Categories
life Making Things

There Is Not Just One Way

Last week, I was watching the online graduation ceremony of one of the Offspring. The university did a lovely job, complete with cheesy “photo op” with the university president (he paused for a minute, smiling at the camera, with an empty space beside him so the graduates could stand in front of the screen and take a selfie).

One of the things that stuck with me was the speech of one of the valedictorians. He talked about how weird it was to address his talk to a camera rather than an auditorium of smiling faces; how different from what he had expected. He had expected one thing, but had to do it quite differently. And then he issued a challenge:

“Let us dispose of this idea that there is one way of doing things.”

One way of doing things. The only way. The right way. And if we can’t do it this way, we might as well not do it at all. Isn’t that’s the way it works?

I learned how to knit when I was in Grade 3, or maybe 4, in needlework class in school. Well, actually, I think I already knew some of it before we got to it in class; my mother had shown me. But that was all right, because she knew the right way to do it, so I didn’t have to unlearn anything.

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There is, of course, only one way to knit. You feed the yarn through the fingers of your left hand, hold the index finger up with the yarn looped around it, grasp the left knitting needle with the remaining fingers, take the other needle in your right hand, insert it into the stitch, and scoop the yarn through. That is the way to knit, the right way. Everybody does it that way – my mother, my grandmother, my teacher, all my friends… That’s how I learned to do it. That’s how knitting works.

And then I came to Canada.

I still remember the first time I saw a Canadian knitting. At least she said it was knitting, and she had knitting needles and yarn. But what she was doing seemed really weird. Awkward. She was somehow trailing the yarn from her right hand, poking the needle into the stitch, then picking up that trailing yarn, looping it around the needle, and pulling it through. With every stitch she did that loop-around thing. So odd, so slow. She’d obviously never been taught how to knit properly, poor thing…

But you know what?

That very weird and awkward style of holding yarn in your right hand and looping it around the needle with every stitch – which, incidentally, is called “English knitting” or “throwing” – is not only a perfectly legal method of knitting, but it produces a piece of knitwear that is indistinguishable from one done the “right” way. Honest to goodness! Take any handmade sweater, toque, mitten, sock, or scarf, and I defy you to tell just by looking at the stitches whether the knitter held the yarn in her right hand or left hand, whether she was “throwing” her stitches or “picking” them in “continental style”.

Furthermore, English-style knitters are just as capable of producing vast quantities of knitwear with just as many variants in patterns and colours and fancy stitches as us continental-style knitters. True, continental knitting seems to be faster, on average, and, once you learn it, run more automatically. But really, what it comes down to is how you learned to do it, and what style you prefer. Left hand knitting or right hand, it’s your choice.

But wait! There’s more! Yes, there’s English (or American or French) knitting, and Continental (or German) knitting. But then there’s Western style (needle inserted in the front of the stitch) and Eastern style (needle inserted in the back)! Needle held under the hand (standard American) or above the hand (British English or Parlour style)! Portuguese! Norwegian! Russian! Shetland! Combination style! Picking, flicking, throwing! Looping your working yarn through your fingers; wrapping it once, twice, three times; just letting it hang loose!

I had no idea. I was taught how to knit one way, and a very good way it is, too. I can make sweaters and socks and mittens and even little hats to put on boiled eggs to keep them warm*. But, contrary to what I used to think, it is, by no stretch of the imagination, the only way.

“Let us dispose of this idea that there is one way of doing things.”

Life is better when you like more things – and life is better when you can think of more than one way to do things.

I recently taught myself to knit and purl the “awkward” English way. I still prefer continental style – I’m literally twice as fast at it; I timed it – but now, when my shoulder starts to ache from knitting with the yarn in my left hand or I get bored, I can just switch to the right and fall into another rhythm for a little while. The slower pace and slight awkwardness that still remains makes the process that much more meditative, and at the end, I can’t tell which parts I knit continental and which parts English.

“Let us dispose of this idea that there is one way of doing things.”

The students to whom this valedictorian’s speech was addressed via a Youtube livestream are just as graduated now as they would have been if they had listened to it in a big auditorium, shoulder to shoulder with their fellow graduants. The times required that the graduation was held differently – with the yarn in the right hand, as it were. But it’s just as valid this way.

Life, the Universe, Graduations and Knitting. There is not just one way of doing things.

img_20200622_141949754 *This is an egg hat. In case you were wondering.

Categories
photography this and that Wordless Wednesday

#WordlessWednesday: #Socktober

Categories
this and that

Bear Sweater

Steve got cold. So I made him a sweater. Actually, truth be told, I wanted to practise a few new knitting stitches I just learned off the all-knowing Internet (see below in italics), so I started this knitting swatch** – and then I thought, I don’t want to just make a random useless piece of knitting, so I turned it into a bear sweater. Steve seems to appreciate it.

So, in case you’re wondering, here’s a very rough pattern:

  • knitting worsted yarn, 3.5mm needles (I purposely use smaller-than-intended needles, else my knit is very loose)
  • Back and Front:
    • 24 stitches (sts) cast on in “flexible German cast-on stitch” (which in German is called “Norwegian”)
    • 6 rows in rib stitch
    • 18 rows in stockinette stitch (I did all the purl in Eastern stitch, for a Combination stitch*)
    • Front: shape collar a little bit by leaving the middle stitches on the needle in the last couple of rows instead of knitting right across. It’s not a very good system; you could just not bother with the shaping, too.
    • Join 8 sts on each shoulder with Kitchener Stitch
    • There are 8 sts left each on the front and back. Pick up 8 sts between them across each of the shoulders for a total of 32; divide onto double-point needles. Knit 2 rounds.
    • Bind off with the Stretchy bind-off.
    • Join the side seams from the bottom about half-way up with Mattress stitch.
    • You now have a sleeveless sweater that you could make your bear wear as is, or you could carry on to add
  • Sleeves:
    • Pick up 20 sts along sleeve hole (I ended up picking up 18 and making a couple of extra in the first round)
    • Knit 8 rounds stockinette
    • Knit 4 rounds rib stitch
    • Bind off with stretchy bind-off
  • Tidy up loose ends, make bear model sweater for social media feed.
  • (*A note on “Eastern stitch” or “Combination stitch”: I discovered it by a fluke quite recently, courtesy of one of the Offspring. I despise regular purl stitch and avoid it as much as possible, as it’s both awkward and I can never get an even tension on it. The Eastern purl does away with both of those problems for me. However, it makes the stitches lie backwards on the needle, so you have to adjust the corresponding knit stitch by knitting into the back of the loop instead of the front. Easy enough to do, and the result is very effective.)

So there you are – now your bear, too, can have his very own stylish winter sweater. For Steve, it was just in time – the thermometer suddenly dropped by some 15° over the weekend, and the winter we thought we weren’t having this year hit us in the back of the knees with a vengeance. Warm sweaters and socks are mandatory.

Life, the Universe, Stuffed Bear Sweaters and New Knitting Stitches. Keep warm out there!

**Another note: so you don’t get the impression that I’m some kind of amazing knit-wit who regularly crafts fantastic stitchery, let me just say that my knitting is haphazard and goes in very irregular spurts. I’ve been known to take years to get a project done, because often I won’t touch it for months on end (I’ll tell you about the nine-year-sweater some other time…). Then suddenly, usually with the onset of cold weather, I might get bitten by the knitting bug, and off I go again for a little while, until my knitting enthusiasm fizzles out for another stretch. Also, I do plain knitting – one colour (or preferably, lots of colours all in one ball of yarn) and as much basic knit stich as possible so I don’t have to pay too much attention. I’m a lazy and irregular knitter – but I have fun with it, which is the whole point. One of these days I’d love to learn how to spin…

Categories
fairy tales this and that writing

This and That and Bears

Mornin’, all. Steve’s been reminding me that it’s been a while since you all had an update on how he’s doing, so I figured I’d better humour him.

His big news is that he just had a labelectomy. What’s that, you ask? Oh, it’s this thing that happens in Stuffed-Animal-Land, when you have your manufacturer’s labels cut off your rear end. Steve didn’t mind them so much, but they did make him self-conscious about his back view:

amovitam: Steve with labels

So we finally took the plunge and gave him the snip. He’s hanging in there.

amovitam: Steve hanging in there

In other news, he’s pleased about this year’s choice of NaNoWriMo project: an adaptation of “Snow White and Rose Red”, a fairy tale that prominently features a bear. Originally I was going to work on Septimus Book 5, but then a friend suggested that we both do an adaptation of a fairy tale – the same fairy tale – so how could I resist? I think my friend is doing a SciFi; mine is going to be a contemporary mystery/romance (I hope). Needless to say, my Snow White and Rose Red are not going to be a set of fraternal twins, one blonde and one brunette, who are so sickeningly sweet and good and domestic they should have the Diabetes Association called on them.

amovitam: NaNoWriMo notes

Oh, if you want to join us in doing a “Snow White and Rose Red” for NaNoWriMo, please do! We could have a whole SWRR club.

Otherwise, in honour of #Socktober I finally got back to the socks I had on the knitting needles for the last year or so, and even finished the first one of the pair:

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I was watching “Snow White and Rose Red” movies while I was knitting, so it counts as research. Youtube has quite a few Sonntagsmärchen – Sunday Fairy Tales – to watch. Did I mention the blonde-and-brunette convention? Urr, yeah – and in the 1955 version, the prince is called Prinz Goldhaar (Prince Golden Hair) to boot, and looks exactly how you’d expect him to with that name. Bring on the insulin. Good thing he spends most of the story in a bear suit! It’s still a fun movie, though. The 2012 version isn’t bad, either; in that one Rose Red swings a freshly-sharpened axe (which the actress apparently has never done in real life, judging by her completely inefficient grip on the thing), and doesn’t want to get married but travel the world and have adventures.

One of things that’s fun about fairy tale movies is that barring the changing definitions of “handsome” (coughPrinceGoldhairCough), they’re timeless. Which is exactly what a fairy tale ought to be – what a fairy tale is. “Once upon a time” is now, is never, is a long time ago or just last week, or maybe tomorrow. Somewhere in the woods, there is a cottage with a mother and two sisters, and during a winter’s storm there comes a knock on the door, and in stumbles a big black bear…

Steve says I better make the bear the hero of the piece, that’s what it’s all about. I’ll have to have a talk with him; he has a one-track mind on these matters. But that’s bears for you.

Life, the Universe, Bears and Socks and Labelectomies. And fairy tales, too.

Categories
life this and that

Project Unstick: Holy Slippers!

Project Unstick advanced to the coat closet yesterday. And in amongst the random mess of mittens, scarves, sun hats, broken umbrellas, and dozens of mismatched stretchy gloves that were crammed into the shelf above the coat rack, I found a pair of slippers I knitted a few years ago. Unfortunately, something got into the stuff and chewed holes into the slippers, so they’re kind of useless now.

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However, they inspired me to dig up the blog post I wrote about knitting them, just a few weeks after I first started blogging. And re-reading it, I thought it’d be worth re-posting. Even though the slippers can’t be worn any more, the insight I got from the process of making them is still, dare I say, kind of profound-ish. Here it is:

27 August 2010

Lost Pattern

It’s raining today. And I’ve got a rotten head cold. So, instead of doing the headless-chicken impression that I had planned on for today (a.k.a. cleaning the house), I’m just going to do not-much-of-anything. I pulled out my knitting again, because to me, knitting is a bit of a not-much-of-anything activity. Stitch after stitch after stitch, bit by bit – it’s a very inefficient way to produce clothing. But as a meditation technique it has a lot going for it.

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Here’s a project I’ve had on the needles for some time. It’s meant to be a pair of slippers when it’s finished. A number of simple squares in garter stitch, attached to each other, rather like a scarf with a couple of extra pieces sticking out the sides. Then there’s supposed to be some rather complicated bit of folding-and-sewing trickery, attaching the corner of square number one to the edge of square number three-and-a-half and so on, and you’re meant to end up with something that keeps your toes toasty.

The only problem is that I’ve lost the pattern. I found it in a library book, and copied it out by hand on a piece of paper – I even drew the picture of how it’s supposed to look, and coloured it in with felt pens. I returned the book, knitted the first slipper (but didn’t sew it together yet) – and then lost the paper. It just went AWOL. And for the life of me I can’t remember what the book was called. So I know how to knit the piece – I can just follow the pattern of the first one – but I have no idea how it’s meant to be finished any more.

A lost pattern. But the project is still going. And working on it like that, without knowing if I’ll ever be able to really finish it, rather emphasises the zen aspect of the whole experience. I’m knitting for the sake of knitting, not for the sake of having finished slippers to wear at the end. It’s quite a useful discipline.

Isn’t it also rather like life, in some ways? We’re doing things a certain way because once, we had a pattern for it, we had a goal. Now the pattern is lost, but we still carry on doing it the same way, because now the aim of doing it has changed. Now I knit because I enjoy the sensation of the yarn sliding through my fingers, the slow rhythm of the needles poking, looping, clicking, poking again.

Actually, in the back of my mind, I still hope, faintly, that I’ll find that book again. Or that someone will know the pattern, and can tell me. Or that, in experimenting with the finished pieces, I’ll remember how it was supposed to go. So in working on that piece of knitting, I work on hope. Not anticipation – just a vague thought that maybe I’ll be able to finish this after all. But I won’t worry about it now. For now, I’ll just stitch. Bit by bit. Whenever I feel like it, or I have a head cold.

Life, the universe, lost patterns, and hope. I’ll let you know if the slippers ever get finished.

The slippers did get finished, thanks to a friend who commented on the post with a link to a pattern (here); and I wrote another post about that, too (“Loose Ends”, here). I didn’t wear the slippers much, but I do hope the moths or whatever it was that made the holes enjoyed their snack.

And now I want to sit down and knit some more… Maybe another pair of slippers? Or I could finally finish the scarf or the pair of socks I’ve had on the needles for a while. Not as long as the nine-year-sweater, though – but that one is a story for another rainy day.

Life, the Universe, and the Philosophy of Lost Patterns. Still something to be said for that.

 

Categories
Wordless Wednesday

Wordless Wednesday: Yarnbow

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