It's not a trigger to go find something to do or someone to talk to,  or a sign that I'm not working hard enough and should get moving again.  I know that if I sit with the loneliness a bit, it gives way to thoughtful, productive alone-ness...

and right after that comes all the other stuff.  Like way more spinning.  Pictures today are this weeks yarn production.  A 50/50 merino/silk that's been in the stash for a while. Unlabelled, but I think it was from BMFA.  Spun up into two pretty nice skeins of yarn that I rather like.  More about it tomorrow, when - you know.  I'll have twenty.

Are you spinning first this week? How's it going? 

Posted by Stephanie at 11:43 AM

March 11, 2013


It used to be that when March Break came along I'd swing into high gear. (For my American friends "March Break" is our equivalent to "Spring Break" except for we don't call it that on account of there's a decent chance you'll spend it shovelling snow. There's an equal chance that you'll be able to forgo the mittens, this time of year is ridiculously unpredictable.)  I don't know what all kids are like, but I can tell you that my children had an agenda - or  maybe it was really just a commitment, to having the world in absolute chaos all around them.   I always found that their natural inclination towards disorder could only be met with an equal measure of order if we were going to get through the March Break together without me locking myself in the loo for a four hour bath made entirely of my tears.  Planning, structure, things to do. That was the whole way I pulled that holiday off, year after year. I was a pretty orderly mum to start with, but if you're going to lock a load of winter weary people together for days of crap weather, then you better start with a schedule of events, a strict bedtime and a cookie cutter collection that includes a few dinosaurs and maybe a moose.  Toss in there my secondary rule, which is that only crazy people go to the ROM during the break and we all got through it smiling.

I woke up this morning and instantly reacted. It's day one of March Break, I thought, and the part of my brain responsible for self-defence screamed "WHAT IS YOUR PLAN?"  It was a few conditioned minutes of panic before I remembered that Sam's taking off today for five days with Yvonne, and that means... well. It means that for the very first time, I am not responsible for any part of a March Break plan.  My contribution has been dwindling for years as the girls have grown and gone, but still...  the idea shook me, and I'm still not down with it - it feels like the whole week could come unglued any minute now, because I don't have the thing laid out like a high school science project. 

I'm going to stick with the spin-a-thon.  I plied the funky batt singles together, and I love the yarn I got. I'm enchanted by the shifting colours and the way that they play against each other.

Isn't it a lovely thing? It's funny to me that these batts are consistently my favourite thing to spin, and make yarn that's my all time favourite to look at, and frankly, my least favourite thing to knit - I'm always at a loss for what they intend to become, beyond enchanting yarn. They seem finished as soon as I'm done spinning.

This batt made about 160m of a soft sport weight yarn, and as much as I love it, I have no plan for it at all. More mittens? A little hat? A tiny scarf?

What to do... what to do.  I'll be spinning while I think it over. That's my whole March Break plan.  For those of you who still need the focus of a ninja to get through this week, may the force be with you. 

Posted by Stephanie at 12:02 PM

March 8, 2013

Adventure in First

The first day of Spinning First is behind me. One day of what I imagined would be this huge stash-busting, space creating epic.  It's not quite what I thought it would be. It's more like spinning in first gear than spinning first.  Since the goal was to be able to make it all fit into the allotted space, I started with something that couldn't be put away because there was no room - so I'm a day in, and nothing has shifted yet. Technically, I haven't made a dent.  I started with a batt I got on the weekend - the batt that put me on this path in the first place, when I took it upstairs to join its woolly comrades and discovered the state of affairs. (For the moment, I choose to pretend that I didn't know what was happening up there until it was all too late. Like that all the fibre I was buying/getting/procuring was a surprise nobody could have seen coming.)

It's a batt from Inglenook Fibers. It turns out that there is no end to the ways my favourite nuns are super-crafty, and one of the sisters makes and sells batts, amongst other things. (The Convent is self-supporting. They all work to make that possible.) 

This batt is my favourite kind of spinning, when I'm spinning just for fun.  It's called "Plum Tree" and it's a mix of merino, romney, alpaca, bamboo, silk, Angelina, Firestar, silk noil and Starbright.  With a mix like that, it won't spin up into a perfectly smooth yarn, and that means that I'm absolved of trying to make it so. I can just churn along, seeing what happens - and that's just what I did.

Those pretty singles will get plied over the weekend.  I'm anxious to see what sort of yarn it makes. I didn't sample first, I'm going for a full on surprise.  

I admit that I thought I'd have more done, which is crazy, but it's harder to put spinning first than I thought. I'm pretty set up for knitting - and it really is what I think of first when I have a little time.  When I talk about getting a lot of knitting done, one of my tricks is to have it with me all the time.  A row here, a round there, it adds up fast.  I thought this weekend I'd try the same thing with spinning.  My number one wheel has a home in the living room, I bet you've seen it lurking in pictures, it's sort of in a corner.  If I'm going to spin I pull it out and set it up in front of a chair (a chair that's not really great for spinning) and put it away again when I'm not spinning. I try to put it away every time I walk away from it, because I've been trying to set a completely hopeless standard of tidiness for years. (It turns out it's hopeless not just because of the people I live with, but me too. Devastating realization.) I'm going to leave it set up and good to go for a few days, to see if that makes a difference to my productivity.

I don't like to think of myself as someone who could be put off of spinning by having to REACH for the wheel, but lets just see, shall we? I also like to think of myself as someone who isn't lazy enough that I would paint around furniture, but it's a different colour behind the piano anyway.  (Don't look at me like that. You'd never know if I hadn't told you.)  We shall see.

Posted by Stephanie at 2:39 PM

March 7, 2013

In Situ

On Friday morning before I got on a plane, I had gathered my knitting, and packed it, and was happy with my choices.  I put my luggage by the door. I called a cab.  Ken's Birthday was Sunday, but in a move I thought protected my sanity, I'd decided to skip the Birthday Socks tradition.  There was no time.  I was okay with it, but at the last minute, as I watched out the window for the taxi, a voice in the back of my head suggested that this was a bad move.  I don't know if that voice is guilt or instinct, but I know what comes from ignoring it, so I grabbed the yarn that I'd considered making his Birthday Socks from, along with some needles, and changed my plan entirely.  I knew that socks by Monday was pretty much impossible, but the voice thought that trying was worth it.

Ignore those needles. I swapped them out for ones that were in my bag after I discovered a gauge problem in the cab.  Now, I know that I can knit pretty quickly when I need to, but there's being able to knit quickly in the time you have, and then there's not really having a lot of time... and I tried to explain this to the voice. I tried to tell it that I was going to be busy the whole weekend. The voice said shut up and knit.  By the time I was waiting for my first flight, I had started.

By the time I'd landed in Montreal, I thought things were going pretty well.

Technically Ken's Birthday was Sunday, but I wasn't going to see him until Monday. That gave me Friday, Saturday, Sunday and half of Monday to finish, and that's a lot of time. If you ignore working, which I decided was best. I changed planes:

I kept knitting.  By the time I arrived in Boston, things swimming.

I knit backstage before I did my talk...

Forgive the bad shot. I was concentrating on the talk.  I knit after the talk, I knit a little with my breakfast, and then not at all through the day during class.  I did knit at the guild dinner that night though.  Everybody was.

That night I had a little talk with myself.  I had 3.5 days to knit a pair of socks, and I was not yet at the end of the first sock at the end of the second day, and anyone with a little intelligence can tell you that's a problem. Still... when I checked in with the voice, it said to keep going.   There wasn't much knitting the next day - but after class on my way to the airport, I hustled on it - and by the time I was waiting for my plane, I had one sock done. 

The voice and I had a chat again.  I pointed out that I was now seriously behind. That it was 7pm on Sunday, that I would see Ken in less than 24 hours, and that it might be time to quit. The voice was having none of it, and while I started the second sock I checked in with the internet - which is sort of the best way to stay on top of what's happening with my family while I'm in an airport. There I read that a member of Ken's family of choice had passed away over the weekend.  The voice resisted the urge to say "I told you it was a bad year to skip the socks."

I knit faster. On the plane, as I walked through the airport,

while I waited for my luggage.

On Monday, I was feeling pretty bummed. The sock wasn't done. There just wasn't enough time, and I decided to set it aside until after we had gathered for a family dinner that night.  Right then I got a text from Ken, and it said this:

  "Apparently I wear hand knits as emotional armour." 

I instantly knew what he meant. He was heading out into the world in the face of a hard day, and he had wrapped himself in his woollies - protection against all kinds of cold.  I do it all the time, choosing to wear something made by a friend as a talisman for luck or protection.  I thought about that, and I picked up the socks and started to knit again. I wasn't going to finish quite on time, but there was still value in it. More value than a clean kitchen, or whatever I was putting them down for.  I texted him back:

"That's what they're for. Portable love."

The socks weren't done in time for the dinner. He opened them unfinished, like a lot of his Birthday Socks in the past. 

It turned out not to matter that they weren't finished. It mattered that they were there.  The voice had known all along. Never skip the Birthday Socks.  Never. 

Pattern: Plain Vanilla Socks from Knitting Rules . Yarn: Hot Socks Nil, colour 25. Thanks to Sam for modelling.

They're done now, and I won't be doubting my instincts again.  Sure, knitting is fun and entertaining, and it makes things that are warm and cozy, but mostly?
Knitting is still the best container I know for love - especially when you give it to another knitter.

Posted by Stephanie at 12:33 PM

March 6, 2013

Spinning First

Whew! Here I am, back in my little home after a quick jaunt to Newton. (That's pretty much Boston.)  I had a lovely time with the Metro West Knitting Guild there- they're wonderful hosts and clever knitters, and as much fun as I'd hoped.  I gave a talk Friday night, and there were classes all weekend, and there's so much I could tell you that I'm just going to hit the high points.  There was a young, competent and charming knitter - Talia, age 6 (with her self designed monster.)

And sheepy cupcakes (and you will note there are some lambs there.)

and everyone's favourite flock of nuns (I guess technically, they're just my favourite nuns since you guys don't know them, but take my word for it, they're made of awesome)

and to ice the cake, when I asked the Mother Superior what she was knitting?

She said she was "reconstructing a sheep."  I don't know what she meant when she said that, but I thought it completely wonderful.

I bashed out a pair of socks while I was there - and more about that tomorrow, but right now, I have to make a plan.  I came back with more yarn and more spinning fibre, and while this is seldom a problem, it is today.  See, I have a simple rule about yarn and fibre. If I can afford it, and it fits in my house, then it is not "too much." I've got several generous fibre containment zones, and long ago I made the decision that the stash could be big - but it had to fit in that space. The thing has a tendency to creep out of it from time to time, and that's always the signal that I have to do something.  As soon as I find myself stuffing something that doesn't fit into another little cubby, or find the stash exploding onto the floor if I look at it funny, it's time for a reduction campaign. 

Now, I've never believed that diets work.  In my case at least, fibre diets almost always end up with rebound wool coming into the stash as I deny myself things...and so the only thing I can do now is launch a campaign to sensibly reduce the stash a little bit, beginning with the spinning fibre, because that's where the problem is biggest.  I'm thinking I should go on a little bit of a bender in that department, and turn a chunk of it into yarn.

Of course, that creates another problem - because there's really rather a lot of yarn too... but, one thing at a time, right?  Here's my commitment. I'm going to spin every day for a week, as much as I can manage, and see if I can clear a little of it out. One week of a concerted effort - spinning more than I knit for just one week, seven days where I put spinning first.

Anybody want to join me?

Posted by Stephanie at 4:18 PM