Friday, March 31, 2006


Friends who always want what is new and fresh are not people who will appreciate gifts of handknit scarves or socks. When they see your work, they'll smile and tell you that it looks professional and as good as stuff in a store. They don't understand that this is not a compliment.

But some people are destined to appreciate handmade presents. They are the people who fill their houses with their grandparents' furniture, who bake challah with the family recipe, who pack all their children's outgrown books away for the next generation. They know that love and relationship is embodied within each item's history. These friends admire handiwork even when it is awkward, simply because it is homemade. Each object made by human hands is embued with the spirit of its maker and carries with it all the love you are giving.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

K1, R1 (Knit One, Read One)

I love reading about knitting whether I'm looking at patterns, reading novels, or pouring over blogs.

Every day I have to check out what is new on Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's blog, Yarn Harlot. One of my very favorite entries draws a parallel between knitting buttonbands and raising teenagers. Wow. I've printed it out to read again in a few years when my own child is that age. (Or maybe when I get to the button band on the cabled cardigan.)

I also love her wonderful book, Yarn Harlot: The Secret Life of a Knitter. Amazing essays. 90% of the time the book leaves me laughing so hard I snarf my coffee. The other 10% I cry as I read her poignant essays, especially the heartbreaking piece about the death of a baby.

The Yarn Harlot is hilariously funny talking about her knitting successes and challenges, her spinning, her parenting, Joe her husband, and the extensive knitting community that she has helped create both online and around the world. She is insightful and moving, too. To top it all off, she uses her powers for good: for example, she encourages readers to donate to Knitters Without Borders.

Now, off to get Pearl-McPhee's new book, Knitting Rules!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Knitting Together

Last night we went to a knitting group that meets in the basement of a cafe in town. What a nice mix of people. A few were extremely experienced, a few were newbies, and two were just prospective knitters curious to see what it was all about. One woman was making an Einstein Jacket from Sally Melville's first book, The Knit Stitch, out of a gorgeous variegated part-angora yarn. Two women were there finishing up scarves that they started in a knitting class taught by Amy, also in attendance. In addition to teaching knitting classes, Amy also teaches crochet. I'm hoping to take a class with her at some point!

I took my linen shawl and made a little bit of progress. The yarn is quite slippery on my aluminum needles. I ought to switch to bamboo or something, but these were my grandmother's needles. Having some of her soul knitted into the shawl is my goal. If I don't fall in love with it too much, it will be my mother's holiday present.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Pi Shawl

While we were getting ready to go to the library, the local elementary school let out and kids flooded the streets. A neighborhood boy started playing with Son in the "bush house" he's made behind the yews and ancient azaleas in the front yard. It was a sunny afternoon and we were both overdo for a little vitamin D acquisition, so we postponed our trip for a little while.

I sat down with Nancy Thomas’s Shawls and Scarves to drool over the pictures and dream about future projects. The more I looked at Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Pi Shawl, the more the pattern intrigued me. There is a really beautiful example made by Wendy on her website. I wound up pulling out some DPNs and stash yarn just to play around with the cast-on. While Son played for an hour, I tried out the first few rounds and found myself getting addicted. I think I might put the pattern on my to-do list--and perhaps make it in silver laceweight? I hope that by frogging the "swatch" I can keep myself focussed on the linen shawl and the cabled cardigan. The pattern gets stored away in a folder until the other projects are finished, at least if I can keep it from escaping back into my current-projects basket….

Monday, March 27, 2006

Tink, Tink, Tink

The Go-to-Meeting shawl went with me to the board meeting last night. During a heated discussion early in the evening, I purled a row that is supposed to be knitted so it will form a ridge on the right side. I was so wrapped up in the discussion that I did not notice my mistake for another 8 rows or so. (This shawl is not quite mindless enough, it seems, for such intense negotiations.)

I considered frogging the 8 rows, but I thought that would call a lot of attention to myself. I considered putting the shawl away to fix later at home, but that seemed like a poor choice since I would be left sitting in the meeting for hours with nothing to keep me behaving properly. Finally I started tinking the 1000-plus stitches, then knit them back again only to undo another 200 or so stitches again before the evening was over. Tinking, I learned, works just about as well as knitting as a way to keep me calm.

But for the next board meeting, I’m bringing socks.

Sunday, March 26, 2006


This is sitting on the armrest of the couch, trying to look nonchalant as it awaits grafting. My project for this week is to find a quiet moment, pull out both the instructions and a tapestry needle, and join the stitches on the two open sides.

I love knitting with this yarn (an 80% cotton/20% wool blend) and am tempted to cast on another one. But what exactly does one do with doilies?

Saturday, March 25, 2006


One of our Shabbat traditions is for each person to choose an angel card, a small card with a concept such as “peace” or “strength” or “play” with a corresponding picture. (The card for “patience” has a picture of an angel knitting.) Last night I drew the “courage” card.

My co-writer and I just started writing a draft of the last chapter of our book. Although it was a huge step when I quit teaching at the university, I’ve never felt far removed from the world of academia. There was the contract for the first book, the commitment to write a second one before the first one was finished, and a host of smaller projects that made me think I could step back into teaching when I was ready.

Now I am realizing that being a professor may not be the right move for me for quite a while. Perhaps writing history is not for me right now either. I have promised myself not to make any commitments for future academic projects, at least for a while. Although I always thought I would continue researching and writing, I want very much to have a year without writing deadlines hanging over my head. I want Saturdays and Sundays to be days spent with my partner and child, not days spent at the computer while they are going to the Kite Festival or on a hike. When this project is wrapped up, that time is what I intend to give myself and give my family. (A spinning wheel and a slew of knitting needles feature prominently in my picture, too.)

For most academics, sabbatical means time to write. For me, sabbatical will be a time away from academia. A time to evaluate whether I really want to be a professor again or even an academic writer. A time to recommit to my family. A time to do the laundry. Who will I be when I emerge from this sabbatical? I need that courage angel sitting on my shoulder.

But for now, back to chapter 9….

Friday, March 24, 2006

Braiding Cables and Challah

I finished the back of the cabled cardigan!

Now off to make challah for Shabbat dinner....

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Spinning Wheel Class

I just signed up to take a class on learning to spin on a wheel! The class is a 1-day class at the end of April, right after my birthday and right before the Maryland Sheep and Wool festival. For months I have been ogling my catalog from The Woolery, circling various wheels and accoutrements, daydreaming, finally discarding the catalog only to fish it out of the recycling a few hours later.

While we were chatting last night over dinner, David looked at me with smile ("I know this will make you happy" or "Well I know this is inevitable anyway"?) and basically said I could buy a wheel whenever I wanted if I promised to clean up the basement. I think we just might work out a deal here....

Here's my real plan:
Until I finish the book, I have no business devoting a whole lot of time to a new project. When I turn in the full draft of my book, I'll use my advance to buy a wheel. That way I'll have both some money and some time to learn. Sound reasonable?

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Knitters Unite

My partner, our 6yo son, and I went to the wine bar last night to meet with other knitters. Attendees displayed all sorts of amazing things they had created--everything from a hat made from homespun and a bracelet knitted with wire to a delicate lace pillowcover and a beautiful tote bag. David took his latest project, a little vest for the bear he knit last week. My son showed off the beginnings of a multicolored shawl he is knitting for the same bear.

Although Son announced over dinner that he was not sure he wanted to go to the meeting, he was proud to be taken seriously by the other knitters there. When we went around the room, he held up his shawl and explained how to do yarn-overs to make a triangle shape. I think the fact that the folks there treated him about as seriously as they treated me made him quite proud.

Although he said several time that he was having a good time and wanted to stay, Son just does not have the stamina to knit more than a couple of short rows before he runs around a bit, sings Gilbert and Sullivan tunes, or tries to convince his father to play a game with him. The two of them wound up moving to a nearby table to play Duo.

I loved meeting the experienced knitters and look forward to getting to know them better over time--but I struggled the whole time with my hearing. I thought I would have more troubles because of my shyness.... When I realized how much more David got out of the conversation than I did (despite the fact that he was sitting at the neighboring table), it made me sad. I've lived with this hearing loss for a long time now and usually don't feel particularly hampered by it. I have lots of coping mechanisms, and I've learned to appreciate my ability to turn my deaf ear to the world while I sleep. But sometimes I'm reminded of how much hearing loss affects my ability to enjoy social events with more than a few people. The local knitters meeting next week is on the bottom floor of a quiet cafe. Perhaps things will be easier for me there.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Internal Critic Silenced by Knitting!

I am rarely happy with the results of work I do. Although I’ve been told this is a sign of low self-esteem, I believe it is actually an indication of the opposite: my ego is so large that I assume I can do perfect work. Well, obviously I am not actually capable of perfect work. When I produce something with any flaws, I feel that I have not lived up to what I can do. The Guy with the Red Pen especially loves going after my chapter drafts, my university lectures, and even my blog entries.

When the results are the work of my hands, my internal critic seems to take a nap. I can be so pleased by even a first attempt at sewing a little felt purse (which my 6yo can do, too) or by a loaf of honey wheat bread. (“I made it! Who knew I could do THAT?! Amazing!”)

Knitting is the place where I am most able to acknowledge my talents and skills. The pleasure and confidence I receive when I knit allows me to try new more complicated patterns or skills. Sometimes I feel guilty about the pride I take in my knitting. Sometimes I feel the need to point out that what comes off my needles isn’t anything special and that many, many people can do better. But why should I? Let the sleeping critic snore. I’ll take some of that knitting confidence and open up the file with the half-written chapter—and try to sneak in a paragraph before the alarms go off….

Monday, March 20, 2006

Sunday Go-to-Meeting Shawl

Last night we rented Lantern Hill, a sappy video version of the book by Lucy Maud Montgomery, the author of Anne of Green Gables. The movie is pretty lame, although it does have a couple of my favorite actors (Sam Waterston and Colleen Dewhurst). Also, both knitting and spinning make their appearances, as does a beautiful spinning wheel that I covet.

Thinking I would be too engrossed in the movie to cross my cables the right way, I picked up a more straightforward project, my “Go-to-Meeting” shawl. (The project acquired that name because it can be knit while I’m at a co-op board meeting or an academic conference, not because I plan to wear it to a religious service). It it knit with a linen yarn that I thought would be great to work with when it gets warm. Since it is freezing right now, I seem to have gotten ahead of myself...

I think I need to cast on something that is not green.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The Knitting of the Green

Last night, we celebrated St. Patrick’s Day a day late. After dinner, I knitted a few more inches on the green cabled sweater. Drinking a Guinness and listening to a CD of Irish music inspired me. I’m almost to the armhole decreases!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Cable Dreams

Last night I half woke up, needing to go to the bathroom just enough that I could not fall back to sleep quickly but not enough that I actually went. My still-sleeping brain prevented me from getting up, saying that the time it would take for the short pee would not be enough to complete an entire row of the sweater.

Later on, when the need was a bit more urgent, I realized that the next row on the sweater was a more complicated one (with 4 cables to cross and two wraps to do) and I would probably need to turn on the light to do it. That seemed like a bad idea since it would fully awaken me. So I stayed in bed just a little longer.

Eventually I had to pee enough that I fully awoke--and realized that I do not have to be knitting just because I get out of bed....

Friday, March 17, 2006

Twist and Shout

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I started a cabled cardigan for my son yesterday. Last night I realized that I had twisted one cable the wrong way. How did that happen?! For a cabled pattern, I suppose this one (the Must Have Cardigan from Patons) requires relatively little concentration--but clearly I did not devote quite enough attention here.

Anybody know of a way to drop the stitches in just one panel and turn them the other way? I gave up trying after half an hour and frogged about 8 rows.

I'm expecting to put this sweater aside as soon as it gets too warm to knit wool, but today's weather doesn't make that date seem to be close at all.

Thursday, March 16, 2006



A couple of months ago I converted my 6yo son and partner David into knitters. I taught my son--and then he taught his father the next day. (Sneaky way to get David to knit.... I'm rather proud of my clever strategy....)

After dinner on most nights, we put on an audio tape of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books and do craft projects as we listen. Here's what David just finished, the bear from Melanie Falick's Kids Knitting. It is the first project he has done completely by himself. Pretty impressive, no?


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