Friday, April 17, 2015

In A Bind (Off)

Hey Y'all,
Well in my fantasy world I was hoping THIS would be the post where I announced the triumphant completion of my Elizabeth Zimmermann Adult Baby Surprise Jacket. However, just like its title, this sweater continues to prove to be a rather unwieldy project. In fact increasingly so. Hahahaha-- I just made an accidental knitting joke-- increasingly! I've mentioned before how this thing is knit all in one piece for the majority of the work, and then you lengthen the sleeves after that. Well I've reached the part where it's time to bind-off the main body, which you would think is good news. And it is. But my goodness SO TEDIOUS.

Partly this tedium is my fault. For starters, I am using size 4US needles and Brooklyn Tweed Loft. If you ever make one of these I recommend a) use bigger yarn and b) start out making the baby size just to get a feel for the bizarre architecture of the thing. Size 4!! I might as well be using dental floss and toothpicks. Don't get me wrong-- I make socks on smaller needles, but this sweater is roughly eleventy-bazillion stitches, way more than socks.

The other "problem" which admittedly is not a long run problem, is that I have decided to do an I-cord bind-off. You know the I in I-cord stands for idiot, right? (It really does.) Well I felt a little idiotic choosing to go this route because I knew it would take at least six hours to bind-off, no exaggerating. On the other hand, when I did the Zimmermann Pi Shawl years ago, I decided to try a super kooky and involved bind-off she recommended and the results were so stunningly beautiful that when I got to the suggestion in this sweater pattern to take the time for a fancier ending, I figured I would regret going with a more raw standard bind-off. As you can see in the picture below (pardon my Labrador's strands of fur), this is a pretty sharp looking edge, and once I block this thing (if, in fact, I ever do finish it) it is going to look super fab.

This is what I often remind myself-- how great it will be when it's done-- when I hit that part of a project where I'm feeling fed up. I don't like ever feeling "done" with a garment before it's done, but I think there is a knitting equivalent to that so-called wall marathoners hit toward the end of a race. They just have to push through and then get to the triumphant part of crossing the finish line. For me big projects invariably come with that exasperation point. In this case, whereas I used to worship EZ, I am-- just momentarily I know-- having one-way conversations with her in my head: WHAT THE HECK WERE YOU THINKING? Ultimately though, those thoughts get overruled by being in awe of how she came up with these crazy patterns.

Something else I appreciate is that I've been turning to YouTube for help with the project. EZ was notoriously conversational in her pattern writing-- something I adore about her. But in this instance, there are sections where I really needed better visuals to get through. I found a terrific series on YouTube to help me through each part. And I found this video to show me how the I-cord bind-off works:

But while I do love that with Google I can find knitting tutorials 24/7/365, sometimes I struggle with video instruction, too. For me there is nothing like hands on learning with a brilliant teacher by my side. Toward that end, yes, it's time for me once again to remind you about our upcoming Knitting and Yoga Adventures Monhegan Island Retreat that happens over the course of a week in September. I have learned so much on these trips from so many terrific teachers. Beyond specific tips, tricks, and techniques, the biggest thing I've learned is PATIENCE, much of which I picked up by watching how patient my teachers have been helping me work through new knitting concepts. I sure hope you'll join us this year, our tenth, and see so for yourself. REGISTER HERE.

Happy Knitting!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Spring Is Here! You Know What That Means...

Hey Y'all,
HAPPY SPRINGTIME! You know what it means when spring arrives, right? You start knitting stuff for next winter. Oh, wait. I mean you KEEP knitting stuff for next winter. Or the following winter. Really, who cares when you get it done? Just as long as you're knitting.

Even though I have done deadline knitting, I'm increasingly better at not falling into that nerve wracking trap. Knitting is for RELAXING not FRETTING. I figure this year, if I'm lucky, I'll knock out one sweater and one ginormous shawl-- both entirely done in tediously repetitious garter stitch, which I tell myself is meditative. And maybe I'll get to knit a couple of pairs of socks-- I'm on a Freia Yarn kick and am dreaming of doing one pair that is inspired by UPS drivers' socks. You know that certain brown and that certain gold? I love that combo.

Speaking of love... I never get tired of how often people send me knitting related pictures and news articles. Everyone on Facebook knows I knit. So they send me stuff like the picture above. And they request projects like the picture below, which I recently finished for a friend's baby.

And then there's this one, from the archives:

How about you? Do your friends and family send you every single knitting-related article and object and picture they come across? What was the strangest one?

Before I sign off here and go dance in the sunshine, I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you-- WE STILL HAVE A FEW OPENINGS for our Knitting and Yoga Adventures weeklong trip to Monhegan Island in September. You really ought to join us. SO FUN.

Happy Knitting,

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Happy Birthday To Us!

Hey Y'all,
Happy Almost Spring! Also, Happy Birthday to Us! Just dawned on me that this is the tenth year of Knitting and Yoga Adventures. That's a whole lot of relaxing knitting retreats, considering Lisa has hosted jaunts to numerous places, including Italy, Vermont, and Maine. This year, the Vermont trip is all full (though you can get on the waiting list over at the registration page.) We do have SIX SPACES LEFT for the Monhegan Island Retreat which happens September 13-19, 2015. You can snap up one of those spots at the Monhegan registration page.

As you can see above, the never ending sweater project I've been telling you about is, literally, taking shape. If you missed my earlier installments, I'm working on an Adult Baby Surprise Jacket from an Elizabeth Zimmermann pattern. It is at times incredibly tedious-- all garter stitch, size 3 needles. It is also at times incredibly mysterious-- many times I've thought Is this really going to work? Because it's knit in one piece, but very different from a top down sweater. I'm still not convinced that the sleeves will be wide enough but what choice have I but to carry on? Plus, can you say BLOCK THE HECK OUT OF IT. I have put so many hours into this one I will find a way to make it fit, even if that means wearing SPANX on my upper arms.

Though I swore a couple of months ago, when I picked that sweater back up after putting it down many times, that I would work on nothing else until I finished it, alas-- along came an irresistible request. I work in a tattoo shop and one of the artists brought me the above picture. He wondered if I might make something similar for a little friend of his. How could I say no? I'm figuring out the pattern as I go. On the one hand, I feel very pleased that I have a solid idea of how to make all the pieces. On the other hand, I got a nice reminder about the necessity of prototypes when it dawned on me yesterday that I had done way too many increase rows on the ball part, and that if I kept going I would wind up with a basketball sized toy, when what I really want is something much smaller. And so, back to the drawing board. But now that I know what I'm doing, I think I can knock this out in a couple of days.

In other news I'm trying to come up with a name for that feeling you feel when you see something someone else has knitted and it knocks the wind out of you. The above two sweaters were made by my yoga teacher years ago. She actually (gasp!) stopped knitting. I don't know why. Maybe because once you hit the skill level needed to make such masterpieces there's nowhere else to go? That theory has holes in it, I know. But supposing it were true, I can totally relax-- I could knit every day for the rest of my life and not manage such exquisite detail work. And I swear, as I held these sweaters in my hands, my breathing pattern really did change. I had this palpable reaction-- awe, excitement, disbelief. What should we call this feeling? WOOLBERGASTED? Nah. Need to work on that.

And now, just for fun, a picture of me in this great shirt I got at TESS in Portland during our yarn crawl back to the airport after our wonderful week of island knitting.

Hope y'all are thawing out and warming up!
Until next time,

Friday, February 27, 2015

Not Quite Spring Yet...

Hey Y'all,
Greetings from Austin, TX. It's been a little while since I introduced myself so in case we haven't met virtually or on a retreat, I'm Spike. That's not me above, that's me below. I help out Lisa with the Monhegan Island Retreat every year. I've been so many times I've actually lost count. And part of the reason for that, besides the fact I'm in my fifties and can't remember anything anymore, is because the island is SO relaxing I lose track of time when I'm there. Or maybe more accurately, it's ALWAYS knitting time. Except when it's hiking time. Or snack time. But if you're me, you just keep knitting through the hikes and the incredible food experiences. Pretty much the only time I'm not knitting on the island is when I'm sleeping or getting an amazing massage from Mary Alice.

I spend most of my time in Austin, my home. Though I travel often and visiting LYS around the world is the only hobby I have that's more expensive than building my stash. I've been to yarn shops in Canada, Argentina, France, Israel, Japan, England, and all over the US. And I'd love to hear the most interesting places you've gone to add to your stash.

Today in Austin it's raining and in the thirties which I think is what Lisa, who's up in Maine, refers to as "summer weather." But I am FREEEEEEEEEEEZING. A couple of posts ago I was talking about the sweater I've finally settled into knitting, dedicating myself to finishing it. Well I'm not done, which is too bad, because by the time I do finish it'll be in the triple digits here. On the other hand, probably goes without saying, but I have lots of other sweaters I've made (and socks and hand warmers and scarves and hats) to keep me warm, so I'll be just fine.

In my last post I delivered the news (don't glare at the messenger) that our 2105 Knitting and Yoga Vermont Retreat is SOLD OUT. But you can still get on the waiting list just click here. And we do still have some room for the 2015 Knitting and Yoga Monhegan Island Retreat, so if you want to join us, don't wait. SIGN UP HERE.

I hope you're warm wherever you are, and that the only storms you're experiencing are the ones you're knitting up.

Happy Almost Spring,

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Happy Year of the Sheep!

Hey Y'all,
Not that we ever need any excuses to grow our stashes, knit more often, and spend our non-knitting time perusing patterns for future projects but guess what? We got one anyway! Yes, that's right, it's officially The Year of the Sheep. Very auspicious for us wool fanatics.

If you have been on the fence about joining us for our Knitting and Yoga Adventure on Monhegan Island in September, consider this the sign you have been waiting for! On the other hoof, if you were waiting for a sign to push you toward the Knitting and Yoga Adventure trip to Vermont in November, I have some baaaaaad news for you. That tip is sold out. BUT... hold on... ewe can still get on the waiting list.

So to register for Monhegan CLICK THIS LINK or to get on the list for Vermont CLICK THIS LINK. 

Hope y'all are staying warm and knitting up a storm.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Settling In On A Sweater

I have a distant memory of reading my friend Deb Stoller's book, Stitch 'N Bitch, a part where she went from not being really enthusiastic about knitting to settling down on a long train ride, getting out a sweater she'd started then stopped, and finally it clicked. Obviously it clicked in a really big way since Deb has gone on to build a knitting empire with a series of books, workshops, and all around superstardom in the knitting world.

When I first started knitting in 1986, I made one super tightly knotty scarf, decided I was not into it, and put the knitting down. For fourteen years. Then I picked it back up, and thanks in large part to Deb's book, I totally got into it. To the point that now it is a running, loving joke amongst my friends how I am never seen without knitting, be it at a concert, dinner party, or even on the hiking trails (which I like to do on Monhegan Island-- knit and hike simultaneously).

I'm thinking about this because I've been stopping and starting on the adult version of Elizabeth Zimmermann's Baby Surprise Jacket. It's been giving me headaches. I chose really small yarn and tiny needles. At one point I totally messed up the decreases and had to frog a ton. Now I'm on the increases and I think I keep messing it up but I can't even tell. The pattern is very mysterious-- hence the word surprise in the title. And I've had my moments of thinking I'm going to quit. But then, I'm just too far along to frog now. So I'm doing some Faith Based Knitting, not religious faith but Zimmermann Faith. EZ is a goddess among knitters. I'm praying she won't let me down now.

Part of my procrastination had been helped along by the fact that I very often keep at least one other project going when I'm working on something tricky to me. The second project is always easy, and usually easy to the point that it gets bumped up to the Primary Project. Such was the case with a beret I recently finished, picture above in progress. Now I am very tempted to get some easy socks on the needles, but I think that, at least for a few days, I'm going to just keep going with the sweater, see if I can truly get to that Deb on the Train moment, get motivated to really power through.

And if it doesn't happen, well then Hello Easy Socks. I just need to remind myself sometimes that I'm in this knitting game for the calming, meditative aspect of it, not to become some Olympic Gold Medalist Knitter.

There are so many things I love about the Knitting and Yoga Retreats I'm fortunate enough to attend. A big part of it is the camaraderie with other passionate knitters. But more nuanced than the We're A Group of Happy Knitters is also this other thing. I have made so many knitting friends on retreat, many of them with skills so astonishingly honed they can knit circles around me. But instead of some competitive air, I get encouragement and reminders: have fun with it, it's not a contest, enjoy yourself, don't sweat the little errors, just keep calm and knit on.

I'm carrying my knitting friends in my head this week as I work to shift my attitude about this sweater in progress from I'm not sure I can do this to I'm sure it's going to be great because it's great already, just knitting and knitting. 

And so here's to all my wonderful knitting friends-- thank you for support so big and strong that even when we are scattered across the country during the rest of the year, all the love I get from you on Monhegan Island carries me through.

I hope you're knitting something fun right now, and that any challenges are more exciting than frustrating. I also hope that if you haven't yet signed up for the Maine retreat or the Vermont retreat (or both!) that you'll do that soon. All the information you need is over at Knitting and Yoga Adventures. 

Can't wait to see you in the fall.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

My Knitting Family

Hey Y'all,
Hope you're getting through January swathed in hand knits. I certainly have been trotting out everything I've ever knitted as the temperature in Austin has dipped down into the upper 40s. Haha. That's a little joke for all of y'all up there in the North. Really though, it's all relative, and we've had a few days here in the 20s, which, I know, is not the same as the negative 20s some of you have to deal with, but to me, it's more than cold enough.

In addition to bundling up, the other thing I do is stay inside far more often than I like. Which means I have to keep myself occupied. Which, on the bright side, involves knitting and eating. So if I wanted to be creative, I could say that I am "in training" for the 2015 Knitting and Yoga Monhegan Island Retreat

In December, while I was pretending to be in training, I was hanging out with my friends-- key members of my chosen family-- Bart and Doris Ann, and their kids Leila and Will. That's Leila up top in the picture. She asked me for a knitting lesson, and I so delight in sharing the healthy addiction that is knitting, that I settled in and got her going. Leila is, at the tender age of twenty, an amazing tattoo artist. Here's a picture of some ink she gave me back when she was still a teenager:

Leila is also a black belt martial artist. What I'm getting at is that her physical coordination and spatial relations skills are top notch. So she latched onto knitting very quickly. In fact, I started her in the round, on DPs, working on handwarmers made from some cashmere yarn I got when the Knitting and Yoga Retreat gang stopped at Tess in Portland last year.

Leila has gotten into knitting so quickly and passionately, that a trip to the LYS was needed. I'd passed along to her some of my stash but not enough to keep up with her knitting hunger. She had been to the LYS once or twice as a kid, but that memory was distant. I thrilled watching her take it all in, float from display to display. And I admit I thrilled a little in using my hopefully not too know-it-all tone to share with her some of what I've learned about yarn and knitting in the fifteen years since I started. We wound up leaving with an impressive starter stash.

In this picture, Leila's mom DA and I are, you can see, having a good laugh. This was shot on Christmas morning, right after I was gifted the sweater I'm wearing. It's a vintage, hand knit Cowichan sweater from a thrift store in Canada. DA is also wearing a vintage Cowichan sweater. Years ago, I knitted Bart (DA's husband and Leila's dad) a Cowichan sweater featuring whales and waves. That was such a tricky project for me and I was pumped that I made it happen. Here's a picture of that sweater in case you missed the earlier post about it:

Speaking of family, this month I got a great surprise. I knew my son, Henry, who lives in Brooklyn, was coming to visit me in Austin. What I did not know was that he planned to stick around for a couple of weeks. Even though he's staying with friends, just waking up in the morning knowing he's nearby makes me so happy. We meet up in the daytime and hangout. Yesterday was great because it had warmed up enough to sit outside at a cafe. I did teach Henry to knit once, many years ago, when we were stuck in the car for around seven hours waiting to cross the border from Mexico back into Texas. Sadly, he did not take to knitting the way Leila did. But as you can see, he definitely is into the whole arts & crafts thing. 

And so we did what we have done so often since he was little, and all over the place from Mexico to England to Japan to countless points around the U.S. We just hung out and I knitted and he made pictures.

Which brings me all the way back around to reminding you about the Knitting and Yoga Retreats 2015, both the weeklong trip to Monhegan Island and the long weekend retreat to Quechee, Vermont. Both trips are excellent opportunities to chill out, hang out, laugh, craft, learn and share. I've been going on retreat since 2008 and so many people choose to return repeatedly that these folks, too, are part of my family. I hope you'll join us and see for yourself just what an amazing thrill it is to dedicate yourself to hanging out and pursuing your passion in some stunning natural locations.

All the information you need is at the Knitting and Yoga Adventures website.

See ya next month,