Slow knitting

Maybe I shouldn’t be, but I’m pretty happy with how this sweater turned out.  I don’t even remember exactly what I was envisioning when I began it, but I think it finally got there, or somewhere in the general vicinity.

Pattern:  Arboreal  by Knit.Love.Wool. Yarn purchased from  Alpaca Avenue

Pattern: Arboreal by Knit.Love.Wool. Yarn purchased from Alpaca Avenue

This sweater was supposed to have been a relatively quick diversion from my #2018makenine lineup, which had been progressing at a good pace back in April, when I cast on. I allowed myself to go off-script and break my own rule about only using existing stash* because the Make Nine Challenge isn’t meant to be restrictive in any way.  Besides, I reasoned, I had a long standing ambition to become proficient in stranded knitting** and although I have dabbled with small Fair Isle projects over the last several years (mainly hats), the goal all along has been to knit a full-on Fair Isle garment of some kind.  I needed practice! A simple stranded yoke sweater seemed like the ideal project to get my feet wet instead of trying to dive straight into Marie Wallin depths. And, let’s be perfectly honest, I got sucked into the vortex of amazing colourwork projects on IG.

Arboreal has an easy-to-follow colourwork pattern with very few long floats but I also just enjoyed the idea of a leaf motif because I wanted this sweater to represent something personal.  I wanted it to be an ode of sorts to Ontario, to home. In particular, I wanted it to be about autumn in Ontario because no matter where I travel in the world, no matter the season, no matter how impressive everywhere else is, I will love an Ontario autumn more than anything else because nothing else feels so much like home to my soul.

It seems improbable, but I didn’t have any appropriate yarn for this sort of project in my oversized yarn stash (I’m a recovering superwash wool addict), so I decided that if I was going to break my yarn diet, I would do it by buying as local as possible.  I’m all for supporting my local fibreshed but since I buy much less yarn than I did in the past, I don’t have a lot of opportunities to do so and this project seemed like an especially good excuse to shop local. That meant paying a visit to my go-to source for ethical and local yarn, Alpaca Avenue (which is no longer a brick & mortar shop, but Kerstin is keeping it all going in an on-line capacity).

I really only needed two colours for this pattern, the main and the contrast, but I figured if I was going to knit with colour, it might as well be colourful, right?  For my main, Kerstin showed me a really unique yarn that she had had processed from a batch of fleeces she obtained almost by chance from a sheep farm on St. Joseph Island.  The colour is a lovely natural heathered grey (my favourite) and the wool is airy but warm. I knew that I was looking for a Canadian-dyed yarn for the contrast, preferably in some sort of gradient of fall colours but I knew that was going to be a tall order since my extensive online browsing did not find me any likely candidates in the right weight, regardless of the country of origin.

Kerstin had something quite nearly perfect--the wool was even grown, milled, and dyed locally*** -- except that it only came in a fingering weight.  I was a little disheartened because I had my heart set on nearly this precise colour combination but while we chatted and brainstormed, it hit me that I could double the fingering weight yarn to get a worsted weight and I could make the gradient pack of minis blend even more smoothly by changing the strand combination every few rows.  Doubling yarn while knitting Fair Isle is probably not something a beginner should dive right into, but the colours called to me. The yarn is Elora in the “Girl of the Limberlost” gradient pack. (More yarn details are on my Ravelry page for this project.)

Because she is just a super person, Kerstin kindly gave me some partials she had sitting around so that I could test the colour combination before committing to buying the pack.  (She’s really the best! She cares as much as you do about the success of your project). Once I had blocked my swatch, I felt like it was going to be a great project.  I was prepared to hit a few speed bumps on the way because I was completely new to colourwork sweaters, but even with that proviso, things did not go as I had hoped.

For a long time, this sweater was touch and go.  I spent the majority of the many hours I put into this sweater highly doubting if I was going to end up with something I’d be happy with.  After the initial euphoria of knitting my first colourwork yoke and being quite delighted with the colour combination, I soon came to the demoralizing realization that it was probably not going to fit me very well.  I had a pattern drafting instructor who always admonished us to be aware of how “flesh is distributed differently on different people even if they are the same size”. Truer words were never spoken (in a pattern drafting class, at least).  Let us just say that I do not have a fleshy upper body so a partially knit circular yoke sweater on me looks a bit like an opened umbrella. I checked my stitch counts and my gauge and everything was presumably spot on. I perused the projects in Ravelry to see if anyone with a similar body type had the same issues, but no one seemed to. So I pressed on, hoping that it would all work out.  It didn’t.

This sweater was begun eight months ago.  Even if you don’t count the months-long hiatus I took from it, I spent a ridiculous amount of time working on this sweater.  I ripped out entire sections multiple times and fiddled with different needle sizes, stitch counts, shapes, and more until I felt that I was satisfied. I even cut off the neckband after I had blocked the completed sweater because the garter stitch just didn’t seem to work for me. This is not how I like a project to go, but sometimes, you just know that it isn’t right.  And when it isn’t right, it isn’t likely to be worn by me or anyone else. I am not by nature someone who enjoys torture, but I will (sometimes) subject myself to the pain of frogging and reknitting when faced with the prospect of an unusable end product. (It probably helps that I am as much a process knitter as I am a product knitter.)

I don’t think this is what people mean when they refer to “slow fashion”, but it does fit into my notion of slow fashion.  It does no one any good if I make a sweater that won’t be worn with joy by anyone, because then it isn’t going to be worn, period. I really don’t ever want to make a thing that won’t be used or won’t last long because I was too lazy to do it right.****  By “right”, I mean that the quality of my workmanship has to be high, the fit has to be appropriate, and the aesthetic has to be pleasing (at the very least to my eye). I think this is one of the reasons I don’t manage to make a whole lot in a year.  I’m not expert enough to get things right without a lot of re-working so I probably need three times the number of hours as anyone else to finish the same garment. Definitely, this sweater took me at least three times longer than I anticipated.

However, I don’t know if in truth I just finally took pity on myself and called it done.  I have to wonder because my partner, who is always perfectly politic about my style choices, had to choke back some laughter when he saw me wearing this.  Maybe after I pack it away for the summer next year, I’ll have a better sense of how well (or not well) this all turned out since it will give me time to regain some objectivity.

For now, I’m going to be toasty warm and totally secretly smug that the extra effort wasn’t utterly wasted.


*Using stash yarns, stash fabric, and preferably stash patterns, was part of the reason I participated in #2018makenine.  I already had everything I needed to participate and I thought this would give me some motivation to finally make use of stuff that had been waiting for ages to be made up into something

**Cabled sweaters and Fair Isle sweaters were the reason I took up knitting in the first place.  Cables were easy to learn and for the first few years, virtually everything I knit was laden with cables. Fair Isle was a whole other can of worms. I have an old Istex Lopi pattern book I picked up when I was too young to even afford the amount of yarn that was required (12 or so different colours plus the main colour!?) for the sweater that I wanted to (one day) knit. I think I only hang on to that old pattern book to remind myself of my propensity for making grand plans and then abandoning them

***Quebec is local enough, n’est-ce pas?

****I never want to make a failure of a project, but I can’t lie, it definitely happens.  Sometimes, I just can’t bear another day struggling with a project and I have to concede and move on, presumably to return to it when I’ve had a chance to regroup. (My life is littered with the remnants of failed projects.) If/when I post my #2018makenine wrap-up, I’ll have some examples to share

Knitting Tools-Day: Bowls

Today’s Knitting Tools-Day topic wasn’t the one I intended, but since my intentions and I tend to part ways soon after we meet despite all our promises to get together soon, we begin my belated second Tools-Day post about bowls.  (This post is not about yarn bowls, which serve an entirely different function.*  I’m talking about bowls, like the kind you might serve a salad in.)

Today’s “tool”, you may point out, is not really.  Truthfully, I didn’t think of bowls as tools until this morning** while I was trying to sneak in a few rounds on a seamless sweater sleeve.  I’ve been using this bowl to knit larger projects for so many years without giving it a second thought, it hadn’t dawned on me that it fits nearly all my requirements for a good knitting tool.  Namely, that it makes the knitting process easier, more efficient, and therefore, more enjoyable.

If you have knit anything that reaches a certain mass which makes it rather burdensome to keep turning over your project for each new round or row, you probably have some inkling of where I’m at with this sweater right now.  I’ve been at this stage for a while because there was a lot of frogging in the last several weeks and I might have given up all hope without this handy wooden bowl. (Well, maybe not really, but I’m sure it would have been a more frustrating experience without it.)

Working on  my Arboreal sweater  which has reached critical mass. And maybe not coincidentally, reading   Endure  by Alex Hutchinson

Working on my Arboreal sweater which has reached critical mass. And maybe not coincidentally, reading Endure by Alex Hutchinson

The bowl was rescued from a fancier-than-usual Christmas gift basket we received many years ago.  I initially wasn’t sure how I was going to dispose of the bowl after devouring all the edibles, but my inner-hoarder saw that it wasn’t actually a bad looking bowl and hey, I might be able to make use of it one day.  (The mantra of hoarders everywhere).***

It was the perfect size for a salad bowl but I wasn’t about to vouch for its actual food safety so it was relegated to holding WIPs or yarn that was soon to meet its destiny.  This clearly is not a specialized function that is served only or best by a large wooden bowl, but what I did shortly discover was that setting the bowl on my lap and knitting with my growing project in the bowl meant that those seemingly endless turns of a heavy in-progress sweater, just glided around with very little effort while keeping the bulk of what I knit contained (no flailing sleeves or live circulars getting caught or sat on by anything (or anyone).  The smooth surface of the bowl also meant no pilling from the constant abrasion against my clothing, and as a bonus, minimal shedding onto my lap! (I often knit woolen spun yarn so the shedding is real.)

You probably already have a bowl in your home that could be repurposed into a “knitting bowl” or you could easily find an appropriate bowl new or used.  If you’re wondering how to choose a bowl, I offer a few thoughts for your consideration:

  1. The sides of the bowl should be low enough so that you don’t have to raise your arms uncomfortably high while knitting but not so low that your project isn’t contained

  2. The bowl should be wide enough so that your project is resting inside and not spilling over the edges

  3. The bowl should be able to balance on your lap without tipping over.  Depending on how you sit and the geography of your lap the shape and width of the bowl’s base can affect how well the bowl balances

  4. A smooth surface inside the bowl and around the edges is necessary so that your yarn and project are not getting snagged (live-edge wood bowls might look nice, but they probably won’t function well for this purpose)

  5. Although I haven’t actually tried knitting out of steel, ceramic, or glass bowls, my guess is that these options are not ideal.  Steel mixing bowls may be too light to stay in place, and if you have any metal needles or stitch holders in your project, I don’t think you want them scraping against the bowl for the sake of your ears and whatever finish is on your actual knitting tools.  Ceramic and glass could be uncomfortably hard and heavy--and they are breakable. Imagine all the ways that something resting on your lap can find itself crashing onto the floor through no fault of its own

  6. Wood is my preferred material because it isn’t cold to the touch, it doesn’t make a horrible sound when my stitch holders are dragging along the bottom, it doesn’t break easily, and if you find the right combination of size and wood density, it’s neither too heavy nor too light

I know I can’t be the only person who knits out of bowls but I won’t try to argue it’s for everyone.  Although, I sometimes wonder if some of those knitters who hate knitting seamless sweaters might find that a nice big bowl was all they were missing. (ETA: a phone video of me knitting the final sleeve rounds of my Arboreal Sweater. I would say this is my knitting bowl in action, but “action” would imply something a little more exciting.)


And since I’m on the topic of bowls, I will also give a little love to bowls at the other end of the size spectrum: the teensy bowls.  You probably don’t need me to tell you how useful little bowls can be. I find them especially handy for holding stitch markers, blocking pins, beads, small notions...and veggie matter.  I was once one of those knitters who would reject yarns for containing that dreaded VM but I’ve had a change of heart in recent years. When you know what it takes to clear all traces of VM from wool, you begin to realize how it is currently impossible for small farms and mills to produce a VM-free yarn in an environmentally responsible way that isn’t cost-prohibitive.  I want to support my local fibershed so I’ve come to view VM in an entirely different light. I have an inkling of how difficult and time-consuming it is to skirt fleeces by hand so I’m actually pretty impressed by how little VM I find in my locally produced knitting wools.  It speaks to the dedication of those fiber producers.  And really, it requires very little extra time to pick out what little VM remains and I don’t resent it.  In fact, I enjoy picturing those sheep happily grazing and wandering open fields.**** So you may not share my views on VM and you avoid it like the plague, but if you do find yourself unwillingly picking VM out of yarn, I find that a little bowl set within arm’s reach is handier than keeping a garbage bin at your feet.  There are a few reasons:

  1. You can keep it literally within arm’s reach so that there is no need for leaning over and possibly displacing your work

  2. You’ll find that a piece of VM attached to the parachute of a few loose fibers tends to not find its mark if its travelling more than one or two inches

  3. This last point is less important, but putting VM in a bowl allows you to always know where that little pile of VM is so you can dispose of it tidily rather than picking it off the bottom of your socks after you knock it onto the floor unawares

So that’s my knitting tool for today.  Not exactly revolutionary or unheard of and, I am the first to admit, not best described as a “tool”.  But it is part of my knitting apparatus that I would not want to do without so there is that.

I’d like to promise you more exciting Tools-Days to come, but while I’m fairly certain I shall post again, I had better not promise excitement. Possible future topics include—sit down if you aren’t already—row counters and stitch markers.


*Yarn bowls are used for yarn management, a topic I discussed in a bit of detail here

**Actually, Tuesday morning last but I didn’t finish this post before the turn of the day.  Seeing how irregular my blogging is, it really cannot matter if I stick to a Tools-Day Tuesday schedule, but it’s useful to me to have something resembling a deadline, or better yet, something resembling a missed deadline

***You know you’re a potential hoarder if the mere fact that when one in a thousand of those hoarded items does turn out to come in handy it is sufficient justification for keeping all the other 999 miscellaneous things

****That sounds like romanticizing and possibly wishful thinking, but the locally raised wools I have purchased in the last few years have come from farms that I feel reasonably sure are committed to the welfare of their animals, so I will romanticize away

Land under wave

When you embark on a knitting project, you expect many great things.  I might even go as far as to say that no one is more optimistic than a knitter at the moment of casting on, except possibly the knitter in the middle of buying more yarn.  But even I, at the start of knitting this humble vest, had no idea how much I was going to love the entire process as well as the finished project.  It isn't that this vest is the pinnacle of all sweater vests or that absolutely nothing went awry during the process, but this is one of those rare occasions in my history of making clothes where everything came together in such an enjoyable and satisfying way.*

I'll start with the pattern.  It is based on Carol Sunday's Adam's Ribs Cap-sleeve Wrap which I have admired for many years now.  I bought the pattern some time ago but hadn't cast on or even bought the appropriate yarn for it.  In hindsight, I think part of what held me back was that while it is a lovely design and seems quite suitable for many body types, I couldn't quite see myself wearing it because I just don't seem to know how to wear anything that requires artful draping, as this garment does.  The moment I start to move, everything starts slipping out of place and I end up looking like I just clambered out of a ditch and possibly suffered a concussion in the process.   Let's just say I'm better off in more utilitarian clothing.

Though the real reason I had to modify the pattern was that the yarn I decided to use was bought with an entirely different project in mind and I didn't have enough to make the pattern as written.  This turned out to be a great thing because what I really loved most about the pattern was the stitch pattern.  (It is of Carol's own devising and it is really quite genius!  You can see the sweaters she designed with this stitch pattern here.)  So I figured that if I eliminated the wide drape-y collar and shortened the body a bit, I would have enough yarn and it would be a shape that I felt had better odds of fitting into my current wardrobe.  But simply not knitting the collar wasn't going to result in a garment that I could wear comfortably either, so what started off as a nonchalant decision to make a minor modification turned into something a fair bit more involved.

The original pattern is knit all in one piece from side to side with some very easy seams to sew up.  Instead, I chose to knit a separate piece that combined a collar band with a left front and right front panel, i.e., knit from hem to hem, and to pick up stitches along the left front.  Then I worked side-to-side until I rejoined the body to the opposing panel, after which, I  sewed up the neck, shoulder, and sleeve seams.  Sounds straightforward** and even though there were a lot of serendipitous numbers of repeats that allowed the stitch pattern to flow quite nicely from one section to the next, there was a lot of calculating and plotting of details.  And frogging.  But not as much as I feared!  Still, I didn't think I was safe to call it done until after I had blocked it and worn it a few times.  I was prepared to fish out the woven in ends, frog, and re-knit because of how much I loved the yarn.

Which brings me to this yarn from Twin Oaks Farm.  It doesn't have its own entry in the Ravelry database because it is a small-batch, single source yarn.  Betsy, the lovely ewe who supplied the wool will be providing future fleeces to the world as far as I know, but 2017 is the vintage I have and unless you can buy it from someone else's stash, you'll just have to wait for the 2018 fleece to be sheared and spun!

I love absolutely everything about this yarn.  Sure, my interest in it began with its being an Ontario raised and milled yarn, but that's only two of its*** many virtues.  I'm moving towards buying everything local if at all possible but it has to be a good product first and foremost and produced with sustainability in mind.  This yarn checks all my boxes.  It is a beautiful yarn.  The fiber (Romney) is long, lustrous, and an indescribable natural greyish-brown heather, compliments of the aforementioned Betsy.  It was processed by Wellington Fibres into a 3-ply worsted with very nice stitch definition.  The hand-feel while knitting was so wonderful that I put off finishing the last few inches of knitting because then it would be over.  Who does that?  (I never have until now.)

But aside from all these important qualities, there was another element to this yarn that really connected me to this project from start to finish.  This is the first time I have ever made something about which I can honestly say I know where everything came from.****  I can (hypothetically) go meet Betsy and I can visit the mill in Ontario that processed the wool.  I know that the pattern's designer is an incredibly talented woman who literally works in her cottage studio (in the US, which makes us close neighbours, right?) and even the buttons on my vest were handmade from wood foraged in Ontario.*****  Everything about this yarn and project had a connection to a person doing awesome things and to this place that I call home.  Those thoughts were never far from my mind as I worked every stitch of this vest and even the (very minimal) veggie matter in the yarn (which I swear is the cleanest wool I have ever knit in my life) was conjuring pleasant memories of the landscape and seasons of Ontario.  It had an incredibly calming effect on me!  These are obviously feelings that I was transferring to inanimate things, but it was a way to approach my making as a deliberate act that involved more than just me and my little bubble.  But I digress.

I waited nearly a year for this yarn because when I first met Laura of Twin Oaks Farm at the K-W Knitters' Fair in 2016, she wasn't going to have a worsted weight in a natural dark shade until after the next shearing.  I was so excited by what she had brought to the Knitters' Fair and the little chat we had that I was quite happy to pre-order and bide my time.  It was well worth the wait.  The yarn was shipped promptly after processing and when it was finally in my hands, I loved it even more than I could have imagined.  I've really cut back in recent years on my yarn shopping so when I buy something now, it's not intended for stash; it's meant to be used.  It still took me a couple of months to get started but as soon as I had blocked my swatch, I knew the vest was going to be worth all the effort.  Swatching is an important step so that you can determine gauge and all that, but in this case, seeing that blocked swatch, holy cats, my already high interest in knitting this vest sky-rocketed.  Still, I was a little nervous because I have been that overly-optimistic knitter who imagines what could be, only to end up with a less than satisfactory garment.  I kind of held my breath right up to the point I unpinned this from the blocking mats and wore it for a day.

I don't often get to claim this, but it turned out even better than I hoped!  I didn't even know that this was missing from my wardrobe until I wore it.  I know people say if you keep your core warm, you'll feel warmer all over but I don't think I realized how much of a difference that makes inside an old, drafty house.  I've had plenty of opportunity to test this theory with all the chilly weather April has brought with it and I can confirm that it is at least true for me!

The reason this isn't the sweater vest to end all sweater vests is that I am so happy with this one, I think there may just be another in my not-so-distant future.  I'm thinking I might need a second one so that I'll never be without one while the other is being washed and air-dried.  Makes perfectly good sense, right?


*I say that and you think, gosh, why make clothes then?  Because, it is the nature of hope to spring eternal

**Or it would sound straightforward if I explained it a little better and with diagrams, I'm sure

***I do actually know the difference between it's and its, in case you read this post before I fixed it (all three of you.)  If you ever see that error in my writing, please attribute it to a momentary brain glitch that might have been brought on by a virus, which is currently the case, or the cool-looking but somewhat illegible text editor that Squarespace provides.  My wayward pinky likes throwing in random apostrophes when I type and I don't always find them when I attempt to edit, partly because my eyes are watering looking at this screen.

****Not that there aren't real human beings behind things produced by large companies and not that there are not companies out there that wouldn't turn my stomach if I had a good look at their inner workings, it's just that true transparency rarely exists when you're dealing with companies or corporations so you're just hoping every worker in the chain is being paid a living wage and every factory is minimizing its environmental impact--even when you know the odds are high that one or neither of these things is happening

*****I hope someone on IG can point me to the actual (button) maker.  I bought the buttons at the Woodstock Fleece Festival in 2016.  I think the vendor's husband might have been the button maker.  (It wasn't AB Originals which is also a husband and wife team making nifty buttons in Ontario)

******Hmm. Seeing an uptick in visits to this post which I strongly suspect has nothing to do with my knitting. If you came here looking for something related to Tiffany Aching, you found it.

(Not the Heisenberg) uncertainty principle

It took me a long while, but I eventually learned to never say never.  Things can change.  Circumstances, ideas, and above all, people, can change.  Or at the very least, if a person isn't opening her narrow mind to the infinity of possibilities, she can rephrase her sentiments.  For example, a knitter who would once emphatically proclaim: "I would never knit socks" might instead say something like, "I'm not really a sock knitter", thereby introducing the possibility, if not the probability that sock knitting might happen in her life.  Likewise, another knitter might have spent the last decade firmly entrenched in the belief that project monogamy was essential to that project's completion and also that any other path led straight into the abyss of eternal startitis.  Yet the turn of the new year has that knitter toying with the idea of starting all the projects all at once just to test the validity of that theory, because, hey, why not? and let's be honest, not a lot of knitting got done in all those years.

But that has nothing to do with me, I'm sure.

Let's talk about my recent knitting and the projects I have going.  In the fall, I cast off my first ever bona fide socks.  That's sort of a lie.  I have knit a pair of "cabin socks" as a gift and a lifetime ago, I knit a pair of hiking socks (that could stand on their own, which was helpful because no one was prepared to assist them).  What I have never knit until now is socks out of fingering-weight yarn, i.e., socks that were theoretically wearable inside a pair of shoes.  And now I have.

After that, another pair of socks happened because the first pair was supposed to have been for me but didn't end up fitting.  I learned that -10% ease is way too loose for my liking and in the interest of self-preservation, I just knit a longer foot and presented them to my partner, who also likes a snug sock.  Why waste a perfectly good sock toe and a few inches of stockinette by frogging, I asked myself.

It's a good thing I got over the frogging aversion because otherwise, this second pair would also not have fit me or any adult I know.  I'm glad I made the necessary changes because I'm pretty pleased with these socks!  It's only been in the last year that I really came to appreciate wool on my feet after randomly buying a pair of wool socks to make it to the free shipping threshold for an online order.  Am I about to become a sock-knitting addict?  Jury's out (buying more self-striping sock yarn).*

It didn't take me long to cast on another pair of socks, despite having already started multiple projects since 2018 got going.  Lest you begin to wonder, I am not really a sock knitter.  Really.

When I bought this skein of fingering weight BFL last year in this super-charming "Dalmatian" colourway by Ancient Arts (another fantastic Canadian dyer) it was to make a hat, but I tried casting on for a hat, ripped it out, started again twice more and finally concluded that this yarn just wanted to be socks.  Who was I to argue?

All this knitting has unfortunately caught up with me so to give my wrist flexors time to recover I'm taking a break from knitting and starting on my #2018makenine sewing projects.  (Aside from a couple home decor items, I haven't sewn in the last few years so this is really exciting for me.  Although, I'm not sure if the more exciting part is the fact that I now have a room in which I can actually do some sewing and not have to pack everything away at the end of the day so that we have somewhere to eat and can sit down without fear of getting stuck by errant pins.)  I happened across the Make Nine challenge for the first time just last month and I really loved the idea partly because it was like a year-long Summer of Basics** challenge and partly because following the #2018makenine tag on IG has provided a nice dose of sewing inspiration.  I've been out of the sewing game for so long that I'm pretty unfamiliar with what's been happening in terms of the range of independent pattern publishers and fabric sources available online.  Seeing what people are choosing for their Make Nine gives me a nice little snapshot of what's going on and I really enjoy seeing people tackling their projects with such enthusiasm and confidence.  I tend to hesitate for way too long before starting (or not starting at all) because I'm afraid of screwing something up or ending up with something that doesn't blow my mind away.  But disappointments will happen and it's just a part of making.  If I have any New Year's resolutions (besides the requisite commitment to stashdown and to start exercising regularly), it's to ignore the what-if-I'm-not-good-enough-fears that stop me from attempting things and just START already.

But, I'm a fan of baby steps.  My #2018makenine is pretty tame.  I have all the materials and patterns for nine projects that I'm totally stoked about making so I don't have to spend any time (or money) on acquiring stuff.  (Truly, I have all the materials and patterns for much more than this, but I think nine projects in a 12-month is plenty ambitious for me).  The projects I've chosen are not super-complicated, they are all things I really want in my wardrobe, and a few of them are already cast on or cut out.  (WIPs are fair game too, right?)  This means I've got way more projects in active rotation*** than I've ever had before.

It never occurred to me before this year that having several projects going at once might actually be more efficient if you are someone who is easily distracted when something about a task becomes frustrating or boring.  You just switch gears and pick up something else that's also on the go.  Something's getting done and it doesn't involve Train of Thought or mindless surfing.  (I used to think that if I didn't start working on an entirely different project, I still had every intention of tackling the project at hand and toiling through the difficult stages--so I would do something noncommittal, like play a game on my phone or surf, but it would be weeks before I came back to it because life only offers you so many hours to spend on a hobby.)  Which is why I'm experimenting with starting multiple projects without finishing something first.  I can't deny that this feels a bit like skipping dinner and raiding the dessert table.  Which is to say, I'm really enjoying this strategy at the moment but I fear there may be consequences.


*My first two pairs of socks were knit with Striped Turtle Toes by Turtlepurl Yarns, an independent Canadian dyer based in New Brunswick.  The first colourway is "Beekeeper" which I purchased at The Knit Cafe and the second is "Comic Strip" which I found at Eweknit (both are fantastic shops in Toronto, but if you are not in Toronto, Turtlepurl's Etsy shop is well stocked).  I think I may have given this whole sock knitting thing a whirl because I enjoyed these self-striping colourways so much and I needed an excuse to buy them.  Not exactly in keeping with my stashdown goals, I know, but my guilt is somewhat assuaged by the fact that I knit two pairs of pretty fun socks as a result.

**My Summer of Basics wasn't exactly a success or a failure but it did get me to narrow down the infinite list of possible projects and I actually started (and completed!) a couple of projects.  A real triumph for a perpetual procrastinator.

***This is not to suggest that I never had a huge pile of WIPs languishing in a corner.  However, if I ever put aside a project to start something new, I had pretty much sentenced it to permanent exile.  If it didn't get frogged or chucked, it's still sitting in a box somewhere.  (Sorry, Mom.  I really do mean to come by and deal with those.)


You will often find people describe knitting as needing nothing more than two sticks and some string, but let's be real honest here: knitters love their tools.  Needles are tools, of course, and knitters can be quite passionate about them, but they are not the tools to which I refer.  I am referring to all the other accoutrements that you convince yourself would elevate your knitting experience.*

I definitely love tools, regardless of the task.  I love power tools, kitchen gadgets, laundry folding devices--you name it and if it helps me do a job better and faster, isn't cost prohibitive, and (I convince myself) I have somewhere to store it, I'm all over it.  So knowing I'm a knitter, you can rightly assume that I have acquired more than a few things to enhance my knitting life.  Do I believe any of these tools make my actual knitting any better?  I am going to go out on a limb and say yes, yes I do.**

Back in the old days as a student with little spending money, I knit quite happily buying only very few extras, just the basic notions like a Susan Bates tapestry needle, a cable needle, and when I was feeling really extravagant, plastic bobbins for colourwork (which got used for exactly one project some 14 years ago and never again).  But I would devise little "tools" out of common household objects when I thought of something that would make something easier to do (some worked better than others).  Then, with the rise of the internet and the inevitable proliferation of knitting sites (Ravelry, in particular), my eyes were opened wide to the many possibilities out there, both DIY and ready-made.  The truth of the matter is that one doesn't need much more than two sticks and string to knit but tools can facilitate certain steps in the process and that often means more efficient and more enjoyable knitting.  Who doesn't want that?

So as a self-proclaimed gadget junkie, I decided I'm going to occasionally talk knitting tools on this accidental blog*** of mine.  Possibly on intermittent Tuesdays, (i.e., possibly on Tuesdays, very likely intermittently.)  The plan is to discuss knitting tools/accessories that I personally like but rarely encounter any discussion about, perhaps further eroding any possibility that other knitters are going to start reading this blog.**** 

My first official Knitting Tools-day post will be about yarn holders.  I have posted about these before, in a distant time when I thought Tumblr was a good micro-blogging platform.  (I lost interest when I realized that I couldn't maintain a blog even on a micro level.)  It might seem as though I'm just rehashing old material, but two things: first, I have revised a few of my earlier impressions, and second, trees that fall in the forest that no one hears and all that.

Anyhow, all of this is to say that today is not my official first Tools-day.  This is my official statement to myself that I'm going to get right on that, sometime.


*These accoutrements are not necessarily costly items.  Whether you have a hand-carved walnut niddy-noddy or the humble PVC pipe version, it's a tool that helps you wind a skein and it is neither stick nor string.

**In addition to executing a task better than it would have been without, a good tool has a civilizing effect on me. And when I'm feeling more civilized, I'm more apt to strive harder for better than "good enough" results and I'm also more likely to have the patience for it if I didn't spend the better part of an hour in a stand-off with a pile of yarn barf.

***Occasional blogging was so much easier than creating real content, which, believe it or not, is still the ultimate plan for this website. But I seem to have a propensity for making plans for the future and keeping them firmly rooted there.

****Which may be for the best because I post secure in the knowledge that no one is actually visiting this corner of the internet. It certainly takes the pressure off.

What I did this summer

*Note: this post was mostly written at the start of September and I didn't publish at the time because, well, that's just another thing I didn't get to.

So blogging was not one of the things I did.  Another thing I did not do this summer was finish my three projects for the Summer of Basics MAL.  Going in, I had a sliver of doubt that I would make it to the finish line, but that was okay.  I just liked the idea of zeroing in on what I really wanted to add to my wardrobe and even more appealing to me was the permission I would give myself to work on these projects instead of endlessly berating myself for "wasting" time on a mere hobby when life's priorities are constantly in need of seeing to.  I thought I'd give deliberate "me-time" a spin instead of just snatching at it when I was at my rope's end.  I guess I need more practice because I ended up telling myself that I'd work on my SoB projects when I finished up my other work and now it's September and pretty much nothing is done.

*Note: actually, it's now mid-November

However, I'm not prepared to call my Summer of Basics completely unsuccessful.  I completed two of three items (albeit, after August 31st), both of which presented a challenge to my pattern writing skills, and it was a nice little confidence booster to plan and execute designs that had been bouncing around in my head for a while.  (I sometimes think I put off starting a project not for lack of time, but for lack of confidence.  I can't fail if I don't try, right?)  The other thing I did, to my surprise, was shed the extra pounds I had packed on since 2015.  So while I didn't totally succeed with the making aspect of the Summer of Basics challenge, I did have some success with the weight-loss challenge I decided to include in my version of SoB.  I managed to gain back some of my favourite wardrobe pieces, something I'm going to consider a win for my slow fashion efforts.

I'm not saying I ballooned numerous sizes in the course of the last few years, but I had put on enough weight by last April that I couldn't comfortably wear most of my clothing, including unmentionables.  I spent a few months only wearing those items in my closet with enough positive ease or spandex to accommodate my new size, most of which were still pinching and pulling in the most uncomfortable ways.  Don't worry, I'm not trying to spin this as a tale of woe, I'm just trying to explain why I was faced with making a decision to either replace nearly my entire wardrobe or go on an official diet.  I'm not really keen on the concept of dieting, I can't help viewing it as an entirely unpleasant way to go about living.  Counting calories, exercising so you can eat, and obsessively stepping on a scale sound like a fast-track to misery, if you ask me.

But then, there are many upsides to staying in shape.  The usual reasons that healthy-living types proclaim, like increased energy, improved mood, a more positive body-image, and the like are definitely all good reasons to exercise and eat a healthy diet, but in the context of slow fashion, there are a few other upsides that I hadn't considered until my weight-gain created a wardrobe crisis.  The main one is that if I can find a good lifestyle balance and maintain my weight, I'm not really forced to buy new clothes to replace clothes that haven't lived out a full and useful existence.

*Note: my idea of excess weight is based on my normal.  My "normal" has changed as I've gotten older.  (Also, my normal is not your normal which is not the next person's normal either.  Please redirect any outrage you may feel stirring in your soul, perhaps towards fructose, the real enemy.)

A healthy diet is something that I've had to radically rethink in the past few months.  After reading this book earlier this year, I was convinced I needed to try a version of the IF/LCHF diet, partly because I wanted to shed a few pounds quickly, partly because I had been recently advised of my increased risk for type II diabetes, and partly because I knew that my eating habits were probably the cause of my sudden weight gain. Also, I really liked the idea of learning to control my hunger and my dependence on sugar highs.  I was basically grazing on small amounts of sugary goods from waking to bedtime to keep my blood sugar elevated because I felt like it was the only way to maintain my energy and mental clarity.  I would feel pretty lifeless without sugar, not to mention a bit grumpy.  I was close to ordering this t-shirt but the possibility that I might be able kick the carb dependence and control my weight at the same time was too tantalizing to ignore.

Before you start to think that I'm bragging about the weight loss, let me stop you.  I lost just enough to get  closer to my normal and I'm happy about it, but what I'm actually proud of is having overhauled my eating habits.

Note: I wrote the previous sentence in September.  Full disclosure: I cheated a fair bit while I was travelling last month.  Amazingly, my trip was not as pastry-filled as it would normally have been but I ate like every meal was my last, and I still lost another two pounds, although possibly due to all the walking.  So much walking, all of it seemingly uphill.

But I'm totally digressing here. I could go on about my new diet if given half the chance, and no one wants that.  So I'll just abruptly switch back to the topic at hand: my two of three SoB FOs. The first is a linen tank top that I am calling the Ube Nut Tank in honour of the one ice cream cone I had over the summer.  If you were anywhere within a 3-block radius of iHalo Krunch this summer, you would likely have seen multiple people devouring black soft-serve ice cream in a jet-black waffle cone.  It was pretty eye catching, so I being merely human, got in line to find out what all the fuss was about.  I enjoyed the ice cream (coconut and ube flavour, hence, Ube Nut) but I had regrets about sporting black lips and tongue for the remainder of the day.  A few more details about the tank top are on my Ravelry project page and these are a few of the photos I attempted to take with only myself as both model and photographer (i.e., not an entirely successful endeavour):

My second project was not a summer item, but it was my on my list of possible SoB projects because it met the requirements and I wanted a backup knitting project to work on.  I call these my Mundy Gloves because they are not those $2 magic gloves you can buy everywhere.  (Yes, I am a fan of the Fables comic books.)  Magic gloves are small but stretch to fit any size and they can be worn under fingerless mitts/mittens/gloves for extra warmth.  The second-skin fit also means you retain some manual dexterity without being fully exposed to the cold air.  My gloves are the opposite of magic gloves in that they are not infinitely stretchy so you have to customize the fit, they are wool, not acrylic, and they were made to last.  I admit I love magic gloves but I hate that they are pretty much disposable because the fingers wear through in one season and there is no way I'm going to mend magic gloves but I will mend handmade wool gloves.  Also, I get uncomfortable when things are ridiculously cheap.  The cost to the environment and humans tends to be high when retail prices are driven so low.  I had some multi-ply laceweight that wasn't getting used for anything so I knit myself this pair of totally mundane gloves that happen to fit pretty darn well (after much frogging and revision) and are pure wool to boot!

I wrote myself a pattern because there are surprisingly few patterns available for laceweight gloves.  Am I the only one who is surprised by this?  Maybe there aren't that many knitters with my predilection for magic gloves, or maybe there are but no pattern designers think there are?  Maybe I'll add this to my secret list of patterns I might publish in my super-secret dream of one day writing and publishing patterns?  Lucky no one reads this blog.


One last post about Christmas knitting

I issued myself a Christmas knitting report card last post and let's say, by the numbers, my 2016 performance was a little disappointing.  But, as with real report cards, the full picture is sometimes obscured in the details.  In actuality, I concluded that it was all worthwhile all because of one response to one of the gifts I had knit.*

I have a theory that a maker whose handmade gift is received with true happiness experiences tenfold happiness themselves.  Of course, there is the joy we derive from the making itself and the love we put into each minute of that process, but we can only hope and not expect or demand that the recipient will love that thing as much as we do.  And even if the recipient is a three-year old child who would likely have been delighted with just about any gift, sweet kid that she is, I feel just as much satisfaction as if I had been judged worthy by a panel of experienced knitters. Maybe more.

For a good friend's daughter, I decided to knit a polar bear girl from Julie Williams' (aka, Little Cotton Rabbits) Girl Bear pattern and some clothes from the various LCR animal clothes patterns.  I was really taken with the beautiful winter-themed animals Julie posted on her blog and I convinced myself that a little dressed polar bear was just the right thing for this particular little girl, whom I will refer to as "E".  So, I made Polly Behr:

Making Polly and her little travel set was almost as fun as seeing E open her present.  Polly is knit with an Ontario grown-and-spun alpaca yarn I purchased from the lovely Alpaca Avenue shop.  The clothes are knit with various yarns I had in my stash.  The nice thing about doll clothing is that you don't need much yarn so I could dip into my collection of partials and singles and make a wardrobe, although it did limit my colour palette.  I made a few attempts at knitting some of the Fair Isle dresses Julie published, but unfortunately, stranded knitting is not my forte, especially under time constraints, so I settled for simplified colourwork and accessorised instead.  It wasn't intentional but all the accessories are of Danish design (which I deeply love, so probably not really a coincidence).  The little suitcase is made by Maileg (purchased from Kolkid, here in Toronto but available online).  The gift box, a red tin mailbox, and the teddy passport (how could I resist?) are from a Flying Tiger store in NYC, (which is where I happened to be last month).

My little friend has a great imagination and I decided to give Polly a little back story about having travelled from Greenland to attend nursery school in Toronto and needing a nice place to live.  E, who is many wonderful things, also happens to be none too fond of nursery school.  I think (I hope!) it helped her relate to Polly because she seems to have taken Polly's "care" to heart.  E's parents tell me she puts Polly to bed in her house (the red mailbox) at night and tries to keep her warm when they go outside to play.  I already thought it was a great triumph that E was so excited about Polly's removable "shacket" (aka, jacket, aka, cardigan) when she opened her gift but the update from her parents really made my day. :D

Needless to say, E has earned herself a lifetime appointment to my knit-worthy list for this alone!


*This post may have the slight stench of the humblebrag.  Try to forgive me this weakness, but E was so happy.  I'm just going to bask in this for a day or two.

Christmas knitting report card

So Christmas 2016 has come and gone.  From the perspective of a knitter, the success of Christmas might be measured by how much knitting was or was not done.  For the organised and rational knitter, a good Christmas holiday would have included some stress-free knitting in a comfortable, warm nook.  For the rest, there would be varying amounts of (probably frantic) knitting taking place during any free moment available, sometimes in unlikely places in order to meet a deadline.  Since I decided to embark on Christmas gift knitting sometime in early December, I should have fallen squarely among the latter group, but I did rein in my ambitions to three, relatively small projects, which had to be done or abandoned before I left for the holidays.

But that said, how did I do, really?  I decided to assess it by the numbers and I issued myself a Christmas knitting report card based on the three projects I had decided to make.

In truth, I don't really deserve that A+ for attendance because the majority of the Christmas gatherings I was invited to were all scheduled for days I wasn't even in town.  Which is to say, my performance for a mere three small projects was pretty disappointing even if I thought it didn't go as poorly as some previous years.  I think the conclusion is obvious; I should really just knit for myself and I can do it guilt-free because this report card confirms everything I knew to be true about (my attempts at) gift knitting.   Which is, it rarely ends well.

(If you would also like to issue yourself a Christmas knitting report card, feel free to print one for yourself.

If this were a fancy-like blog, I would have it generate your grades for you, but that is not where my skills lie.  You'll have to do it the old-fashioned way.)

Luckily, internet shopping has reached a level of efficiency that allows me to get to inside a week of Christmas Day to decide (objectively)* if the project in hand can be completed in time or if I need to order something right now.  Incidentally, I used to think I would rather be kept awake for three days straight by the barking of dogs and the clashing of garbage bins being knocked over by raccoons rather than brave a mall even once in the weeks before Christmas.  This year, having been forced to make a few trips to various malls, I found that it was surprisingly not utter pandemonium.  I'm going to attribute this to the rise of internet shopping.  Some people think the internet is destroying meaningful human interaction but I'm now rather inclined to think that it might be saving us all.

But back to the subject at hand.  Clearly, deciding to knit gifts a mere handful of weeks before Christmas is never a sound plan, yet somehow I convinced myself to give it a try anyway.  It would probably be smarter to set the publish date for this post for sometime in November of 2017 as a sort of wake-up call, a reminder to my future self of the inevitable outcome of last-minute gift knitting which you know I will be contemplating again in eleven month's time, but that would be planning ahead.


*I'm not sure if I'm alone in this, but in the past, when the clock was running down and I still hadn't completed a project, I would then, through some strange logic, convince myself the answer was to forego some hours of sleep per day for the remaining days before Christmas instead of just going out and buying a gift to replace the one I wasn't going to be able to finish.  Like I said in my last post: madness.  Internet shopping allows me to get that close to a deadline and not lose my grip on reality.