Category Archives: Check it out I actually finished something

Thanksknitting (is a terrible pun I’m sure has been made before)

So the Indie Gift-Along is still in full swing after that kickoff sale ended a bit ago. While checking out the Pinterest board of participating hat patterns, I ended up getting hooked by a couple of hat patterns, Rekaviður and Fuego, and I’ve already knit one of each.

First button stitch on my Rekaviður by @bristolivy! #giftalong2014

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Looking at that photo, I notice how many of my in-progress knitting photos are taken on the tables of cafés and bars. I took that photo in November, and here’s an awfully similar one from today, with coffee instead of a pint glass and my finished Rekaviður photobombing in the bottom right corner:

Sneaking in some rainy-day knitting on my lunch break.

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I knit most of Fuego in a day, sort of — by “sort of,” I mean I knit the brim and hat in a day, but only after spending two evenings in a row trying to cast on the right number of stitches, overshooting, ripping back, recounting, casting on more, getting fed up and starting over, and finally falling asleep on my boyfriend in front of Spongebob Squarepants cartoons with my knitting on my chest. Once I got past the hardest part — coming up with the same stitch count twice in a row — it went super fast.

I still need photos of the hats, but somehow between work and travel and hustling, a one-day holiday always manages to eat a week’s worth of spare time. I could’ve done it the day before the holiday, I guess, but this year that was the day my birthday landed on — and I had very solid and serious plans involving bourbon, live oysters, lobster poutine and not working at all at anything.

Anyway! As part of the Gift-Along, I got to interview a couple of other participating indie designers — Toby Roxane Barna and Carolyn Kern. I’ll be posting those interviews over the next couple of days, so keep a lookout.

Saint Valentine

Bolt shawl

I finished a project! It took me months and months, but I love it. I love the colors, it’s loaded with my favorite thing — stripes! — and lots of them, the asymmetrical shape means it stays put on my shoulders, and it feels like a cloud.

I even got motivated enough to get a replacement memory card for my camera, and took the first non-cell-phone photo I’ve taken in months. It’s sort of a blurry mess, but I’ll have a chance at a do-over once it’s daytime and I have some natural light.

I named the project for a Gregory Alan Isakov song on the day I finally got to see him in concert last summer, and wove in all the ends on the way to a concert in Sacramento this week to see another band, Typhoon. I’m, uh, motivated about music, you could say.

Superb Owl

If there’s anything cuter than a chin-high Irish woman, all pleased about spotting another knitter on the train, wishing me “Happy knitting!” I don’t know what it is.

In other news, I have finished two sleeves of the sweater for the boyfriend, screwed up cast-on twice and soldiered through about five inches of the bottom edge. God bless stockinette in chunky yarn, it’s like the sweater’s knitting itself!

Also, I made a thing! An owl! Which had been sitting around unfinished in my living room reproachfully staring at me for weeks, which is a misleading thing to say since all it was waiting on was a beak and some eyes. He will get mailed off to a friend soon, but in the meantime, I like squishing him.

Superb Owl

Kettle sweater

Kettle sweater Kettle sweater, kettle sweater, kettle sweater! What an awesome phrase. I could say it all freaking day. It’s even better than cellar door.

Kettle sweater.

Or, the horror: kettle cozy.

Ugh, cozies. I have an ingrained distaste for cozies and granny squares. It runs deep, like my lifelong hatred for the color pink. A tomboy from the get-go, to me, pink meant “girly,” and girly meant a whole slate of mystifying behaviors, interests and likes, codified and policed by girls, boys, teachers, and family.

“Girly” meant getting a Barbie every Christmas from relatives, not showing off your Swiss army knives, following a strict beauty and fashion regimen, not liking “gross” things and having the boys close ranks one day on the schoolyard, saying “Girls don’t play four-square” when my turn came up.

Later, “girly” meant not talking too loud, having polite opinions, wearing the right body-conscious-but-not-sexy clothes, liking what people assumed I’d like, automatically deferring to men and authority figures, and — still! — not liking “gross” things. Sorry, skull collection. “Girly” meant “pink.”

By middle school, I had a hate on for anything girly. Girly made my life miserable and I wasn’t about to forgive it anytime soon. By high school I was as anti-girly as you could get, launching myself into not-girliness so hard the windows rattled.

I discovered that there were grown-up girly things, too. I’d picked up sewing, cooking, embroidery, knitting and crochet without much cultural baggage; They were things I’d learned from my Swiss mom, and were generally considered too quaint to resonate with popular culture. Knitting was the girliest thing I did, but I did it solo, rolling my eyes at the constant “Wow, you don’t look like a knitter!” comments. It was easy to hate granny squares, ruffles, cozies and other things: Things that were kitschy. Earnest. Homemade. Simple. Useless. Tacky.

Girly.

The yarn store where I worked years ago was the first mostly female space I spent a large amount of time. It was the first thing approaching sisterhood I’d found, and it was weird. For the first time, I was around women most of the time, and lots of them liked ribbon yarns, pastel colors, baby clothes and ruffles.

And I kept bumping up against weird cultural artifacts, especially in older women: Many seemed to need permission to make mistakes before they could learn something new. They apologized for not perfectly performing tasks they’d learned just five minutes before. They called themselves stupid when they made mistakes, something I rarely hear men do. Many who’d been knitting longer than I’d been alive would say “Oh, I couldn’t do that, it’s too difficult” when I offered to teach them something new. It felt like half the teaching I did was creating a safe place for them to make mistakes without anyone, including themselves, judging them. I’d spent a lifetime learning to shrug off the fear of judgment that so many women carried with them everywhere.

Hella girly.

I guess I like some pink things now.
I guess I like some pink things now.

Hella pink.

For a long time, I needed to hate girliness, because it had made me so miserable for so, so long. I’d be damned before I’d knit a tea-cozy. But at the yarn store, I started to see that the enforced girliness I hated so much had left long, permanent scars on all the women around me, even the girly ones. Especially the girly ones. They weren’t the enemy; they just liked different stuff.

Maybe girliness wasn’t bad, per se. In my head, I’d let “girly” and “weak” and “bad” become the same thing, and it took a long time to unravel them. There’s already enough cultural bullshit against women, and the most insidious of all is the kind women and girls do against ourselves. Hating “women’s stuff” for being girly is a subtle kind of poison.

If there’s one thing I’ve been trying to practice, it’s this: Don’t hate the ruffles; hate the system that says “ruffles are for girls, so all girls must love ruffles.” Some girls like ruffles. Some of the folks who like them aren’t girls.

It’s taken some work, but I don’t hate granny squares anymore. At least, not conceptually. I still think they’re butt-ugly, but that’s more about openwork-related pickiness than cultural signifiers. Thanks to a boyfriend with a penchant for magenta hair, I’m coming around on the harder shades of pink. Pastels can still blow me, though, and nothing under the sun will make me like ruffles. And cozies … well, I guess I don’t have to hate them, as long as they don’t have any features I hate. Which means I hate most of them.

So even though the kettle sweater I made was a gift, I made it like one I’d make for myself: streamlined, muted and wooly.

With adorable vintage mother-of-pearl shank buttons from my mother’s button stash.

Buttons!
I want nothing more in life than to roll around in a bathtub full of those buttons.

Warm below the knees

I am wearing leg warmers.

Oh hai underpants!
No, seriously. Leg warmers.

This is a pretty serious concession. Born in 1980, I saw the ’80s and early ’90s as baffling, fashion-wise. As a weird outsider whose was thoroughly and unintentionally androgynous well into my teens, clothing didn’t really make sense to me until the advent of Riot Grrrl and, later, Britpop. Mad mixes of clothes that crossed and confused class, generation and gender lines? Sure! I was already asking my dad to bring me work shoes just like the ones he wore to the auto shop and wearing them to my spendy private school. But most of what I remember of the ’80s is being treated as some kind of bizarre alien for failing at girliness. Neon colors? Those awful asymmetrical ponytails? Leggings? Leg warmers? Gah.

Then I saw Mosey.

NEEDED IT. Faved it. Forgot about it, until this winter, staying at the boyfriend’s place for nights in a row with no change of clothes, wearing the same short skirt to work four days running … during a cold snap I had failed to provision for. I ended up going to the drugstore across the street from my work, buying two pairs of legwarmers and putting them all on at once. My cosy-legged bliss inspired the following Twitter post:

This is just to say / I have bought the legwarmers / you were probably deriding / forgive me / they were wonderful / so stripy / and so warm.

But, like most drugstore items bought suspiciously cheaply, they were sorta crap. The edges started fraying immediately, and the thin acrylic yarn resisted repair. They wouldn’t stay up; I ended up improvising sock garters with 12″ Velcro straps, which worked well for holding them up but made them fuzz and fray.

I can do better, I thought. And I remembered Mosey, whose flared silhouette edged them safely into 1970s fashion, a decade I have plundered since high school.

It’s a simple pattern, but god, did I make it unsimple, as per usual. I made the small size, swapping out the Aran-style X-and-O cable for a staghorn cable because they’re my favorite. Everything blazed along incredibly fast, until I realized halfway through that the fit was going to be shorter and tighter than intended, and that I wanted a longer folded-over cuff at the top … the very first part of the pattern. Crap.

So: Start over, or no?

The hell with it. I knitted all the way down to the end, where I ditched the rolled edge for a turned hem with a surprisingly neat knitted-on seam I sorta invented, I think? That done, I cut off the top just above the cable, lengthened the ribbed cuff, threw in my first vikkel braid, knitted another repeat and a half of the cable pattern, and — here’s the badass part — grafted the whole affair to the bottom half. Hey fuckin’ presto! Legwarmer!

I blazed through the matching one with no mishaps, and knitted a total of about five feet of i-cord without even blinking.

In short, it was typical me: take something incredible simple, and find a way to throw in modifications, a brand-new technique (vikkel braids), some half-ass thing I mostly made up (my top-down turned hem), something daunting (grafting across cables) and something I hate but decide to do tons of anyway (the i-cord).

What the hell, dude. Why aren’t I this good any ANYTHING ELSE except making quesedillas?

The echo chamber

I struggle with avoiding the echo chamber. If I’m not careful, I end up listening to the same music, reading the same news, hearing the same friends and, of course, browsing the same knitting patterns. I’m hardly a novelty freak, but it’s important to not cut myself off from new things completely.

There’s some work involved: raw piles of data aren’t helpful, but over-filtered information gets kinda samey. I try to get around it by finding other people to do the work for me: For music, I follow music blogs and have a handful of friends who report to me with the names of bands that OMIGOD I HAVE TO CHECK OUT, and occasionally google phrases like “the Vietnamese Tom Waits” to inject some unfiltered noise into my comfortable habits.

On Ravelry, I watch my friends’ activity like a hawk, and I obsessively check test-knitting groups. It’s a great way to scope out new patterns, and I like occasionally signing on for a test knit and donating a little extra time to proofing patterns.

Me in my hat
New hat!

Hence: This hat! It’s brioche stitch, which I love; the cables are awesome; and with bulky yarn, I cranked it out in no time flat. It’s warm and plush and RED. The test pattern was already pretty polished, so I didn’t have to spend a lot of time counting and double-checking. Total cakewalk. And as an inveterate indie-rock hipster-wannabe, it’s like getting into a band before they’ve even released their first EP: total bragging rights.

The beast is blocking

Blocking

I was up until 5 a.m. plowing through the last lace row of my mom’s Christmas shawl. As I was drawing near to the finish line, I screwed up part of the edge when I dropped a stitch that unravelled a few rows down and took several yarnovers and decreases with it.

In my hopelessly sleep-deprived state, I tried to make a go of it and reconstruct the lace, but it wasn’t coming together. I threw it down and went to sleep, figuring the exhaustion had made me so stupid that I would have to figure it out in the morning. I’d start binding off and I’d fix the broken part when I came to it.

This morning, well rested and prepared for the worst, I couldn’t find the part I’d screwed up. Whatever half-assed, beleaguered attempt I’d made had actually worked.

It’s a freakin’ Christmas miracle.

Yesterday: The great opus, started in June and seeing me through many episodes of Spongebob Squarepants and “A Bit of Fry and Laurie.”

Today: A mess of lace, blocking wires and T-pins that spans four feet and consumes three quarters of the dining room table.

Tomorrow: Christmas present for my mom.

Earflaps!

Earflaps!
Earflaps!

Just as I decided that what I really needed a hat with earflaps, someone on Ravelry posted a call for test knitters for a hat with earflaps.

Solved!

Instead of doing the quick braids the pattern called for, I spent almost as long on the i-cord ties with tiny contrast-color stripes as I did on the rest of the hat. It was worth it.

I’m starting to develop a taste for tiny, meticulous finishing details, especially after seeing a bunch of vintage and contemporary sewing projects with incredibly gorgeous (and finicky) stitching and accents. Striped i-cord is kind of a bitch to get right, but man, the results make me happy.

The black vertical stripes are actually cabled owls. They’re kinda hard to see, so I’m considering embroidering French knots on them, because I just learned to make French knots the other day and I’m so excited about it that I want to cover everything I own in French knots. Maybe if I make enough French knots, the embroidery gods will smile on me and fix my wobbly chain stitch!

And maybe the knitting gods will smile on me, too, for spending almost as much time on the embellishments as I spent on the rest of the hat. Anyway, the results are on Ravelry if you’re interested.

There’s a monster in my bed

I love my room. It’s a smallish but gloriously breezy room in a 1913 Craftsman house up the hill from a lake, with hardwood floors, windows on two walls and a glass door that opens on a little balcony that nobody uses but me and the cat. The neighborhood is safe and well-lit at night, and I’ve rolled up my hill alone and pleasantly tipsy from my neighborhood bars plenty of times without a thought to my safety, with occasional hails from smiling neighbors.

But one downside of the “well-lit” part is a streetlight up the hill that lays one incredibly brilliant stripe of light over the top of the house, across the balcony, in through the door, across my bed and straight into one eye. The precision is amazing, as is the intensity: it’s like having a pet laser that lives to dump orange light in my face.

So I made a curtain.

Blocking a million miles of curtain
Blocking a million miles of curtain

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