Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

Christmas Knitting

Do you do it?

We decorated the tree today, frosting it with the snow nobody gets down here in the south.


And putting more snow in random places, just because.


My feelings about Christmas knitting are somewhat mixed. On the one hand, guilt-free yarn purchases! Tons of fun for me! Hand-made gifts full of love! But on the other hand, deadline stress, overly-ambitious projects flopping at the last minute, under appreciated gifts and fitting issues.

I don’t particularly have a solution. This Christmas, my parents will be receiving hand-knitted socks; my mother really loves her socks, so no problem there. My dad is a new sock-recipient, so I’m stacking the deck in my favor by knitting the socks in black (the color of his work socks) with a very staid garter rib pattern. The main appeal will be that the socks are wool, and should feel lovely when shoveling the driveway. If those go over well, I might try a gently variegated gray next year, or perhaps a navy blue with cables. It’s exciting! Well, for me, anyway.

Other than these two people, however, I’m not planning to make any hand-made gifts this year. I do bring along my yearly hat stash for my friends and family to pick over as they choose, in addition to actual, formal gift-giving. Since I’m not emotionally attached to any of the hats I give away, I won’t get upset if I never, ever see them worn, or discover them trampled and dirty on the floor in somebody’s mud room.

In general, I think my rubric for gift knitting is similar to everybody else’s:

  1. Only knit something if you can be fairly confident the recipient wants it.
  2. If the recipient is ungracious or doesn’t use the item, don’t knit for them again.
  3. Knitted gifts should probably not be surprises.
  4. Don’t take “requests.”

Numbers three and four may seem mutually contradictory, but I think they actually work together very well. A gift should be something you choose to give to another person, not something somebody else asks you to buy or make for them. Once you’ve decided on a gift idea, it’s probably a good idea to check with your giftee, but we aren’t obligated, as knitters, to clothe the world through Christmas gifts. The best Christmas knitting is a union of my pleasures, passions and gifts in craft with my recipient’s tastes and desires. I find that rarely, if ever, does a gift “request” take into account my own crafting abilities or preferences. And why should it? The person asking is almost always not a knitter, and can’t particularly distinguish the features of a project that would make it cripplingly hard, or alternatively, mind-numbingly easy. Projects in either category, I find, never get done; they become albatrosses around our necks, making us feel guilty when we ought to be relaxing with some needles and yarn.

My response when somebody makes a gift request to me is to smile and say “Oh, I didn’t know you needed/wanted something like that! I’ll definitely keep that in mind.” If inspiration strikes, I go to the needles– if not, I can usually find a similar item in stores to satisfy the person’s desire. Ultimately, knitting is my hobby. I intend to enjoy it, even during the holidays.


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One of the problem projects I mentioned last post was particularly disappointing to me, because I loved the yarn, I love berets, I was excited about my idea for the pattern, yet when all the pieces were put together… yikes. I’m calling it the Ridiculous Rasta Hat (or the Bob Marley Beret– what do you think?).

It all started so innocently, with two skeins of Plymouth Boku (95% wool, 5% silk), purchased at Yarns Etc… on a whim.


See, I really like purple, green and gold. And I adore tweedy yarns, though because tweed yarns tend to be pricier, you won’t see them much here. So a tweedy yarn in purple, green and gold seemed tailor-made for my fantasies. I bought two skeins and dreamed about a hat for a while.

Finally, last week, I decided to go for it! I cast on for a beret. I’ve been trying to engineer a good-looking, nicely shaped beret pattern for almost as long as I’ve been knitting. The first few tries were disaster– I increased too much, too fast, and was left with a crumpled acrylic monstrosity that looked more like a shower cap than a beret. My next try ended up as a skullcap, go figure. But now…

Shape-wise, third time was the charm!


That looks pretty beret-like to me. (Size 6 dpns, then size 6 circs, in seed stitch.) But…

Well, that color’s looking pretty stripey. And is that… rose, in the middle of the gold sections?

Uh oh. Despite being attractively shaped:


And fitting perfectly:


It’s just not good. We’re definitely in Rasta territory:


My elegant purple, green and gold beret has become a four-colored, striped, clown-like monstrosity. I was hoping for a gentle, sophisticated gradation of colors, and instead I got stripes.

How could I have avoided this problem?

Well, with two balls, I could have alternated drawing from each ball as I knit. This would have at least made the stripes thicker. I could also have cut out the rose-tinged sections of the gold color and knit only with the colors I liked. I had enough yarn to do this.

I could also have checked online before I bought the yarn and seen a swatch of it knitted up in that colorway (#4). I would have seen the striping AND the hidden rose, and I could have prepared.

What do I plan to do with the hat?

I’m really not sure. The yarn has a great rustic feel that I like, and it fits me quite well. On the other hand… rasta stripes.

I might give it away when I travel home to the Frozen North for Christmas. I’m sure someone I know has a personal aesthetic that embraces brightly colored stripes.

Or I might overdye it. If I were very careful and mixed a dye color that was about the same as the shade of green in the hat, I might be able to overdye the gold and rose without reducing the green and purple all that much. In a perfect world, I’d end up with a purely green and purple hat, with colors muted enough that the striping isn’t obvious. In an imperfect world, there’s a large risk of ending up with a solid brown mess.

Or I might frog it and try one of the techniques I listed above to improve things. I’m not inclined to do that, however– this yarn doesn’t frog well. Also, I’m enough of a process knitter that, having figured out how to knit a good beret, I don’t feel any particular need to do so again.

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An Ode to Swatching

The way I see it, swatching is like a flirtation on the bus: Exciting, new and carefree. There are no risks, but there’s the possibility of a beautiful (and flattering) future relationship. And if things don’t work out, you’ve still spent some pleasant time with somebody (or something) charming, or at the very least, identified and screened out a jerk.

Once you’ve swatched, knitting the project is like the first few years of a good marriage– still exciting, but with the confidence borne of experience that together you and your yarn are making something beautiful. You’re going somewhere together, a team, playing to each others’ strengths.

On the other hand, if you don’t swatch, knitting the project is like a first date. You’re nervous, you don’t know how your date will react to anything you do or say, you’re watching nervously for those little signs of incompatibility and braced for the BIG signs of incompatibility. You wonder if this is a waste of your time. Sure, everything could go just great, but it’s hard to relax and enjoy the anticipation and possibility with that hard knot of anxiety in your chest.

Now, I wasn’t always in love with swatching. Time was I’d rush head-long into bed with a project without doing a single swatch. I’d grab the closest yarn, nearest needles and cast on blindly, so eager for the knitting rush and that final, tantalizing project that I told myself I didn’t care about the consequences. I was sure it was going to go right! But then, like a woman counting the days after her period following an unwise one-night stand, I would begin to doubt. Doesn’t it look too big? Too small? Are the cables squishy enough? Do I really like this yarn with these needles? I’d end up spending more time measuring and tugging and peering anxiously at my knitting than actually knitting, and while my results were sometimes okay, they sometimes… weren’t. A honeymoon cami built for two was the failure that finally put me on the train to swatchdom.

And really, what could be more fun than those first moments of getting to know a new yarn, sliding it through your fingers, looping it over the needles, seeing those gorgeous garter ridges gather and gape– I love my first experiences with a really, really nice yarn, a smooth round merino, crisp vivid cotton, airy-light mohair or the finicky precise sheen and slide of silk. I love it, and I don’t want to be distracted during those first moments by concerns that the pattern and yarn might not suit. I don’t want to plan or read instructions. I just want to knit, our craft distilled to its purest form, the pleasure of forming stitches, the meditative rhythm, the flowing fabric.

Swatching no longer bothers me. In fact, I enjoy it. So many of the things in our lives have consequences, need to be done right the first time and quickly, leave no room for the leisurely exploration that is the pleasure of creativity. I am determined that my swatching shall be a break from those things. A little vacation from the big, bad world.

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I’ve recently come to want to minimize the environmental and financial impacts of my knitting– ideally without losing much of the pleasure that I get from it! The result of this realization are these resolutions:

From June 2008 to June 2009, I will:

  1. Knit only my own designs. This will make my knitting progress much slower, since I’ll have to create the designs first, decreasing my yarn consumption and cash expenditure over time.
  2. Write up and sell or give away the patterns I write, for the good of my household finances and because I think it’s fun.
  3. Research and pursue local sources for yarn, instead of working with stuff shipped from Peru. (This will be hard!)
  4. Research and pursue environmentally friendly fibers.
  5. Buy only yarns that are sport-weight or lighter, because it takes longer to finish an object knit in thin yarns (less yarn used, less money spent– the two-week sweater was in heavier yarn).
  6. Buy yarn only with a specific project in mind.
  7. Give away or frog finished objects that I won’t use.
  8. Buy no new knitting books; used bookstore knitting books are acceptable.
  9. Spin more.
  10. Whenever possible, knit from stash.

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