Knitting is better than smoking

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I went to college in the late 80s in Montreal. It seemed that everyone smoked, and I remember taking my first puffs in the hallway of my dorm. When I went to graduate school, I became a chain smoker. Smoking became an inseparable part of my dissertation writing, providing an outlet for the stress, fear and self-loathing that graduate school often produces.

I finally kicked the habit in my late 30s.  Now, as I tear my hair out writing the book that will revolutionize my field (ha!), instead of a smoke break, I take a knit break.

You may think that comparing knitting and smoking is like setting up a straw man argument, analogous to weighing the pros and cons of knitting and being torn apart by a pack of wild dogs. Of course knitting is going to come out on top. While it might be due to my lack of imagination that I’m unable to find parallels between making something with your hands and losing your hands (legs, arms, head and other body parts), it does not require a lot of brain power to see that knitting and smoking serve similar needs and functions:

  • Like smoking, knitting gives me something to do with my hands when I’m feeling awkward in a new social situation.
  • Like smoking, knitting is addictive. How many times have I said, “Just one more row and then I’ll stop”?
  • Like smoking, knitting is visceral and tactile.
  • Like smoking, knitting fuels my creative juices.
  • Like smoking, I get the same high when I first cast on as I do when I first light up.
  • Like smoking, I spend way to much money on this habit.
  • Like smoking, I knit after sex.

Why knitting is better than smoking:

  • Knitting is better for your health than smoking.
  • Knitting does not create second-hand smoke, though it can produce random bits of fluff and fiber throughout the house.
  • Knitting is allowed in restaurants, cafes and bars.
  • Knitting is something you want to teach your children.
  • Knitting is more socially acceptable, though knitting at a cocktail party is not quite as cool.

So yes, knitting does beat smoking. But, it’s not a total blow out.

Stay tuned for my next post:  Why spinning is better than drinking.  Just kidding. Nothing is better than drinking.

Narcissistic Unicorn

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I’ve dated some narcissistic unicorns in my time–men who were legends in their own minds. But this “Narcissistic Unicorn” from Nest Fiber Studio is prettier and way more satisfying.  Nest fibers and colors really live up to the hype. I’ve never seen a more devoted group of spinners on Ravelry, and now I can see why. This is probably one of the most amazing top I’ve ever spun, the kind that makes you seem like a better spinner than you really are.  The superwash merino slipped through my fingers, feathery light and silky smooth.  The photo above does not capture just how crisp and vibrant the colors are.

This 4oz worsted spun 2-ply will probably become leg warmers for Little A. She was so excited about this yarn because it had the word “unicorn” in it. Someday soon I’m going to have to break it to her that unicorns are not all that.

Rustic Lace Cowl

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I am pretty good about not buying yarn impulsively. I will buy yarn if I already have a project in mind or if I have just stumbled upon an amazing sale that is too good to pass up. Otherwise, I’m content to admire yarn from afar. When we visited The Tin Smith’s Wife, a darling yarn store with an impressive inventory, in Comfort a few months ago, I came across Fibre Company’s Acadia, a merino, silk and alpaca blend. There was something seductive about its luster and rustic silkiness that I couldn’t resist buying two skeins in “Sand,” even though I had no goal or project in mind. This open-ended approach to knitting usually causes some distress, reminding me that I’m a bit of a control freak Type-A at heart.

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I was fortunate to find a pattern that only required two skeins of Acadia: the Avery Cowl designed by Kate Gagnon Osborn. Most likely drawn from Barbara Walker’s first Treasury of Knitting Patterns, the Avery Cowl is a four pattern repeat knitted in the round of what Walker calls the “Frost Flower” pattern. Here’s Walker’s description:

“Frost Flowers” is not the correct name for this lace, unless the author happens to be an unusually good guesser. But it is quite an old pattern, dating from at least the early nineteenth century, and therefore probably has its own quaint name by which it is, or used to be known.  In spite of its rather complicated appearance it is a simple lace, consisting essentially of only four rows, which are repeatable three times and then alternated on the half-drop principle. (204)

This also knitted up quickly and I was able to finish this on the same night as the Brier Toque. There are no modifications here. Note that the cowl is photographed upside down. I like how the flowers seem to open up and fan out this way.

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I decided not to block this cowl as I think the rippled, pillowed flowers go well with the uneven nubby texture of this yarn.

Yarn Crawl Hero

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Thank you, V, for being my Yarn Crawl Hero. Even though you find my fiber obsession weird and totally incomprehensible, you:

  • willingly spent your day off to drive me around the Hill Country of Texas in a baby-blue Subaru.
  • greeted everyone you met with an enthusiastic, “Are you a crawler?” as if you worked at the store.
  • tried to show how “down” you were by breaking out some yarn puns.
  • were unperturbed by the fact that you did not encounter another male on the entire crawl.
  • looked after Little A as she darted around the stores or when she got impatient.
  • played along by squeezing different skeins to “feel how squooshy they are.”
  • never once asked me to hurry it up or to make up my mind.
  • paid for everything without complaint since my new debit card had not arrived yet.
  • only got slightly annoyed when I mixed up my “right” and “left” and led us in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go.

I love you, V. You make life sparkle. Your scarf is coming up next. Wait till you feel how squooshy it is.

Toque Cute

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This was an incredibly fast knit (for me). Inspired by SouleMama’s recent post “27 hours to a hat,” I wanted to see how quickly I could knit a hat up too. I was definitely in the mood for instant gratification. This is probably closer to a 35 hour hat, and it did involve staying up past 2 am both nights, but it was totally worth it. Is it possible to be wired from too much knitting? Even after staying up late, I had to read Margaret Atwood’s post-apocalyptic novel MaddAddam to ease me into asleep.

The details:

Yarn: Handspun worsted 2-ply sport/DK weight Finn from Hello Yarn in “Winter Storage.” Fractally spun. Details about how I spun this yarn linked here.

Pattern: Brier Toque by Cecily Glowik MacDonald from the book, Weekend Hats: 25 Knitted Caps, Berets, Cloches and More, edited by Cecily Glowik MacDonald and Melissa LaBarre.

Gauge: 22 stitches per four inch swatch.

Modifications: Since my gauge was different from the pattern (the knit would have been too stiff otherwise in my opinion), I cast on 110 stitches using US 2 needles for the ribbed brim then switched to US 5 for the rest of the hat. Knitted 8 inches and then proceeded to decrease.  During the decrease sections, I alternated between decrease row and one knit row, but towards the final four rows, I decreased every rows.

As you can see in the fractally-spun yarn, the larger bands of colors (most notable in the pink and green sections) are from the large length-wise section I spun across the top. And the smaller stripes are from the four smaller length-wise sections.

While I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought about spinning Finn because of the slight compression that made it sometimes a bit difficult to draft, I can say without a doubt that I loved working with it. This Finn is silky and soft  enough to be worn next to the skin. I still have quite a bit of yarn left and I will be making some fingerless mitts to go with this toque.

These photos were taken at Old Oaks Ranch and Fiber Center, one of our stops on the Hill Country Yarn Crawl. Little A was a good sport to pose in the 85+ degree weather with a toque but, of course, had to inject a bit of attitude at the end.

Late night

I love staying up and knitting when everyone is asleep. Everything is quiet and peaceful, and I can immerse myself in what I’m doing. I make a cup of tea or have a glass of wine, and I knit until I get my fill.

Last night was extra special: I got to hear my daughter giggle in her sleep, her joy my soundtrack as I finished knitting her handspun hat.

Percentage Dyeing

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I’ve been meaning to post about one of the first things I did when we arrived in San Antonio–take a percentage dyeing class with the amazing textile artist, quilter and all-around wonderful teacher, Kim Eichler-Messmer. Her work is phenomenal, and what’s more, she is coming out with a new book on dyeing for quilting this November.  The class was offered as part of the biennial Surface Design Association Conference, and this year, it just happened to take place in San Antonio a couple of days after we arrived. I took this as a sign that I was meant to be there, and it was one of the best classes I have ever taken.

Percentage dyeing is a precise, mathematical way of dyeing that allows you to create color recipes that you can then reproduce. It allows you to understand the relationship between different colors and how to quantify the slightest shift in hue and tone. When I tell people about this class, they sometimes just laugh and say, “Why would I want to reproduce a color I just made? I want to try something new! And, isn’t the point about creativity the process of play and exploration?” It’s true. There is a lot of measuring in this class, and you do some math. Maybe it’s the nerd in me, but I love this kind of stuff! I love to know how colors come together. I love being able to track how the different percentages and ratios of water, stock solution and fiber come together to give me the particular gradation I want. I may not want to reproduce some of the colors I made, but I want to know that I can if I need to. There is something incredibly empowering about that.

The top photo is a sampling of my color explorations. The assignment was to choose a series of colors from color chips that you find at a paint store and to reproduce them. I wasn’t able to match them exactly, but I got pretty close.

I came away from this four-day class with a book of color recipes. It is my book of magic potions. This is all part of my eventual plan to start dyeing my own fibers. There. I said it. Now it’s real.