A small rescue

This morning as we made waffles and chatted about our business, Elliot and I discussed the weather.  There is a big snowstorm coming, I explained to him. It is snowing now, and it is going to snow all day, and all night.  Elliot looked at me, then looked out the window at the bleak landscape, and rather seriously said “and all summer” with the exact kind of pessimism that settles into a Canadian heart at this time of year.  We learn it young, here in the frozen North.

We are all also on high alert today, because as any birth worker can tell you, this is exactly the sort of weather that babies prefer to arrive in.  Not now, not while the roads are still pretty clear and it’s not too terrible to drive around in, but later – at 2am, when everyone is tired and there’s 20cm of snow on the ground and it’s still coming down hard.  If there is a moment of lowest possible visibility, and you’re looking out the window thinking “mercy I hope I do not have to travel in this” that is when they are possessed of a sense of urgency. I have it on pretty good authority that every midwife in the city woke up this morning, looked at the weather and thought “Right then” and went straight away to make sure that all their ducks are in a row and they still have that shovel in their trunk.

I have my bag packed and ready to go (and there is already a shovel in my trunk) and I’m going to spend the whole afternoon working on the blanket (as soon as I can skip out on the rest of my work.)  Last night Elliot did not go down early (thanks dude) and it took me a little longer than expected to get around the corner of the edging (if by a little longer you understand I mean about 90 minutes) so the blanket is almost the same as when I showed it to you last.  I’m officially only about 1/4 of the way through the edging.  In short -weather and blanket status combined,  it is a perfect day for a baby to arrive, if you have a neonate’s sense of humour.

I promised to distract us all from Baby Watch 2020 with a little show and tell about an old sweater, so here goes.  I save things. Not a lot, you understand – I  part with objects fairly easily and (yarn and patterns aside) have few hoarding tendencies.  My mum was the same, and she saved very little from when we were babies, but she did have the good sense to tuck away a few bits, and I’ve been able to pass them on to Meg – along with some stuff that she and her sisters wore as bairns. My mum didn’t knit, and neither did my maternal grandmother, but my great-grandmother did, and she was really pretty good at it. When I was born, she knit me a tiny little layette set in a newborn size, despite the fact that I was born in June. (See above comments re: Frozen North. All babies get woollies.)

Considering that it is a 52 year old sweater set worn by six babies, it is in pretty good shape.  It’s a soft baby wool, slightly yellowed by age and felted by washing, and  it was white (or natural) when it was new. (I can tell because the ribbons don’t match.)  I took it out to pass it on to this baby, and found that in the almost three decades since it graced a little one, something’s had a bit of a snack on it.  It looks to me like carpet beetles, rather than a M**h – the holes are clean and look like they were drilled through – and the damage is localized. Three distinct spots, two on the bonnet and one on the sleeve of the sweater. Apparently this beastie cares not for bootees. I gave it a good wash and a little dose of sunshine, and started.

When I make a repair, usually I have some of the old yarn, or can salvage some from the garment. Unpick a cast off and pull back a row or two… then cast off again, but this is a little felted so that wasn’t going to work.  I needed a fine, softly spun wool in a matching colour.  I knew I had nothing like that in the stash (rather unbelievably) but I did have a yarn that was the right colour, though not the right weight.

Undaunted, I took just one ply of the worsted weight I found, and it worked just fine. There was a tiny hole in the brim of the hat – that took just a stitch or two to fix, I simply worked duplicate stitch over the missing bit.  The larger hole in the bonnet was a little harder, a combination of darning and duplicate stitch made that one go away.

The hole in the sleeve was another matter.  One whole column of stitches was absent – it’s missing all the ladders in that column- so I couldn’t just ladder it back up like a dropped stitch, it was too wide to just sew up, and it wouldn’t look right if I darned it.

I thought about knitting a patch, a little heart or something, and sewing it over the hole, but then I had another idea. I used a technique that I teach in my Fix is in Class.  *

Working back and forth, I gave myself the ladders that I needed, one for each missing row, then inserted my tiny crochet hook in the intact stitch at the bottom of that section, and laddered it up like it simply was a dropped stitch, anchoring it at the top with a single stitch of grafting to the intact stitch at the top.  Voila!

You can’t even tell it was ever munched.  When I was done I took the ribbons out and thought about replacing them, but though they’re a little ragged, they’re the originals, and silk, and serviceable enough that I didn’t want to swap them out. They got a little pressing, and I put them back in. The whole things looks almost as good as new, or as good as a 52 year old sweater set can.

Now my little grandchild can wear something I did, and that their mother did, and it was lovely to work on something my great-grandmother made with her own two hands.  It felt really good to be able to be responsible for restoring her good work like that, and I think it will feel even better to dress a babe in something her great, great, great grandmother knit. I know it’s a wish of mine that the things I make will last this long and be this loved.

That’s her – Dorothy, in the back next to my Great Grandfather Archibald. My Grandmother Kathleen is on the left, and there’s my mum Bonnie, holding me.

(PS. At the Spring Retreat I’m going to teach this sort of repair, our theme is the letter E, and that covers “Errors” and this comes up in that section. All the workshop spots are filled up, but we still have a few spots for textile artists who’re able to spin and knit. For the record, and because people always write to us and ask, you do not need to be a very experienced knitter or spinner for these retreats. They’re learning experiences, and it’s just fine to be a beginner in both departments.  Everyone always says “maybe when I’m good enough” and there’s no reason to wait. This sort of thing is supposed to help you become that good. More info here if you’re into it.)

Am I winning yet

There is not yet a baby, which is a good thing in the knitting department and I’m quite pleased by it, though Meg less so, to be truthful.

I’ve been quietly sending “not quite yet sweetie” messages out into the universe, and so far it’s working.  I did decide, after the last blog post to add another repeat of the lace – it seemed silly to make a short term knitting decision when this will be a long term grandchild, and I knew I’d be happier in a year with this choice than I was with it in the moment – so my nine rounds to go turned into 25 rounds to go, and I poured on the burn.

(I know, that is such an incredibly hip thing to say that you can hardly stand it.)  I dedicated a few days of really intense knitting to the thing, and I’m happy to announce that the body is done, and I, gentle readers, have made it all the way to the edging.

This blanket has almost a thousand stitches in a round now – and that means I have to work around two thousand rows of the edging to get around the thing and have it cast off. It’s about 55 repeats of the edging pattern, plus a little more to get around the corners. I’m almost to the first corner now, which means I am at the exact point in the process where it feels completely hopeless.  Elliot’s coming for a sleepover tonight and that’s always good for a chunk of knitting time – he goes to bed early and easily, bless him. (He remains the sweetest child to ever walk the earth, I tell you. It makes me wonder if this next babe will be the end of all peace, but let’s worry about that when we see what sort of vibe the kid is rocking.)

I took a little blanket break earlier in the week, partly because I was bored to the point of chewing my own arm off, and also because almost everyone I know who’s ever had a knitting injury can point to a wicked knitting jag that did it. I think it’s pretty important for your hand health to keep mixing it up.  (Do you know what makes it hard to get a repetitive strain injury? Not repeating things. It’s not like I’m going to knit less, but I can keep knitting with variety. That wee break meant that I finished the sweetest little onesie.  So darling I can hardly stand it. Soft and warm, perfect for the first few weeks or so.

Pattern:Tiriltunge Newborn Onesie Yarn: Rosy Green Wool Merino d’Arles in Mistral. It took about 1.5 skeins, and I used a 3mm needle.

It is just about  perfect.  I loved this yarn a lot, and the result is charming, cozy, was pretty easy to knit if you keep your wits about you (and I do.)  I think it’s going to fit too – and may be a hair big, which is perfect, because new humans grow so quickly.

I also spent a little time restoring some old knits, ones that were mine when I was a baby, of all things – but I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.  Trust me, we’re going to need something to break up the blanket monotony.

The Numbers Don’t Lie

On the weekend, I was feeling pretty good about the blanket situation. I’d completed the centre, picked up the stitches all the way around it, worked the first garter border, the ring lace, the second garter border, the first big border, the third garter border and was just a few rounds away from finishing the second big border. That just left the final garter border and that’s just eight rounds, and I’d be staring the edging.  Sure, the edging takes a while to knit, a million years or so, but it was seeming all so possible.  So possible in fact that I worked on some other stuff. I worked on a little onesie I’m knitting, and I even contemplated starting something else – a little merino shirt for the baby to wear in the early days.  I went on a dive into the stash and didn’t come up with just the yarn I wanted but I did find some hand combed merino top (a gift from MamaCate more than a decade ago, combed with her own two little hands) and It seemed like just the right thing. I didn’t have the yarn I wanted, but I could make the yarn I wanted, and I gave the blanket a little glance, told it to essentially knit itself for a bit, and pulled out my wheel.

It’s been a while since I sat at it, and it was such a pleasure that the next thing I knew I’d spun all my singles, and plied, and voila –

By yesterday afternoon I had the sweetest little skein of two-ply merino, about 200m of a light fingering weight, just the right thing for the idea I had. I thought about getting out the needles right then, but the blanket was lurking, and I thought to myself that since I only had about ten rounds to go before the edging, I should just put in few rounds.

Now, the blanket has, at this point- about 900 stitches per round, and that increases by 8 every other round. Sitting down to do “a few rounds” isn’t a small chunk of time. It’s lace, too, so the idea of getting this bit done and moving on to the edging/casting off phase is pretty motivating. Of course, I have no real idea when the baby will come, but I do know that I should get a move on, and I did.  Last night as I was hanging out with the family, chatting after Sam’s birthday dinner (she turned 26 yesterday!) finishing the last lace round, (JUST NINE ROUNDS LEFT) I spread the work out on my knee for a minute, and had a thought. The thought was not good. The thought was that the border I was looking a wasn’t tall enough.

I turned to Sam and asked her what she thought.  Could I stop? Did I need another repeat?  Sam looked at it and said that she thought another repeat wouldn’t be a terrible idea, but that if I wanted to be done with it, she thought I could stop if I wanted to.

Wanted to be done with it? Yes. That is what I wanted, so I celebrated, called it done, and went to bed, happy to be waking up today in a world where there are just NINE ROUNDS LEFT.

This morning, well rested but with a proper sense of panic around the blanket, anxious to finish those NINE ROUNDS, I pulled the behemoth onto my lap and started to work.  As I started, I thought about what Sam had said.  “If you wanted to be done with it” and then I wondered about having asked her at all.  Are those the actions of a confident knitter? Does a someone who’s sure they’re right ask for help getting out of knitting a bit more? I drank my coffee, and thought about revisiting my blanket math.  I’ve got a sketch with measurements and a plan in a drawer in my office, a sheet of paper with the measurements from Elliot’s blanket on it, and equivalent calculations for this one – because I have this crazy idea that they should be about the same size. I didn’t go get the paper, because I know what it says on it, and I know what it’s going to tell me. I know that math. It’s my math – and although my mathematics skills are total crap, my memory is just fine. I looked at my measuring tape, and I thought about measuring, knowing full well that if I did, it wouldn’t be nine more rounds.  It would be TWENTY FIVE MORE ROUNDS, and well – have a look at Meg.

Exactly.  You see the situation.  So, here I sit, measuring tape in one hand, the truth in the other and I’m trying to bring myself to accept the whole thing.  I do not think, if I decide to go the long way, that I will outrun this baby.  I do think that I might be happier with it in the end though, and this child will have the blanket a lot longer than it’s going to take to knit those rounds, and while do I want to be “done with it” I also want it to be perfect.

Maybe I’ll just look at that little skein of merino for a bit.

Itsy bitsy teenie weenie

I wasn’t going to blog today because I didn’t have much time, but a short post is better than no post so I’m going to write this, but I’m not even going to try to make it coherent.  Let’s do a list, shall we? Here’s some things.

1. We had Megan’s baby shower on Saturday here at the house.  I thought that you were only supposed to have a shower for your first, but the girls said I was being old-fashioned and I couldn’t think of a good reason not to celebrate getting a baby, so we did.

2. I made cookies.

3. I also made a romper (the pattern is this one) and then I hadn’t run out of yarn so I made a bonnet (no pattern I just know what babies look like) and the I still had yarn so I made shoes.

I am out of yarn now. All that from one skein of Rosy Green Cheeky Merino Joy – which made it a very good deal indeed.  (Colour was 62, Isar Pebble.)

4. The shoes are from 50 Baby bootees to knit, which is a book I love now and always have. It’s paid for itself a thousand times.

5. Elliot is staying here for 3 days and two nights while his parents celebrate the last gasp of relative freedom they have before the new baby thows them back into lockdown.  I admit, I’m a little nervous – we’ve been doing sleepovers to practice for this – and so that he can have people to hang out with when the little usurper arrives, but two nights is a long time for a boy not yet three.  I hope it goes well. Today was the first and it went just fine. We cooked dinner together, and he went to bed like warm butter on hot toast, so let’s just see if it lasts.  (I have purchased treats and are willing to use them.)

6. I have their dog too.  See above re: treats.

7. I taught Elliot how to peel a carrot. Together with the potty training (he is better at that then the carrot) he is just about employable.

8. I do not care to discuss the blanket (or lack thereof) today.

All that I survey

This morning, before I packed my bags and got ready to head for the airport, I spread out my knitting and had a little sigh about it. I brought three projects with me on this trip – and I didn’t meet my goals on any of them.  I forgot how completely exhausted I am after skiing, and what it’s like to try and juggle my other responsibilities with that.  Joe always says that the great thing about being self employed is the flexibility.  You can work any 14 hours a day you want, and both of us were feeling that.  If we were in the hotel room we were on our laptops, trying to get stuff accomplished and pretend to the people we had commitments to that we weren’t playing on the slopes, and I only managed to carve out about an hour of serious knitting each evening.  I did manage to get a few hours of non-serious knitting in each day as we travelled back and forth to the ski hill.  We like taking the bus once we’re there, and it gives you some pretty good knitting time, although I couldn’t bring myself to bring the blanket on the bus and then stuff it in my ski bag.  I’m too far along for it to get dirty or what if someone stole my ski bag? There would be no coming back from it.  I kept it in the hotel room – resisting the urge to put it in the safe.

I had three knitting goals this trip.  I wanted to finish the romper.

This did not happen.  It might happen today as I make my way home – my flight’s been delayed twice thanks to a snowstorm in Toronto, and it’s farther along than it is in that picture since I knit on it on the way to the airport, but mostly I’m behind.

I brought this little white sweater (pictured in the corner above) It’s a plain white cardigan knit on 2.25mm needles which is, rather predictably, taking forever.  I aimed to finish the body and start the sleeves. Even brought needles for the sleeves, but it was a total bust. While I thought about it a lot, it’s had the audacity to stay about the same, only a few centimetres longer than it was when I left Toronto. I suppose that I would have made better progress if I’d knit it instead of thinking about it, but I was so demoralized this failure that I didn’t even pack it in my carry on. It can think about what it’s done while it’s squashed in my suitcase.

The blanket…. that was the big fail.  My goal was to finish the border I’m on now, accomplish the little garter band before the next border, and be finished the next border, which is smaller than the first.  Sadly, not only did I not get this done, I fell way short.  I’m on the last round of the first border.  I think I forgot to take into account that this blanket is growing rapidly. Right now there are about 712 stitches in a round – but that grows by 8 stitches every other round.  Predictably, those rounds are taking longer and longer.  Still, I’m on to 8 rounds of garter now, and then 20 of a lace pattern much simpler than the last, so maybe there is some hope.  I’m going to work on it all the way home today, and it’s a 4.5 hour flight, so maybe?  It’s making me anxious, I’d like to make some real progress, but I’m going to avoid setting a crazy goal that just generates more knitting deadline anxiety.

Whew! almost done, which is good because I’m off to stand in the Standby line and see if I can get myself anywhere close to Toronto, but one last thing.  Debbi and Judith and I have had lots of questions about the retreat, and if there’s one thing we know, it’s that if a couple of people write to ask us, then a lot of people are wondering about it, so we thought that we’d take a few minutes a few days in a row to answer questions. (We’re speaking here of the Strung Along Spring Retreat. It’s March 20-23rd, and there are details on this page.  There’s also details about the June and November retreats there, but please note that those two are full, with a wait list. We can put you on that wait list, but for November in particular, those odds are not good.  If you were hoping for a retreat this year, March is your baby.)

I’m answering today- because this is a question we get that could be sung from my own little heart.

I would love to come and I wish I was the sort of person who could, but I feel really anxious about going alone and not knowing anyone and I’m not sure I can do it without a wingknitter.  Does anyone come alone? What’s it like if they do?

Knitter, my little cowardly, introverted, nervous self hears you.  There was a birthday party for someone really like last week and I had trouble going because I wasn’t sure I was going to know anyone there. It turned out absolutely fine, but I hear you. I actually AM you.  I can tell you a few things about the retreat that might make you feel better.  First, yup.  About half of the retreat is brand spanking new to the experience, and coming alone.  You wouldn’t be the only one, for sure.  Second, almost everyone else who’s coming is a repeat retreat who came alone the first time that they did, so they understand how you feel.

Next, this retreat was set up by someone who’s as nervous as you are (that would be me) and someone who’s pretty normal socially.  (That would be Debbi.) We’ve got it arranged so that it’s pretty cozy.  On the first evening you meet everyone in a big room, but you don’t have to talk to them or do anything, Debbi and I take the heat.  From then on, you’re in a small group with 10-14 other knitters, and they’re the same ones every day.  The whole retreat gathers for meals and evening activities, but you’ve always got that little group that you’re with every day, and almost everybody makes buddies in that group.

Last, I can tell you two things- there is lots of time to go to your room, regroup, knit quietly and gather yourself before you return to the fray. On the other hand, if you’ve made a friend or twelve, there’s lots of cozy living room style space to hang out and knit together.  We’ve got a little lounge that we hang out in.

The other thing of those two? We have knitters who have been coming for years, because it is the one time of the year that they see the friends that they make at Strung Along –  it is a point of pride for Debbi and Judith and I that the retreat is a ship that has launched a thousand friendships.  It is a beautiful thing.

If all else fails, you know me. I’ll be there.

If you want to come, email info@strungalong.ca and we can talk about it.

The Voice

This post comes to you from Banff, Alberta. Joe’s been working out this way a bit, and so I flew down to meet him, and we’ll have a quick ski before I go home and he goes back to work, and then the two of us are grounded soon as we enter the “On Call” phase for Megan and the impending grandbaby.  The on call phase is quite long. I had that crazy mad dash to make it home when Elliot decided to make an early appearance, so we’re not taking any chances with this baby.  Could be as shifty as her brother.

I think this pressure, this worry that the baby will be here soon and I’ll run out of time and nothing will be done contributed to a fairly disastrous knitting week.  I’ve got the blanket underway of course, and a romper and I sort of think I could finish a onsie (if I started a onsie) and they were both going really well, if by really well you understand that there was progress, but I was having some sort of dis-associative episode where The Voice tried to deal with me.

This is one of my best tricks – ignoring The Voice. When I was a younger knitter it was easy to ignore the voice.  I’d be knitting along, and The Voice would say something like “This looks a little big” and I’d say “what the hell do you know?  You are The Voice of insecurity, of doubt, of low self-esteem. Get off me.” Then The Voice would say “You know what? You’re right, either one of us could be correct here. Good luck.”  At some point it dawned on me that The Voice was almost always right. The Voice was actually helpful.  It would whisper tips, like “that gauge looks a little funky are you sure you want to skip washing the swatch?”  Or it would humbly offer something like  “Hey, can we take a minute and connect our knowledge of the size of your bust and the size of this sweater and see if we’re still both onside with this?” Or “That increase looks like crap and you know it.”

Over time The Voice has proven that while it seems like a pain in the arse, its prime directive is really nice knitting and it doesn’t need to shush up and not talk to me. It is me. It is not my low self esteem, it isn’t interfering with me, it’s not trying to wreak my fun, it is yay verily the voice of my experience and it is trying to run quality control on my knitting.  I am interested in making things that are nice, so now I try to listen to The Voice.

(Someone will ask, the romper is the Spring into Summer Romper)

I can only assume then, that when earlier this week The Voice said “Hey wow. You’ve chosen the wrong border for this blanket, it’s going to be way too tall.” And “Yo, Steph, the gauge on that romper is bananapants that’s the size of a toddler not a newborn what the hell.” (The Voice has poor punctuation skills. Always has.) When The Voice said that – I blame the stress of the impending baby for what I said to it, which was “No, no, we’re good.”  The Voice (which counts persistence among its skills) said “No Steph, that border is wrong and the romper is huge.” And I’m pretty sure that I replied with something like “HEY C’MON VOICE DON’T PULL THIS I AM RUNNING OUT OF TIME”.

This might have worked.  I might have been able to bully The Voice, but The Voice (which is, after all, me) has a rather amazing secret weapon.  Truth.  The Voice simply replied with “Oh.  Cool.  I wouldn’t want you to run out of time for to knit substandard junk for your grandkid. Peace out.  Mwah.”

With that, I went and got a tiny skinny knitting needle, counted all the rounds back to the beginning of the border, picked up the last round of stitches before I started it, and then attached the whole shebang to the ball winder.*  When I was done, I went and got the romper (which I had charmingly blocked to try and make it smaller – protip, nope) and ran that through the ballwinder too, and pulled out the whole thing.  I even let Elliot have a go.  He must have been bothered by the whole thing.  He had a very serious face on, like he was part of some sort of sad event, and towards the end as he turned the handle at the romper funeral, looked up at me and said “Why Grammy? Why winder?”

I told him the truth.  I had made some mistakes and the knitting was no good. I didn’t do it properly. It hadn’t worked.   Elliot looked at me, patted my arm and said “It’s okay Grammy.  You can just try again.” **

Thanks buddy. Tell it to The Voice.

*I know this seems a little funny, but it is the fastest, easiest way to pull back a project with a million complicated stitches.  It’s sort of like a lifeline after the fact.  If you’d run a lifeline, this would be even easier.  Run the super skinny (like 2mm) needle through all the stitches of the lifeline, then rip back. Voila, the round is on the needles, with no chance of messing up the lace. I pull out the upper, working needle as I pick up the round below. 

**I complimented Meg and Alex for this, for working on raising a nice resilient kid, and Meg gave all the credit to MagnaTiles. 

(PS. We still have room for the Spring Retreat – details here, though I’ll talk more about it soon.)

Sixteen

Dear Blog,

Today is my sixteenth blogiversary.  I sat down that day and (with Ken’s help) wrote the very first entry on this thing, with no idea where it would go, or where it would take me, knowing only that there was nobody in my life who wanted to talk about sock heels as much as I did, and that I wanted to find those people. Fast forward sixteen years, and here we are.

(Here also are finished mittens. I’m just going to punctuate this post with pictures of them, for no reason other than that I am in love with them, and as always over the last sixteen years, I think you’re the only people who are really going to care.)

I learned a lesson really early on in blogging and being a writer. I try not to read reviews.  I try not to go to Amazon and see what people think of me, I try not to visit forums where I’m discussed, and let me tell you, I learned this the hard way.  I’m sure I’ve told you this story, but I once found a review of one of my books, and the person who wrote it said that the writing was okay, but that they wished that the publisher would stop putting my picture on the cover because I was so wildly unattractive that it spoiled the entire experience for them beyond all redemption. I am paraphrasing here – they specifically said that I look like a weasel.  Now, I don’t need reassurance here that I am un-weasel-like. I’m (mostly) over it, and it taught me not to go looking for what people think of me, and I’ve been happier for it. Worrying too much about what the audience thinks is the kiss of death for writing. You get too careful to be yourself. (Plus if I look like a weasel that is hardly correctable by me, besides for crying out loud weasels don’t even have curly hair.)

Sometimes though- I find things by accident. I do frequent the places (online and in the real world) that other knitters do, and from time to time I read something about myself and have to reckon with it.  Such was the case when a week or two ago – I read something and it hit me like a train. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.  I won’t quote them exactly, but what they said was that I have changed, that the blog has changed and that they don’t know if it was the death of my mother or what, but I have changed.

My first reaction was guilt. Heaps of it. Mountains of it. A veritable avalanche of guilt and bad feelings and I spent days wondering if it was true, wondering if I had changed, wondering if my mum (and Tupper and Susan) had freakin’ broken me and wondering how, if I wasn’t me anymore, how could I become me again. I almost felt an obligation to change back. To do the work and figure out what was different and wrong and change back.  I felt ashamed that I had let this person down- and extrapolated that therefore I had let so many people down, and tried to deal with the bad feelings around all of that.

I added “I have changed” to the list of things that I worry about each night, the list of things that I am going to fix in the morning when I wake up and begin my life as a whole other person.  I added it to other disappointments like swearing too much, procrastinating, not being tidy enough, never having an empty inbox and liking to play that farm game on my phone. Change back, I thought. I will try to change back.

This, rather predictably, has not gone well. Like most other attempts to become someone I am not, like someone who answers email instead of knitting or never goes to bed with a dirty kitchen or is impossibly kind at every turn, or never holds bitter thoughts, or eventually uses lipstick… it has been an abject failure.  I haven’t been able to change back.

I was wondering, while contemplating this spectacular failure and adding it to the list of other ways I let humanity down, if it had been the death of my mother. I think about that a lot – did that rough patch, that loss, together with the other losses so quickly like that, rob me of some essential me-ness? Is that why I couldn’t change back? Was I broken? This was in the back of my mind when I came back from the gym last week. Joe asked me if I’d had a good workout, and I described something to him that I’d been able to do that I couldn’t do before.  “You’ve really changed” Joe said, and I froze in my tracks. I was horrified that he saw it too, and he is on the list of the people in the world I least like to disappoint and so I panicked and immediately began to prepare a speech, one where I told him that I knew, that I knew I’d changed, and that I was sorry, and that I was trying to change back – that I hadn’t meant to change I was just trying to get a grip on everything changing around me and… before I could get a word of apology out, he said “I am so proud of you.”

That was it. The bubble burst.  I have changed. Things have changed around me, and I have changed too. For the record, it was also the moment that I realized that the person who made that comment – they never said it was a bad thing.  They just said I had changed, and it is true.  I am not just the mother who wrote this blog sixteen years ago, I am a grandmother.  I am not a daughter any longer, I am an orphan. I am not only a knitter, I am a weaver and a spinner and I can embroider beautiful mittens and I don’t just blog, I have books and instagram and I own a small business and I learned to ski and I can just about deadlift my own body weight because my doctor told me that if I didn’t change I was going to have the bone density of a bird, and I have allowed myself to embrace a family of choice.  I have lost friends, I have made friends, my family has shrunk and then grown again. I have on my resume that I was the Chair of a big charity, and I learned how to manage spreadsheets. (Sort of.) I am a long distance cyclist. I no longer pretend things are okay with me when they are not. I have changed, and that’s okay. It’s really okay, it’s actually maybe the only way through something like this (by “this” I think I mean life) and I have changed and darlingest knitters… frankly, I really hope you have too.

It has been sixteen years, and the only thing that has not changed, is that I still wanted to come here to tell you what I was thinking.

On Friday night at VKL, I had dinner with an old friend. Someone who started blogging around when I did, and she stopped last year. She’s still present, and still on instagram and I asked her how she felt about the decision to stop blogging.  “Things change” she said, and I could tell how happy she was with her decision. She’s changed – and she looked so well and so happy and so totally in charge of herself and her family and I thought about changing this too, and let me tell you, it’s not going to happen.  A lot more would have to change for me to want to leave all of you. The Blog (that’s you) has been my constant, my rock, the amorphous blob of humanity that understands me best all these years, and has been the best support of my life. Though things have changed, I love you yet. You are my people, and I couldn’t do anything without you.

Sixteen years.  Cheers, my friends. To change, may you embrace it, and then always come here to tell me about it.

Love always,

Stephanie

(PS, along with my inability to rinse out a coffee cup the day that I use it, or the way that I can. not. answer. all. my. mail…  the other thing that hasn’t changed is The Bike Rally. This year (for a change) I’ll just be riding the thing.  Other than an advisory role, I have no responsibility at all – but for the wind in my hair and the cash that I raise. As has become traditional, I start my fundraising on my blogiversary – asking you, if I have given you enough over the last sixteen years, if you’d consider giving me (well, people with AIDS) sixteen dollars. (Or a multiple of sixteen, or a fraction of it, depending on your means.) Here’s the link to do that, if you’d like to keep the way knitters freak that charity out completely unchanged.) 

 

The Shoemaker’s Children

I have something to tell you.  It’s an embarrassing, shameful thing, and a secret I have been keeping for almost two years. I think of telling you often, and you shouldn’t think that because I haven’t we are not close, but the truth is that I haven’t felt ready. I know that so many of you could have helped if only you had known, but it has seemed easier to carry it alone than to reveal it. It’s finally time.

I have been wearing store bought mittens.

Oh, it gets worse.  Not just any store bought mittens, but crappy acrylic mittens that I bough from a sale bin at The Bay when I had super-cold hands and my last pair of fantastic hand knit mittens had finally shovelled one too many driveways, and left this earth for the great big sheep pasture in the sky. Since then, I have knit (checks records) about 14 pairs of mittens for other people.  Beautiful mittens. Mittens with fancy cuffs, mittens with Latvian braids, colourwork mittens, simple woollen mittens, and trigger finger mittens.  Hell, I knit four pairs of mittens for other people in December alone, all while jamming my hands either into my pockets, or shamefully donning the craptastic store specials when the weather demanded it.

Suddenly, I could take it no longer. I grabbed a ball of some decent upstanding wool from the cupboard, and slammed out a pair for myself, just using the mitten pattern I carry in my head (thanks Aunt Helen) and this morning when they were done and dry,  I looked at them and realized that I deserved better – sure, a good plain pair of handknits is never wrong, and at least I was back in the game, but I was pretty sure I could do more.  I’m still deep in baby-knits land (the blanket is in the round now, and I’ve entered the phase where it looks like the worlds fanciest shopping sack) so frankly all my bandwidth for fussy things was used up, and then I had an idea.

I’m embroidering them.  It’s a fast and pretty way to take them to the next level, and make them something that a textile artist can be proud to wear. A one of a kind pair, made with my own two little hands.  I worked up a sketch on the back of an envelope, found oddments in pretty colours from my leftovers bin, and I’m almost done.

Bouillon roses with french knot centres, and fetching little satin stitch buds, a meandering path of split stitch, and wee lazy daisy leaves.

Tomorrow, I walk among us again, with my hands proudly out of my pockets, and my head held high.

Three lies

1. I’m knitting along on this blanket, and I just gave it a proper pat, and congratulated myself that I am “almost done” the centre.

This is a lie.  That’s where I was on Sunday, and this is where I am now…

(Sorry that picture is a bit dark, it’s late.)

It’s about four repeats. Four repeats in four days doesn’t mean that I am going to be done today. It means that I am going to be done in four days. I’m aiming for this centre section to be a square, and rather than just measuring the damn thing I have simply stretched it lengthwise 45 times to try and convince myself it’s taller than it is. It is about 52cm wide, and it’s currently about 28cm high.  This is not “almost done.” This is about halfway done, and means I need at least three more repeats, likely four. (Note to self: stop pulling on it you liar, you know what a damn square is.)

2. “It will be taller when it is blocked”.  While not a complete untruth, because it will be taller when it is blocked, it is also going to be wider, which means…. See above.

3. “The provisional cast on I used is going to save me time.”

This is not true either. I always start these blankets with a provisional cast on so that when I’m done the square and have live stitches at the top, I can unpick the cast on and have live stitches at the bottom, which has a terrific symmetry and means the bottom and top are equally stretchy.  My favourite one is this the crochet method, directly onto the needle. It is inexplicable then, that I chose to start this blanket with the backwards loop method. (I cannot link to that, because it is so silly that almost nobody advocates it.) To do this one, you work the backwards loop (or “e” cast on) with waste yarn, and then knit across it with the working yarn. It doesn’t unzip.  As a matter of fact, when the time comes to pick up those stitches, I’ll have to snip and unpick the cast on. Like, with scissors.  Yes, this is risky, and very, very slow.

Why then, did I use it? I have no explanation, except that I was seized with laziness at the moment of cast on.  The crochet method… well, it takes longer at the beginning. And you have to go get a hook. Like… from across the room, and somehow, I managed to convince myself that the backwards loop one would therefore be faster, and it was. Thing is that once again, I allowed Today Stephanie to throw Tomorrow Stephanie under the bus, wildly overestimating her patience and willingness to get things done.

With the reconciliation of those lies, I’m off.  I’ve got some work to do before I can go back and try to crush today’s blanket repeat under my mighty needles.  I’m headed to VK Live NYC on the weekend, (not teaching) and I’m pretty determined to have the centre done before I get on a plane. (I have enough knowledge of Tomorrow Stephanie to know she’ll really resent snipping that cast-off out on a plane, so despite knowing that it will likely take four days, I am going to try and fit it into…. um… well, it’s two.)

As an aside, I wanted to let you all know that this year’s Strung Along Retreats at Port Ludlow are open for registration.  There’s lots of information here – and while the June and November retreats are full with wait lists, there’s room for you in the Spring Retreat. (March 20-23rd.) I’d love to see you there. Follow that link for details, and email if you’ve got questions. I love answering them, I’m so proud of what we do in that place.

 

A(nother) Small Sweater

“Babies- And people generally– have been dressed in wool since around the beginning of history.  Even as comparatively recently as my own youth I can remember neither the word, nor the phenomenon, of wool-allergy.  A minimal minority wriggled their way through my boarding-school days complaining of scratchy underwear, but they outgrew the sensitivity — they had to.  I believe that the dressing of babies in the very softest wool, automatically and naturally immunizes them against any allergy to it.”

– Elizabeth Zimmermann, The Knitter’s Almanac

I think of this quote a lot, and it’s definitely worked with my children, nieces, nephews and of course…

Elliot.  Each of them has been swathed in the stuff from the word go – I’m a big fan of wool on babies and littles for a million reasons, you guys know most of them. It’s warm when wet, resilient,  sustainable (remember, polyester is plastic) biodegradable, naturally flame resistant and hypoallergenic. (Somebody’s going to go bananas at that last one, but look up the definition first.)

In all the years I’ve been knitting for kids, I’ve always knit with wool (non-superwash, where I can) and handed the sweaters out with abandon. I know, I know, someone else is going to go bananas and say that it’s a terrible burden to give a new family woollies, for laundry reasons, and someone else will say that they’re afraid they’ll be ruined.  To them, I say this. If you don’t think they can take care of something as precious as your knitting- the very container of your time and love, then maybe you should buy them something nice? Maybe they’re not your target audience

As for the laundry problem, woollies don’t need washing often (another advantage of wool, it’s naturally antimicrobial and repels dirt) and you wash them just the way you wash the littles who wear them, so I feel like all parents are competent to handle the task. (Assuming they are successfully washing the littles in question, and if they’re not then I think there’s another issue to address before sweaters.)

In any case, all the babies and kids I’m lucky enough to know have a full wardrobe, wear their wool with gusto and nary an itch, and I think of Elizabeth often.

Pictured: Elliot’s Christmas sweater this year. Pattern: Winter Cocoa. Yarn: Miss Babs Yowza. (One skein for the size 2, knit a little longer in the arms and body, because Elliot’s almost the height of a three year old, but pretty skinny.) Needle size: 3.5mm (See that? I can be taught.)

PS the blanket is coming along I’ll show you tomorrow.

PPS Meg, thanks for taking the pictures.  I know he’s a fast moving target.