Wednesday, March 25, 2009

stranger in a strange land

Panopticon raises an issue that has been coming up for me a lot lately. I can think more incidents than I'd like to where different realities have collided or even just bumped into one another, and where no clear interface or connection could be found. I've recently experienced and/or heard about heartbreaking situations where two or more people come from such different spaces that their words, instead of connecting people, hold them apart at worst or simply fail to convey a shared meaning at best.

We each of us create our own life stories, our narratives, our mythologies. We create them out of our familial and social and all sorts of other contexts. They give us something to structure our lives by, and to use as a framework for interpreting and understanding the world around us. It's not always easy to see what those frameworks are and even when we do, we can't always work with someone else's. We can see why the gaps, we can even see how they got to be there, but even then we can't always bridge them.

And just as I'm about to be overwhelmed by it all (how can we achieve world peace when we can't bridge gaps between friends, family, colleagues, two strangers on a train?) I'm reminded of that truism: we all live alone, together. So, I'm not alone in feeling disconnected at times: others feel that lack of connection too. I'll bet that most of the time when I'm feeling disconnected from someone or a group of someones I'm interacting with, one or more of them feels the same way and like me, they are puzzled or even frustrated by it and maybe sometimes we each feel saddened or even angered by it. Maybe I can't always bridge the gaps between me and the people I meet or even all the people I love, but I can try to make experiencing those gaps less stressful by remembering I'm not alone in experiencing it. That others do too and are probably having very similar reactions to it. Maybe I can help ease the discomfort that sometimes arises when those gaps become visible by recognizing my personal narrative is but one reality at play, and if can behave with right speech and right action, it'll be less painful, less discomforting. And maybe I can simply just recognize why sometimes I succumb to my own narrative and in recognizing how that happened, I can learn more about how to disentangle myself from my own stories.

The problem is, I'm not very good at right speech or right action, I'm very much a novice. But Panopticon's post came to me when I needed the reminder that I'm not alone in this the most. It resonated with me, reminded me to strive for right speech and right action.

And for that, I am grateful to him. Thank you, Franklin, for your words and for being there and for sharing yourself and for creating a space where people can connect. You make a difference.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wedding Shawl

"The" shawl to date. I've completed 1.25 repeats. It's a 40 row repeat over some 125 sts plus and additional 6 -12 on each side for the edging. I will do 16 repeats, then put these stitches on a holder and repeat the process again. Each half will measure approximately 40 inches. When they're both done, I will weave the two halves together. That join will form the center, so that both sides fall to the front allowing the pattern to be the same on both sides. The pattern is a one way pattern, which means if I don't knit it two halves the way I've described, you'd have one straight end (like the one you see here on the needles) and one with the lovely scallops, like you see at the lower end in the picture. The idea is to have scallops at both ends. I'm not sure I've explained that well, but I hope it's clear. I must say I'm happy with how it's turning out. I find there's always a certain period of uncertainty about a lace or cable project until the pattern actually makes itself visible.

I do love watching the pattern emerge: I think that's a big part of what I find so enjoyable about knitting lace or cables or colourwork. Seeing the pattern take shape and then grow out of simple manipulations of those loops of yarn held on a pointy stick just never fail to fascinate and enchant me. We do these things, we human beings. We take rock and find ways to drag it about, to cut into it and shape it and pile it one on top of the other in majestic columns, graceful arches... and we take colour, add it to various medium so it's smearable and then we do just that, we smear it onto canvas, wood, and other surfaces so we can express our thoughts and feelings and observations of the world around us. Knitting is like that, for me. It's the looping of long string over point sticks, and manipulating those loops in ways that represent waves or sky or simply just re-create sensations of calm (like the rippling cables in the sweater-wrap I knit earlier this winter) or, like this shawl, representations of core elements like leaves or waves, and in a medium that is light and airy, and blending those things together so that we feel both grounded and elevated when looking at it.

I subscribe too much to a knitted object, perhaps. But then again, maybe I don't. The yarn is so fine (lace-weight, baby alpaca) it sometimes feels like I'm knitting a frothy cloud, and until I block it, that's pretty much what it looks like. But when I smooth it out so the pattern becomes visible, I see leaves (it is called Autumn arbour, and so is meant to evoke images of falling leaves) but it also reminds me of waves, perhaps because the wedding I am knitting it for will be held on a ship in the Halifax Harbour. Weddings are, by definition, frothy and fairy tale events. But they are also foundations for many families and for our society.

I wasn't thinking all this when I started knitting this shawl, nor am I always thinking about it while I'm knitting. These thoughts are too weighty and would add a heaviness to both the process and the shawl that neither can bear. But every once in a while, when I pause to look at it, these are the sensations that hoover in the very back of my mind, and while I won't often pull them to the forefront in the same way I have now, I'm glad they're there.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The sweater that was doomed

All done... seams sewn, ends woven in, buttons sewn on. I discovered when I was done that I'd forgotten to make button holes, so I did a crotchet slip stitch up the side that should have had button holes and made loops through which I could look the buttons at all the appropriate places.

It still doesn't fit (just like it's predecessor knit of the same yarn but using a different pattern), but I like it anways!

After all, it's a Norah Gaughan design. What's not to like?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rainy wednesday

View of my sitting room, looking out onto a very rainy neighbour- hood. The weather man is promising high winds as well.

A day to stay indoors and read and knit and listen to soft music.

I'll entertain that fantasy for just a bit longer before I go leave this quiet space and get dressed and ready to head out into the elements.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I finished "unknitting" the sweater I knit last month and that ended up being too big, re-rolled all the yarn and knit an entirely new sweater. New pattern, different size, fresh new beginning. I just finished it, blocked it, sewed most of it together, and added the collar. All that's remaining is to finish up one sleeve seam (sleeve is sewn in, I just didn't finish the long seam all the way to the wrist yet), and I have sew on the buttons and then add some loops to close them with.

Just tried it on, and am happy to report it is not too big. Nope. No sir-ee. Not at all. Not too big.

But it also doesn't fit. Because, you see, it's just a bit TOO SMALL. And the reason for that is although I took great care to measure me, measure the sweater, test the gauge and all those other good things, I knit it to fit the size I was at when I began, I have since gotten a bit bigger. Not a lot bigger, mind you, but apparently just enough to make this lovely sweater fit a little more snug than it ought to. So the sweater fits, but it only fits me in the past and since I haven't figured out how to bend time, I'm stuck in the now with a sweater that fits me in the past. And until I can either figure out how to get the sweater to me in the past, or I somehow figure out how to lose the weight I've gained (and let's face it, even though it's a small amount of weight it's not going to go away on it's own and at this stage of the game it might be easier to invent time-travel) I may never get to wear this sweater. And I really don't think I can bear to unknit this yarn once again.

But at least the problem is new. At least I corrected the whole "knit a sweater that's too big thing". That's some kind of improvement, right?

PS> I feel the need to point out the weight gain is not due to overindulgence (though I've been known to do that too ....) but to a very effective anti-thyroid medicine.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Technology, progress, and creativity

I spent the last two-days in a workshop intended to give an overview of a complex new technology the unit I direct just purchased. I've been to these kinds of workshops before and knew it was more than likely the content was going to be either too basic to interest me, or too irrelevant to my own role relative to the project and it was equally likely that the workshop would be very dry. So I knew I was going to have to find some way to stay engaged but also busy. 

so of course I decided to bring knitting. The knitting would keep me busy, and in a very satisfying and productive way, but it wouldn't demand so much attention that I wouldn't be able to follow what was happening in the workshop providing, of course, that I chose the right knitting project.  So I stuck a ball of cotton sock yarn and 5x2mm dpns and armed with Knitty's basic sock recipe, headed off into the workshop. 

I stuck out the first 60-90 minutes, noticed I was getting distracted by email and Twitter and my computer in general and barely paying attention so I pulled out my knitting and very briefly mentioned to the three colleagues in the room with me, that it was my plan to knit so I could keep busy but stay attuned to what was happening all around me. 

Oh yeah? said one. What are you going to knit? 

A sock, I replied. It's easy and fast so I can still pay attention to the workshop. 

A sock! he said. And how long would it take you to just go down and buy one instead of knitting one? 

Well that stumped me a bit. He seemed to be suggesting that time was a factor here. I wasn't knitting a sock because I wanted one quickly. I wasn't even knitting a sock because I had any urgent need for a sock! Though I will someday need a sock and when I do, I'll be glad I have this one. Or it may end up going to someone else, at this point I don't know. I'm knitting a sock because I like to knit. Because I enjoy the craft. Because I far prefer putting on a sock I made than putting on one some factory churned out. 

I tried to articulate that a bit. I pointed out that it felt good to wear a sock I made rather than one made by a factory. That I was more aware of the sockiness of socks because I knew what was involved in the construction. To me it's still something of an astounding bit of history that we humans figured out how to turn one long piece of yarn into something that has a cuff, a perfectly turned heel, and a smoothly grafted toe. I love to knit at least in part because it makes me feel connected to human beings through time and space, it gives me a sense of being grounded and rooted. And it's such an amazingly creative craft. Not that I think we should tear down all factories and force people to knit their own any more than I think everyone needs to write their own code or fix their own cars or sew their own quilts. We each of us have things we find more fascinating than others. The diversity in passion is good!

Well I didn't say all that to my colleague. Just a couple sentences along those lines. 

He nodded. Seemed to get the gist of it. But several hours later he glanced over to see my progress just as I was just about to start the heel flap. 

Well I guess you don't knit those instead of doing laundry, he noted. 

And of course, he's quite right. I don't. I don't knit a pair of socks because I'm too lazy to wash the ones I already own. That would require my going sockless for more days than living in a climate of -14 celcius would make reasonable. Washing socks when I need a clean pair is so much quicker than knitting a whole new set. There is no denying that. 

And again today, just as I finished the first sock only some 20 minutes before the two-day workshop ended, he peered over, looked at my finished sock and said "That still the first one?" 

It was.  One sock during the boring bits of a two-day workshop. Not bad. Especially considering that I didn't think to bring a tapestry needle with me and so had to do the kitchener stitch without one, which I'm sure is no problem for more experienced kitcheners, but this being only my second time kitchenering... 

I just need to pause here for a minute to say something about my colleague because I don't want anyone to get me wrong. My colleague is a very intelligent, witty, and like-able man. I have nothing against him. He speaks out of a set of assumptions that many others who are just as intelligent and knowledgeable and as like-able as he is... our exchange was light-hearted and I took no offense, though as you can tell, it got me to thinking....

It got me thinking about why I knit, not just socks, but also sweaters, shawls, mittens, hats, scarves, and why I prefer complex cables, and lace, and using multiple colours because I really enjoy the craft of those techniques involve, I especially enjoy watching patterns emerge, seeing something recognizable forming at the end of my needles. As I thought about that I was reminded of how I felt after visiting a museum in Boston that housed some victorian gentleman's collection of scientific apparatus. (I wish I could remember either the name of the museum or the gentleman, but I can't though I will see if I can find out). Each piece, no matter how large or how small, was unique. Each piece represented amazing craftsmanship: beautiful carvings, inlay, stonework. Each piece was not only functional in terms of what it was intended to do, but it was a piece of art in it's own right. Using those tools would bring the handler a double joy: not only were they clearly well-constructed and efficient at the task they were intended to fulfil, but they were beautiful to hold, amazing to look at. They were, to my more modern sensibilities, rather ornate for my taste and even while admiring it I recognized why more streamlined and clean lines became so appealing to us all. 

But steamlined and clean and efficient doesn't have to mean that there is no room for craft, for art, for beauty, for creativity. 

And this is what modern technology and the resulting predominance of factories and mass production often deprives us of. Each time I knit a sock I marvel at how someone somewhere figured out how to do the whole heel so that the sock conformed to the foot more naturally. And how that better fit probably resulted in greater comfort inside of boots and shoes. In my minds eye I see a knitter sitting, perhaps in front of a fire or out in her garden somewhere, puzzling over the challenge of how to turn a tube into something foot-shaped, about an tiny eureka about some part of the process and trying it out, then sharing it with others, and those others pondering over some bit of it that's just not quite right, not yet, until he, too, has his own eureka moment. 

I'm glad that knitting has not been stamped out by all those machines that do it so much faster. They might do it faster, but they do it noisier, dirtier, and often, for worker and for wearer, with much more uniformity. And we take both that technology and the things it produces quite for granted so that instead of having adequate amounts of clothes and taking good care of the ones we do have, we have closets full of things, some of which we barely look at let alone appreciate. 

Don't get me wrong. I work in information technology, can't imagine what I'd do without my computers and am never ever very far away from my iPhone. I'm online pretty much all day because the web provides me with the steady stream of information and connection with others that I keep me going on both the professional and personal fronts. When my laptop needed to be worked on for two hours last week right smack-dab in the middle of the work-day, I was completely lost. I'm no luddite. 

Knitting is a technology. And one we should keep for those who want to engage with it. 

But I do not subscribe to the concept that more and faster is better. Technology doesn't simply free us up so we can do more creative and significant things. There's a trade-off. Socks and sweaters, jeans and jackets, shoes, phones, computers, most toxic to one degree or another, and all so easily produced, so disposable, so undervalued that we now have so damn much of it we're burying ourselves and the planet under all our discarded piles of it. 'Progress' is never quite that straightforward ... 

... which reminds me of Sir Walter Scott and his novel _Rob_Roy_ where the young hero of the story looks over a huge lake nestled in the midst of a forested mountain range in the highlands. As he admires it's rugged beauty,  Bailie Nicol Jarvie (yep, the very namesake of that famous scotch) stands beside him rubbing his hands as he contemplates dams and irrigation techniques and the riches that will fall in the lap of the one who harnesses it all ... but that's another post ;-)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Knitpick Harmony

Yep, those are knitpick harmony circulars! They were in my mailbox when I got home. Which is a rather nice way to end a busy Monday! 

I've been waiting for them for almost two weeks now (mainly because I started waiting even before they were actually shipped!), and so far they're well worth the wait. I'm working on the sleeves for the Tweedy Cable Cardigan (Norah Gaughan) and since I don't really enjoy knitting the same thing twice, I tend to knit both fronts and both sleeves at the same time. Circulars come in handy for that many stitches. 

I started the sleeves on 3.75 and then moved up to 4.5. Switching the needles on the cable went very smoothly. Easier than pie (I've only attempted pie a couple times and each time I tried to roll out the dough I got something shaped more like a daisy than a pie plate, so I've never quite understood the phrase "easy as pie").

The points are nicely sharp. I just bought some Brittany's the other day and find the ends to be more rounded than I'd like, especially for knitting finer yarns (which is what I bought them for so that's been frustrating). I think I will enjoy knitting lace on the harmonies.

And it's because of the lace projects I've got in mind that I've paid particular attention to the joins on the harmonies in tonight's test run, and I'm happy to report that the joins are incredibly smooth. In fact, I know it's heresay for some, but I'd even venture to say that the joins on these needles are much smoother than those on my circular addi's and mine are fixed addi's, not interchangeables. I can't tell yet if the joins will stay as smooth after multiple needle changes, and only time will tell. Tonight, though, I'm quite happy with them! 

And happy, too, that both the fronts and the back for this cardigan are blocked. I'm trying to get lots done before the yarn for Jen's wedding shawl arrives as I'm going to want to focus on getting that knit up once I can get started. 

I LOVE new needles and new projects! 

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Fabulous beginner lace scarf

Finished: one beginner lace scarf! I really do enjoy knitting projects that involve a little work and concentration. This scarf really wasn't difficult, but it had enough going on that it was a pleasant and quick knit. I like having a pattern to follow, and I especially love watching a pattern unfold. 
While the actual knitting of this scarf was relatively easy, I learnt a lot while making it. I learnt a new way to do a provisional cast-on, and I learnt basics about lace making (knit loose, various ways of avoiding casting on and off as that creates a tight edge or line which you don't want happening anywhere in your lace) but the most exciting and life-changing (Yes! Life-Changing!) was how to splice yarn.  

This is one of those things that, once you learn it, you can't understand how you ever got by without it. Why sew in all those ends of yarn when you add a new ball when you can simply slice it!!! For the life of me I cannot understand why I never heard of this before. Oh, I'd heard rumours for sure, but never ever thought they were true! But apparently they were true, and I now know how to simply splice two balls together so that you cannot even tell there weren't one and the same long string of yarn all along. It's impressive. Can't even see the join. With this bit of knowledge, I will never again have to spend agonizing minutes (and often hours) knitting in all those tiny ends. And, despite all 
efforts to avoid long tails, my apartment and probably my neighbours' as well always end up with floating bits of yarn left over after I've weaved in what seems to me to be a long enough bit to be secure. 

But in the meantime, if you'd like to know how to splice, check out this tutorial (Collette is the woman who taught the lace course -- a truly talented individual!)

One more photo of the scarf. I do love it ;-)