Friday, January 20, 2017

My March

Tonight I'm getting on a bus to D.C. for the Women's March. I've never done anything like this-- I'm going with one of my best and oldest friends who has also never done anything like this. But when she asked me to go with her a week after the election I had no hesitation saying yes. Preparing for this has given me much needed focus the past two-and-a-half months. Now that the day has arrived I'm feeling lost and overwhelmed-- excited, terrified. I don't know what to expect.

My instinct in situations of great uncertainty and fear is to retreat-- I know that's probably true for a lot of people. Get it the bunker, ride it out-- if you can. I am feeling the pull of that right now and trying to fight it. In many ways it's a privilege to hide, and my fears are mostly hypothetical and projected. It's also a privilege to march, to feel safe expressing your dissent. I am trying to remember the women (and men) to whom this incoming president poses a more existential threat. I want to stand with them. Still I feel profoundly disoriented.

It has helped, is helping, that preparing for the March connects to my fiber pursuits-- I know I said I would probably not bring up politics again here, but for this reason I have allowed, required myself to do it, even though it's uncomfortable and I feel unqualified as a writer to talk about it. Anyway. Pink is emphatically NOT my favorite color but when I heard about the Pussyhat Project I had no hesitation saying yes. I decided to go all in and spin the yarn-- I scooped up pink wool top in cotton candy, neon, magenta. I spun in a kind of fugue, swift and possessed, until my shoulders ached. Pink wool became big, thick, loud, proud pink yarn:

Which has-- so far-- become two pointy-eared hats:

One of those is for my friend's daughter, who will be marching in Boston. The other I plan to give to a marcher in D.C. A third hat is in progress:

Yes, this obnoxious neon pink/blaze orange/Pepto Bismol concoction is what I hope to be wearing tomorrow. I have a ton nervous energy to expend over the course of the day so I'm feeling optimistic it will be done-- and it's good to feel optimistic about something.

I'm delighted but not surprised that so many knitters have taken up this project we're creating a shortage of pink yarn. I am surprised (and delighted) that so many non-knitters know about the Pussyhats and what they stand for, are asking for them and wearing them and celebrating them. Now that the day has come I'm feeling the power of this connection, alongside all the fear and worry. I'm not sure what the March will "accomplish"-- how I hate hearing those sneering, cynical, defensive words "But it's not going to accomplish anything! It's not going to change anything!" whether spoken by others or in my own internal voice. I have to believe in the power of being present, that there is a kind of magic in so many women (and men) showing up for justice.

My instinct is to fend for myself, to stay hidden and isolated. This no longer seems possible. If nothing else, I want to be there tomorrow to change myself.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The great K1P1 ribbing quest

For my green sweater, I decided I wanted a folded-over k1p1 rib neckband-- it's a neat, cozy sort of edge that looks good to my eye right now. Trouble is I am never happy with the look of MY k1p1 ribbing, to the point that I usually avoid the stitch altogether because it's just demoralizing. Other knitters seem to produce crisp, even ribbing--  I have produced it, in fact my very first knitting project (circa 1999!) was a scarf done entirely in k1p1 ribbing and it looks great:

Compare that to my first neckband attempt on the green sweater:

I am mystified by my inability to reproduce as an expert knitter what my own naive, beginner hands once made without thinking about it! But I am also stubborn and unwilling to admit defeat-- and tinkering with my neckband has given me an excuse to procrastinate further on fit decisions. I have knitted, ripped, and re-knitted the neckband of the sweater... quite a few times. Five I think. I am closer to the look I want but I have also committed to what feels like a bigger quest of sorts: to find some answers-- through research & swatching-- to this problem of k1p1 ribbing. I don't think I'm alone in my struggles, so for the Greater Good of knitters, this is going to be the first in a series of posts about k1p1 ribbing. Get excited!

First I should define what "good" k1p1 ribbing should look like and how my k1p1 ribbing deviates from that ideal. That first scarf is the only sample I have on hand of what I would call "good" k1p1 ribbing, so let's take a closer look:



The knit columns are tight, fairly even and very well defined-- they stand up prominently like the ridges of corrugated cardboard. I think of those knit and purl stitches like partners in a contra dance, linking arms alternately in perfect balanced opposition-- the energy of that opposition is felt in the springy, sprightly elasticity of the fabric. It stretches easily but snaps back with spirit, and when the fabric is relaxed, the purl stitches vanish. A sliver of vertical shadow between the knit columns and a slightly rounded appearance to the knit stitches shows that it is not stockinette, but it is nearly as neat and cohesive. I notice a very slight back-and-forth wobble to the knits, as if they are being pulled to the left or right, but it is subtle and regular enough that it seems like a characteristic of the fabric rather than a mistake. That is good k1p1 ribbing-- or at least the best I have ever made.

The neckband of my green sweater shows what my present-day k1p1 ribbing typically looks like-- quite a contrast! The knit columns are wide and look stretched out-- like ladders, but in the middle of the stitches rather than between them. The fabric has little elasticity-- the purl stitches are still clearly visible in the relaxed state. I would describe it as both stiff and lethargic. Yet it has this twisting energy, as if the knit stitches are being yanked upwards by their left arms-- this is more visible in profile, but in the picture above you can see that the left sides of the knit columns appear slightly higher and more prominent. As a result the whole neckband seems to bias to the left. Maybe if I didn't have that first scarf for comparison I wouldn't be so aware of the flaws in my present-day k1p1 ribbing-- or maybe I would just think that k1p1 ribbing was an ugly-ass stitch that I never, never want to use in my knitting. What I do know is I can't accept it as-is.

There are some big differences between these two samples in terms of construction, yarn, knitting technique-- what I want to know is which factors exactly lead to the huge differences I see in the appearance of the fabric. Are there fundamental characteristics of the k1p1 fabric that lead to the problems I'm seeing? And how do I go about correcting these problems? What role does technique and tension play in this? What about construction and yarn? These and other questions I hope to explore in my upcoming posts on this topic-- with lots of swatches to illustrate! I will say that what I've learned so far in my quest has led to noticeable improvements in the look of my sweater neckband-- here is the most recent version:

Much better right? More about how and why soon!

Saturday, January 7, 2017

And then there were three...

Last time I checked in on my green sweater it had become two green sweaters. If you paid attention to the title of the post (or read my last one), you probably know where I'm going with this.

Yep. A third sweater. My knitting group is worried about me. I am just amazed that I two skeins of still-untouched yarn-- way to go, Bartlett yardage! So I don't see the multiple sweaters-in-progress as a problem... yet.

How I got to this point is mildly interesting if you're a top-down raglan sweater fan. The first sweater I had knitted to about waist length when I started to doubt if I was going to like the fit. When I started the second sweater, I wanted to keep the same yoke depth, neck shaping, and sleeve circumference but end up with more body stitches-- to do this I cast on fewer stitches for the sleeves and changed my rate of increasing for the body and sleeves. I failed to account for how this would change the fit of the neckline, and I didn't figure it out until I had re-knitted the neck ribbing on the second sweater for the fifth (or sixth, I lost count) time. I was trying to get my 1x1 ribbing to look better-- and in this pursuit I fell down a knitting rabbit-hole that I will probably have to write more about in a future post-- and when I finally got something close to what I wanted it still didn't fit the same because I had fewer stitches around the neck than I did for the first sweater.

Still following? God bless/help you. At this point I could have unravelled that second yoke and started over with the same number of neck stitches as the first, with different rates of increasing for the sleeves and body. BUT-- I wasn't sure that I wanted extra room in the neck, and I had enough yarn, AND I was already in an empirical mindset. A third yoke with the EXACT same neckline as the first, but with the same number of body stitches as the second, was inevitable. Sometimes I have to let the "what if?" part of my brain take the rest of me along for the ride.

Now I can choose between neckline #2 or neckline #3 (which is the same as #1) and then decide whether I want more or less room in the chest. Given my decision-making track record I might have this one done in time for next winter!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017


I had this slightly mad-- completely bonkers, actually-- idea that I would get all of my unfinished projects done by midnight December 31st. Isn't there something alluring about a clean slate for the New Year? Then I remembered I started two-- TWO-- new textile pursuits in 2016 (sewing and spinning on the wheel), leading to exponential growth in UFO potential. This is good-- exciting! I'm not planning to give up any of my creative obsessions any time soon so why should it be somehow auspicious to start the new year with nothing in progress? But I am not entirely of the belief that "New Year" is a meaningless construct and I like to observe it in some ways-- drinking champagne, passing out on the couch before midnight, and taking down the Christmas tree are my usual rituals. And I thought instead of finishing all my projects-- which was not ever going to happen-- it would be good to start the year with a recap of the finished and unfinished of 2016.

Knitting-- Finished

Baby sweater trifecta:

I got my colorwork on and made good use of some hand-me-down yarn for these wee delights-- more here on # 2 & 3. I finished the first one before I dove back into blogging so I don't have any close-up shots-- you probably can't see but the buttons are tiny purple elephants!

Hermione's Everyday Socks:

Which would be MY everyday socks if I thought they could endure more abuse than they already take. These are comfortable and perfect and just the right amount of fancy.

Ribbed Hat:

My current go-to started as emergency knitting and got me over the fear of knitting with my handspun. I love the interaction of the chunky, irregular yarn and the organized structure of the ribbing, and the shape of the hat is a tiny bit pointy which makes me feel like a tasteful elf who digs earth tones. My husband steals this from me whenever I'm not looking, I should probably make him one of his own-- next time I'm in need of emergency knitting!

Quaker Yarn Stretcher Boomerang:

My absolute favorite project of the year! The yarn deserves a shout-out too:

I started with hand-dyed Polwarth top from Mad Color Fiber Arts and I spun a fractal-- I split the whole braid in half lengthwise, spun one half end to end for one single and the other half I stripped down into three lengthwise sections which I spun sequentially for the second single. I plied them together for a two-ply self-striping yarn with blended color transitions! I chose a pattern that would use up every last little bit of it and I loved every minute of knitting it. It belongs to someone special now, though I was very much tempted to keep it for myself!

I find it a little bit hard to believe that I only finished seven knitting projects in 2016-- I feel like I must me missing something? Probably all the time I spent frogging and re-knitting, because I knit almost every day!

Spinning-- Finished

Look at all that gorgeous yarn!! From left to right: hand-dyed BFL (spun on my drop spindle ages ago-- I used it to practice chain-plying on the wheel), hand-dyed Polwarth from PortFiber, undyed BFL, hand-dyed BFL/silk, and commercially dyed Romney. I ended 2016 with empty bobbins, which I promptly filled and emptied again on January 1st. I am so in love with spinning right now! I'm starting to be able to control my spinning to get the yarn I want and that allows me to think about what kind of yarn I want for a particular project. Knitting with my handspun and planning out projects from the fiber stage is so satisfying-- but I am also in love with the process and with the yarn.

Sewing-- Finished

Many months after officially starting, I still only have one finished sewing project under my belt-- the hemmed rectangles:

Sewing-- Unfinished

BUT, my kimono/robe is pretty close to the finish line:

Hanging it up to take pictures gave me a little burst of pride which I hope will translate into a big burst of finishing it, for God's sake! I definitely want to do more sewing this year-- I have started sketching out ideas and plans for my fabric stash... yeah, I have one of those already.

Knitting-- Unfinished

There's this thing, which is supposed to be a cowl:

and one of these days I'm going to whip it, and the pattern I am writing (!) into shape

And my Bartlett top-down raglan pullover:

Which sprouted a second version:

And now a third:

The perpetual indecision follies continue-- some things never change I guess. I'll post more on this one soon!

This is the first time in a while that I've taken a good look back at a year of making, and I like what I see-- my creative, restless mind and hands continually at work, maybe with not as many finished things to show for my efforts as in years past, but my process has become slower, more thoughtful and engaged, more open-ended. I am excited about my unfinished projects-- making is a continuous thread woven through my life, not something with a beginning and end, and I don't think I will ever be done with it, not as long as there is so much left to explore.

Here's to another year!