Monday, December 16, 2013

Heartfelt (Knitting and) Gifting

A woman in one of my online knitting groups complains 'I made an afghan for someone and have yet to receive a thank you. Should I worry?'

This kind of knitting and gifting insecurity is common.  If you're the kind of knitter that hears about someone with a special event coming up that needs a gift, and think it would be special to receive something crafted by hand and immediately start making plans, cast-on and knit frantically until it's done, you know the anxiety this woman is describing.  Every knit/crochet/craft blogger will discuss it. There's just as many conversations about crafting for the worthy, knitting for the knitworthy.

Here's what I know.

I know what knitting does for me.  I know that when my hands are busy, I'm trying to do something heroic one stitch at a time.  I'm trying to keep the receiver warm, I'm trying to tell them they are beautiful, I'm trying to tell them they are loved.  Is it unreasonable to expect that from every stitch?  I don't think so.  I've knit that stitch based on the thoughtful planning I gave for that person before I ever cast the first stitch.  I've considered carefully the colors they look good in, especially the ones they seem to be wearing when they are their happiest, if they've not told me directly their favorites.  I've given a lot of thought to their body shape and what they wear and how it fits. I've looked through the patterns I have in my possession, spent hours online, looked at my stash of yarn usually determining it's inadequacy, and then spent further hours online determining the availability of the materials I need do I need to order or can I stop in a local store and if there room on my credit card.

With every stitch, I recount all of our happy memories, I see their smiles and think of what they've meant to me. I think of what they will be doing when they wear or use my knitting gift, their pride when they show it off to their family, friends, co-workers, their world.  With baby gifts, if it's before the baby is born, I will imagine them doing all the things I did with my daughter as a baby and other babies in our family that are cherished memories.

And then you present them with the gift. If I can give it to them in person, I can tell them why it's that color, what it's made of, why I thought they could use this personally, unique-crafted thing. Then watch their eyes.  You can tell if it was too much or if it's just right.  

As a crafter gets older, you're better able to determine the heart of a person and how they will receive something. This summer I made a scarf/shawl for a friend of ours. It was for someone who was going through some medical issues on top of some really personal dramas, too. We were impressed with how she coped with this stuff which was always with laughter. Together, my husband and I looked for yarns that reminded us of her.  When it was handed to her, at that moment, she was having an especially bad day. When I was able to let her know what this was and why, she melted.  I couldn't take a picture of her during her awful day, but asked that she take one when it got cold enough to need to use it, which she did. At the time I gave it to her and when she sent the picture, she described what she loved about it and how it made her feel.

Knitting for kids is a pretty awesome experience.  A baby afghan for a newborn, becomes a nap blankie for a toddler and an adventure tent in play.  Sometimes garments are saved as mementos or passed down to younger siblings. One of my favorite garments to make a child is for starting school.  If you make it in their favorite color and with special details like pockets (POCKETS!) they are ready to do school, like Superman donning his red cape.

But here's where knitting for someone else is like paving a path through a blissful garden. Halos of Hope was founded by Pam Haschke after she fought cancer and beat it.  During that awful time she was given a hat.  When she'd lost her hair, this hat gave her a joy she hadn't expected.  (I haven't met Pam yet, I've heard her tell the story, but I imagine it gave her a lot more than that.) I've heard her say, time and again, she started this charity because she wanted to share the comfort of a soft hat with others still battling.  If you go to the website and look at the notes under Stories of Hope, there are stories of gifts well received. The notes are mostly from the cancer centers where the hats were sent and it's because the writers of the notes were there when a hat was given and received, because the experience is so beautiful the note writing must be done. These people can't take credit, but pass the messages of thanks back to where it belongs, to the ones that thought they would like to, took the time and made the effort to make a soft hat, organized donation efforts and sent the hats out.  

Sometimes when you make something for someone else, you don't get the thanks you needed to hear. You can't let it stop your generosity because you didn't get a thank you card. You have to remember the joy you had in making it, just know that there is more good in the universe because you did and then do it again.
If you are interested in creating hats for Halos of Hope, there is a big effort to achieve a high number of hats by the Stitches West event at Santa Clara, California in February. Several of the podcasters I mentioned a couple of weeks back are participating in a Podcasters Throwdown (challenge amongst themselves). You'll find at the website above the requirements are pretty relaxed, it has to be a new hat, of soft yarn, for a child or adult, male or female. There's even some great patterns that have been donated. Hats take no time to make, unlike a sweater or an afghan. When you're done with one, you won't believe that one hat can make a difference. 

“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” ― Mother Teresa

Saturday, December 14, 2013

More Knitting Books (from the library)

I've had three more books from the library!
  • Amy Herzog's Knit to Flatter (Published by STC Craft/A Melanie Falick Book, NY 2013) requested this when I heard she would be a guest on Fiber Hooligan and I had been wanting to read it for some time.  ( The book didn't come in for me to pick up until after that episode, but I had heard her on the Yarn Thing Podcast with Marly Bird which made my anxiety to get the book between these two events a bit ... necessary. Amy and her husband have put together a great website that incorporates the basic elements she's written about in her book and further personalizing a pattern to fit. ( ) She candidly discusses the difference between Ms. Average fit and everyone else without using the words 'Figure Flaws', using pictures and candid description of body types, all beautiful just different. Having a book in hand with it's written messages of inspiration (including this one in the introduction 'You are gorgeous, readers. Let's help you knit sweaters that make you feel that way, too.') should be candy for any knitter who's been at all frustrated with the outcome of a finished garment for herself.
  • Melissa Leapman Knitting the Perfect Fit (Published by Potter Craft, NY 2012) Totally a fluke that these two books came at the same time and I hope not to compare them... Lots of great advice about knitting, reading charts and making swatches that should help encourage a knitter, especially one not much experienced with sweaters. I requested the book for the pattern named 'Angie', which I am disappointed to say, turns out not to be for my body type, being one that an A-line is NOT flattering on. There are many cute designs in the book, I liked the 'Weekender', 'Merino Magic' and 'Jen'. I didn't care for the close-up pictures of the knitted pieces themselves which appear to me to be very poorly finished.  
  • Edelgard Janssen and Ute Eismann Sock Art (Published in US by Trafalgar Square Books 2013, originally in German as Sockenhunst im Jacquard-look, 2010) This was on the NEW book as I walked in, so grabbed it and ran. There is no introductions or explanations in the front of the book and the end concludes with techniques for toes and heels explained. Is that a German thing?  The patterns are a pretty mix of florals and critters, done in bright stripes of intarsia. There is one paragraph that says Kaffe Fasset was an inspiration, that much is clear.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

This American (Knitter's) Life

I've been on The Fiber Hooligan podcast for a few weeks now. Monday was my seventh appearance. I've featured lots of things from books, day long televised knitting events, Dr. Who...  

Are you surprised this is happening to me?  I am!

Here's the thing:  It's been completely voluntary.  Perhaps someday when it's time, I will pursue something further involved that takes me on more adventures in knitting but for the moment, I'm stretching my little world and it's boundaries. That feels pretty good for the time being.  

One thing that has been a little bit frustrating is the promotion end of it. (I know this is a first-world problem and not really important in the universal scheme of things... I hope you can hear that this isn't concern for myself.) I'm not the only one experiencing this frustration. I have been trying to help another knitting program producer who started a very involved knitting/fiber education video program which needs sponsors and/or subscribers. How can anyone hear or know about how great this creation of his if I can't make anyone hear me tell them about it?

And another podcast has recently asked for my help.  I also spent a lot of the last month promoting a fiber event several states away from me, without the help of those I was trying to promote, except for the coordinators.

I often feel inadequate because my internet 'voice' is so small. I can only promote these thing so many times in so many places before people get fatigued of me.  For instance, on Twitter I have less than 200 hundred followers.  That is NOT advertising.  That's standing in my corner of the world and humming a little melody, in the chaos of the cacophony...

I'm recording this frustration here because I hope to come back to it and see that there have been results. For the moment it just feels like spinning my tires, or being restrained.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

I LIKE BIG BOOKS! and you can sing along

I have some books to return to the library, and since the majority were recent publications, I thought you'd like to hear a little more of them.

The first is The Art of Seamless Knitting by Simona Merchant-Guest and Faina Goberstein published by Interweave Press.  Here's the Amazon Link:

I first heard about this book on the Yarn Thing Podcast with Marly Bird, here's the link for the program: 

It's a beautiful book, beginning with great advice at the beginning about measuring and gauge, there's even great advice about avoiding the jog in your color stripes.  It is not strictly about top-down knitting designs, as some involve picking up stitches along a knitted edge to create a sleeve or other design element.  There are three patterns I'm admiring, the socks! Titled Lace Stockings (I know, there's not a lot of sock patterns WITH seams, but these Knee-highs are so beautiful you won't mind) designed by Faina, they could have been worn at Downton Abbey.  There's a Lacy Cardigan designed by Simona that's made with Bijou Basin Ranch Lhasa Wilderness (a sport-weight yak/bamboo blend) that would be sweet in spring and cool nights in the summer and dressy enough for church.  There's a pull over that has a near commercial knit quality by Faina called Textured Pullover and another cardigan she designed Cabled Cardigan, long sleeved, thigh-length and a generous collar, both would be wardrobe staples in winter.

I picked up Kristen Omdahl's book The Finer Edge ~Crocheted Trims, Motifs & Borders, also published by Interweave, in 2012 (new to my library, what can I say?) Here's the Amazon Link:

In addition to miles of ideas to trim your projects, there are some projects to create.  I liked the Memphis Bag with features a bouquet of ruffles to carry around the market. There's also an afghan, a pullover, a shawl...  Kristen has appeared on several podcasts, including several appearances on Marly Bird's program as well.

I also have to return Nicky Epstein's book Knitting On Top of the World ~ The Global Guide to Traditions, Techniques and Design published by Sixth and Spring Books.  It's an older book, 2008, not the first time I've borrowed it and probably won't be the last.  The sections are divided into areas of the world and the styles inspired by those areas, including Far North, Windswept Isles, Old World, Around the Mediterranean, Far East and New World. The photography makes this a coffee-table quality picture-book, but the designs are Extreme Epstein. How about an heirloom quality pullover for your newborn that can keep your teapot toasty when he's outgrown it? Here's the Amazon link:

Like I said, these are all going back to the library today, I don't own copies of any of them, and was not asked to review them by the publishers.  I just found them on the shelves of my library, brought them home and have been drooling over them when I've had quiet moments.

It's amazing to me how fast that due date came along!