23 June 2009

Designer Sadists

Dear Auntie Judith,

A while back I bought a pattern for a pretty Summer top that calls for Euroflax sport weight yarn. I started to make a swatch which was when I saw the pattern called for needles sized 2.0 mm and 2.5 mm that’s size 0 and 1.5 in US sizes. I started making a swatch with a size 1. My swatch, which should have measured 4 inches, maybe a little bit more, measured about 6 inches! So, I tried again, this time on size 0 needles, and it didn’t get much smaller. Also, it was next to impossible to knit that yarn on those needles – my hands were nearly cramping by the time I had a few rows of a swatch done! I’m mad at the designer! Why did she decide to knit sportweight linen on size 1 needles!!!!!! Yes, it makes a nice, smooth fabric, but this is ridiculous! How did she expect people to do this?!


Gentle Knitter,

You just never know how often self-abuse is part of the design process until you come across a pattern like that. I, myself, am knitting a child’s multi-color cardigan in King Tut cotton on *gasp* US 3 needles. I’m getting 6 very firm stitches to the inch. And I’m working it as intarsia. I’ll never publish this pattern because I know full well that no one, not even the most addled and addicted knitter, should engage in this kind of masochism.

Unless, of course, it’s lace. Then all bets are off.

Hugs & Happy knitting to you!

Auntie Judith

20 June 2009

No Lace, Mrs. Bennett!

Dear Mandella,

Were you, like nearly all women in the western world, glued to your television for that wonderful BBC miniseries adaptation of Pride & Prejudice? I'm talking about the "wet T-shirt Darcy" version, with Colin Firth as the smouldering hunk of rich man at Bingley's side. It's only in that version we have Mr. Bennett protesting, "No lace!" when Mrs. Bennett is in raptures as she recounts the clothing of Bingley's sisters. It is my DH's favorite line when I start in with my Victorian Lace Today or A Gathering of Lace books. He likes to tease me because he knows that I am wont to have the P&P dvd playing whilst I've been toiling away at my paltry attempts to knit lace.

Oh, it should be easy, shouldn't it? After all, it's just knits and purls and yarn-overs and decreases, right? I'm finding that even in the midst of this simplicity I am at times confounded.

My latest attempt is the scarf on page 100 of Victorian Lace Today worked with a skein of Mini-Maiden (from ColorSong Yarns web site) in the Vintage colorway on US 7 needles. I'd attempted it on my own, but was confounded by having one too many stitches at the end of the first charted row, then by having one too few stitches at the end of the third charted row. That didn't count dropping the yarn and needles several times as I attempted the crochet cast-on. Besides that, I was trying to work these on a pair of needles with regular points. The yarn kept splitting.

Then I moved to a pair of Bryspun straights. It was a tad better, but not great. The author put in a symbol for K2tog, but didn't indicate if that meant to P2tog or what on the wrong side. After all, the unshaded empty square meant to knit on the RS and purl on the WS. If the unshade square has a right-slanting virgule it means to K2tog on the RS, but what about the WS? In the back of the book it indicates to P2tog when that symbol occurs on the WS, but the instructions on that page don't say to do that. It merely states K2tog.

My head was about to explode, so at last I admitted I could not do it on my own and telephoned my Lace Knitters Anonymous sponsor M and asked for a private 12-step knit-along to get this working for me. For preparation I photocopied the charts from the book and then enlarged them.

This past Wednesday, when I was scheduled to see M after the evening meal, storms blew in to the south and west of us and were predicted to be over our heads by 5:00 p.m. We postponed until Thursday, which was just as well because I'd already had a long and difficult day. Then, at 6:00 p.m., M telephoned to say that the storms appeared to have gone around us so I should come over anyway. Which I did. I quickly tracked down my lace chart holder (a mere $10 from KnitPicks) and my yarn, but I couldn't find the Addi Laci needles I'd purchased for this project earlier in the week. Thus, I dumped an entire box of assorted needles (straights, dpns, circulars) into a bag and hoped they would be among the mess when I arrived at M's.

Nope. No US 7.0 Addi Laci circular. Thus, I picked up a US 6.0 circular and a different yarn just for practicing the stitches and the pattern.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over our desire to abuse ourselves pitifully whilst trying to discern the pattern-writer's instruction.

Step 2: We acknowledged there was a Knitter greater than ourselves.

Step 3: We made a conscious decision to turn our life and our will over to the whims of Knitting as we understood it.

Step 4: We took yarn, needles and crochet hook in hand and learned the crochet cast-on.

Step 5: We made a searching and fearless inventory of the instructions.

Step 6: We confessed to ourselves, another Knitter, and to whomever else would listen (including the Dog as we understood him/her) that we were just going to do the best we could.

Step 7: We learned that the first mistake was we should have purled the first row, so we confessed our short-sightedness.

Step 8: Having made amends where appropriate, we moved through the chart one square at a time without regard for what was playing out on the television (some stupid "reality" show, but we kept the sound muted because we were most interested in the local weather info that was scrolling at the bottom of the screen on account of the severe storms around us).

Step 9: We continued working the chart, un-knitting where appropriate and keeping the swearing to a minimum.

Step 10: We took a deep breath and glanced through the remaining instructions, applying the same principles we'd already learned.

Step 11: We opened a bottle of wine.

Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we vowed to carry the message to others.

Thus, I was able to get through the first 8 or 9 rows of the chart with only one little hitch. And then I properly sorted out that rat's nest of needles in my bag. I'm happy to say that everyting is in it's place. And the US 7.0 Addi Laci needles were at home and among some other yarn.

Of course, when on Thursday night I cast on with the Mini-Maiden and the correct needles, I dropped the crochet hook a few times. Then I was missing one stitch on the 3rd row of the chart, but I was able to pick up a dropped yarn-over. By the 9th row, however, I was short 2 stitches and couldn't figure out where I'd lost them. This is probably because I was trying to watch The Mentalist, then The Daily Show, then The Colbert Report -- all while trying to knit lace. I frogged the entire thing (again) and went to bed.

Last night I put on a DVD of As Times Goes By, series 3, and I am happy to report that I am at row 21 of a 28-row chart and there have been no glitches whatsoever.

When it comes down to it, I think what really matters is that you have the right thing on television. :)

Hugs and good knitting to you!


09 June 2009

What I've Learned

Today I am 50 years old.

Esquire magazine has a regular feature called “What I’ve Learned” in which a person of note and “of a certain age” is interviewed about the things he has learned over time. Since I’m sure the editors of Esquire will never interview me, I decided to make my own list. These 50 things I’ve learned over 50 years aren’t in any specific order of importance. I was just pondering on what I’ve learned in life now that I’ve reached this milestone birthday.

The number on the scale isn’t an accurate indicator of your value.

Neither is your clothing size.

It’s easier to stay fit than it is to get fit.

Dance. Even if you have to close all of the doors and cover the windows, turn up the music and dance. It’s good exercise, and it’s fun. Back in the 1980s I went to a gay nightclub several times because it was a place where everybody danced. You didn’t have to be either pretty or partnered. Everyone got on the dance floor and had fun. It reminded me of when we were kids, when gender and appearance had nothing to do with whether you enjoyed yourself.

I stopped going to the gay nightclub when some guy there thought I was a man in drag. I’d have been insulted if I hadn’t been laughing so hard.

Sex is not a substitute for self-esteem.

Neither is chocolate. (But I’ve had some chocolate in my day that was nearly as good as sex.)

My mother always says that God never gives you more than you can handle. I disagree. God often hands me tons more than I can handle. I keep giving it back.

Your relationship with God (as you understand Him/Her/It) is personal; it is not for anyone else to determine how or what that relationship should be.

Not everyone who professes to care for you has your best interests at heart.

Just because someone is talking louder than everyone else doesn’t mean that person is right.

Just because it was on television (or the Internet) doesn’t mean it is true or important.

Television news is primarily interested in getting ratings. Newspapers are primarily interested in attracting readership.

In this day and age, fear sells. Don’t buy it.

Advertisers work very hard to figure out what key words and phrases are appealing to the people they want to buy their product. That doesn’t mean the product is good.

Never give a customer/client the opportunity to choose something hideous. You can show them everything from your best work to an average concept, but never show them something that you’d be embarrassed to point out as your own.

Some clients/customers will still ask for something tacky/crappy/hideous no matter how much you try to steer them away from it. Give it to them and then let it go.

Some people never have time to do things right, but they always find time to do it over.

Creativity is not a “neat” process. If you want to be creative then you have to allow yourself to make a mess.

Learning to tidy up while you work will save you from the despair of cleaning up the whole mess at the end.

Begin before you’re ready; stop before you’re done. (Advice to doctoral students working on their dissertations which applies to messy creative people.)

Cleaning up someone else’s mess is annoying, but it’s easier than cleaning up your own stuff because you have no emotional attachment to it. This is probably why we’re all so good at solving one another’s personal problems but can’t resolve our own.

Housework is annoying and tedious, but it still beats the depression that comes from living in a constant mess.

Clinical depression is a combination of biology and attitude. You can’t always change the biology, but you can change how you deal with it.

Having the right medication is like having the right shoes for playing the game. There’s a very good reason that basketball players don’t arrive on the court in ski boots.

Knitting has helped me to be more patient. If I can do something positive and creative while I wait, then I am able to wait calmly.

Just because I’m knitting while you’re talking doesn’t mean I’m ignoring you. Science has shown that the brain is more engaged and focused when people doodle (or knit) while listening.

Life should have choices beyond mere survival. (I think that’s one of the tenets of the Adult Children of Alcoholics organization, but it’s one I take to heart.)

If it’s the challenges in life that show what you’re really made of, then I must admit that I am made of Jell-O.

Humility is not a trait of a weak person. Only those who are truly strong in character are able to admit to being human.

Everybody lies. It’s how we’re able to get along with each other. Most people would call it manners (and they would be right).

In fiction, conflict is what drives the story forward. In “reality” shows, conflict is what drives the audience numbers up.

Never underestimate the power of a humble apology to calm down an angry situation.

Forgiveness is essential for good relationships.

Pets are joy in tangible form.

In the end, it’s not what you think that matters to people; it’s what you do.

We are Santa Claus for each other. (That’s why I like to sign my Christmas gifts as coming from “Santa Judith.”)

There’s nothing wrong with giving gifts at Christmas. There is everything wrong with believing you must.

If a gift were somehow deserved or merited it would be a payment, not a gift.

If people were to employ the proper use of the past subjunctive of the verb “to be,” then I would in all likelihood stop correcting them under my breath.

You have to know the rules before you can bend the rules. My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Holdsworth, repeated this aphorism constantly with regard to grammar and composition. I’ve found that it applies to all sorts of things in life.

Good writing isn’t just about putting words on the page or documenting the facts. Writing is more like having a jigsaw puzzle of sounds and images that fit together into a whole picture.

Learning a language other than your own will help you to understand better the grammar of your own language.

Each language has its own music.

Email is nice and it’s fast, but it will never equal the sublime joy of applying ink to paper.

There are few things more gratifying than receiving a personal note among all of the bills and advertisements that usually come in the mailbox.

A thank-you note – even if it’s scrawled by child – never fails to touch the heart.

We are not born “naturally good.” We are born necessarily self-centered. All of maturity is gradually unlearning that trait.

Maturity isn’t for sissies or whiners.

Never confuse maturity with age. It’s not how many years old you are that’s important; what’s important is that you remain open to learning, that you approach life with the curiosity and wonder of a child and the wisdom of an adult.

01 June 2009

Sweet Honey

Done at last! Done at last!

Look for the pattern at String of Purls and on Ravelry. It's called Sweet Honey. It's worked in King Tut mercerized cotton on US 4 needles. Optional waist shaping, sleeveless or short sleeves, crew neck or V neck. Sample was knit in size 36.