Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My knitting and I

It's gonna be nuts around here, probably you might think it's because of the holidays, but really just a bunch of stuff happening all at once. Fun times living at the storage place!

I have been thinking a lot about what knitting does for me.

Usually, when I think about knitting, I am focused on what I could do for someone else. It seems evident that I probably overthink it because I'm sure that few recipients are understanding what has been done for them or just how much thought has been put into it. For instance, one of my knitting acquaintances is working on prayer shawls, pretty cool. The thing I found interesting about it is that she is journaling all the hopes and prayers for the recipient that she is having while in progress. I know with my knitting every stitch feels like a hug, a kiss, taking a hand and caressing it with the other, a conversation over dinner or coffee, a walk in the park, sharing a good memory. I can only imagine that a written document of all the knitter thought about while creating a gift for you would be overwhelming.

I read another post where a woman lamented that she felt she couldn't knit in church services and it was hard to pay attention without her knitting, which made her feel guilty. I can understand that too, because I don't feel I can sit for any length of time anywhere without desiring to pick up something. I feel productive that I my time is not gone to waste because I was working on something to comfort, cover or keep someone warm at every moment I wasn't doing something else, like housework or office work or walking a dog. Even as I sit here at the computer, trying to blog, I have my knitting in my lap for the spells where I have to stop and think, what was I going to say? It a very high level of productivity for me, I feel I'm a contributing member of society while I'm knitting.

I learned to knit from a book. My mother crochets and I guess she knitted a sweater when we were little, because there's a picture of my brother in a chocolate pullover with blue argyles on the front, but she's crocheted so many afghans I can't begin to list them. Somewhere in her sewing was knitting needles and a how-to book that I must have dug out in a school-break boredom and sat down with to figure out. Ever notice how easy those books and instructions look? You put the needle in here and the yarn should go around there and TAA-DAA!! you have made a stitch! Do it again, again, again, you have made a row, do it again, again, again, you have made a hot pad, hat, scarf, sweater, afghan. Because my mom did so much with yarn, I never was afraid or thought it was somehow beyond me, I did every stitch I read about fearlessly. After a while I started borrowing books from the library, looking at magazines in the newsstands for more stuff that I could magically create. It wasn't until much later that I realized several different things:

1. I am a picker. There is whole political coalitions that believe unless you are a thrower, you are not a knitter. 'Throwers' are what you see the housewives in the old movies and Donna Reeds on television, where the right hand is moving over the work and putting yarn on the needle. Picking is often referred to as 'Continental' and throwing is called 'European'. For a couple years, I trained myself to learn this throwing method, but it took a whole year to make a child's sweater, so, I got frustrated with how slow it is and went back to picking. This means that the stitches are picked up from the left hand, like a crocheter, which is a smooth, automatic way to pick up. It is the method used by the woman that hold's the record for World's Fastest Knitter, by the way.

I don't believe there is anything wrong with either method. A picker is a more prolific knitter, a thrower is more precise. I wish I was more patient, that yarn in the stash and the shop didn't call out to me, books and magazines that I come across didn't have so many things that would be awesome to complete. I wish the list of things I want to make wasn't so long. I wish my stitches were precise and had a machine-knit perfection. I do work hard to have a very clean finished project, that the seams and edges are quality made, but I like that, even so, it is hand made. I have found too, that all that time spent learning to throw hasn't gone to waste either. I can adequately demonstrate to a knitter that throws how to cable or make increases and decreases. I have been doing some color change work, where I am picking with the main color and throwing the contrast color, which is turning out very nice and makes me very happy.

2. I am the yarn anti-snob. This is a discussion you do not want to start in a group of knitters, by the way. It's like starting a conversation about politics or religion. The one group that I meet with has knitters of many different backgrounds, unfortunately no men, yet, but some real fiberistas, the ladies that sheer the sheep, take the fleece and clean, card, spin, dye, knit. Fiber-choosey. Some of the rest of us are living in the macaroni & cheese economy and are patiently happy to knit with whatever we can get our hands on, and create something wonderful anyway. That would be the unemployed, the older ladies living on Social Security, young mothers who are more concerned with food on the table and shoes on the feet that if the yarn on the needles is wool or what. When the conversation starts about 'Oh, my God, how can you stand to knit with that acrylic!' I am ready to leave and go home.

It is my belief there is a place in the world for all fiber, even man-made ones. One of our ladies travels to Mexico, when she takes the easily obtainable acrylic from home, the knitters there go crazy for the quantity and the colors. I imagine a big part of that is that they finally have something to knit with. There is also the thought that you would give acrylic to a new knitter until they are able to create with enough quality to be allowed wool or other natural, more costly fibers. The only argument to that I've heard is that is cruel to start someone with such nasty stuff when the better quality would inspire them to continue to create, but I've only heard that from a yarn store owner. Another of the ladies in the group is a currently unemployed engineer who has been knitting up all the stuff she had in her stash inherited from her grandmother, complains how rough it is on her hands.

I would prefer to use all natural and more costly fibers. That would be a Dream. Come. True. And certainly, I have been told that the quality of my work is of a higher standard that the materials I work with. However, the reality of my life and financial situation, and those of approximately half of my knitting compatriots has not been conducive to being so single-minded. So, I have sought to be smart with what I use. I will not knit an acrylic pull-over unless it's for a toy, as that would be like wrapping a living creature in plastic wrap. I use it for cardigans, usually for babies and children, so that the wearer is not completely sealed up in it and can breathe, and it can be worn, washed often and worn again, passed down to a sibling or hung onto for the next generation. Kids grow so fast that to keep them in handknits is expensive, so, a less expensive acrylic helps keep them from being naked, too. I'm sure a pull-over would be fine in acrylic for someone in the far North, maybe Siberia, but I don't know anybody there or if anybody needs a sweater there, so I knit for those I do know who need it and can wear it, whether or not they do is another story. Acrylic is terrific for afghans. My house is not the cleanest, I'm a klutz and spill often and I have dogs, so, the convenience of an acrylic afghan is that it can be cleaned and put back in it's place. I have to say that I am brand loyal with the acrylic because some of it pills and looses shape and I won't use it.

I appreciate that the qualities of wool are that a knitted garment can be worn in the rain and still feel warm. That is why the fisherman's sweaters were always made of sheep wool. There are people with wool allergies, how sad, and for them we can work around it with other natural fibers like linen, silk or cotton, in the meantime they are already cuddling up on a cold evening in an acrylic blanket.

Years ago, I had for several years, gotten sick in September and stayed sick through till spring. I couldn't leave the house and laid on the sofa for months. Knitting kept me sane, although I wasn't only knitting, I was doing a lot of crocheting too. I made several heavy afghans for kids who slept in basements, so much yarn double stranded, till they were too bulky to turn over and had to be shipped out with a crane. Also, large oval rug on the living room floor that was about 10 foot wide and about 15 feet long, scraps went to smaller rugs, like a heart shaped one in my daughters room, and others in front of the door, the kitchen sink. All out of acrylic. I can only imagine what life would have been like on that sofa without something to work on or work with.

3. I don't think I'd be a very good teacher. Like I said, I learned from a book. I read a lot of material for improving techniques. It doesn't seem like other people do, they learn one method of doing something, such as cast-on, and that's the only one they'll ever do. I think that in combination with how easily it is for me (being diabetic) to loose patience or be short with someone who doesn't know me or understand I'm trying to encourage them to be unafraid of untouched techniques that is maybe somewhere I shouldn't go. Yesterday, I finished a helmetliner (the same as the charity project, check out this link: http://www.citizensam.org/html/patterns/knitting_instructions_helmetliner.html ) for my nephew. I made a few of them in the last few months because I understood that my group was doing this as a charity project, but I think they must be at the tail end of the fun part of it as there doesn't seem to be too many getting done. Either that or I ruined it. I get so excited about finishing it and seeing a nice rolled edge at the start and finish and not a line around the edge that may be too tight or too loose and ruffled, that my edge will make it comfortable for the soldier to use repeatedly forever, that when I finished this one yesterday, I didn't have anybody to show it to. That cast on and off line on all the edges of every finished project I see frustrates me ~ especially in the books and magazines that recommend designer projects that you too can complete so easily. It's like having art class and seeing other students still start coloring by putting a heavy line around all the shapes to color in. At some point an art student stops drawing those lines, but not so with most knitters.

Last night, one of the other moderators on my local group on ravelry.com posted that Our Group has decided to do a project together. Hmmmm, guess that was a mistake on my part to let my husband who is in terrible back pain doze a little longer in his recliner and thus miss going to the group knit together, cause I missed out on that vote. The project is an afghan, done in squares, one each month, with books and yarn all bought from the local yarn shop that we are all trying to support. I got kinda upset about it, and that was bad form, I have been kicking myself about it all day. I love that group knit-a-long thing, I wish, though, that a little more thought, a little less restriction had been attached. For instance, I can think of at least three regular attendees of our group who can't afford the prescribed materials. (Actually, I can think of more than that, but those were all attendees who only attended once, listened to length conversation about wool verses acrylic, or aluminum verses handcarved needles and have not been back since. I liked them, I miss them, I wish they'd come back.) Earlier, I stated my preference for acrylic in afghans around the house, so I'll stop that part of the vent there. I went off and checked the project books, and while they are great as far as working out untried stitches, perhaps, they are not very attractive and I'm thinking even if donated to charity project, probably would rot before they were used. Actually, what I found were various degrees of hideous, that made me cringe to picture in my head how my local lovelies' would feel to turn out this stuff. . . . .

And now I have to stop writing this. I just went all kinds of mean that I didn't want to go to. That's why I don't think I can teach this to anybody. Makes me very sad to think about it actually. Especially, now, realizing that my mother is loosing her eyesight and someday that will happen to me. All the knowledge and techniques I have gathered and use will someday disappear with me, because of my inability to share.

AND THAT is the part that made me write this. All this time, I thought, I was knitting for others with love and researching so that what I made was absolutely the best that it could be, even with what I can afford to use, and really, I'm unable to share. I want to, I can't be the gatekeeper to all of this, I can do so much more than help somebody understand the puzzle that is a pattern, I just know it. I guess what it all comes down to is the same principle that applies to everything else: You've got to want to. I can help somebody if they really want it. I am a good resource to others like me. I don't know who they are or where they at, but as long as I want to share, someone who needs me will find me.

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