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Bird by Bird 16

A week or so ago, on a day that wasn’t going so well, I posed a question to the members of a small knitting forum I’m part of. I asked people to share an experience in which knitting had helped them through a difficult time.

There were a number of responses. Some were instructive. Some were moving. All were warm and encouraging and helpful. One in particular suggested knitting a bird. My knitting friend said,

. . . one thing that helps when I feel stressed is to knit something really quick and easy, which I can complete in one go. I especially like Bluebird of Happiness. There’s a sense of achievement from just being able to complete something, especially if you can’t solve or fix or control everything else that’s going on around you.

I have to admit that I wasn’t feeling all that hopeful. But trusting that another knitter wouldn’t steer me wrong, I thought, “what the heck; I’ll knit a bird.”

 

Wow!

I cannot explain it, but knitting this little bird (and the several that followed) changed my outlook. The thinking about it, the picking out the yarn, the getting involved in the pattern . . . watching the little body start to take shape . . . The whole endeavor was monumentally soul soothing.

 


Before the bird, I was feeling depleted and pretty down. But then I knit the bird. And I felt a little better.

 

And you know what’s funny? One bird led to another in the most beautiful way.

And then this morning, as I was snapping some photos of my little birds of happiness, I glanced over at the pile of books near my desk, and my eyes came to rest on Annie Lamott’s incredible Bird by Bird.

 

Do you know this book? Its subtitle is Some Instructions on Writing and Life, and boy is it ever! I recommend it to everyone, even to those who have no interest in writing. Because of the life part. It’s fine advice.

Here’s where the title comes from:

Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”

Sometimes when I’m feeling like I have to do everything, fix everything, understand everything . . . I become untethered and lose touch with what knitting is always trying to teach me–the only way forward is one stitch at a time, or as Lamott says, bird by bird.

Unraveled Wednesday’s Knitting and Reading 16

Hello, Friends! I’m still here. Still knitting, reading, teaching, doing each next thing. As usual on Wednesdays, I’m rushing to get everything ready for my marathon teaching day on Thursday, but I did want to pop in for Unraveled Wednesday.

The log cabin squares continue to be every bit as wonderful to knit now that I’m on square seventeen as they were on square one. I’ve started thinking of them as my portable happy place. I might have to knit them forever.

On the reading front, I picked up Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coban at the airport. Exit West has a fascinating set up and some crazy good writing. It is unusual in that there is a significant piece of fantasy—doors opening to other places on the planet—that guides everything in the plot, but this is the only fantasy element in the story. I like my fiction set firmly in the real world, so it was interesting to notice how this single fantastic element affected my level of interest in the book. The story takes a hard look at communities and borders and things like what it means to be a native and a migrant. It was good enough that I’d definitely read something else by Hamid.

Don’t Let Go is the first of Harlan Coban’s books I’ve read. I regularly see his name listed alongside other writers whose books I enjoy, but for some reason it took needing a book to read in the airport and running across this one to make me actually start something by him. Don’t Let Go was good! It wasn’t life changing by any means, but it was a well-plotted, fast-paced, entertaining read.

The other book on my mind these days is Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich.* Holy moly. I’m teaching it to twenty-year-olds who are pretty sure they’ve seen it all, and even they are blown away. Apparently, after reading it near the end of his life, Maupassant said: “I realize that everything I have done now was to no purpose, and that my ten volumes are worthless.” I totally get it.

Check out what everyone else is knitting and reading on this Unraveled Wednesday over at As Kat Knits!

 

 

*The Peter Carson translation is my favorite.

Who knew the lizard wanted to be a log all along? 19

A long, long time ago–back in the Fall of 2006 to be exact–Laura Aylor introduced the Lizard Ridge blanket to the world. Knitty published the pattern, and it instantly became THE blanket in my mind. I adore knitting with Noro Kureyon, and the way the Lizard Ridge worked to show off the gorgeous colors of the yarn and brought everything together into such a magnificent whole absolutely undid me. That picture of the blanket draped over the seafoam rocking chair, on what I presume is the “Ridge,” has been in my head ever since.

I started my own version sometime in the distant past and loved the yarn, loved the squares, loved the whole idea except that I did not love knitting all those short rows. Four or five squares of the blanket and a box full of beautiful Kureyon have been sitting in my closet ever since. Or I should say they, had been sitting in my closet until the Fringe and Friends Logalong started percolating in my brain.

I tentatively knit one Log Cabin square with the Kureyon, and guess what. Potato chips! You canNOT knit just one. My few squares of Lizard Ridge:

Quickly became a pile of Log Cabin:

I found Kay Gardiner and Ann Shayne’s Fussy Cuts Blanket Pattern, and I was off.

All I want to do is knit log cabin squares. I can’t explain it.

At first I wondered if the picking up stitches part would be a drag, but I read this post by the Yarn Harlot on “picking up and knitting” stitches and “picking up” stitches and knitting, and I never looked back. I might even say that the picking up business is one of my favorite parts of the whole process. It’s so easy to do once you know what you’re looking for and so satisfying!

I have become someone who knits log cabin squares all the time. Couch, car, classroom, bathroom, outside with the dogs, at the dinner table, standing at the dryer waiting for the clothes to dry, planting trees, falling asleep, getting dressed, standing in line, I knit them. I knit them ALL THE TIME.

The closest anyone has come to capturing the whole thing is Karen Templar in her February 15th blog post. She is talking specifically about her wonderful Log Cabin Mitts here, but I believe the idea holds true for all kinds of log cabin projects:

I know it seems like I’m just knitting Log Cabin Mitts here, but that’s not how it feels to me. There’s something primordial about it. I’m having a reaction. Succumbing to an addiction. Scratching some itch that I don’t quite understand and am enjoying more than I can describe. I mean, the knitting is really fun, and the finished mitts are super cool and useful and feel good on my hands, so on that level they’re an obvious delight. There’s also something almost subversive about it, since I add onto them in life’s interstices — knitting a patch in a stolen moment here and there . . . . And when I’m not knitting them, I have intense withdrawal. I literally dream about them, and my hands yearn for them when I’m doing other things. I can’t think of a parallel experience.

As much as I did not enjoy knitting the Lizard Ridge short rows, THAT is how much I love knitting Log Cabin squares. More than that. It is seriously all I want to do.

All the time.

 

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Unraveled Wednesday 7

Hi, Friends! I’m checking in for Unraveled Wednesday. It’s felt like I was one of the few people on the planet who hadn’t read All the Light We Cannot See, but no more. I’ve got just a few pages left, and I now understand why my mom and my aunt and my friends have been talking about it so much. It’s a great read!

I kept meaning to pick it up, but something in the back of my mind kept telling me the plot seemed contrived. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The blind girl and the model making father and the radio boy genius are presented and brought together so beautifully by the author that the narrative that results in their meeting seems like the most natural thing in the world. Plus, there are all kinds of fascinating details about life in occupied France during World War II, and there’s a mystery that plays out involving a hidden diamond. I absolutely recommend this book.

On the knitting front, I’ve cast on for Caffeinated. This is my first try at brioche, so I had a couple of false starts, but now that I’ve got the hang of it, I’m really enjoying it. Caffeinated includes both brioche and double knitting. I can’t wait to see how they come together!

I’ve got a ton of work to do to prepare for my marathon work Thursday, so I’ll keep this brief. I hope everyone is making it through the last of winter okay and getting in LOTS OF KNITTING!!

Pompom Hat! 22

Pompom hats are everywhere, and I finally decided, “enough drooling,” and made myself one. It’s absolutely as fun to wear as it looks!

The pattern is Howard’s Tam. This is my fourth one, and it’s a great go-to cable hat pattern. The directions call for the brim to be knit closed, but I like the flexibility of an adjustable brim, so I left mine open. I also added one cable repeat for an extra snuggly, ear-covering version.

The yarn is Malabrigo Rios in “English Rose.” Mmmmm!

There are two notable things about this knit. First, I’d just seen this post on the SpinFoolish blog (hey, Dorothea!!!) about the cable cast on. I am terrible about always defaulting to the long tail cast on, but Dorothea’s post inspired me to shake things up. I’m so glad I did! The cable cast on is perfect for a hat–just the right amount of stretch and not an inch of wasted yarn.

The other notable thing was how I attached the pompom. Someone (if you’re reading this and know who it was, please remind me) posted about  this VeryPink Knits video tip for using a button as a stabilizer and making the pompom removable. This is the first time I’ve tried this, and I’m hooked. It’s amazing the difference that bit of stability provided by the button makes in how the pompom sits and feels.

Now, I must finish my lesson prep for next week’s classes as fast as humanly possible so that I can cast on this! The pattern came out today and instantly blew every other knitting thing off my radar. The nerdiness kills me.

Hope you’re having a great weekend and getting lots of knitting done wherever you are! Be well, my friends.

Joining in for Unraveled Wednesdays 17

Remember the Yarn Along hosted by Ginny Sheller on her blog Small Things? If you do, you’ll know that in March of last year, Ginny decided it was time to move on to other things, and she brought her weekly reading and knitting check-ins to an end. I was sad to see them go and have missed keeping up with everyone’s reading and knitting, but I was too crazed with trips back and forth to Texas and then teaching in the Fall to figure out what to do about it.

As it turns out, Kat, of AsKatKnits, picked up right where Ginny left off and has been hosting Unraveled Wednesdays for nearly a year now. Thanks to her, all of us knitter-readers out here still have a place to meet up. I’m joining in with the little stack of finished books that’s sitting on the chair by my bed.

A Man Called Ove was a joy to read—laugh-out-loud funny and tender and uplifting. Backman’s descriptive powers are insane. I kept thinking that passage after passage would be perfect to show my Comp I students so they could see how great descriptive writing works.

I’ve also been enjoying J.K. Rowling’s alter ego, Robert Galbraith. The Cuckoo’s Calling and The Silkworm aren’t the absolute best crime fiction I’ve ever read, but they’re definitely engaging and full of many of the things I love about J.K. Rowling’s writing–deeply considered characters and lots of thinking about the big, important parts of being human. With the Galbraith books, you also get a nice does of suspense, which is fun.

Earlier this week, I finished Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. It doesn’t seem like something that will hang around in my brain for years, but it was entertaining and very well written.

 

Alright, back to getting ready for tomorrow’s crazy day of classes. I teach from 8:00 AM until 9:05 PM on Thursdays, so it’s pretty intense. You know I’ll have my knitting with me for the in-between times, though! I’ll be working on Log Cabin squares. You can see them in both of today’s book pictures. Look for a post about my Log Cabin project soon.

Be sure to check out AsKatKnits if you haven’t already. Kat writes about all kinds of interesting things in addition to knitting and reading. And her photography is gorgeous.

 

 

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I Freed My Fade! 24

I finished my Free Your Fade shawl! I actually cast off the week before school started, but between the lack of sunlight and the craziness of the beginning of the semester, I couldn’t get pictures until today. Even this afternoon, the sunlight was a bit meagre, but I think it might be as good as we’re going to get for awhile. So . . . here’s my first fade!

This is a well written, fun-to-knit pattern. It’s absolutely straightforward, but the eyelet rows keep it from becoming boring. Plus, I love the picot bind-off. It’s one of my favorites, both in the knitting and in the look of the end result.

The one thing that makes me think this shawl won’t get as much wear as some of my others is the DK weight yarn. The pattern is written for both fingering and DK weight versions, but I opted for the DK. I didn’t realize how much I’d gotten used to wearing fingering weight scarves and shawls, though, and as it turns out, I really prefer them. Somehow, the DK works for The Rain Outside, so I’m not entirely sure what the difference is. I do know I’ll probably end up saving this piece for the super cold days when something bulkier seems like the way to go.


And then there’s the fading. Why is this so much fun? It’s ridiculous how much I enjoyed watching it happen each time. I can see why the much larger Find Your Fade is such an addictive knit. As a matter of fact, while I was deep into knitting the Free Your Fade, Miss Babs was having their Annual Gratitude Sale where everything is 20% off. I went a little crazy with the Sojourn fingering.

Here’s what I ended up with.

 

Now I can spend a year or so changing my mind about which color combination to use. First. Since there’s more than enough yarn for two Find Your Fade shawls. Oops.

I’m feeling a little crazed so far in 2018, but having more time to knit is making a huge difference in my frame of mind. Be well, my friends, and knit on!

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Where Prayer Has Been Valid 13

I’m an inveterate goal setter. I think the reason for this is that having a goal provides a vantage point; it gives me someplace to start and somewhere to go. It’s like a good story. With a goal you get a beginning, a middle, and an end, and even if the end doesn’t turn out to be what you hoped for, it’s meaningful because it was part of something bigger.

My goals have been all over the place. In high school I decided I wanted to learn to speak French well enough that I could go to France by myself and fit in. It took me several years beyond high school to make this happen, but eventually it did. One time, I decided I wanted to get strong enough to bench press my body weight. I told myself that if I could do it, I’d get a tattoo. I did, and I did.

There have been plenty of instances of failure in the goal achieving department. I have yet to knit a complete blanket, and there’s that dissertation that’s missing a few chapters. The thing about even these things, though, is that by staking a claim in my consciousness and my day-to-day life, they’ve made possible some of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had.

I mention all of this for obvious reasons. I don’t usually make resolutions, but I do like to begin the year with a sense of where I want to direct my attention. This year, one of the things I’ve decided to do is participate in the #spin15aday2018challenge.

Knitting just is. It happens regardless. Sometimes, I might have a goal of tackling a particular technique or completing a special project (looking at you here, blanket), but I don’t need extra motivation to knit any more than I do to breathe.

Spinning is different, though. I enjoy it immensely, and actually knitting with my own handspun . . . Well, that was transformative. The thing is, I tend to get caught up in the particulars. I worry that my yarn isn’t consistent, that the twist of the singles isn’t right for the twist of the ply, that my prep is incomplete or downright wrong, that I’m not treating the fiber in the way it wants to be treated. I’ve vowed to let my hands take over and do it by feel. I’ve also tried measuring every possible variable. Neither approach has felt right enough to be completely satisfying. So, I spin in fits and starts.

Well, the other day I happened across the #spin15aday2018challenge. Sherrill, The 1764 Shepherdess, has been spearheading this challenge since 2015. Who knew??

About ten thousand people on instagram, apparently.

But anyway . . .

This challenge is a wonderful thing. Many, many of the instagram pics feature dazzling work. There is also quite a community that has developed around the idea. A lot of those who participate are doing the January #wemakeyarn challenge, created by @ThreeWatersFarm and @KnittingSarah. Posters respond to prompts related to their fiber lives with both photos and explanations. The insight this is offering into spinners’ minds and habits is incredible. File it under “feeding the soul,” people. Seriously, follow that hashtag! You won’t be sorry.

But I digress . . . I have committed to trying to spin for at least 15 minutes every day in 2018. It’s been five days, and I’m already a changed spinner. No kidding. This post is getting long, so I won’t go into all of the particulars, but at least this time, with this fiber, I was able to hear it tell me what it wants to be. I had it all wrong initially. Wrong spindle, wrong gauge, all of it. In fifteen minutes a day, with no goal other than spinning fiber for a short time, I learned that I haven’t been listening. I’m starting to think that with spinning, my goal should simply be to spin, at least for now, and see what happens.

These lines from T. S. Eliot’s Little Gidding keep going through my head:

You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.

I wonder if sometimes simply showing up where good things have happened before is enough of a goal. I’ll keep you posted.

 

P.S. #fringeandfriendslogalong

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Gingersnap 19

This little cardi has almost undone me. The cute is unreal.

I’m a sucker for cardigans, stripes, and close-but-not-quite-matching color palettes anyway, but add in the minuscule scale of Gingersnap, and I’m a goner.

The pattern is free on Ravelry, and it’s a breeze to knit. The instructions are clear, and the knitting itself is absolutely straightforward. The most complicated thing you have to do is pick up stitches for the collar.

I knit the back of mine in dark brown just for fun.

All the baby knits are precious, but there’s something about the color blocking and boxy little shape of this one that I just adore. It’s going to Texas with me tomorrow to be delivered to its teeny recipient. I’ll try to get pictures.

So the travel knitting . . . I cast on for a Free Your Fade shawl last night. I’ve also got plenty of cotton yarn to work on Christmas dishcloths for my dad and practice my log cabin technique in anticipation of the Fringe and Friends Logalong. And the Caradon Hill Jumper. . . I’m in the deep middle of a gauge conundrum with this one, so I brought yarn, pattern, and multiple needle sizes for swatching just in case that’s the way things need to go. Have I mentioned that holiday travel stresses me out?

Anyhoo . . .

Clearly, I’ve packed much more kitting for this five-day trip than I’ll ever get done, but at least I don’t have to worry about running out. I’ve been back and forth on adding yarn for a pair of socks for my dad to the pile, but so far, I’ve held back on that one. I’m trying not to let the fact that he wore a pair of handknit socks I knit for him six years ago to lunch today add undue weight to the “for” column. There’s still nearly twelve hours before I leave, though, so anything could happen.

I hope you are all well, my friends. Wishing you peace and happiness during this holiday season!

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Ohhhh, the weather outside . . . 20

Is glorious!!!

I think I’m going to make it. Only sixty-two bajillion papers left to grade, and my first semester back in the classroom will be in the books. My last class was Thursday, and I have to tell you–my subconscious must have taken that as license to KNIT!!! I’ve been shamelessly ignoring my responsibilities and knitting away on all sorts of odds and ends all weekend.

The picture above is the tiny front of a cardigan for a new bundle of preciousness I’ll get to see for the first time over the holidays. The cute is killing me. Pictures soon.

There’s also my Inlet cardigan. Little problem with that one. I finally finished up all the pieces, gave it a good soak, and set to work pinning it out on my blocking board.

 While I was futzing around trying to get the fronts to line up, I realized that something wasn’t right.

Ugh. At some point during the craziness of the semester, I must have gone to finish up that front left side and temporarily lost my mind. Why in the world did I decrease at the top on the armhole side?? I’m trying to focus on the fact that this is knit bottom up, so fixing it shouldn’t take long. Still . . .

The other thing that’s been on my mind is the Fringe and Friends New-Year Knitalong. It’s a Logalong! I’ve wanted to try log cabin-ing forever, and I absolutely love a good knit along. I’m pretty sure I’m going to be on board for this.

Karen Templer recommended Ann Shayne and Kay Gardiner’s Log Cabin Field Guide as a good starting point. It explains the basics of how the log cabin construction works and gives you a few variations to try. I enjoyed knitting this little dish cloth for practice.

Kay Gardiner is hosting a discussion board where all sorts of fun ideas are floating around. Plus, Karen Templer has been regularly featuring ideas for log cabin projects on the Fringe Association blog. It’s the images at the top of this post that have really captured my imagination. I’m thinking of doing a throw like this in a log cabin version with some combination of speckledy yarns. Maybe. There are so many delicious possibilities. Anyone else thinking of joining in?

That pile of papers isn’t going to grade itself, so I should get going. I’ll just close with a few pictures of the amazing weather we’ve been having. On Thursday Paul and I took Django for a walk, and the world looked like this.

By yesterday, we had this!

I love, love, love the first snow of the year, and this one has been spectacular.

Here’s hoping the weather is nice where you are and, most importantly, that there is lots of knitting in the forecast! Be well, my friends.

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