January 13, 2013
With the pressures of a new academic quarter starting up, I’ve turned to my garment of choice for pleasing knitting with minimal complications and time commitment: hats.
I have been love, love, loving Swallow’s Return’s Snowdrops Beret, (a free! pattern) for ages—and now it’s a finished knit, rather than just a slot in my queue.
I’ve knit up a Star Hat (another free pattern, this one from Rainbow Knitting). The finished piece is very cute, but I didn’t pay attention to gauge, and with my tight knitting it turned out more of a watch cap than a beret, so I am planning to try this pattern again moving up several needle sizes and perhaps a yarn size as well. The decreases at the top of the hat keep the piece in the pattern stitch all the way to the end, which is a lovely touch.
I’m currently working on Tante Ehm’s Milanese Lace Topper (yes, another free pattern). I’ve changed the band a bit because I found it rolled as written, but the main lace stitch is great as it is.
Mind you, I have no objection to paying for a good pattern, but the ease of just printing a pattern off and getting in to the knitting is a pleasure when life is too full of complicated work-related projects.
And in that spirit, let me share a few more of the free hat patterns I’m hoping to knit up in the coming weeks.
Neon Ski Bonnet by Lacey Volk (though I’d skip the pom-pom).
Foliage Hat by Irina Dmitrieva.
Keila MaiMai’s Embossed Leaves Hat.
Nine Dwindling Cables by The Yarn Owl (note nice detailing on band).
Tiina Kuu’s Virtauskia.
And two of my absolute favorites, both of which I’ve already knit and which I suspect I’ll be knitting again and again and again—
Molly by Erin Ruth (more great decreases).
Jan Wise’s Slouchy Hat with Picot Edge(another great band).
My heartfelt thanks to all these designers for sharing their patterns so generously and giving me (and you!) a delightful way to forget about work and whip up something beautiful.
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January 06, 2013
[This post has wound up being longer than I'd anticipated, so let me begin with the moral to our story: we can come up with ways of raising money for causes we care about by doing what we love (knitting), rather than sacrificing what we love. I do encourage you to read further (excellent pattern links at the end), but this is my main message.]
Last fall, I watched several documentaries about polio—both its history and current presence in our world. One of these was the History Channels’s Modern Marvels: Polio Vaccine. Another was A Paralyzing Fear. I also watched a third film, the title of which escapes me, and which was the one that really stuck with me because it documented current global eradication of polio efforts.
For people of my generation and younger living in the U.S. and Europe I think polio is primarily an abstraction. We know what polio is, can connet the disease with the life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, know that it was epidemic in the past—but we’re privileged enough not to have strong mental images of the impact of polio on everyday life. We no longer fear this disease; we also expect that its effects can be mitigated by the kinds of adaptive technologies available to us. For us, polio is neither personal nor specific.
What struck me most about that third documentary (if only I could remember the title!) was that it showed me polio today in the regions where it’s still endemic: Pakistan, parts of India, some African nations. There polio is not an abstraction—its impact is vividly, distressingly real. In these countries where poverty forces many people to make a living through physical exertion, basic labor, polio is devastating, taking away the few options available for some hope of being self-supporting. Adaptive technologies are limited, so that a person who has lost the use of her legs from polio may have to drag herself along using her arms or be carried by a family member any time she needs to change locations. Polio remains in our world, and it remains in the places where its impact will be most devastating on the lives of those who contract it.
The World Health Organization, along with Rotary International, has been conducting a vaccination campaign in the hopes of eradicating this disease, in the same way that we successfully eradicated small pox a generation ago. But we’re at a crucial point in that process. While most areas of the world are polio free, it remains endemic in enough areas that we can’t be confident it won’t spread again—and those ares are difficult to reach and the people affected have often been fed a body of conspiracy theories about what the “real” goal of the vaccination campaign is. As a result, workers for the vaccine campaign have been murdered in Pakistan.
So what does this mean for me as a knitter? I suppose one answer would be to never buy another skein of yarn again and instead donate my yarn money to polio eradication. But I know myself, and I know I will not forgo yarn purchases. Instead, I decided to put that yarn I’ve purchased to work in a way that can help underwrite polio eradication efforts.
This November and December, I ransacked my little home, pulling out knitting projects from the past few years. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I often knit things without a recipient in mind just because the pattern pleases me or is suitable for meeting knitting or because I have an idea I want to play with. That search through my home turned up 30 or 40 handknits that I’ve never worn and that weren’t intended for anyone in particular. So I figured I could sell these—and instead of having people pay me directly, I’d have them write checks to W.H.O. Polio Eradication instead.
As much as possible, I contacted the designers of the patterns to get their permission to sell the pieces for this purpose, and—not at all surprisingly— every one of them was glad to have her design used this way.Knitters, as always, are the best!
I took the knits to a meeting of a group of high school teachers I work with and to a faculty meeting at UC Santa Cruz, a friend took them to the teachers’ lunchroom at a local grade school, another let them be displayed at a holiday art sale she and several friends put on every year.
I decided to handle pricing by putting the estimated number of hours required to knit the piece on a stick-on label and asked for donations of $1-3 an hour. For the most part, the donations were on the bottom end of that scale (although one very generous colleague whose grandmother had polio as a child made quite a substantial donation). In an ideal world, it would have been nice to make more (sometimes the actual cost of the yarn exceeded the number of hours required to knit a piece), but I figured this method of pricing would also help educate non-knitters about the time investment represented by handknit goods. It certainly can’t hurt to have more people who understand that a shawl may represent work equivalent to a full 40-hour work week.
The final total: $707 for polio eradication. Not a fortune, but a much bigger donation than I would have been able to put together if I’d just decided to donate money on my own. I got the pleasure of buying yarn, other people got lovely handknits to wear or give, and the cost of the yarn was “played forward” in the fight against polio.
My point here isn’t to pat myself on the back, but to remind all of us of one fact: we can come up with ways of raising money for causes we care about by doing what we love (knitting), rather than sacrificing it. Whatever it is you love to do, whatever the issues are that concern you, you can put the two together in ways that provide multiple benefits.
And now, a shout-out to the designers who let me use their patterns for this purpose. Please take a moment to go look at their lovely patterns–you may enjoy knitting them yourself!
ErinRuth of Knit Me a Song let me use her Molly hat pattern.
Kari Steinetz let me use her Able Cable hat pattern.
I was given permission to use Stitch Therapy’s Aston hat pattern.
Pauline Gallagher let me use her Oison Owl pattern.
Ashley Knowlton let me use her Old Bones shawl pattern.
Mollie Woodworth let me use her Eugenia’s Mittens pattern.
Kristina Cotterman let me use her Wandering Lace watch cap pattern.
Justine Turner let me use her Poppy hat pattern.
Meghan Jackson let me use her Debaser shawl pattern.
Valentina Georgieva let me use her Leaves fingerless gloves pattern.
Marjorie Dussaud let me use her Sauterelle shawl pattern.
Erica Jackofsky of Fiddle Knits let me use her Impressionist cowl pattern.
Larissa Brown let me use her Rapunzel fingerless gloves pattern.
Linda Irving-Bell let me use her Christmas Rose hat pattern.
Judd let me use her Hues of Lothlorien hat pattern.
Devin Joesting let me use her Optimistic mitts pattern.
Evelyn Uyemura let me use her Greenleaf baby hat pattern.
Jan Wise let me use her Slouchy Hat with Picot Edge hat pattern.
Kathryn C. let me use her Cafe Au Lait tam pattern.
Denae Merrill let me use her Twisted Rib fingerless mitts pattern.
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January 02, 2013
If you’re pressed for time, just ignore me. Instead, click over to Mick LaSalle’s excellent essay on violence in popular entertainment. I have things to say, but I can’t imagine I’ll say them any better than he does.
O.K., welcome back. Wasn’t that an excellent use of your time?
To make a not-as-trivial-as-it-first-seems comparison, violence on t.v. and in movies is a lot like soft-drink consumption. We don’t want someone else telling us what or how much to consume. We figure that as long as we pay attention, we can avoid its worst effects. But I don’t believe either product is as benign as its promoters would have us think—and I doubt my own ability to control their effects on me.
Most of my favorite t.v. shows over the years—CSI, Numb3rs, Elementary, for example—are structured around violence. Even when they’re not graphic, violence is the sun at the center of their little solar systems. I think of the characters in these shows as “my people.” I like following their lives, thinking about the decisions they make, hoping the best for them, but most of the time I don’t acknowledge the fact that they’re just small planetoids circling around a central act of violence.
I have my “aha! moments” when I see the violence clearly. Years ago, I was more or less hooked on reruns of The Equalizer, which A&E aired on weekday afternoons. I loved the mythic proportions of the narrative, they way that the central character, Robert McCall, used knowledge gathered during his career as a CIA operative to set things right for ordinary people. Sickened by covert ops, he became a rescuer of everyman (and woman). And since his hands were already stained with blood, since he was used to it, I felt no regret at his continuing violence.
One episode changed all that for me. It was the episode where the bridal parts gets taken hostage by anti-corporate terrorists. Robert McCall makes sure he’s not one of the hostages released early and eventually manages to free everyone. Of course, there was the small matter of the bride being gang raped by the terrorists. But everyone got out alive and McCall made the best of a bad situation and it wasn’t real anyway….
Here’s the thing of it: that particular story wasn’t real, but the events it depicted were real. Women are gang raped; people are held hostage; individuals find themselves victims of larger forces well beyond their control. For just a moment, I saw the violence on that show as truth, not as fiction. And I never watched another episode.
Obviously, given that list above of favorite shows, the fact that I could no longer watch The Equalizer didn’t really translate over to my other television viewing. I never watched Law and Order S.V.U. because I didn’t want to see a show that focused on violence against women, children, the elderly. But it’s not as if some of my other favorites, eschewed that kind of violence—they just didn’t proclaim that as their focus up front.
I am human and therefore, as Melissa put it recently, “messy.” Not in the housekeeping sense (though there is that, too), but in the sense that I’m inconsistent. I make choices that aren’t in my best interest. I’m still watching Elementary. But, at the same time, I wonder what I see (the expanded “I”: conscious, subconscious, literal mind, figurative mind) when I see acted violence. The parts of my mind that I’m in direct contact with know that the violence is staged, know that it isn’t desirable, even if it’s part of an effective story line. But what about the parts of my mind I don’t control? What about the millions (probably) of decisions and assumptions I make every day below the conscious level. How does violent entertainment factor in there?
Melissa and I were discussing Mick LaSalle’s essay (here’s another link in case you breezed by without clicking through earlier) this morning. Melissa pointed out that as a culture, we’ve pretty much come to accept that the pervasive, unnatural, air-brushed images of women in advertising and entertainment have devastating effects on the self concepts of young women (and a good many of us older women, too). We haven’t eliminated those images, but we’ve found ways of responding to them that can strengthen and affirm us.
But we are much less critical about violence.
I’ve come to two resolutions.
First (and this resolution really isn’t new), I intend to avoid entertainment where the violence is the entertainment. I can’t promise I’ll never watch another crime drama or historical movie, but I will do all I can to make sure that the violence is well-contextualized with a world that includes gentleness, respect, and thoughtful approaches to problems as well.
Second (and this is the new resolution), I am going to start training myself to talk back to violence in entertainment the way I take back to all those unnatural images of women that the media keeps throwing my way. When the media give me distorted images of what beauty is, I try to stop, think of the women I know, think of the different shapes of their bodies and the things I find beautiful about them. I think about the price we all pay in terms of our relationships with ourselves and others when we let our understanding of beauty be so arbitrarily limited. When the media show me rape, murder, cruelty, I need to talk back to those images, to remind myself of the real-life damage they do. I need to reflect on the examples set by my friends who are exceptional problem solvers, who find mutually beneficial ways out of what first seem like irreconcilable differences.
We need more conversation. More conversation about beauty. More conversation about violence. And we need to be talking with ourselves, as well as with others.
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November 01, 2012
Here are most of the cats in their Halloween gear. For some reason, Olive (one of the next-door cats) scampered off before the portrait was complete, but she was dressed as Severus Snape. Perhaps we can convince her to pose later.
Back row, left to right: Bea as the “not pictured” square from a class portrait; Bob as Bea Arthur playing Maude (one of several “multi-depth” costumes—the cats really had a grand time of it this year); Maggie as Esther Williams; and Snacky from next door as Boris Badenov of the Rocky and Bullwinkle show.
Middle row, left to right: Sparky as cousin Teddy from Arsenic and Old Lace, who is a bit touched and thinks he’s the real Teddy Roosevelt; Damian as a Superconducting Super Collider (take a moment to look at the details—he really thought this one out); and Archy as Steve McGarrett from the original Hawaii Five-O (look out for Boris’s bomb!).
Front: Zuzu from next door as Sleeping Beauty (the real one, not the Disney one, she’ll have you know).
Note from Melissa: Olive had just runoff to chase a mouse; she came back just in time for the second photo.
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July 11, 2012
In addition to Pea Vines, I’ve recently finished a Whirly Gig Scarf (free pattern from Mybootee.com).
This is one of those wonderful projects that just keeps one’s mind bubbling up with ideas while the knitting progresses. This scarf combines several interesting features:
• knitting on the diagonal
• ruffles that don’t require an insane stitch count.
If you have 400 or so yarns of yarn lying about that have been waiting for a pattern, I suggest you cast on—and note that a variegated or self-striping yarn might work particularly well. As you knit, ask yourself, “what if…?”
For me that “what if” questions included
• What if I used a panel lace stitch instead of ribbing for the center of the scarf?
• What if I tried using a modified bell-shape for the ruffle?
This project left me wanting to play with swatching and graph paper. I suspect it will do the same for you.
P.S. The pattern calls for fingering weight yarn, but use whatever you want and adjust needle size as appropriate. I did mine in Malabrigo Worsted with size 8 needles.
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July 09, 2012
I love a pattern that teaches me something. Yes, sometimes I want to knit something that is not in any way new to me, just because it’s pretty or because I know exactly who would like it. But I generally prefer a knit that I think I can learn from. One very recent example—
Pea Vines Shawl by Anne Hanson.
This knit taught me that
• Anne Hanson writes clear, clean, easy-to-follow patterns
• Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino makes a great shawl
• Pretty upper edges on shawls are so easy to work, that there’s no excuse for settling for plain old garter stitch edging
• Ditto for pretty spines
• Bottom-up shawls aren’t necessarily doomed to being unattractively stretched out at the nape of the neck
• I can rewrite charts to suit my own aesthetics.
I confess that I’m sometimes ambivalent about Anne Hanson’s patterns. There are some that I love, but a lot of them seem to be largely comprised of a single stitch taken from a Japanese stitch dictionary—and since I already have 5 or 6 such dictionaries, I’m not inclined to pay for a pattern that repeats what I already have at my fingertips. (For examples of such patterns, see the Alhambra Scarf or Coral Gables.) But when she combines stitches, she produces some lovely results—Pea Vines is just such a pattern.
This shawl is knit bottom-up and involves several kinds of cleverness. First, the number of decreases per row increases near the end, which prevents that odd diamond-shaping with an unwanted angle at the nape of the neck that one often gets with bottom-up shawls because the weight of the entire piece winds up hanging from just a few stitches near the end.
This piece also has a lovely top edging that’s knit on as the piece progresses. You can see it below. Having worked this pattern, I’ve committed myself to designing similar, attractive edgings for my own designs—there’s just no reason to settle for garter stitch. And look at the spine. Most shawl patterns either use a few stitches in stockinette for the spine or just skip the spine altogether and use double yarn overs. But this pretty little spine didn’t add significantly to the difficulty of the project, while adding a great deal to the attractiveness of the finished project.
Finally, if you look closely at the detail photo above and compare it with the sample pictured on Anne Hanson’s web site, you’ll see that our shawls differ in one key way. The original design has a sudden, visible break between the two lace stitches—you can lay a ruler along it and clearly see when the change occurs. I wanted something a bit more gradual, so that the “vines” thinned out a bit at the top, rather than looking as if an oddly compulsive gardener had trimmed them all off along the top. So, I took some time superimposing the chart for the first stitch onto the chart for the second stitch, so that the transition from one to the other was more organic. Most people will never notice this difference, but I see it, and my redesign pleases me.
My mom bought this pattern for me last fall as a birthday present, when we went to a talk on Niebling Lace at A Verb for Keeping Warm. She also bought me the pattern for Pine and Ivy. Having finished Pea Vines, I’m confident that Pine and Ivy will be an equally rewarding knit.
Just for the record, I have two more Anne Hanson shawls in my queue that I’m certain will be worth every bit of the pattern price: Birnam Wood and Maplewing.
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May 29, 2012
As part of our spring yard-update, we’ve added a bird feeder.
The birds appreciate it, and it keeps Maggie occupied for hours.
She is absolutely certain that jay will be hers, but never fear—we’re hung the feeder where she has no hope of climbing up to it. She just sits on the ground below it chirping and telling the birds “My mouth’s down here—come fly into it!”
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May 19, 2012
This is Harry Potter Weekend on tv, so I simply must sit and watch—but right now Goblet of Fire (my least favorite of the movies*) is showing, so I need a bit of entertainment on the side as well.
Earlier this afternoon, my friend Chris introduced me to the Hermione Hearts Ron hat pattern (inspired by a hat Hermione wears in the film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), which is free on Ravelry. Which lead me to wonder what other worthwhile free hat patterns I’d missed on Ravelry. Which has now lead to a queue that’s bigger by 13 hat patterns. Besides Hermione Hearts Ron, there’s…
Hues of Lothlorien
Maze and Chevron Hat
Embossed Leaves Hat
Advent Pillar Beret
Cloud Braided Beret
*I really dislike the way Dumbledore’s role is scripted in Goblet. Early on, he tells the students that “eternal glory awaits the winner” of the the Tri-Wizzard Tournament, and he continues in the same vein for most of the film. Does that sound like Albus Dumbledore to you? Eternal glory? For winning a three-school competition? Albus Dumbledore? Throughout the picture, he comes across as a breathy little fan-boy. But the Albus Dumbledore I know has bigger, more important things on his mind. Voldemort’s out there. Harry has so much to learn. There are the hoarcruxes> I can’t help myself: I take these things seriously…
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May 11, 2012
• that cardigans that are too narrow to meet in the front would be flattering on anyone?
• that a sweater in bulky yarn with a neck so wide it leaves the entirety of one’s collar bones exposed would make any sense in any climate anywhere?
• that a woman’s upper arms would be flattered by some big-ass cables running down them?
• that any knitter would be interested in a pattern for a garment that doesn’t look properly fitted—even on a model assisted by a full staff of stylists, make-up artists, lighting technicians, and, of course, a photographer?
Perhaps not the most pressing questions of our time, but having just spent some time browsing patterns, I feel compelled to ask them.
I’m sure I’ve left all sort of things off this little list of questions—feel free to add your own.
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May 02, 2012
I think one of reasons I am a knitter is that I am powerless in the face of color—it’s sort of like my kryptonite. I see certain colors, and I just get all weak. I just want to stare at them. And, when the colors are on yarn, pat it. Pat it and stare.
If you ask my friend Chris her favorite color, her answer is “all of them.” I am a bit less ecumenical, but if I were to offer a broad answer it would be “the tertiary ones.” I love the way they seem to mix beauty and tension in equal parts. They feel alive to me in a way that the primaries and secondaries rarely do. Avocado, apple, tangerine, poppy, fuschia, peacock—yum!
My short drive to and from work offers me a wonderful buffet of colors. Going up to campus, I’m heading toward a line of tree-covered hills with a wide sky above. To the right, I look across a valley that’s often draped with fog. On my left are open pastures. Going home from campus, I look out across to city to the bay and across it to the dim shadows that are Carmel, Monterey, and the mountains behind them. Today, as I was drinking all these in, I found myself noting that nature doesn’t use a lot of primary colors. Nature, like me, seems to prefer the tertiaries. Most foliage isn’t green—it’s blue-green or yellow-green. Flowers are red-orange and red-violet. OK, I know this is an over-simplification, but I trust you can see my point: nature likes those tertiaries.
This morning, the redwood trees went from rust to black-green as they reached toward the sky, which was an improbable light blue with a few brush strokes of cloud. I can see a banana tree out my office: it’s yellow-green going to yellow, then red-orange, then brown along the tips. Nature puts all sorts of colors together—and I love the fact that as a knitter I get to do the same.
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