The Glory of Great Mistakes and Greater Influences

Contributed by Timothy Harshbarger

Who knew knitting would lead to so many bad influences and so much good folly? After four months of knitting, I still feel like quite the novice. So far, the only thing I’ve completed is what I am calling the misshapen-pink-Barbie-dishcloth-with-built-in-button-holes.

My friend Stacy, the bad influence who got me into knitting in the first place, and I went to a yarn store where we both bought lots of … well … yarn. I picked up a bunch of small skeins of cotton blend to make dishcloths, and the first skein I happened to grab when I got home and broke out the needles was bright pink, a fact I discovered when the guys were over talking and drinking beer—while I worked on my dishcloth. They all stepped up to their man-friend duty and informed me of the color. Fortunately, I think I carried it off manfully myself.

But I was talking about bad influences. After the misshapen-pink-Barbie-dishcloth-with-built-in-button-holes, I started on a scarf. I was doing really well until I snapped the yarn while sitting out front waiting for my ride to work. I am undaunted, though because my knitting list, a passel of bad influences, has helped me believe that I may theoretically have either a very thick woolen dishcloth or the world’s smallest, squarest scarf, or I can always try to pass it off as a coaster with a little salesmanship.

It’s like this. I realized, when I finished with the dishcloth, that I had two choices. I could decide that I had done a bad job of it, or I could change the name of the project, thus encouraging myself in turning it into a success. I pause here to reiterate that both my friend Stacy and my knitting list are the reason I am turning out this way.

My conversations with Stacy usually start out like:

Me: I really messed up. Can you tell me where I went wrong so I won’t do it again?

Stacy: Let me take a look at it?

Stacy takes the fabric from me and checks it over.

Stacy: Tim, you discovered the yarn over.

Me: I did? Goodness, I am just a creative genius and don’t know it. Now if I could only make mistakes on purpose.

Stacy: You are doing better all the time. Here’s what you did to create the yarn over ….

And she goes on to tell me all about yarn overs, how to make one (on purpose,) what I might use them for, and we finally discuss how to fix the mistake. Thus she encourages me to make as many mistakes as I possibly can so I can learn all sorts of new things. Such a bad influence.

Then there is my knitting list, with all their talk about the yarn sometimes telling you what it wants to be, their seditious nonsense about making patterns your own, and blasphemy of blasphemies, their outright support of making mistakes. They are happiest when I take chances and experiment. True instigators.

They all make knitting just too enjoyable, too risky, and too exciting, and I really want to be daredevil enough to do some fancier things, though topping a misshapen-pink-Barbie-dishcloth-with-built-in-button-holes will take some skill indeed. I’m looking forward to the first time I give a finished project to someone, and I know I’ll do it with so many knitters to lead me astray.

One Thing Leads To Another

Since I’ve been spinning yarn I’ve discovered two things. One is that I don’t have enough time to knit all the yarn I’ve been spinning. That’s not really a problem; I’ll just have a stash that includes handspun yarn. The other thing I’ve learned is that roving isn’t really any cheaper than buying commercial yarn. That’s not really a problem either but I can’t buy nearly as much roving as I wish. I think we’re almost all in that boat whether it’s roving or yarn. One solution to this problem is to buy bare roving from Knitpicks and dye it myself. I’ll still be buying dyed rovings but the prices at Knitpicks are too good to pass up as usual. It’s also really fun to dye your own yarn.

Yesterday my sister-in-law and I went to a workshop through the local knitting guild. I died two skeins of sock yarn. I am told that they turned out beautiful. I used a medium brown, a forest green, and a color called deep maroon. I think the yarn is going to turn into the Multnomah shawl. You can find it on the designer’s blog. Skip through the hedings until you find the list of patterns. The shawl will be the third one down.

At the workshop we learned how to dye yarn in the microwave. It’s surprisingly easy. I had to have a little help to make sure the dye covered the entire skein but I can already think of ways to solve that issue. One idea I had is to dye the entire skein a light base color and then over dye it with darker shades of coordinating colors. I’m still working out the best way to pull that off. I’ve ordered a hot plate and I’m going to turn my canner into a dye pot soon. Then I’ll be able to compare both techniques. My thought at the moment is that both ways are going to have their advantages and disadvantages in regards to both the results you get and visual impairment issues. The bottom line is that I think it is entirely doable for a blind person to dye their own yarn. We just have to be a little more systematic about it and we’re all used to that already.

Salute to Crappy Knitting

I started working on a pair of socks a few weekends ago. I wasn’t very invested in the project. There was a splitty linen-nylon yarn I wanted to get rid of, a pattern stitch I wanted to swatch, and a comparison of short-row heel techniques I’ve been too lazy to make, so I combined the three in a pair of socks that weren’t especially attractive.

The stitch I was swatching is definitely worth repeating (twist-stitch Diamond from Barbara Walker’s Second Treasury)—a reverse stockinet background, the outlines of large diamonds in stockinet with the outlines of smaller diamonds inside—but the moss stitch I added didn’t grow on me any more than it ever does, and neither did some of the tweaks I’m doing to the main pattern stitch. (Admitting I’ve never really liked moss stitch feels wildly rebellious.)

At first, I was continuously fighting the impulse to frog and try again after swatching for real and rethinking the moss stitch, but I knitted on, fearing I would get myself caught up in one of those endless knitting-frogging-knitting-frogging-knitting cycles that would give Penelope a run for her money.

Once I suppressed all good knitterly habits, however, the experience of knitting crappy socks became fabulously liberating. I could try twisting the stitches that are where the diamonds flare the most, what I think of as the elbows, or I could try starting or ending the inner diamonds with knits or twists as the spirit moved me, or I could stretch or smash the diamonds by adding or subtracting the nonpattern rounds, or I could work popcorns into the corners or centers, and I didn’t have to worry about all the time wasted, the potential stitches lost, or the resultant yucky yarn if I had to frog back. I could freely knit away as I thought about the new computer system I had to set up, the new class I had to design lesson plans for, the diet and exercise regimen I’m forever putting off, and the pile of papers and other miscellanea, dubbed Desk, which I always put off cleaning.

It was wonderfully satisfying, more so than a plain old swatch, since I could imagine, when I wasn’t planning dinner or having wicked thoughts along the lines of my last trashy read, that the thing in my hands really could be a sock I’d wear: by the time I worked my way up from the toe to the cuff, I’d have worked out the stitch, and no one would be the wiser, right? That kind of thinking, of course, put me in mind of the generations of knitters who had to crank the socks and sweaters out by winter, some pieces receiving their full attention and skill while others, only the scraps of time allowed by the stove, the crying baby, the next chore on the list, and I thought that sloppy knitting, the kind of knitting that turns mental chaos into order, certainly deserves its own tribute.

Eventually, when I was less than half a pattern repeat from binding off, I pulled the needles out and ripped away at the work, starting immediately on a sock I liked in a variation of the stitch that was just exactly what I had in mind. The experiment worked right the first time, and my hands new the stitch so well that I could do a round or two while the computer booted up or while I sat on hold, and I could get a whole pattern repeat in while in the throes of a good book. Perfection is a goal, but so is crappy knitting, and knowing when to do which is one of the greatest gifts from the fiber gods.

Wool Diaper Covers

Diaper soaker that Owen was too big for at birth.

As most of you know, I have a 9 month old son. My husband and I chose to cloth diaper for a variety of reasons. Namely it’s better for the environment, better for the baby and also better on the wallet. Well, better for the wallet if your baby doesn’t go through 4 sizes in 8 months but that’s another story.

 One of the more interesting things I learned while doing endless hours of cloth diaper research involved the qualities of wool. It turns out that with the addition of natural lanolin wool is both water resistant and antibacterial. These are very useful properties when it comes to diaper covers. Lanolin comes from sheep and is a wax. It is water resistant and this combined with the fact that wool absorbs%30 of its weight before it feels wet makes it a great material for a diaper cover. Lanolin is also slightly antibacterial so the diaper covers don’t need frequent washing like you would expect. When urine touches the lanolin it creates a soap like substance. It’s almost self-cleaning. Wool diaper covers only need to be washed every 2 or 3 weeks; very convenient for busy parents. One last quality that makes wool great for diaper covers is its breathability. If you think about it, none of us walk around in plastic clothes. That sounds like it would be miserable. I would rather have wool any day so I think my baby would too.

In the midst of all my diaper research I came across commercial wool diaper covers. They were all around $30 or more. I’m sure they are wonderful but that’s way out of my price range for a diaper cover. Especially considering the fact that I would need half a dozen or so. Then it occurs to me that I am a knitter and I knit with wool. I’m sure you can see the light bulb going off in my head. I am obviously not the first person to have this idea. Not to mention all of the women throughout history, there is actually a whole Yahoo group for users and knitters of wool diaper covers. “Lucky me,” I think, “Someone has already done the work of designing a cover for me.” There are actually quite a few diaper cover patterns out there. I’ll provide links to a few at the end of this post. I could knit a whole diaper cover with yarn to spare for less than $8. This sounded like a much better deal. Plus I love knitting practical things.

For me the maternal nesting instinct took the form of knitting wool diaper covers. They didn’t take long to knit and it was very satisfying. I knit a few newborn covers and some in the small size. Owen was born at almost 10lbs so that ruled out using the newborn sizes right off the bat. Then he gained a pound a week for the first month so there went another size. To make a long and repetitive story short, he’s just now slowing his growth down to a point where it’s actually feasible to knit some covers that he might be able to wear for more than a month. There was no way I was spending what little time I had knitting covers that he was going to grow out of so fast.

Most of the diaper cover patterns I’ve tried have been pretty good.
They probably fit great on most babies but they just don’t fit right on mine. The best cover I found was the Warm Heart Woolies Wrap. It works great but it involves either sewing on Velcro or buttons. I would rather have a pull on style, especially since the baby is learning how to pull the Velcro and take his cover off. Another pattern I liked was the Snap Dragon Soaker. It’s knit from the top down in the round. It uses the Kitchener stitch to seam the crotch so it is seamless when you are done. The crotch is a bit narrow and you have to pick up stitches around the legs to make the cuffs. I crocheted cuffs so it was a lot faster. It seemed as though there was one little thing wrong with each pattern I tried and they were all different things. So I got to thinking that it would be really nice to combine elements from both of these covers into one. Now you have me designing my own diaper cover. I’m on the third incarnation and I’m hoping that the changes I make to this one will make it perfect for my baby. Unfortunately, the changes include short rows. It’s about time I figure out this wrapping thing.

One really awesome thing about the cover I’m working on at the moment is that I’m knitting it out of my own handspun yarn. I had it died a pretty blue and the places where the yarn was tied aren’t died as deeply or not at all. Even my husband commented on the really nice effect the color variations make. It goes from a blue to a lighter blue to white. This is the first thing I’ve knit from my handspun and I’m really enjoying how it’s knitting up.

Here are a few diaper cover patterns. When making these to use with cloth diapers it is important to use regular feltable wool. If you’re making a cover to go over a disposable diaper just for looks, you can use whatever yarn you would like.

 

Warm Heart Woollies Wrap

Snap Dragon Soaker

Down Under Diaper cover

 

More Information:

More than you ever wanted to know about lanolin.

How to wash wool diaper covers

Just in case you were wondering the history of diapers.

Written Charts

 

I am very happy to announce a new page on our blog. It’s a page where we can collect written versions of charts. We all know how frustrating it is when there is a pattern we would love to knit and it has a chart. On the page you will find a link to the original pattern along with a download link to an accessible pdf of the written out chart.

 

We will continue to take requests for charts to be translated so the next time you run accross a pattern with a chart that you would love to knit, just let us know.

 

The new page can be found at the top of the blog under the link labeled “Written Charts.”

Rug Poetry and the Craft Tradition

I’m a writer. This means that I have a degree in creative writing and that I hold non-writerly jobs so I can have enough money at the end of the month to send my work out to literary magazines, which mostly reject it.

Earlier this year, one of my poems was accepted by Magnolia Journal, a print anthology of socially engaged women’s writing. The poem is about buying a handmade rug in Morocco on a trip I took fifteen years ago.

The rug is its own miracle. It’s next to my bed, which is too high to sit on comfortably, so I sit on the rug to put on my shoes and socks, lingering amid thoughts of God, of the distance a rug must travel, of the endurance of art—all commonplace mysteries.

I think I wrote the poem because the rug seller spoke to me in poetry. His description was accurate. He couldn’t very well lie, after all, with my sister and other members of our tour party standing around as he showed it to me, but he could have spoken in geometric shapes or traditional techniques. Instead, he spoke like someone who was still awed by the magic of turning separate strands into a whole.

At that time, I understood that awe second hand, marveling in my mother’s yarn craft, but five years later, when I came back to knitting myself, I understood it in a very different way, in the unexpected bafflement that comes when a completed project goes onto its hanger or into its drawer, so different from the loose skeins of leftover yarn rolling around in their plastic bag that they seem alien from the piece and from the hours spent making it, or the odd disorientation that happens when I suddenly realize I’m using something I made and wonder how I worked this or that detail out.

Then I started to think about all the women who had touched my rug, the ones who had dressed the loom with cotton yarn, only a little thicker than the yarn I use for dishcloths, the ones who drew the design, the ones who dyed the wool, the ones who wound the different colors onto bobbins and worked the different sections of the pattern, the ones who cut the finished rug off the loom, and the ones who tied the overhand knots at the ends to keep the rug from raveling.

Once I started thinking about them, I couldn’t stop. I would think about them as I sat on the rug, running my fingers over the pile, which felt surprisingly ordinary, like machine-made indoor-outdoor mats. I would imagine their conversations—the kids, the husband, the neighbor with the evil tongue–when I rolled the rug up on the bed to sweep and mop underneath. I would wonder who was smug about her housekeeping, who wanted to highlight her hair, who dreamed about being elsewhere as I touched the back, which has the same pattern as the front, but the texture of stretched canvass.

And I would think about them and about my mother, an executive secretary and later field hand, who sews, knits, and crochets every now and then to make her home beautiful; about my sister, a trauma nurse, who had no interest in crafts until she bought a sewing machine at the age of forty, about myself, a social service interpreter who made socks in psychiatric wards while other people fell apart. I thought of all of us, the women I knew and the ones I only pretended to know, as I knit, as I turned yarn into something other, something both ordinary and remarkable that other women know about and other men and women can overlook, until they suddenly can’t.

To read a blog post about the journal and to listen to the poem click here. The sound file, which includes both my poem and a lovely essay by another writer, starts as soon as the page loads. The sound may be low, so it may be necessary to turn up the volume. The poem is called “Having Been to Morocco.”

JKnit Knitting Project Assistant for IPhone

I recently invested in an IPhone. It has been amazing to be able to use every feature of a phone. I haven’t been able to do that since I lost my sight ten years ago. But, rather than gushing on all the wonderful things I can do with the phone, I’ll just tell you about one app I found.

JKnit is a knitting assistant app. It costs $5.99 so I was very hesitant to try it out. Luckily for me it works perfectly with voiceover. The app allows you to keep track of your projects by the piece and by the row. You can use the online web portal to input all your project directions along with the row numbers they affect. Then you sync the app and all the information transfers to the phone. JKnit has a built in row counter and each time you get to a row it shows the directions for that row.

I’ve really enjoyed having an easy row counter. I turned off screen lock within the app so all I have to do is position voiceover to the counter plus button and sinply double tap each time I start a row. It will keep your place on multiple projects and it’s just so easy.

I can’t say enough wonderful things about JKnit. As a blind knitter it’s even more helpful since it allows me to have an accessible version of the pattern wherever I am. It’s true that I can also read online and text versions of patterns with the IPhone but having one integrated with a row counter is even better. The online web portal is also easy to use. Copy and paste your individual pattern instructions and you’re ready to go. I highly recommend it and the price is well worth it.

Here are some links to more information on JKnit:

JKnit Knitting Project Assistant App

JKnit User Guide

Ravelry Group for JKnit App Users

Direct Link to JKnit in the ITunes Store

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