Thursday, December 1, 2016

Square deal

Here's the start of the famous Zick-Zack scarf on a #5 squared circular needle. Pattern is highly recommended, and it's free!

Over the past months I have been wont to complain about a hand problem that unhappily impacted my ability to knit. In fact, I wrote a piece for Lion Brand about my struggle and how it led me to trial a table loom they sell, with positive results. Perhaps the most interesting part of this is a general understanding I've gained of how woven patterns are designed and implemented. I'd never understood that before, but experiential learning--simply by warping and wefting a very small loom (11" x 11")--has clarified a great deal of the process.

This is actually two 11 x 11" looms joined.  It's the Martha Stewart Crafts DIY Weaver.


But weaving is weaving and knitting is knitting. The prospect of a life without knitting wasn't an option for me. Finally, with the correct diagnosis--because my symptoms were atypical, the full diagnosis took two years, yikes!--I've figured out ways to knit comfortably and often. While I continue to study small-scale weaving (with table looms of various sorts), I've developed compensatory measures that allow me to knit in the manner to which I was accustomed, so I've let the Portuguese Knitting gyrations drop.

Google-aided research shows that Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is rampant among knitters, and Digital Tenosynovitis (inflammation of finger tendons) only slightly less so. Those are my two bedevilments. For those of you who suffer from one or both, or from arthritis in your hands, here are my recommendations.

First, discover the Magic of SQUARE NEEDLES. These are much easier to grasp than cylindrical needles, and therefore more ergonomic. Kntter's Pride Cubics and Kollage Square needles come in all forms--straights, dpns, circs, interchangeables. These are the two brands I've found that are readily available, and you can get them in metal or wood. Since my experience with them is limited, I don't know if one brand has advantages over the other--and would like to hear from my readers, if you have good information about this--but I can say one thing for sure--they are a great relief to work with, and I can't see myself returning to cylindrical needles ever, even if my hand problems should completely resolve! You can buy all of these needles on Amazon and through other websites. I tried buying some first, at Webs in Northampton MA a few weeks ago, but they were sold out of the sizes I wanted. I think it's more efficient to order online.

I bought two wooden-tipped circs, 5 and 7, and a set of metal interchangeables in sizes from 6 to 11. I generally hate interchangeable needles, and had recently chatted with my Knitting Cabal about how frustrating it is to use them (we all agreed on this point), mainly because they seem to untighten quite regularly and often the tip separates from the cord, releasing a cascade of stitches (HORRIBLE!). However, I've been using my new square interchangeables for a few hours and that hasn't happened...yet. Dare I dream?

The other aid to my knitting has been an over-the-counter soft-ish brace for CTS. I ordered mine from Amazon; it's made by Mueller, but there are several manufacturers of these braces, and I think the style and fit are up to the individual. In other words, what works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. Trial and error time, my friends! Knitting with one of these braces on your hand is awkward at first and slow, but it also protects your wrist from damaging motions and provides much soothing support. It's really not hard to adapt if you just relax and take your time.

This brace is made by Mueller; it's relatively inexpensive and tightens with velcro straps. I bought it on Amazon.com, source of all things. Other good brands are Futuro and Imak.

Well, gentle knitters, that's the scoop from Woodville, Rhode Island. I embark on a Pacific Ocean foray next week and will be away from my computer for many days, so do not despair if your emails aren't answered in a timely fashion!

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Desperate measures....

After the election, Pepto drank the Kool-Aid.


Kool-Aid had the desired effect. I joined Pepto and hope to stay in the koma until 2020. Perhaps by then....


(An aside:  today's Kool-Aid is not what I recall from days of yore. Rather than being packaged in paper envelopes that contain granules meant to be mixed with water, it now comes pre-hydrated and in individual pouches. This makes it harder to add cyanide.) 

***

In the wake of the election, there's been a lot of kumbayah chat in knitting circles about how we must accept the reality of the Slash and Burn promises of the incoming administration with grace, how we should not move to New Zealand, and how we should infuse our daily lives and those of others with kindness and respect. As a lifelong proponent of civilized behavior, I find this to be old news. Yes, by all means, we should continue to operate like rational, decent humans, but/and we should also think about becoming defenders of those in the cross-hairs of the Make America Hate Again movement. Please consider upping your donations to organizations that defend civil rights, women's rights, immigrants' rights, reproductive and sexual identity rights, and environmental causes, since the government is about to increase their workloads and in some cases eviscerate their funding. And of course we should think about upping the time we spend knitting, whether for ourselves or charitable causes, because EVERYONE is going to need warm and fuzzy really soon, even if they live in a hot climate.

***

Seeking solace, my knitting cabal and I forayed to western Massachusetts last weekend to visit a truly beautiful yarn shop, Colorful Stitches in Lenox. This is one of the few yarn shops anywhere on the planet that has adequate natural light, so that you can actually see the colors of the merchandise. There's a second-floor loft that provides workspace as well as lovely things to buy, and offers a panoramic view of the calming environment. It is a pleasure to be there.

The shop's Command Central basks in natural light!


Everything in the store is luxe and inspirational. There's a superb selection of yarns, notions, books, accessories. Bonnie Burton, the proprietor, designs and knits amazing window displays (naturalistic pumpkins, Indian corn, autumn leaves, and other seasonal flora) and is a great source of knowledge about knitting, weaving, and all things needlecraft. Interestingly, late fall and winter are the off seasons for businesses like hers in Lenox, home of Tanglewood, Kripalu, The Manse, Shakespeare & Co., neighbor of Jacob's Pillow, the Norman Rockwell Museum, and many other stellar attractions that see warm-weather tourist traffic. So I'd recommend a trip there at this time of year, as you will feel relaxed and untrammeled in the shop. There are excellent restaurants within a stone's throw, and you can easily make a day of swanning around this lovely town on foot, or if you are so motivated, you can drive on to Northampton, home of Northampton Wools and Webs, about fifty miles eastward on the Mass Pike.



After a few hours in this dreamy part of New England, we all felt somewhat less battered by the aftermath of November 8th.



Monday, November 7, 2016

Pre-apocalyptic knitting


Gentle knitters,
Apologies for the long absence. Since founding this blog in 2009, I have usually posted at least every month and often more frequently. So much has happened in the past few weeks, including knee surgery (with great results!) however, that I've not been able to do much creative work.  Well, I did knit a pink pig, whose color--as a friend noted--evokes Pepto Bismol. The pattern's from Sarah Keen's Knitted Farm Animals, a lovely book for those who like to make toys. 

I doubt the baby for whom this pig is destined will care much about its medicinal associations. Perhaps I unconsciously chose this color because the lead-up to tomorrow's presidential election has been so nauseating and stomach churning.  In fact, I could guzzle a bottle of Pepto right now.


Before speculating about the impending changes to Life As We Know It attendant on the election's results, I will offer a short discourse on the welter of knitting books I've been asked to review in the recent past. They just keep arriving, and I've become increasingly pickier about my choices.

First, I don't review most of them because either they don't appeal to me, or I don't think they offer much to knitters in general.  I also don't feel like taking time to write negative reviews.  I don't see my mission as guiding knitters about what not to buy or read, although I do like to talk about useful or enjoyable books from time to time (see A Hat for Mrs. Goldman, below).

Second, from time to time when a book appeals to me, I try one of its patterns before writing about the entire book. I did this a few weeks ago with a book by a Major Knitting Eminence that seemed really adorable and was right up my alley--knitted toys--and the first pattern I tried was SO FLAWED that I thought I must be going crazy because the instructions were completely impenetrable. Then, by way of reality check, I asked the Knitting Goddess to try it and she couldn't deal with it either. So scratch that from the list of potential reviews. I suppose that I should tell the publisher they need to offer some errata, but then again...is that my mission? Maybe, when I'm in a less anxious state of mind, but right now there are more important things to consider. 

Third, even though books that are underwritten by yarn companies to promote designs that feature their yarn often do contain good patterns, I'm not usually interested in providing yarn companies with free advertising, so I tend to ignore those books.

Hey, sourpuss, are there any good knitting books out there?

Well, of course. I enjoy technical instruction books, stitch dictionaries, knitting history, ethnic knitting, and niche knitting patterns (toys, for example) the most. But that's me, and as the French say, chacun a son goût. And thus spake Zarathustra.

***


So...here's an adorable book, A Hat for Mrs. Goldman (Schwartz & Wade Books, 2016), by Michelle Edwards (illustrated by G. Brian Karas) that will ultimately end up on my grandkids' bookshelf (along with Knitty Kitty by David Elliott, which they know and love), but before that I'll tell you why I like it and why it's great for readers of any age. Briefly, it captures all the best there is to say about knitting, and casts it into picture-book format.  So, it's not a knitting book per se, but a book about knitting, about why people knit, how they learn to knit, and what motivates them to knit--and to give their knitting away. Any knitter will identify with it, insofar as all of us learned to knit somehow, and whether we taught ourselves or were taught by someone else, it's a skill we value and think is worth transmitting and preserving.

If you know a child who doesn't knit, she or he will enjoy the story, which contains lessons about kindness, reciprocity, creativity, perseverance, and loving one's neighbor. After reading the book many times, a child may well be inclined to learn how to knit, or at least the seed of that inclination may be planted. And if not, said child may simply enjoy the book for its sweetly presented story.

If you know an adult who knits or doesn't, she or he may also enjoy the book. It's one of those transcendent fables for all ages and all times, like The Velveteen Rabbit or Charlotte's Web. It provides a hopeful message to those of us who struggle with the crudeness and crassness of today's world.

***

So, tomorrow we in these United States elect a new President. Watching the campaigns, as I have since they began, has been (as noted above) a gut-churning experience. The violent language, the ceaseless barrage of abject lies, the fear-mongering, the demagoguery, the despicable sexism, racism, and religious intolerance, the extreme hatred evinced by candidates starting from those in the race before the primaries to the present moment--these are unparalleled in our history, and these expressions are antithetical and repugnant to those who believe in democracy and the promises of American society. This is a shameful time for our country. 

The fascination of the abomination has kept me glued to the TV news and to a range of print news sources. Even if my preferred candidate wins the election, the campaigns have nonetheless highlighted the sulfurous miasma created by those who run our political parties, which seem to be concerned mainly with fantasies about American dominance and power, rather than with the realities besetting American citizens.  

I am afraid, because I see only a very bad outcome (in the worst case scenario) or a very frustrating outcome (in the best case).  
Tomorrow I'll be watching the election results roll in, knitting in hand, as well as libations. Which, dear knitters, will you be drinking?




Sunday, September 11, 2016

Gnomenclature



On the whole it's been a semi-rancid summer, except for the tomato harvest, still rolling in. As we ebb into autumn, my favorite season, I'm hoping for many resolutions of problem situations such as sweltering, semi-tropical humidity in New England, pesky health issues, and feelings of inertia and lassitude prompted, no doubt, by climate change and personal decrepitude. (And the death of a dearly-loved pet--Molly, the silver-cream Persian, just last week, of cancer--and the constant regurgitation of election 2016 news...that's so...completely...depressing....)

Is it any wonder that I can't decide what to knit just now? Should I commit to a large project, like a sweater, or continue to enlarge my wardrobe of scarves, hats, and mittens? These are the existential questions I ponder and fail to answer.

So, betwixt and between, I've taken to knitting faceless little gnomes. They are stash-busters, and just as appealing is the swiftness of their creation--approximately the length of two Masterpiece Theatre episodes.


When I first discovered the pattern it was gratis, but now its author, Tonya Gunn, sells it on Ravelry for $1.99--an eminently fair price.  Most decent candy-bars these days cost at least $2.00, except if you're buying them at an airport, where the price is more like $5.00.

I prefer to think of these gnomes as elves. Gnomes seem somewhat gnarly to me.

The facelessness of these elves/gnomes is what gives them character.  Arguably one could embroider features, but that would probably inhibit the elves' emotional repertoire.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Let's not...

I've sometimes gotten assignments about summer knitting, wherein I was supposed to show readers how much fun it is to knit when the temperature and humidity levels are insanely high. Hello? Obviously this tack runs counter to reality, not to mention common sense.

I do understand, however, that the knitting-addicted allow their obsession to override sanity. I think of my job, in such situations, as that of a practical abetter:  a friend who says, in effect, Look, I know it's ridiculous to knit under such conditions, but I understand this is about being possessed by a knitting demon.  In these cases I tend to recommend very small projects done of lightweight or non-wool yarns.

Here in New England the temperature and humidity levels have been disgusting for the past two weeks, with little rain (we're talking drought conditions), and small prospects of immediate relief. Truthfully, gentle knitters, it has been an ordeal for me to knit anything at all, even with the benefit of air conditioning. If you, too, are suffering in a similar way, I'd like to propose a brief vacation from the act of knitting. Admittedly this sounds horrifying, but you can feed your lust by reading a knitting book! A good knitting book can be almost as enjoyable as knitting the most beautiful cashmere yarn on the planet.

Photo credit: Carrie Hoge.

So, here's one to start with--new this month from Lark Crafts publishers.  I reviewed another Carol J. Sulcoski book not too long ago, and I own an earlier volume of hers that I purchased in 2012, SockYarn Studio. Ms. Sulcoski is a writer of merit, with many interesting patterns and projects for your delectation.

Self-Striping Yarn Studio might be my favorite book of hers so far, because it contains an engaging and informed discussion of the properties and quirks of self-striping yarn, acknowledges the fun of knitting yarns that change colors randomly, programmatically, and gradiently, and offers useful ideas about how to manage the layout of a particular yarn's dye patterns.  In addition, there are quite a few inspiring designs for cowls, sweaters, blankets, baby jackets, hats--really anything you'd enjoy knitting.

Photo credit:  Carrie Hoge.

I think this "Damask Iris Cowl" pattern, by Barb Brown, particularly beautiful. The majority of the volume's twenty-five patterns (designed by contributors as well as Ms. Sulcoski), arranged according to yarn weight, are equally lovely, so they offer much food for thought. And that's what we're aiming for right now as a way of getting through all the heat--food for thought, a.k.a. knitting in the abstract.

Next post I'll be raving about Deborah Newton's recent awesome volume, Good Measure:  A Perfect Fit Every Time.  This came out about ten months ago and I've been waiting to talk about it for ever so long, but really needed a while to digest it.  (Plus, someone--you know who you are--has borrowed and not yet returned my volume of the prequel, Finishing School:  A Master Class for Knitters, and I've wanted to look at the books together...so that's also been causing the delay.)

Well, I would be dishonest if I didn't undermine my opening disquisition by confessing that I actually have been knitting a little bit...another toy, this for a baby who was supposed to arrive several days ago, but who obviously hates HHH weather as much as everyone else.



He's the second sheep dog I've made, and the design is from Knitted Farm Animals by Sarah Keen (2012).  For a free copy of the pattern, courtesy of Lion Brand Yarns, check out one of my articles about knitted toys.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Family matters.

Lola--her name means "Grandma" in Tagalog! Like several grandmas of my acquaintance, she wears a skirt that rides up at the hem, and carries an overly large bag stuffed with knitting. Her raglan cardigan is removable.

Here's my latest knitted critter--a grandma!  Theoretically she's my proxy, and except for the hair color, I'd say we're a pretty close match. Later this week we're going to LA to visit the wee grand-bairns.

I'd planned to leave her there, so that the bairns could have an eternal reminder of moi, in case our video-chats weren't enough to incise me into their memories, but then the question of affiliation, of community, of belonging, arose. It's almost an existential dilemma:  where does Grandma belong?

The Community, left to right: Pippi, Sheepdog, Grandma, William Hedgehog, Babar.

The rest of the family came down resolutely in favor of the east coast.

Given that our household is a democracy, majority rule prevailed. Grandmama will return with me next week. I shall, however, photograph her, in the interim, in quintessentially Californian settings, and these photos will go into her deluxe album. Stay tuned.

Would you like to knit a grandma for yourself or someone who might need a grandma? Her name, as I've already mentioned, is Lola (not to be confused with Lola the Portuguese Water Dog). Here's the free pattern, courtesy of Lion Brand Yarns. With only minor modifications you could turn the prototype into any number of historical figures--George Washington, W. A. Mozart, J.S. Bach, Queen Elizabeth II.  It's the hair that's so inspirational.

Saturday, June 18, 2016