Posts for : December 2013

Showing Up 2

So about this blogging thing . . . Yesterday turned out to be busy with routine things, and while there was certainly knitting, and while I thought about this blog, it didn’t seem like I had anything interesting enough to say to write it here and post it, especially since one of the key commandments of blogging is that with any post, thou shalt be able to answer the question, “Who cares?”

That said, one of the things I love most about my favorite blogs is that there are new posts, day after day. I can almost always stop by and find some evidence of activity, and I like that. It’s sort of like being awake in the middle of the night and reminding yourself that you’re not the only conscious person on the entire planet because the police officers and the hospital workers and the people at the National Weather Service are out there too.

I like having this kind of connection with other knitters. That’s one of the things that prompted me to start a blog. It’s not that I don’t know that there are always knitters out there knitting. I do. Ravelry is proof of that if nothing else. What I like, though, is being reminded that there are other people out there getting from their knitting what I get from mine, even if the only evidence of that on any given day is a photo or a few lines about a work in progress. It makes a difference.

So here’s the deal I’d like to make with you: I’ll be here. You might not always find insight or humor or technical revelations. Some days you might not even find a photo. But what you can count on is that most days–unless I’m out of town or otherwise out of my normal routine–I’ll show up and wave my knitting flag. It feels good to make that promise. If it helps anyone out there to have it, that’s even better.

Now that that’s settled, I wish you a wonderful last few hours of 2013. I plan to ring in the new year with the Lizard Ridge Afghan and Sons of Anarchy, Season 4.

See you on the other side, my knitters. Knit on!


Taking the Long View 2

What do you do when you want to knit and not be talked to? Do you think people ever put their headphones on with nothing playing, simply with the goal of listening to no talking? I’m not saying I’ve done this or even seriously considered it, but the idea does pop into my mind from time to time. It might have popped into my mind today when I was knitting one of the counting rows on the Lizard Ridge Afghan for the third time while someone was talking to me.

I’m not averse to talking. In fact, I generally like it. But sometimes there’s unexpected talking. And if I happen to be knitting along—oblivious to any looming interruption, happily counting things that need counting—when this guerrilla talking occurs, and if I mess up that particular section (for the fourth time), I might begin to get ideas about headphones. But anyway . . .

About having crashed and burned on my Lizard Ridge Afghan square (because someone was talking to me) . . . It wasn’t anything that wasn’t fixable, but when I finished what turned out, after a little extra work, to be a perfectly fine looking square, I realized I had an extra stitch. What?! Yes. I counted three times. I even ripped back once thinking maybe if I just ignored the count and reknit that section, it would somehow be right when I finished. It wasn’t.

I know myself well enough to know that if a mistake is going to show, I must fix it. Otherwise, it will be like a stone in my shoe forever. I will NEVER forget that it’s there. Even if it’s something that probably wouldn’t be noticed by someone else, even if it’s something that even I can only find upon close inspection and because I know where it is—if it is discernible at all, I must rip back and redo it. The difficulty arises when I’m pretty sure that I won’t find it once I lose track of where it is. Then what?

My knitting guides are strangely silent on this topic. Maggie Righetti, Vogue, even my new hero Mary Thomas—they offer no helpful advice about the progress versus perfection dilemma. As I mentioned the other day, I’ve been reading Jean Miles lately, and I was very interested to find that she had this to say in one post:

I can now “read” lace well enough that when I’m a stitch out here or there, either too many or too few, I can compensate in the right place. I was pretty old before I acquired that skill.

On one hand, I find this encouraging. Even though she’s talking specifically about lace, the lesson would seem to be that if an error can be corrected along the way with no noticeable effect on the finished piece, then there’s no harm, and perhaps even some benefit, in allowing it to remain.

When I read this and see Jean’s lovely work and realize that she is able to maintain such equanimity in the face of extra stitches, I want to be like her. It seems very mature to take the long view. What could it possibly matter that one afghan block out of 24 has one extra stitch? I almost feel silly even posing the question. Perhaps I’ll sleep on it and see what it feels like to wake up in the morning as someone with one harmless, probably not at all noticeable extra stitch in her afghan. I’ll report back.

Whatever Gets You Through the Night 4

Don’t you just love to see people knitting in unexpected places? Thanks to news aggregators and sites like Pinterest, images of knitting in extremis are increasingly easy to find. Especially if you look for them. Which I do.

It’s not just that I’m curious about when and where people knit or that I like the odd sense of community such images provide. I also like to be reminded that people reach for knitting when they’re stuck in the hard middle. Across history and across cultures, the idea that knitting can help you make it through to the other side appears over and over again.

This man is a maximum-security prisoner in a Brazilian jail (click on the picture for the news article):


Brazilian Prisoner


These women of the Free French ambulance corps are knitting on the Italian front in 1944:


12 26 13 French Ambuulance Corps Knitters WWII


There are many similar images of soldiers knitting—each moving in its way. These American troops are knitting as they recover at Walter Reed in 1918:


12 26 13 Soldiers at Walter Reed 1918


This soldier is knitting on a military flight during the Korean War in 1953 (sorry, no link for this one):


12 26 13 Soldier Knits on Military Plane Korea 1953


Here is a group of soldiers knitting at Victoria Base Camp in Baghdad a few years ago:


12 26 13 Staff Sergeant John Sorich front rt


Knitting your way through to the other side happens in the most mundane circumstances as well, of course. Here are people stuck in the New York City subway during the  Blizzard of 1947. The knitting lady and her friend definitely seem to be having the best time:


12 26 13 NYC Subway Shut Down  Blizzard of 1947


Here is a woman waiting for Zara Phillips’ royal wedding procession to pass in 2011:


12 26 13 Generations wait 005


And here’s a guy stuck in traffic:


12 26 13 Trucker Knitter


All these people know that knitting helps. But why does it help? No photo raises the question more strikingly than this one from 1947 of a woman knitting in the middle of the ruins of Berlin.


German Woman Knitting in Ruins of Berlin 1945


Why? What could she be thinking? The thing is knitters know the answer. In our hearts we know exactly why she’s knitting. But wouldn’t it be fascinating to understand more about why it does us so much good?

At last year’s Vogue Knitting Live in Chicago, Stephanie Pearl McPhee gave the keynote talk, “This Is Your Brain on Knitting.” It was about exactly this sort of thing. She talked about everything from “the relaxation response” (described by Dr. Herbert Benson), to brain chemicals, to the implications of the idea that the body prioritizes what it sees and feels. She explained that when you touch something, your brain has to shift its focus to the input from touching, which  can lessen input from the other senses (such as internal indications of pain). So knitting and other tactile pursuits are good ways to manage chronic pain. They put what you see and feel above what’s going on inside your body.

This was all interesting, but the most fascinating part of the talk had to do with the results of a study done at Cambridge. The study set up three groups of people and asked them to watch the film of a traumatic event (car crash videos, as it happened). One group did nothing while it watched. One group of participants talked to each other while they watched. And one group did a simple, repetitive task (like hitting one key and then another on a keyboard) while it watched.

The researchers then measured the degree to which the different groups were traumatized. As it turned out, the group least traumitized was the group working through the repetive task. The group most traumitized was the group that talked. The group that only watched the videos was in the middle.

Researchers theorized that we have two brains—not the right and left, but the reptilian brain (known as the brain stem) and the cerebral cortex (what we think of when we picture the brain). The reptilian brain’s job is survival: I will live, or I will die. The cerebral cortex’s job is reasoning: it thinks its way through situations.

Repetive tasks calm the reptilian brain. So the panicky part of the brain was kept busy with the keyboarding, and the people in that group could use their reasoning brains to realize that what they were seeing was a horrible thing but that they were not personally theatened by it. Talking to others uses the cerebral cortex, so the group that was talking had their reasoning brains engaged while their reptilian brains were reacting in panic.

So . . . the reseachers decided that people who use worry beads or rosaries (or who knit!) have always known what they were doing—calming themselves through stress with a repetitive task. Apparently, at the end of the study, as they were speculating about how to use the information they’d discovered to help people, the researchers joked that it was unfortunate  that  people couldn’t carry “emergency knitting” with them. Someone should have shown them the photo of the woman in Berlin.

Christmas Eve Eve 0

12 23 13a


Today was a present wrapping, cookie baking, napping, novel reading, knitting kind of day here at Casa Knit Potion. It was also a chance to catch up on a bit of knitting news, which included this article about “why knitting is hot again.” Count on Kaffe Fassett to get right to the point:

“It’s about bloody time. It has taken people a long time to appreciate that sitting down and rubbing two sticks together with a string of yarn between them not only creates something beautiful and truly creative, but is one of the most life-enhancing activities around. It just makes you feel good.”

Amen to that.

There have also been several celebrity knitting moments over the last few days. Julia Roberts and Katy Perry both mentioned their knitting to reporters, and there was this article about Diva Zappa. She’s knitting a mile-long scarf named Emilio, and when the interviewer asked her what she likes most about her craft she said:

Knitting calms me—it’s soothing. It’s a place for me to go. I don’t know how to explain it, but if something happened, I would knit and it would help me to breathe.

Nice. May we all knit and breathe.

In the Brain Cell that Used to Be Occupied by News of Mariah Carey’s Dog Walking Attire 6

Today, I finished my grading for this term, and I took a shower. I refuse to let the fact that I changed from one pair of pajamas into another pair of pajamas detract from these accomplishments in any way.

In addition to these highlights, I drank a lot of coffee, ate ambrosia, and thought about the fact that even though the entire English speaking world talks every day about “worsted” yarn, it takes reading Mary Thomas from 1938 to learn that the word is derived from Worstead, an English village.

How is it that I know that Mariah Carey took one of her dogs for a walk in the Aspen snow today while wearing nothing but a red bikini but until last night I had no idea where the word “worsted” came from?

I thought and thought about this as I was supposed to be grading student essays. Between Eric’s paper on “Females in the Armed Forces” and Philip’s, about violent video games (I’m truly horrified by what I learned about a couple of games called Postal One and Postal Two, by the way), I looked it up in the OED. Sure enough. There it is in 1293:

Pro xj. ulnis de wrstede ad caligas haciendas.

What this actually means is beyond me, but if it has anything to do with Latin, it’s something along the lines of using worsted to make some article of clothing, with “wrstede” being used as shorthand for:

A woollen fabric or stuff made from well-twisted yarn spun of long-staple wool combed to lay the fibres parallel.

Now that’s starting to get interesting.

The town of Worstead has been around since at least the time of Cnut the Great which was a LOOOONG time ago, back before the Normans did their thing in England. In fact, the oldest Act of Parliament that exists in the House of Lords Record Office is “The Taking of Apprentices for Worsteads in the County of Norfolk” Act of 1497. Who knew?




It turns out that in the 12th century Edward VIII married a Flemish princess and started talking up Norfolk to the weavers from Flanders. He wanted them to come “exercise their mysteries in the kingdom.” Can you blame him? A lot of them apparently thought it sounded like a pretty good deal and settled in the area around Worstead. They liked the countryside, and the sheep produced the kind of long-staple wool they wanted for spinning in what came to be known as the Worstead, or worsted, method. The rest is history.

As a knitter my brain has always gone kind of fuzzy when the words “woolen” and “worsted” start to get thrown around. Recently, I’ve started spinning, though, and for a spinner these are important concepts. I’ve begun to have a clearer idea of what they mean in terms of fiber preparation, but I could have substituted broccoli and banana for all the sense they made as words with any history or context.

Now, though, I know that when we talk about “worsted” we’re talking about wool with particular characteristics, processed according to the traditions of a particular place and era. And that is something I can get behind. Rock on, Mary Thomas.

Where Have You Been, Mary Thomas? 0


Knitters. Are you familiar with Mary Thomas? If not, then get thee to the library or book store and grab a copy of Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book. Holy cow! Here’s the first sentence:

“If all the looms in the world ceased to produce cloth, and the art of spinning and knitting alone remained, we could still be clothed, both warmly and fashionably.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but me? I love that sentence. I love how it cuts right to the chase. It says a true thing. Knitting is fundamental. We’re talking food, shelter, clothing. Fundamental. I know that, and I feel it all the time when I knit. I find it immensely comforting that even if the virus strikes, the economy tanks, or the EMP stops the forward march of civilization dead in its tracks, knitting will remain. Practically speaking, this fact might turn out to be entirely irrelevant for my life. But I like knowing it. And I love that Mary Thomas says it.

And that’s just the beginning. This book is an awesome little package. It opens with a satisfyingly robust history of knitting (I might not ever get over the fact that Charles I wore a hand knitted shirt to his execution), goes on to cover the basics with clear explanations in the kind of plain language you’d think any introduction to knitting would use but that most don’t, and then follows this up with a selection of “advanced” tips that are entirely useful – like how to “reheel” a sock and how to add a pocket. Socks and pockets! I love her.

How did I not know about this book?! The truth is I do remember Franklin Habit’s mentioning it on his blog several years ago, but when I looked it up, I’m pretty sure I rejected it out of hand because of the scary orange fingernail on the front cover (I know, I know). Later, I took a class with Franklin, and we struck up a conversation about  our mutual admiration for Maggie Righetti, whose comprehensive basic knitting book has long been one of my sentimental favorites. So I should have at least known then to follow his lead on Mary Thomas. It wasn’t until I came across references to her by both Jean Miles and Eunny Jang in the same week, however, that I finally ordered the book. Don’t make my mistake! It’s a gem.

Lace with a Capital “L” 0

One of the great things about venturing into unknown territory is that, sometimes while you’re out there, you learn something new about the place you came from. Take my recent adventures with backwards knitting. I wanted to master this technique for the Lizard Ridge Afghan, which I’ll be starting for a knit along on December 21st. This helpful tutorial on Knitty showed me what to do.

The fun part (besides having a new trick up my sleeve) is that knitting backwards taught me something about the structure of the purl stitch that hadn’t quite clicked before. Maybe it’s that I’m not mechanically inclined, but I can’t see a thing from one angle and automatically envision the whole. I could relate an incident from my driver’s test to illustrate this, but I digress.

Watching the purl stitch happen from the back side provided one of those “Aha!” moments. It always seemed like I should be able to head the other way at the end of a row without having to turn my work. But how? Where did the yarn go? Now that I know, it’s like a really satisfying punch line. Ahhh! Of course!

It might be a desire for more of these “Aha!” moments that accounts for my recent interest in lace. I’m familiar with lace knitting in a basic way. I can YO and SSK with the best of them, and I’ve made my share of “lace” shawls. But it’s Lace with a capital “L” that I’m talking about. Orenburg. Shetland. Estonia. THAT lace. This lace:

Wedding ring shawl detail


And this:

Princess shawl

These are examples from Sharon Miller’s book, Heirloom Knitting. Actually wearing one of them is out of the question, but imagine all the things you’d learn by the time you finished knitting one! Mmmmmm!

I haven’t taken any actual steps in this direction yet, but I can feel it coming.

Okay, one step. I ordered some books.

While we’re on the topic, let me note that Jean Miles is entirely responsible for this lace thing. For the last few weeks, I’ve been reading her blog. She started blogging in 2004 and has, it appears, blogged nearly every day since. Besides that amazing accomplishment, she is knitting the shawl pictured above. (Or at least in 2006 she is. I don’t want to spoil the fun by reading ahead!) She makes the whole process sound absolutely enthralling and is therefore the one I’ve chosen to blame for thoughts of finer-than-cobweb merino and gossamer wool. Somehow, I don’t think she’d mind. If you’re into lace or anything knitting related, be sure to check her out.

Best Laid Plans 2

So about the cutest ever doggy sweater and my plans for the cutest ever photo shoot . . . It didn’t quite work out like I’d hoped. Not only would Lola absolutely not pose for the camera, but she wriggled out of the sweater the second it occurred to her that she could.

While I was trying to take pictures, she kept coming closer to see what I was doing:


Mountain Sweater 5b


Mountain Sweater 4b


Mountain Sweater 2b


Mountain Sweater 6b


Once she got bored with that, she started to wander away.


Mountain Sweater 1b


And then the thought struck her. Can’t you see it in her eyes?!


Mountain Sweater 13b


Sweater? What sweater???


Mountain Sweater 9b


Mountain Sweater 8b


Mountain Sweater 7b