Tuesday, February 6, 2018

E pluribus unum, y'all...

A few weeks ago I was standing near the Rhode Island State House, craning my head to see--over an ocean of hand knitted pink Pussyhats--some demonstrators dressed as brick walls with misogynist quotes (colored bricks) from The Donald. The demonstration wasn't as inspiring as last year's event in the same venue, but the number of Pussyhats was definitely higher and heartwarming. I wore my last-year's model, and so did my companion--I'd knitted it for her--but I was dismayed to see that hers was full of moth holes. I will not provide a replacement, harumph.

This event put me in mind of a quintessentially American motto--viz. the Great Seal of the United States, and random pennies in your piggy bank--which also, interestingly, expresses my thoughts about knitting reference books. Some of you may own knitting stitch dictionaries, and if so you will notice that they all share a lot of basic content, but each one contains stitches that are unique. You may have discovered this if, like me, you were on a search for a particular kind of stitch and needed to consult several dictionaries before locating what you wanted. After such a search you understand that technical information is not generally contained in one volume, no matter how encyclopedic it purports to be.  It's the aggregate of your knitting references that creates the Repository of Knowledge--e pluribus unum, indeed.

So, too, with more elaborate compendia of knitting information and technical facts. Recently I had to write a piece about mitered squares, so looked through several volumes in my library to see what could be gleaned. The answer was:  very little.  Deborah Newton's definitive Finishing School provided the most sophisticated-yet-accessible discursus on the value of mitered corners on knitted garments. There was little to nothing in anything else--most surprising, actually--so I forged ahead and wrote with only the benefit of my practical knowledge. However, a few days after going to press, I received a review copy of Vogue Knitting:  the Ultimate Knitting Book (Soho Publishing, 2018) and discovered in it two solid pages about mitered squares--more than ever were dreamt of in my philosophy, for sure.

Since then I've consulted this tome several times, always finding what I wanted, and more. Most impressive, perhaps, is the clarity of the illustrations. I'm one of those people whose brain starts to melt the minute I see a diagram, particularly one that illustrates knitting loops and needle insertion into said loops.  Daunted by such schematics, I usually try to learn a new technique by watching a video on Youtube, or asking a friend to demonstrate. To my amazement, I taught myself how to cable cast-on (and very quickly, too) from the diagrams on page 34 of this Ultimate Knitting Book!  The book is written with a creative knitter in mind--someone who wants to understand garment construction, or who wants to acquire (or add to) a useful skill set. A beginner could benefit from this book, but it might also seem overwhelming--my sense is the target audience has at least a few years of experience and seeks new challenges, whether in garment construction, finishing techniques, or just making something she knits as well and as beautifully as she can.

It's no surprise that the text was written by a gaggle of contributors as well as "the editors"--four people listed up front, also as "the team"--and these experts have provided a wealth of knowledge based on practical experience. So once again, e pluribus unum--this book contains multitudes (to reference another American icon).

Monday, January 1, 2018

A new year, a new start...

So, I've been looking at this rising pile of knitting books for the past year...um, years. Many are review copies--freebies!--that you'd think would spark joy in my life (to quote the neatness guru, Marie Kondo, whose classic book on life-changing, magical tidiness was a gift from, ahem, my cleaning lady), but actually I feel a quiet desperation when confronted by them. Because some I've read and loved (e.g. Deborah Newton's definitive tomes on knitting well-sized garments) and want to review (and haven't yet, but I will, since classics never die), and others are total mistakes and shouldn't have been published, and many are underwritten by yarn companies that just want knitters to buy their yarn so they commission designers to make patterns using their yarn, and well, what can I say about that? Should I hold the lofty view that only divinely-inspired knitting texts are worthwhile, or should I opine that payola is okay if the end result is a good pattern?

Usually I try a pattern in a review copy, to gain a sense of the designer's aesthetic. Most of the review books I receive fail to pass the smell test (for different reasons), so I just don't review them. I would note that I tried what seemed to be one of the simpler patterns in Nicki Epstein's bizarrely-titled book Knit a Square, Create A Cuddly Creature (her editor or publisher may be responsible for that clunker) and was appalled by the dysfunctional instructions, so I abandoned ship. Needless to say (but I will), I don't recommend this book, even if errata have recently been added.

However, I do have a new new year's resolution (along with the usual clichés to lose weight, be more prudent, etc.), which is to review a few of those in my tower o' books over the next few months, to appease my conscience and to tell you about some that are worth reading and using. So, stay tuned.

This also means that I will be more diligent about posting on this blog. When I looked at the blogroll (to the right) I was comforted to see that many of the folks whose blog-work I follow have been as reclusive as I during the past year. Since I know two of them, I understand why their posts are so sporadic, and basically with all of us it comes down to the same thing:  life interferes. Whether one has a demanding full-time job, a family that includes young children, or a physical issue (moi, la main droit), there are often barriers to posting frequently. And yet we all do...eventually.

My ornery hand has been treated and is somewhat responsive, so I've been knitting a little, as well as learning to weave on a rigid heddle table loom, something that many knitters have been attracted to of late. There are good reasons for this, and I hope to do some posts in the future talking about the connection between knitting and weaving. In the meanwhile, I send you all warm wishes for a year of good knitting, beautiful yarn, and good health. My mantra this year--and perhaps forever--is (to quote the song):

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me....

Lola looks to the past with one eye, and examines the present with the other.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Not exactly a vacation...and an explanation.

Gentle knitters,
Yours truly has been coping with the usual aggravated hand issues, which have been mentioned in earlier posts, so I won't bore you again, but that's why I've been in Off Mode. Until just recently there was no knitting on my end and a lot of grief about not knitting, thus nothing to write about. Then my PT miracle worker, Vicki designed a splint that keeps my third and fourth fingers immobilized, so the tendons can't be stressed, and it has helped mightily, as well as the wearing of a carpal tunnel wrist support. In the meanwhile I've explored rigid heddle table looms, which I find daunting but interesting, and a pin-loom thing, the DIY Weaver, which reminds me of making potholders in third grade, though the results are better.

This clutch and shoulder bag were made with the DIY Weaver.

So knitting is happening once again, both slowly in terms of gradual re-entry, and quickly, because I'm using enormous needles, number 17s currently. The rehab key is to work with large-scale needles, since they're less taxing to hold, and thick yarn.

This color-block baby blanket measures about 32" x 35" (unblocked), is done in Lion Brand's Wool-Ease Thick & Quick (80% acrylic, 20% wool, good for babies), and was knitted with #17 needles. Time elapsed from beginning to end of knitting--about eight hours. Quite amazing, IMHO. I designed the pattern, such as it is, and you can find it here, for free. Kramer wants me to give him the blanket, but it's already got an owner. She arrives sometime within the next few weeks, and will be a young citizen of Brooklyn, NY. (There are no surprises for expectant parents anymore. Had I been given the option of knowing my babies' pre-birth genders, would I have accepted? I can't decide.)

So, the saga continues, and the next post will arrive sooner than this. In the meanwhile, happy summer knitting to us all.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

It's not over until the Cat Lady sings...

Foxy's silence is deafening.

and believe me, it's going to be a long time before that happens. The Rally for Women's Rights at the Rhode Island Statehouse, and all of the other simultaneous rallies in DC, throughout the US and around the world, showed that there's a vast movement rising and it's here for the foreseeable future.

How heartening it was to see so many Pussy Hats in evidence!

La lutte continue!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Pussyhattin' around...

Shrinking violet that I am, I rarely appear on my blog, but having knitted my first ever PUSSYHAT, in preparation for the Women's March on Washington on 21 January 2017, I feel compelled to be a role model for all Politically Concerned knitters out there:

Il neige aujourd'hui à Woodville, RI.  Mon chapeau Pussy me protège très fort. Should I stuff the ears to make them stand upright?  Or should I stick with the "Scottish Fold" look?

Gentle knitters, here's the pattern; make one for yourself and make one for someone else. It's a really quick project--maybe four hours, faster if you use chunky yarn and larger needles. Check out a wonderful knitting blog, photographer Gale Zucker's She Shoots Sheep Shots, for instrux on the bulky yarn pattern, and other good links.

True confession:  I can't be in DC for the March on the 21st, but will attend the Sister Rally at the Rhode Island State House that day.  Click here for info on and to register for The Rhode Island Women's Solidarity Rally. Wear your Pussy Hat! Find me there; I'll photograph you in your lovely headgear, and post it on this blog ex post facto.  (I'll also bring an extra Pussy Hat with me for a photo prop.)

And if you can't make it to the DC March or any of the fifty state Solidarity Rallies, just make a hat and wear it on January 21st.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Dear friends...

Sending holiday greetings to you, and best wishes for happiness, good health, and fortitude in 2017.

Today is Christmas, and this is what it looked like at sunrise in Woodville, Rhode Island, USA:

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!