Tuesday, June 26, 2018


Gentle knitters,
I am moving on.  Knitting has continued to be unfriendly to my hands, so I have to put this beloved pursuit on hold for a while.  I bought a 24" rigid heddle table loom, made by Ashford, a New Zealand-based company, last September, and have been using my knitting yarns to make blankets, shawls, towels, and other two-dimensional woven goods ever since.  

There is a serious learning curve to weaving with a rigid heddle loom, and if you're interested in finding out about how to weave with one, I have some strong suggestions, based on my own failures, frustrations, and discoveries.  Recently a number of LYS, yarn purveyors, and crafts emporia have been promoting the rigid heddle looms made by many manufacturers, although the Schacht Cricket is one of the favorites.  I bought an Ashford that's 24" wide because a Master Weaver recommended the brand and the dimensions to me.  A 24" loom means that you can weave a fabric that's just about that width, or one that's narrower.  This allows you more choices than some of most promoted looms, like the Schacht Cricket, which can't weave anything wider than 10" or 15", depending on which size you purchase.  The wider the loom, the more expensive.  This is true of any loom manufacturer's products.  

I took a three-part workshop on how to use a rigid heddle table loom at a local yarn store. The store was promoting the Schacht looms because they wanted participants to buy one. I'd borrowed a friend's loom, the Harrisville Easy Weaver, supposedly child friendly.  It is a horror.  The workshop instructor couldn't deal with it, and I barely could. Nonetheless, I had a strong intuition that I could find a cooperative loom and would eventually enjoy working with one. I'm glad I persevered.

The Ashford looms are very nice, but if you're interested in buying one, please be aware they are shipped unassembled and the wood needs an application of preservative coating before you can do the assembly. Moreover, the accompanying instructions for using the loom are awful, and the company's videos are just as awful. Imagine someone with a really thick New Zealand accent ("peg" is pronounced "pig") speaking very rapidly against a background of loud guitar music. Well, if you doubt my assessment, have a look for yourself. They're on Youtube and the company's website.

You may be wondering how I managed to move forward in this new endeavor given the obstacles. I'd bought some instruction books that were moderately helpful, but frankly, the best thing I did was plunk down $60 for a Craftsy course on Rigid Heddle Weaving with Deborah Jarchow.  This is by far the best instruction I've come across for reasons that will be apparent if you sign up. Deborah answers questions in real time, you can replay sections of videos as much as you want, and she offers many time-saving, useful, practical, and wonderful ideas that save nerves and energy. I can't say enough good things about her teaching.

So that's where I'm at, my friends. Knitting's on the back burner, but I'm still playing with fiber without tormenting my hands. Do I miss knitting? Of course. Weaving is fascinating and addictive, but it's not portable, even with a table loom. I miss having a bag of knitting I can grab on my way out the door, I miss knitting socks in waiting rooms, on airplanes, while watching our country circling the drain on the nightly TV news. But I still have yarn in my life, which is much better than not having yarn in my life, and I'm learning about the properties of linen, cotton, bamboo, silk, and more esoteric fibers (paper! milk!) as I happily follow this road. One door closes, another opens, as the saying goes.

But Knitting New England, which I began nine years ago, will now enter hibernation. Thank you for reading this for however long you've been a reader of mine. I've enjoyed the writing of it, the connections the blog has made for me, and most of all, imagining you, my ideal readers.

Tomorrow to fresh woods, and pastures new.
All the best from me to you!

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.