Lonely Handknit Day

As I mentioned last week, I find myself in an odd predicament, probably one that most knitters can’t relate to. For the longest time, I had a couple of projects that were literally stuck. In place. Not moving. And I was unable to get started again. The knitterly inertia on these projects was so strong that both had sat unattended for well over a year, just lurking on that WIP rack, waiting for a moment of weakness on my part.

So, to stir the creative juices (or perhaps to give myself a figurative kick in the rear), I entered both in the WIP Wrestling event of the Ravellenic Games. During the Olympics, I worked my little tail off to get them finished. In fact, I got in such a rhythm that I just kept picking more and more small projects off the WIP rack and finishing them off.

All of which led to today, in which I go to sit down and knit a bit, only to find that I’ve nothing to work on but a single sock. Well, and a horrid baby blanket that needs to be frogged, the yarn burned and the ashes buried where no one will find them. (Okay, that might be a little harsh but while this stuff looks pretty and feels soft, it is The Devil to work with).

So, while usually I have a healthy queue of projects going and lots of things to switch back and forth between, I’ve got a new kind of creative block. When you only have one project going, anything new will be a huge commitment. After all, it’s only this new project (whatever I choose) and that lonely sock.

I almost feel as though I need to start several new projects to maintain my desired level of variety but that little voice in my head is telling me that I’ve finally cleared up the WIP rack for the first time in written history and I had d.a.r.n.e.d. w.e.l.l. b.e.t.t.e.r. l.e.a.v.e. i.t. t.h.a.t. w.a.y.

(Hear her? That sounded like a threat!)

In the meantime, babies are being born all around me and there are no handknit items to be gifted! Nary a blanket, nor a sweater, not even a teeny tiny little hat. Not a single bootie.

Winter is coming and I will need woolly sweaters! Lots of them!

Add to that that while most everyone in my family has handknit mittens, I’ve never gotten around to making any for myself. (Okay, except for my family that lives in California. Even in northern California, wool mittens are probably over the top).

My list of potentially needed handknit items goes on and on.

Ravelry has thousands of patterns so it’s not that I lack ideas. If you’ve been reading for a while, you know that I”ve got enough stash to keep myself knitting well into the next decade (after all, you’ve seen the pictures).

So, why am I stuck? I suspect it may be the knitter’s version of writer’s block. So much finishing leads to high expectations for the next project, which has me locked in indecision about what that next project should be. I’ve picked a cardigan that I like, but that means I’ll need to wind the yarn, which for some reason has suddenly become too difficult to contemplate. It’s a new kind of inertia to overcome.

Have you ever had this happen? How did you end the block and get your knitting life back on track?

Reader Appreciation Day

I was reading an online article recently about Social Media and how so many brands just don’t get it. They all want us to ‘Like’ them on Facebook (or other sites) so that they can tell us how awesome they are. So far, few of them provide much value back, so we are in essence a free advertising channel for them. Not being a fan of commercialism, I’m surprised at how easily I let myself get sucked into this, using my own reputation and mind-space as a platform for the products and ideas of others.

That got me thinking. This blog now has something like 185 followers and that doesn’t count the people (mostly friends and family) that read it based on the links I post on my Facebook page. Given that it was all started on something of a whim, an experiment to see if I had anything interesting to say, that’s a pretty large audience.

It got me wondering what makes a blog meaningful to people, at least meaningful enough for me to borrow those few minutes a day that you spend reading what I have to say, or looking at my photographs, or wondering what in the heck I am smoking. (Yes, I’ll admit that there are probably a few days like that now and then…despite my best efforts).

I’d love to hear from those of you that are reading about why you read, what you enjoy, how I could brighten your day or give you a little more value back for those stolen moments.

And in the meantime, thank you for reading. Seriously, I mean it. Without readers, this blog would just be a voice in the digital wilderness and while it would still accomplish its original purpose (to give voice to the writer inside of me), it would be a whole lot less fun.

Comments, please. And have a fabulous week. I seriously love you all.

Mardee

Yes, there is a Nirvanah: it is in leading your sheep to a green pasture,  and in putting your child to sleep, and in writing the last line of your poem. ~ Kahlil Gibran

How the Internet Changed My Life

Okay, so that sounds like the topic for a deep, philosophical post. Or an ad for some website design company promising to change my whole world-view if only I buy their services.  It’s actually not about that, it’s about how a social network site invented by a young couple and manned by staff you could count on one hand has changed not only my craft, but also my social life.

If you’re a knitter, I’m sure you’ve already heard about Ravelry and if not, you should. In fact, hop on over there to http://www.ravelry.com and create yourself an account. We’ll wait.

(We’ll see if they come back…Ravelry is a fascinating place. I can and do spend hours there on a regular basis).

Back? Okay, good.

You see, a friend of mine posted an article from Slate this week about Ravelry and it got me thinking about my knitting life and how I got started in all of this. Like many people, I tried knitting years ago and kind of liked it but really didn’t stick to it. It was hard and I was busy and well…without anyone close by to teach me anything new or help me read patterns, I got stuck and frustrated, and eventually went off to do other things.

Then, when visiting my mother-in-law in Portland, Oregon, she taught me again how to knit. She also took me to her local yarn shop. She told me about the Stitch N Bitch (or in her case, pub knitting) and gave me books by the Yarn Harlot, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, to read. In so doing, she introduced me to a whole world that I didn’t know existed.

Quickly thereafter, I found Ravelry and did a search for knit-in-public groups in my area. And voila! Not only did I have a new craft, I had a whole new community. Would I have found these lovely people without Ravelry? Perhaps. But Ravelry certainly made it easy.

Since then, the discussion forums and knitters I met on Ravelry have taught me about spinning, supported me through trying projects, encouraged and consoled each other. They have mourned collective losses when famous knitters died, and held each other up during times of personal crisis. We all rejoiced when Jessie and Casey (the founders) had a baby girl. It’s a real community of people from all across the world, the only connection between us being a love of the craft and care for each other.

Resources like Ravelry are also why there’s been a resurgence in interest in things like spinning. Living a typical big-city suburb, I don’t know that I’d have ever considered trying to make my own yarn (nor had the foggiest idea how to actually do it) without the help and support of these people and the online community around them. It’s been an immense contribution to my life and in many ways defined my identity as a craftsperson. Personally, I try to give back by watching for new spinners who are stuck and giving them the same boost that others gave me. Sometimes a little encouragement is all you need, or a link to a helpful video, or the acknowledgement that what you are learning is hard and you’re doing okay for a beginner. Or even just a quick hint that gets you over the hump and back on the right track.

A friend of mine is fond of saying to her knitters, “You are my tribe.” She’s got it totally right. We are a tribe, a very large tribe at that, scattered across the world, TWO MILLION STRONG. Can you believe that?

I love it. Thanks Tim Berners-Lee for the internet and the inspiration and caring people it brings me. I’m sure you had no idea at the time, but what a wonderous thing you’ve created. Also, thanks to Jessica and Casey Forbes, who thought up Ravelry in the first place. You guys rock. And, closer to home, thanks to my mother-in-law Janet for making the introduction.

To read the original article on Slate.com, click here: 

http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/07/a_tightknit_community.html

Note that the information in the article is a bit dated. Rav now has over two million members and they are now looking for that second developer!

Another Cardigan?

I’ve been on a bit of a sweater binge lately, which is a little odd because it’s been really hot and not exactly sweater weather. That said, I just finished the Tappan Zee cardigan from Knitty and I’m quite pleased with how it came out.

What do you think?

My finished Tappan Zee cardigan. Well, except for the buttons. I approach button selection with all the levity of the nuclear arms reduction talks during the Cold War, so picking buttons could take a while. I’m not sure why, since I never button my sweaters anyway.

I have been on such a finishing binge that I have completed all of my works in progress. I was a bit shocked to find that. When I went back to the UFO (UnFinished Object) rack, it was empty except for a lonely Christmas stocking that needs a bit of fixing on the short-row heel and a quilting project where I need to finish the hand-quilting and bind it.

The only thing I have on the needles is this solitary sock:

My sole knitting work-in-progress. How in the heck did that happen?

It will eventually have a mate, but I feel a bit untethered not to have an ongoing project to work on and drag about with me. After all, in my world, socks don’t really count because they are always on my needles. Not that I don’t love handknit socks, nay quite the opposite, but because I am always working on them as fill-in knitting around other projects.

So, I’m thinking about another cardigan, probably this one, also from Knitty:

The Brunello Cardigan from Knitty.com. Lovely.

And of course, there are those three fleeces in the basement that need drum carding, a big backlog of spinning fiber, and some quilting projects. But for the moment, the knitting is caught up. I still can’t believe it . What will I do with myself?

Pick up some cookies, make some tea, and cast on another sweater, I think.

The Knitter’s Guide to S.E.X.

Now, before you start getting all worried and report me to the WordPress Police, let me explain. To a knitter, S.E.X refers to a Stash Enhancement eXpedition, or an opportunity to acquire more yarn and fiber for future projects. I’m sure that at least some knitters have the other type of S.E.X. as well, but that’s hardly a topic for a G-rated knitting blog like this one.

To those who don’t knit, the thought of acquiring yarn without a project in mind must seem kind of silly. After all, how will you make sure you have enough? What if it’s the wrong color? What if you never use it?

Now, I’m sure that somewhere there is the rare knitter who never stashes. This knitter buys the perfect amount for each project, only knits one project at a time,  and probably has alphabetized the spices in their kitchen too. Once upon a time, I probably was this person, but no more. (Okay, I’ll at least cop to the spices bit but it was a reaction to the fact that they kept falling out and hitting me on the head whenever I opened that cupboard).  Lately, my stash has grown significantly, and mostly with sweater-quantities of yarn, as well as several whole fleeces.

To most of us in the fiber-loving world, the acquisition of stash is just part of the experience. Buying yarn is rewarding because of the promise it holds – the thought of all the lovely shawls, sweaters or socks that it could turn into. It’s also a tactile reward, as you walk through the yarn store or market and touch each skein to see how it feels. Will it be nice next to the skin? Will it be lovely to knit with? In my world, the softer and more fluffy the better.

Whenever I go into a yarn store (or even more so, a huge market like Stitches), a certain amount of self-control is in order. Yarn, especially the luxury fibers I crave most, is spendy stuff. Granted, the sweater I make with it would also be spendy, but interestingly I would never pay for a ready-made sweater what I routinely spend for the materials to knit one. Knitters who only work with yarns from a big box store probably don’t get this because I am spending multiples of what I would need to for the same quantity of a workable yarn. But, it’s like comparing a plastic tub to a handmade basket. Yes, both serve the purpose but one is simply nicer to use. The pleasure I get in knitting with this lovely stuff is immense. That’s why I buy it.

Now, I have knitter-friends who simply laugh when I say that I have too much stash, because it all looks very tidy and organized lined up on the shelves in my office.  Of course, that doesn’t count the tubs of spinning fiber in the closet, nor the whole fleeces in the basement next to the drum carder. Perhaps my stash is a bit smaller than some, but it’s still plenty to keep me knitting for a long time.

My Yarn Stash. (Well, the part I admit too, anyway. Just don’t look in that closet).

In order to keep the stash in order and prevent a rebellion brewing among the sock yarn (thanks Franklin Habit), I have a few rules that I employ:

1) All new yarn goes into ziplock bags before I put it on the shelves. Sadly, while I hate doing this, it’s a necessity here in Colorado, where due to the dry climate, we have more dust than I have ever seen. I’d much prefer to have it out where I can clearly see and touch its loveliness, but practicality won out on this one. Dusty yarn is simply not fun to work with.

2) I try to dig through the bins on a fairly regular basis and get rid of things that no longer interest me. When I started knitting, and again when I started spinning, my enthusiasm got the better of me and I made some, shall we say, ‘interesting’ purchases. For the yarns, I have what I call the Wonder Box, meaning that I wonder what I was thinking when I bought them.

3) Sock yarn does not count as stash. After all, it’s small, doesn’t take up much space, and I am always working on socks so I know it will get used eventually.

4) Buying large quantities of a yarn I really like is actually a bargain because then I’ll have enough for a large project. Sadly, when I first started buying, I didn’t get this and I ended up with some individual skeins that are going to require some creativity to use. On the other hand, back in those days I’d have said it was crazy to think that I’d ever knit a sweater and yet, I have done just that, several times over.

Next month, we’ll be going on the Yarn Along the Rockies yarn crawl, in which we’ll be visiting a bunch of yarn shops in various communities along the front range. Some of my friends are going to do the Grand Tour and try to hit all of them so they can enter for the Grand Prize drawing. I’m going to go on the mini-tour instead. Visiting them all just puts my checkbook in that much more jeopardy, and after all, I’m headed to Taos in early October. (Where there will be whole fleeces….oh my heavens. Good thing my hubby is coming along to restrain me or I might end up trying to figure out how to fit a full-grown alpaca into the back seat of a Mustang).

What about you? What’s the state of your stash? Does it lend itself to your better creative moments, or like me, does it need a purge and rearrangement to give fuel to your creativity? Please let me know in the comments.

Hope and Help from Stitches Midwest

It’s always interesting when I go to knitting festivals or conferences because the place just has a friendly, happy vibe to it. Like most people, knitters and crocheters have problems, but one of the benefits of the craft is that practicing it has a calming effect that some say provides similar results to meditation. One of the other things that I really enjoy finding at these events is the people who knit or crochet for charity, because beyond using our craft to help ourselves, many of us like to use our craft to benefit others.

At Stitches, many groups were represented, with booths and volunteers offering advice and patterns to help people get started crafting for a cause. I’m almost a little hesitant to name them, because I’m afraid I’ll miss someone, but if I did miss an organization, please comment and I’ll update the post.

I love knitting for charity. In fact, I don’t do it nearly often enough. Those who don’t knit often don’t understand it. After all, if you want to get hats for the homeless, you can buy them at Walmart for $3. The yarn costs more than that, not to mention the time invested to make the hat, but in the end, I think it means something to the recipient that this item was made with love and care just for them. Maybe I’m just making myself feel good, but I think it makes a difference.

While we were there, I saw several signs about the Elephants Remember Joplin project and also saw the elephants on display, but I did not understand the full meaning of it until after I returned home.
Elephants Remember Joplin is the work of a clever knitter who saw what happened to Joplin when the tornado struck and wanted to help. To date, she and her helpers have raised over $10,000 for Homes for Hope. Even more interesting is that this knitter is 9 years old. What she has managed to do would be awesome for an adult, but even more so for someone of her young age. Why did she pick elephants? Because elephants never forget!

Elephants Remember Joplin. Photo from Joplin Globe website, http://www.joplinglobe.com

To read more about this unusual little lady and her knitted elephants, check out this article from the local Joplin newspaper.

So who else was there matching crafters to people needing handmade items? There were a bunch:

  •  Halos of Hope, which makes caps for cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Check them out on their website here: http://www.halosofhope.org/
  • Project Linus, which makes blankets for critically ill children but also donates for disasters, or other events. Interestingly, it was started right here in my hometown of Parker, CO but has spread nationally since. Check them out on their website here: http://www.projectlinus.org/
  • Warm Up American, which makes blankets for the homeless. You can check them out on their Facebook page, here: https://www.facebook.com/WarmUpAmerica

Personally, I’ve made prayer shawls for the ministry in my church and done a few other charity projects too. It makes me feel good to participate and I hope that the work of my hands warms someone else, both physically and spiritually.

What about you? What do you do to give back? Perhaps you’d like to join my in my personal quest to add more charitable knitting to my life. After all, while fiber crafting brings me a lot of joy and happiness (okay, and the occasional tear or swear word), it’s not always all about me.

Happy weekend, all!

Geeky Fan Girl

So, as I’ve mentioned earlier, I headed off to Chicago last week for Stitches Midwest. It was more a chance to get reacquainted with old friends as it was to learn something new about my craft. The unexpected part was how many knitting celebrities would be there, and how accessible they would be.

Knitting is an interesting world that way. The U.S. has millions of knitters, some of which practice their craft quietly and singly, but others like myself who turn out in coffee shops, restaurants and even pubs to socialize, knit, and sometimes rip out what they’ve done the next morning. For me, it’s the social aspect of knitting that draws me in, gives me inspiration, and keeps me growing as a knitter.

Social media has had an impact on this too. With tools like Ravelry, blogs, websites and Facebook, it’s very easy to see what’s going on in the knitting lives of my friends, but also in the knitting lives of the more well-known public knitters such as designers, teachers, authors, etc.

For example, I’ve been reading Franklin Habit’s blog for going on two years now. I also follow him on Facebook and comment on his statuses regularly.  I find his sense of humor charming and am amazed at the beautiful work he creates. At Stitches, I got to meet Franklin for the first time, and found him just as charming in person as he is online. In a culture that worships celebrity, it’s delightful to me to see these knitters-extraordinaire who are real people, and by real I mean grounded and kind.

I’m one of those people who ignores the Hollywood types and probably couldn’t tell a Hollywood Kardashian from a Star Trek one if I met them on the street. But send me to a knitting conference, and I virtually swoon as the celebrities walk by. I think this is for a couple of reasons, first because I respect them for their dedication to the craft, and second because so many of them are just normal people with a realistic opinion of themselves and without the attitude that they are somehow better than others because they’ve written a book, are teaching classes (and in my mind are fabulous).

It’s been a celebrity-filled world for me this past few weeks. I started by taking a class from Ann Budd, who not only taught me a lot about sweater design, but was gracious and kind while we all wanted our pictures taken with her and asked her to sign copies of her books. Then, I got to meet Franklin at Stitches, where I also took a class from Drew Emborski, The Crochet Dude.

Walking the hallways of stitches, we had casual conversations with Sivia Harding, Nicky Epstein, Marly Bird, Kristen Omdahl and others.

Now, to be fair, I did stop myself from being too obnoxious and as a result, I did not force all these famous people to have their pictures taken with me. However, if you do want to see some of the photos from the event, Knitting Universe (the sponsor of Stitches) has a bunch on their Facebook page here:

https://www.facebook.com/KnittingUniverse.

I also have the Taos Wool Market to look forward to, where I’ll be taking a class from Abby Franquemont, who is one of the foremost spindle spinning teachers in the U.S. I’m very excited about that. For now, I’ve got some great memories of Stitches, and the people, famous and not, that enrich my knitting life.

Still to Come this Week: The Knitter’s Version of S.E.X, knitting and spinning in public, and possibly a finished sweater if I get my act together.