Why I Knit

Yeah, I thought I was going to manage to avoid discussion of that idiotic article altogether. Then I saw my blog mentioned in someone else’s* post in reference to how exclusive the ahem… "journalist" was of the many male and other not-quite-stereotypical knitters.

<sigh> It’s not going to happen.

I won’t go into how dumb and/or uninformed the article is. Nor will I vent on my opinion of the soapbox that appears to be buckling under the weight of the myriad protestors. I’ll go now to where I always go when I think about why I do this stuff in the first place: My Granny.

My Granny (always capital G, please—no matter the context, My Granny is always a proper noun in my lexicon) was God. My Granny was also the devil if you want to get really technical. She was loud, sometimes abrasive, and occasionally barbaric*, but as far as I or any of her other grandchildren are concerned, she hung the moon. She was amazingly kind to animals and cooked for and fed her dogs three square meals a day whether they needed it or not. She was also like that with a painfully precocious and infinitely bored six-year-old boy who was getting very, very tired of coloring books and tube-painting on fabric with the elderly homebound woman who lived next door to her. Yeah… we’re talking KUNTREE, and we’re talking 1975.

So she taught me to crochet. And I crocheted my little fingers to the bone. I pored through Herschnerr’s catalogs and Workbaskets with hideous glee, and when at age seven I’d finally written my own pattern for a crocheted Smurf™, I thought it was about time for me to start knitting.

Now, I grew up in West Central Georgia. If you’ve ever driven from Atlanta to Montgomery, then you’ve driven through LaGrange, Georgia. If the first time you did it was in the last fifteen years, then you really still have no concept of what a pleasant little country town it was in the year of the American Bicentennial. But my parents had a house on the far side of town from I-85 toward Roanoke, Alabama, and frankly, it just wasn’t that cool for a little man to be knitting. So I didn’t. Much. Not for a long while. I’d crochet afghan-type stuff. Occasionally. When my dad wasn’t around to sneer at it and me for doing it. But I never… never finished anything. There was no purpose in it. It wasn’t something that I could be proud of.

Then when I was in high school, My Moma** decided she wanted to learn to knit. My elementary school Spanish teacher was teaching a knitting class at the local vo-tech, and I begged Moma to enroll. She wasn’t sure if she’d like it. She didn’t know if she had time. I had always loved crocheting with Granny, and I desperately wanted to be able to share this with my mother. Finally, I told her that I’d take the class with her, and for her own mysterious reason, she agreed.

Moma never did really get into knitting. I think she got about half a back knitted before the project eventually got swallowed up into my own bin-o-projects. But for me, that was the turning point. I loved it. And as a teenagers will, I was starting to roam around a bit, and sure enough, I found a real yarn shop one day on some random meandering drive through Columbus, Georgia looking for trouble. I went in and saw all sorts of yarn I’d never seen before. Who knew they made yarn out of natural fibers? And there were people talking about knitting… and laughing and… wow! They were proud of what they were doing. And they had good reason. Everything was beautiful. There was color and texture and… and.. and I might have made it out and never looked back but for one small, simple thing. In a package of 8.5" x 11" x about ¼", I found Pingouin.

For those of you who don’t remember and haven’t found Pingouin, they were a French yarn and pattern company that may still be around somewhere, but my understanding is that they stopped selling their wares stateside in the early 1990s. While they did have lots of very 80s patterns, they also had some incredibly timeless classics. At the time that I was buying Pingouin patterns, I focused almost exclusively on men’s and children’s patterns, but about a year ago, Rob and I went on a brief e-Bay Pingouin spending spree, so I’ll have to go back—now that I think of it—and see what kind of women’s patterns were among our spoils.

Anyway, I found Pingouin and other nice patterns, several years later met Rob who taught me that being a man who knits isn’t the most bizarre existence on the planet (Señor Jackson does walk among us), then moved out of Georgia to Michigan where I found wool.

Yes, wool does exist in Georgia. What also exists in Georgia is the mentality that it is always too warm and humid for wool, that wool is always itchy, etc. ad nauseam. And frankly, the wool yarn that I found in Georgia in the late 80s and early 90s supported my belief. I won’t say that every yarn shop owner in the state was buying bad wool, but I didn’t find the good stuff until I moved to Michigan.***

That was an awfully long way to go, but I enjoyed getting it off my chest… even if it did take two days to blog. So yes, Robin, I do have a non-conformist non-female perspective from which I can speak. Does it matter to journalists? Not in my experience. Nor does it seem sometimes to matter to other yarn shop owners who have woefully often asked me upon my entry to their shops if I’m looking for something for my mother… or wife… or girlfriend. Or am I interested in learning to knit? Well, yes actually, I’m always interested in learning more about knitting, but if I answer yes and she starts teaching me how to cast on, I’m apt to tell her I prefer Addi Turbos in a size US8 of more than 16&qout; (because my hands—like the rest of me—are relatively large) for worsted yarn and that I prefer to knit continental unless I’m working on Fair Isles in which case I tend to use Anne Bourgeois’ two-handed weaving method. Yeah, I can be a little bitter about that. Otherwise, I’m cool with me, with knitting, with my craft, with my art (yes, they are two separate things and I’m proud to have come so far in both), and I don’t need the powers-that-would-like-to-be telling me that it’s ok.

<breathe in><breathe out>

So… I completely forgot what I was originally planning on talking about today, but I promise that I will blog it in the next few days. Marrije asked about techniques for doing the kind of repair job that I did on C’s sweater. I’m no expert, but I’ll give it a shot. See you soon, folks.

-Matt.

* robin knits ~ little swatches of my life in knitting (http://robinknits.prettyposies.com/)

** I always think of Papa (husband to Granny, of course) and My Moma (daughter of My Granny and goddess in her own right) having to hold Granny back when she found out that someone had poisoned one of my dogs. I believe her exact words were, "That sawed-off son of a *beep*! I’ll tear his head off and *beep* down his neck!" I think you get the picture.

*** On my last trip to Atlanta, I found three very nice yarn shops (one of which I even visited in my youth), and they all had very nice selections of yarn. I also attended at meeting of The Atlanta Knitters Guild. Good gracious, those folks do know how to do it right. If you’re ever in the area, look them up.

Do you know this sweater?

I’m thinking the ad should run: Lovely sweater in need of good home. Slightly used by chagrined beagle. Smells pleasantly of beautiful woman who won’t listen. <evil grin>

All right, Teresa. Pick C up off the floor, and tell her I’ve pulled the ad.

For those of you who don’t recall, this is the sweater that Sade of One More Row fame used for a springboard to get her way last Christmas.

See Teresa’s archive for the whole story.

Teresa suggested ripping the sweater and reknitting it. <shudder> It would probably have worked (if she still had some of the original yarn ‘cuz you know there wouldn’t be enough otherwise), but it still made me nuts.

Since I knew that Teresa and Denise were planning on coming over for a visit shortly after Teresa’s post, I begged her to bring it with her and let me have a shot at fixing it before she dismantled the sweater and ripped the entire front panel. Fortunately, she did bring it… and it’s mommy. C loves the sweater, and Teresa loves C, but the sweater is all stockinette. Read that again. Yes, all stockinette with two little stripes at the cuff and waist. It’s a beautiful sweater, but wow… I wouldn’t want to knit it twice. "High Helen" is all stockinette, but I was changing colors every few rows to break the monotony. Oh, and "High Helen" is knit in the round. C’s sweater isn’t.

C, if you ever wondered if Teresa loves you, understand this. That she knit this sweater for you once was a pretty good indication. That she was even contemplating ripping it and knitting it a second time… well, it’s good that you guys bought a house. You’re not getting rid of her.

So, I’ve got a sweater that misses its mommy, and someone appears to be planning another trip to Bloomington.

Teresa, I’m very glad I got the opportunity to salvage this project for you. It really wasn’t hard, so no kudos are necessary. Actually, I sat downstairs with it across my lap last night watching Wanda at Large. About an hour later, I handed it off to Rob for inspection. If God is in the details as they say, then I must be a divinity student. It should probably still be blocked, but otherwise, she’s ready to go home.

Oh, and guys? If you can stand having Sade in the car for three hours, bring her along. She and the Corndog can roast out on the deck while we play.

Much love, folks.
Matt.

Plying the trade

Busy, busy. As I mentioned, several upgrades have now been made to Crowing Ram, and I’ll be working on getting them applied to Black Dog, too. We had several orders that needed to go out today, and one customer needed a color consultation. So out I went to the deck and morning sun to ask the queen bee what she thought.

She chose the brown, but it didn’t really matter. It was a lovely morning, and despite getting no knitting done, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. Be on the lookout in the next few days for Cascade Pastaza to appear at ThreadBear. Following that? Cascade Sierra for spring.

Doh!

Howdy, friends and neighbors. It would appear from recent posts that I haven’t gotten much knitting done. Well, that would be sort of accurate, but the truth is… I had to rip.

Ok, I did a stupid thing. I didn’t have the needle that I needed to start the Rambling Rows afghan when I wanted to start it, so I grabbed whatever was available. Several days later, I was at a knitting function and someone asked me to show them Wendy’s short-row toe technique, and I didn’t have a spare needle, so I ripped the needle out of the few stitches that I had on the afghan at the time (it’s worked in blocks, so I doubt there were more than twenty stitches), put them on waste yarn, and used the needle on worsted to show the technique.

A few evenings later, I was in front of the tube admiring Bill Hemmer (and wondering if I was drinking too much during the Gulf War when I’d done the same with Wolf Blitzer) when I absent-mindedly started putting the afghan back on the needles, reached into my bag, and retrieved the accurate needle for the project. I think I may have gone from a US10 to a US8. The results were so unbelievably unpretty. I went back to square one both figuratively and literally, and I’ve been avoiding CNN eye-candy all week.

Site updates

Also in-amongst all that non-knitting time, I’ve added some stuff to Crowing Ram. Check links in my WIP list to see the most recent pics of current projects along with a little background info on them. Also, I’ve added some buttons. Not much of a big deal? No, I guess not, but I needed a little spring cleaning.

Color, color everywhere…

Otherwise, I’ve actually been getting a lot accomplished with ThreadBear. If anyone’s interested, we’ve been getting in a lot of Jamieson DK stock, and I’ve been playing with the colors. I’ve had several people ask for help putting together colors for different projects, and my enthusiasm for the activity has driven me a little more batty than usual.

I’d been focusing a HUGE amount of attention on web development since I left my day job, and frankly, I’d neglected that part of me that just goes nuts when I start playing with yarn and color. I really have to thank Joe of QueerJoe’s Knitting Blog for letting me kind of go off on a wild tangent with his color block sweater. It was like a floodgate opened, and poor Joe was the kid in an inner-tube that got carried along for the ride. Sorry, kiddo. Being a muse may be gratifying, but it can be messy. Thanks for letting me vent.

Discount Yarn!!!

On a somewhat more business-related note, there’s something that I’d like to take this opportunity to clarify about ThreadBear. In thanking me for the help (read kibitzing) that I offered (foisted) regarding his color block sweater, Joe made the comment that ThreadBear "sells some fine yarns… at internet discounted prices." Thanks, Joe. I always appreciate free publicity, but I need to make sure that everone understands something.

We offer what we think is a fair price for what we sell. We don’t have preferred customer discounts, punch cards, or stamps for discounts or free merchandise after a specific amount of purchases have been made like several of the shops that we frequented prior to opening ThreadBear. Because an Internet clientele has always been part of our business plan and because we thought it would just be inconvenient to keep track of who gets what discount on what items for how long, we just take 10% off everything all the time for all of our clients whether they walk into the house or e-mail us from France.

Having good or even great prices for high-quality product makes me feel good. Being an Internet discounter isn’t in our business plan. Our prices are the same locally as they are online, and despite not having a free-standing storefront, we spend massive amounts of time and money to bring knitters to us and to take yarn, patterns, and supplies to them in person and via the Internet. It’s beginning to feel like we’re the local yarn shop for every locality, and man, I’ve got to tell you that feels awfully nice.

Be well, everyone. And happy knitting!

It’s a BUNDT!

Our Third Thursday Dinner and Knit Night was last night, and the theme, for those of you who hadn’t already heard, was My Big Fat Greek Thursday. Rob actually took the day off, and he and I shopped, chopped, diced, cooked, and even managed to breathe once or twice from about nine in the morning until folks started arriving about six.

Thankfully, our very good friend (maybe she should be upgraded to goddess after yesterday), Christy, came over immediately after work with extra ice and started pitching in downstairs while I ran upstairs, showered, dressed, and started cleaning the yarn rooms. Christy, if you ever need a kidney, I’m your man.

Well, an incredible time was truly had by all. And of course, Rob will be blogging the menu at Black Dog. If you’re ever in the area around the third Thursday of any month, do consider stopping by. I can honestly say that I don’t ever recall us having a bad time for Third Thursday, and frankly, I think Spring has given Rob a new energy in the menu. Last night may well have been the most incredible meal yet, and due to my own limited involvement in the cooking aspect of the evening, I can say guilt-free that I’ve never tasted any more delicious Greek food in my life. Rob absolutely out-did himself.

Oh, last night was also one of our most well-attended dinners. At one point we literally had twenty-three people in the apartment, and every single one of them is a knitter. I can’t begin to tell you how gratifying it is to have so many people excited about both the food and the knitting. We’ve really got a great group of people here in the Bloomington area, and I’m doubly proud that we have folks driving in from Brazil (near Terre Haute), Martinsville, and Columbus in the middle of the week for this event.

Thanks to everyone who came over last night, and thanks to everyone who is with us in spirit.

Don’t forget to check out Rob’s blog, Black Dog, for photos and descriptions of the evening’s offerings.

High Helen

Ladies und Genklemuns… I give you, High Helen!

Ok. I’m not actually giving you High Helen. Maybe I should have said, “Presenting…” Oh, well.

There’s always a story, right? Sit back, knittin’ kiddies, this one’s a hoot. About two years ago while Rob and I were still living in Lansing, Michigan, we regularly haunted Yarn for Ewe in Okemos. One afternoon, I was minding my own business when a strikingly beautiful woman came in wearing an equally gorgeous sweater with horizontal stripes of variable width. Now, typically I’d have paid infinitely more attention to the gorgeous sweater, but after what I considered a relatively brief conversation, I knew that this woman’s name was Helen, that she was an artist… a painter, in fact, and that when she was feeling blocked, she’d get baked out of her gourd and just start painting. Now, having had my day in the sun, I found her candor and aplomb charming and didn’t even consider not asking her to wander around the shop with my while I compared her sweater to the yarns available. Presumably blocked at the time, she complied.

The final solution: six colors of Philosopher’s Wool 2-ply and two colors of Tahki Donegal Tweed. The Tahki is slightly heavier than the Philosopher’s, but they’re also the two lightest colors, so the difference is barely perceptible.

I’ve also knit the entire body from band to shoulder in the round with the intention of steeking in the sleeves. That’s probably why the sweater has stalled for nearly a year at the top of the sleeves.

Here’s where you get to razz me. I’ve always been the world’s worst about cajoling new knitters about getting past their fears. I’m even the one who tells people not to worry about steeking. But now, you see, it’s my turn. Not only have I knit the sweater, but it’s my own design, and now, I’m the one with cold feet. I know I’ll get over it, but… dang! Who knew it would be this hard?

Oops… someone’s at the door.

<MASSIVE EVIL GRIN>

Hey, Teresa! Guess what I just got in! (C is so going to kill me one day.)

31 Flavors… (see where my mind is) ahem… 31 colors of Jamieson Shetland DK. Should we set places for you tomorrow night for Third Thursday?

I do so love being an enabler.

SECOND HARD-CODED POST (Blasted Blogger!)

Knitting and Purling Backward

I’ve heard a lot of crabbing about magazines lately, and I’ve got to admit that a lot of the projects I’ve seen in magazines lately have left me flat. But I have seen one very good article in a recent issue of Vogue Knitting International.

In the Winter 2002 issue, there’s an article called, "Reversing the Course: A Guide to Knitting and Purling Backwards" by Shirley Paden. I can’t really speak for the depth of knowledge of Ms. Paden nor for the quality of the prose, but the content is out of this world. I love technique pieces, and this one nails it. She walks us through knitting and purling in British and continental styles. That alone gets her an A-plus in my book, but she then goes on to describe suitable practical applications of the techniques and how to do important but often overlooked things like yarn overs, increases, decreases, and color knitting.

If you can’t find the book locally, I’d seriously suggest contacting the publisher for a back issue. Complain as you will about icky patterns, but in my less-than-humble opinion, that one article is worth the price of subscription.

Anyone else out there know of any good technique articles? Any sources for good technique articles?

March 17, 2003

Yes, it’s been almost another whole week since I had last sat down and wrote. Actually there are still about twenty other things (dramatic underestimate) that I need to be doing, but I absolutely can’t let Teresa, C, and Denise’s visit go without comment. We all had a wonderful time, it was really great being able to put some faces and real personalities with the idea that comes through online, and the visit was just entirely too short. They really made me long for the days when Rob and I could just pick up at a moment’s notice and bound off on yarn cruises of our own without a care in the world except getting home in time for the Corndog’s evening meal. I’m thinking that maybe Denise and I need to be planning a housewarming for Teresa and C. Sneaky-sneaky!! Oh, and just so you know, the Divine and Highly Elusive Miss C does not, in fact, have horns or a third eye. She’s beautiful… as were all of our weekend guests. Thank you so much for making the trip ladies. I cannot begin to tell you how much fun it was to have you here, and though I’d never wish away business—knock wood, I only wish we could have had more time to just hang out with you guys. We’ll have to get together again, soon.

As for knitting, well, one Aslan Sock is in the cuff. The Christmas stocking is in the cuff. I got about a half inch of the Philosopher’s knit. Umm… I think that’s it. Pics soon. Otherwise, happy knittin’, y’all!

He’s alive!!

Yes, friends and neighbors, it lives. I’ve marched through the valley of the shadow of… busy, and I’ve come out the other end.

Thanks to everyone who’s been wondering where I am, but I’m all right. For those of you who don’t know, I recently left my "day job" to work full time as a contract web developer and co-owner of ThreadBear. Yup—I’m self-employed. It’s fulfilling, and it really is fun, but if anyone ever tells you it’s easy, go ahead and punch them in the mouth for me. I wouldn’t give anything for this opportunity, but it’s been more work than I could have ever imagined.

That said, I’m having a great time, and as co-owner of ThreadBear, I do get to attend all of those wonderful knitting functions everyone seems so interested in, and I do occasionally even get to knit a little during some of them. The Aslan socks have come along slowly while I’ve been diverted, but they’re still awfully pretty, so I can’t be disappointed. Kudos to Wendy Johnson for an awesome toe-up sock knitting technique that I’ve not only enjoyed knitting but that I’ve also thoroughly enjoyed teaching. Our Sock-It-To-Me monthly sock knitter group has worked through the technique over the last couple of months, and everyone seems to be doing quite well. It has definitely given the group more confidence in trying other toe-up patterns.

This technique also inspired me to whip up a quick Christmas stocking in worsted weight yarn (I used Cascade 220, shock of shocks) with a few embellishments. I’ve recently been asked to act as coordinator for our local knitting guild, and I thought it would make an excellent free pattern in next month’s newsletter. I guess that means I’ll have to finish them, though. Hmm…

Sadly, I’ve even missed blogging through our recent Philosopher’s Sweater Group meeting. Icky weather and dragging winter seems to have curtailed attendance a little, but everyone keeps plugging along. I’m very proud of our local knitters. We’ve got several people who considered themselves inexperienced knitters making Philosopher’s Wool Sweaters, now, and everyone really is doing beautifully. Me? Well, I’m making progress, but it’s hard to see when you’re knitting a large sweater in the round. I figure I’ve probably gotten another pattern or three done since we last updated this bugger.

Oh, and as always, there’s a new project on the needles. I just started a baby-sized Rambling Rows Afgan. It’s currently off the needles so I could use the needle to show someone Wendy’s short-row toe method, but it won’t be off for long. Expect this sucker to make another appearance soon.

Last and least, I finally got the buttons sewn onto the Asymmetrical Vest. 100% Finished! Yes, I’m easily pleased. I’ll show you a picture next time.

And for those of you who’ve forgotten what it looks like, this is a blue sky. We have a beautiful one in Southern Indiana this afternoon. It’s a little nippy, but it’s gorgeous, and given how cool it has been, it’s warm enough for me to open the door out to the deck and let the Corndog wander in and out as she pleases.

<sigh> It’s a grand day, people. Enjoy it.

Be well, and happy knitting!