Monday, November 30, 2009

Deadline Knitting: Yay or Nay?

[Me, knitting over Thanksgiving weekend in Houston.]

Hey Y'all,
Taking a little survey here. So last week, for the holiday, I ran away from home and went to Houston to hang out with my partner's Dad and his friends. I'm a workaholic but lately I've been having some serious discussions with myself about the need to carve out time for things I want to do, like read more and knit more and just sit around and talk. Toward that end, I did an experiment. I wanted to see if I could go the whole long weekend without working. Technically, I didn't have any writing projects due Monday, so this was a do-able goal. On the other hand, I have some pending deadlines, so I could've worked on those.

I did very well with not writing. I took long walks, ate too much, and watched a couple of silly movies. All good. And yes, I knitted. I knitted and knitted and knitted and knitted. I'm going to France in a couple of weeks and I am hoping, so much, to finish this sweater I'm working on before I go. I honestly can't tell yet if I'll meet the goal. I've got the back and both front pieces done, and am working on sleeve number one. (I was going to try to do both at once but thought better of it, given my limited spatial relations skills-- I worried I would get to the shaping part and screw up both sleeves at once.) So was I/am I relaxing when I do Deadline Knitting? Or am I just applying all the anxiety that comes with deadline writing to the pastime that is supposed to help me chill out?

This is not a really Big Question. Let's face it, if I have time to sit around mulling if I'm knitting "too much," then life must be pretty good, right?

Anybody else out there get a little nutty with the knitting when either a) you want something done in time for a specific occasion and/or b) you're getting close to the end which makes you feel you must drop everything else and knit until it's finished? I actually think holiday knitting prompts this sort of action.

Speaking of holidays, I think I posted the following pictures last year, but let me drag them out again. My boyfriend, Warren, loves to ask me to knit him ridiculous items. Last year he wanted a roasted turkey hat for Thanksgiving and a menorah hat for Hanukkah, both of which I managed to create without any sort of real pattern. I kind of invented as I went along. My Fair Isle leaves something to be desired, so when I Fair Isled the 3-D menorah, I wound up making it way too tight at the top, which is why Warren can't pull it down properly. Now he's begging me to make him a hat that looks like the French flag, also in time for our trip, so he can let the folks over there know just how pleased he is to be visiting. Tres gauche? Perhaps. But I think I can knock it out on the ten hour flight.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Putting a Spin on Things

I think I mentioned this already at some point, but every year I make a long list of goals, some more urgent than others. I live by my daily To Do lists, but these bigger, broader annual lists are more of the wish variety. Will I ever really learn Spanish? Maybe, maybe not. But if I never put it on the list, then it's a pretty good bet there's no chance at all that I'll ever conquer it.

Taking more classes at HCW has been on the list for years now. Last January I told myself this would be the year I took every single class my schedule allowed-- this is how much I've transformed from "I will only ever knit rectangles and never learn to purl lest I get all consumed by complicated patterns." Now I want to learn tricks, even if I won't likely use them in my everyday knitting. I want to, eventually, earn the equivalent of an honorary Ph.D in everything knit. I want to know all the kinds of yarns and techniques and abbreviations. So putting "take classes" on the list was one of those goals that actually took on some urgency for me.

Unfortunately, my past year was so busy I hardly had time to sleep and breathe, let along follow through on class-taking. This was so frustrating for me. By the time I finished my latest book (which comes out next year) I looked at the calendar and it was practically November. I'd let just about every knit-class opportunity slip by me because I just could not fit it in.

Then I got the note-- an Express Spin class was happening and, no small miracle, I had time for it. It took me two days to find the drop spindle kit I picked up at a craft fair some time ago. I showed up to find Deb circled by others like me-- those of us officially addicted enough to want to know how to make our own fiber. (My own goal-within-the-goal is to get a spinning wheel and learn to use it.)

It is always funny and humbling to me to take a 101 class and find myself, if not befuddled, at least put in my place. Sure, I can research the hell out of historic documents, teach fidgety little children poetry, and hold my own improvising in the kitchen. But when it's time for motor skills lessons, boy do I struggle. And, too, beneath whatever frustration initially visits me, I get very excited. Because I love a challenge, and I love learning about process.

And so I sat, more enraptured than frustrated, as Deb covered an awful lot of territory for such a short two-hour stretch. She introduced us to all sorts of helpful books, naming Start Spinning and Respect the Spindle as two good get-started manuals (and telling us that, if we're like her, we'll also wind up building an entire collection of spin books as there is no shortage or other titles.)

Then we plunged right in. If I try to define for you here the terms I heard-- prepared, roving, carded, top-- I will only wind up confusing you. From my beginner's stance, here is roughly what it looked and sounded like:

Take this fluffy stuff. Prepare it by pulling gently. Get it connected to your starter cord (which is attached to your spindle), then simultaneously spin and draft continuously until you have...

Well, in my case let's just say I wound up with some "artisan yarn," replete with lots and lots of spots that continued to have that "right off the sheep" look to it. Which is to say I didn't manage to spin continuously. On the other hand, I had enough fun and picked up enough knowledge to want to keep trying. In fact, I was so excited, I took out my spindle at dinner that night, and attempted to demonstrate my new fledgling skills for my bf, Warren, and our friend, Dave. Warren and Dave both have engineer type brains and were eager to give the spindle a shot. None of us had much luck with the process though, as you'll see, we did have more fun finding new uses for the fluffy stuff.

Deb is promising a spinning wheel class soon, and I am already planning to put that at the top of my Big To Do List for 2010. I am bound and determined to figure out this spinning stuff. In the meanwhile, I was glad for the bigger lesson learned during class, which is how much I love, love, love learning new things. I know we are about to move into the crazy-busy holiday season in about five seconds here, but even if you can't fit any more classes into your schedule this year, may I gently remind you what a blast it is to sign-up for a class-- there are ongoing classes, one-shot classes, and series classes, like the sweater workshop I did manage to fit in back in January with Fran, which inspired me enough to get me working on what is, for me, a crazy tricky sweater, one I hope to finish and unveil soon.

So thank you, beloved knit shop, for all the opportunities to take it to the next level.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Cool Weaving Event Saturday, November 21st!

Hey Y'all,
Tomorrow-- Saturday, November 21st-- there's a cool, one-day art fair at Westover Hills Church of Christ, 8332 Mesa Drive. Put on by the Hill Country Tribers, it's a chance for you to buy lovely handcrafts-- bags and jewelry-- locally handmade by refugee artisans. You can find out more about these refugees and the work they do by clicking here. The proceeds from the sales go directly back to the weavers and jewelry makers, providing supplemental income for their families.

In addition to the stuff you can buy, you can also check out some cool weaving demos using strap looms. I know this time of the year we have tons of arts fairs to visit-- Blue Genie, Armadillo, and Cherrywood to name the biggies. But I'm thinking this will be a pretty cool chance to watch a unique type of weaving up close and an opportunity to meet the weavers.

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Our Lady of the Needles (And Other Knit History)

Though I stop to ponder the point less now than I used to, there are still times when I look at the two needles I’m holding, and the yarn looping around them, and I wonder, “Who the hell thought up knitting?”

As far as I can tell it’s not like the craft was some obvious this-leads-to-that sort of development like, say, maybe scooping up sand with a clamshell might have inspired the creation of a human-crafted shovel, or brushing away dirt with a wispy-leafed branch might have acted as catalyst for the invention of brooms.

Contemplating what sometimes seems to be the absurdity of knitting leads me to think of other things that, when analyzed too closely, also seem a little nuts but, when simply practiced, bring great joy. For example: dancing. Do you ever just stop and watch people dance? Really, it can look pretty silly. And yet, when you're engaged in it-- I mean really into the beat-- seems not only normal but like "Why do I not do this every minute of every day-- it feels so good!"

Running also seems mystifying. Many years ago, when a friend first started dragging me around Town Lake because I needed to lose about fifty pounds (which I eventually did), I remember thinking how stupid it seemed. Here were all these folks, walking and running in circles, wearing ridiculous skintight clothes, and seemingly not going anywhere in particular. What a waste of time.

Of course, after a while of doing this activity, I became a big believer, and ultimately I got hooked on walking, which I still try to do every day. I came to understand the power of endorphins, the importance of ritual, and the joy of getting out of the house.

So the reality is, it hasn’t been a huge leap for me to set aside occasional thoughts that knitting is kind of weird, and recognize all the magnificent benefits: the tactile exhilaration, the meditative qualities, the splendid results, and the promising potential of “the next thing I’m going to make…”

Still, I remained curious about the origins of knitting. So I dug around a little, using The Church of the Internet and our good friend Google. I cannot promise the full accuracy of what I uncovered, but below are a few links to sites offering up various takes on Knit History. Beneath the first link, I’m including a couple of facts from the site to whet your appetite—pretty interesting stuff.

Meanwhile, I sure hope you'll post a little about your personal history of knitting here. (Mine includes learning in 1986, getting frustrated, quitting for 14 years, then taking to it like a baby to a bottle of sugar water.)


  • Knitting [the word]… is derived from knot, thought to originate from the Dutch verb knutten, which is similar to the Old English cnyttan, to knot.
  • Most histories of knitting place its origin somewhere in the Middle East, from where it spread to Europe by Mediterranean trade routes, and then to the Americas with European colonization.
  • The earliest known examples of knitting have been found in Egypt and cover a range of items, including complex colorful wool fragments and indigo blue and white cotton stockings, which have been dated between the 11th and 14th centuries CE.
  • Several paintings from Europe portray the Virgin Mary knitting and date from the 14th century, including Our Lady Knitting by Tommaso da Modena (circa 1325-1375).

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Jumbo Yarn Love

Last January, I was presented with an excellent birthday gift—the Knit-a-Dress-a-Day Knitting Book. The book is a crack-up-- suggesting you could make an entire garment in under 24 hours-- and I’m pretty sure none of the dresses in it would look good on me even if I could knit that fast. Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure the dresses wouldn't look good on anybody. But still, I love the idea of using super huge needles to make a project really fast.

I sort of forgot about the book until I saw some of the muy gigante yarns and needles from Big Stitch Knitting down at the store. Now I’m tempted to get a few skeins and make something—maybe not a dress but just something to see how it feels to handle such jumbo needles and yarn.

This in turn got me thinking about what the Yarn Harlot has to say about holiday knitting. She says you should only make gifts for people who really appreciate hand knitted gifts. Not people who say, “This looks like something from the store,” and not people who are going to shove the gift in the back of the closet.

The holidays are just about upon us—Thanksgiving is only a couple of weeks away. And despite the Harlot’s advice and any past experience we’ve had when it comes to unappreciated gifts, I think some of us can’t resist making a list that includes more hand knit gifts than we can realistically make.

So I’m thinking this big yarn might offer a compromise. If you can’t stop yourself from making presents, why not at least pick projects that knit up really fast? Nobody says you have to make socks for everyone that involve the equivalent of toothpick needles and dental floss yarn, right? Check out these pictures and think about the possibilities—maybe not a dress in a day, but perhaps a scarf or a hat.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Thank You Monsieur Tweed!

Well hooray and three cheers for Brooklyn Tweed! BT aka Jared Flood, somehow managed to exceed everyone’s admittedly awfully high expectations for his visit last week. A lingering cold and wedding duties kept me from attending any of his classes (boohoo!) but I heard from the team at the store that folks were calling in just gushing about their in-class lessons with Jared.

I did manage to attend the reception for Monsieur Tweed, held last Friday night. That was super-awesome. We had excellent snacks, including what appeared to be the stolen contents of at least four little kids’ Halloween treat bags. There was a yarn tasting with little sample bags of tweed for all. And, best of all, there was our guest of honor who, faced with a roomful of gushing women old enough to be his… well, let’s say his aunt… held his own.

The evening’s highlight came when BT offered us a slideshow of his work, and talked about how he put together his new book of patterns. In case you didn’t know, BT is/was a photographer first. He takes a lot of his design inspiration from architecture he photographs. So he showed us pictures from all over—the Pacific Northwest (where he grew up), Brooklyn (where he lives now), and Italy (where he spent a year after college). So cool to compare and contrast the scenic nature of the West with the busyness of the East—for example, on a split screen he showed majestic, snow capped Mount Rainier on the left, and a Manhattan sunset on the right. And also great to see (and hear him tell) about all the textural inspiration just living in Italy provides. I especially dug this blue hat he modeled after the architectural masterpiece, The Seattle Public Library. I don’t think the pattern for that is in the book but I MUST GET IT.

We also found out some interesting details from The Life of Brooklyn Tweed:
His mom taught him to knit.
He prefers knitting home alone quietly.
His stash is not large enough to constitute a fire hazard.
He sure is nice.
He’s a huge fan of Japanese knitting.
He’s addicted to photos in British lifestyle magazines (they are very woolly).

Thanks for coming to Austin, Jared. We sure had a great time meeting you. Come back soon, hear?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Week Is Upon Us: Brooklyn Tweed! Yay!

So, y'all- the excitement is mounting. Jared aka Brooklyn Tweed is going to be here in a few days and talk about putting the buzz in Buzz. Technically the Friday night reception and all classes are totally sold out but anyone can call the store and get on the waiting list. Some folks have had to cancel which means, yes, the waiting list is actually moving a little. So if you meant to sign up but forgot, might as well call and hold a spot in line. 512-707-7396.

And for those of you who are for sure signed up-- I'll see you Friday night.