Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Who Wants a Shrug?

I am willing to bet $1.25 that a substantial sector of the non-knitting, blog-reading population does not know that "shrug" can be used as both a noun and a verb.

A shrug is a thing, as opposed to person or place.  It is a clothing garment that is meant to cover only the parts of your body that you use when you commit the sinful act of shrugging:  your shoulders, upper back, and arms.  Shrugs are wonderful beginning knitting projects because there is usually not a lot of shaping involved; you just knit a big rectangle, fold it in half, and sew up a couple of seams for the armholes and sleeves.  Easy peasy!  This is another reason they are perfect, mindless, watch-Grey's-Anatomy-but-still-like-yarn-in-my-hands kinds of projects.  Essentially, a shrug starts out as a scarf, only bigger.

One day in December, I was on the phone with my mother, talking about how she and her friend Sue were on a mission to find a shrug for their friend Judy.  The search, as it turns out, was beginning as "hopeful" and ending as "fruitless" at every stop, with the magnitude growing at each store.  My selfless/selfish little ears perked up.

"Why does Judy need a shrug?"

Well, the answer is that Judy had just finished her cancer treatments, and she was cold on a moment's notice now.  Sue and my mother were essentially searching for a garment that was easy to get on and off, something with long enough arms because Judy is extremely tall, and my personal favorite:

"If Judy thinks it looks itchy, she will think it IS.  It can't look itchy."

I offered to make one for her.  I was getting married in three weeks, so my mother balked with the assumption that I was way too busy, but Bert and I were getting married in Vegas.  Everything was done except for the avoidance of foods that would prevent me from fitting into my dress, and that task was not time-consuming.  But I had known Judy since I was seven years old, and I am fairly certain that if I needed a shrug and she knew how to knit, she would have made me one as well.

I started going through my mental yarn stash.  There was the yarn I had purchased at the International Quilt Fest, the clearance yarn from Sugar Land Yarn Company in my trunk, the yarn in the cardboard box in the bedroom...so by "stash," I mean "accumulated mini-yarn-store."  I remembered some Vanna's Choice by Lion Brand (tm) that I had purchased for $1.99 per ball at Michael's a month beforehand.  When I design something, I will sometimes use Vanna's Choice to see how a sample will look in a nice and soft yarn, and then use a similar but natural-fiber yarn to knit the actual garment.  Vanna's Choice is my Garment Pre-Game yarn, so I buy a lot of it.  When it goes on sale, I buy way too much of it.  But I had a bunch of balls of it in the color Brick, sort of a rust color, which happens to be one of Judy's favorite colors.  Perfect.

I only recently started carrying pen and paper with me, so when I cast on for this project for the first time, I had to use the "notepad" feature on my cell phone to write down the pattern.  I knitted, purled, ribbed, dropped, gartered, measured, and threw in a little bit of prayer for good measure.  On the morning of my wedding, 1/1/11, I cast off.  I was pleased.  As it turns out, so was Judy.  This is me, modeling the Waves and Warmth Shrug in my hotel bathroom on the morning of my wedding.

What I am most proud of regarding this pattern is that even now, approaching the first of June, when I ask how Judy is doing, my mother says, "She still wears the shrug you made her all the time!"  Actually, that is my second-most proud moment.  One day in February, I came home and quickly browsed through my emails.  I had one from Judy.  She just wanted to tell me how she could not believe I would take time out of my wedding plans to make her something so nice, and that she and a girlfriend of hers wanted to learn how to knit so they could make these shrugs to give to other cancer patients.

Waves and Warmth, indeed.  In spades, I dare say.

The pattern for this shrug can be purchased on Etsy.com for $3.50, and it will be available for purchase on Ravelry.com later this week.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Jean and her Theory on Starting Over

"Rip it out!"
I have a difficult time figuring out how to type her intonation when she says this, but Jean is what I like to call an A.D.D. knitter.  My knitting group meets every Tuesday morning and Thursday night.  Since I work Saturday through Monday, I almost never see the other knitters between knitting-group meetings, so Tuesday morning is my chance to catch up on four and a half days of yarning with the ladies.  Jean comes into the knitting group like a second-grader with show-and-tell.  Only, instead of a pet frog, Jean pulls out about sixty finished pieces per week and says that she just finished this ol' thing or that ol' thing over the weekend.  It is amazing.

Jean knits beautifully, and as far as I can tell, nothing frightens her when it comes to yarn.  See, every knitter has a fear.  Mine is socks; I have no reason for my hosierophobia, but for some reason, the prospect of knitting two of the exact same item frightens me to pieces.  For others, it is lace-knitting, and still for others, it is knitting in more than one color.  Jean, as far as I can tell, has no fear whatsoever.

And I have figured out her secret.

She is not afraid to go from ball of yarn, to half-finished-but-not-perfect project, BACK to ball of yarn.  And she is not afraid to encourage this behavior in others, either.

Understand, Jean is not perfect and she is fine with that.  However, if she is not happy with how a piece is turning out, her mantra is "RIP IT OUT!"  The great part about hand-knitting with yarn is that you always have the option to start over with the original materials.  Other crafts, like scrapbooking, do not allow that luxury.  And yet, knitters from one corner of Earth to the other will audibly gasp when one knitter is asking for advice on how to fix a mistake from twelve rows back, and Jean offers her tried-and-true three-word command as advice.

Is it because of the wasted time factor?  Knitting takes time!  Granted, it is leisure-time...very few of us are fortunate enough to actually knit for a living...but it is time spent repeating a behavior nonetheless.  Or is it because of Pride, the one of the Seven Deadly Sins we are least likely to swallow?  "I will NOT rip back and fix my mistake!  It is MY hand-made baby blanket, and if the baby judges me, then every gift to it after this one will be a math textbook!"

Maybe it is something way more primal, like any time spent re-knitting is time taken away from the next four projects you have already lined up in your mental queue, and humans have very short attention spans.  I know that personally, I am less likely to rip something out if I am thisclose to starting that next scarf, shawl, bag, or whatever because I am literally so distracted by the future, the present mistakes will be a thing of the past soon enough anyway.

Most likely, the main reason people do not want to go back is just simply that:  nobody likes to go in reverse.  Which is worse for you:  doing something twice, or living with a mistake that nobody would likely notice, unless you are like the majority of knitters who point out every single mistake to each other before just saying "thank you" when someone says, "That shawl is GORGEOUS!"?

I am with Jean.  We should form a tag-team.  My mantra can be "Suck it up" to help ease the burden on the consciences of perfectionist knitters, and hers can follow.  Her way is organic.  There is nothing fake, shameful, fabricated, or impure about just ripping out and starting over.

The same goes for many situations in life, actually. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What's with the "yarn fetish?"

Once upon a time, a young and upstanding member of the community (who refuses to refer to herself as a YUPpie...that was SOOOOO eighties) found herself in a bind.  The coffee shop and used book store she had worked so hard to build was now in the process of being dismantled due to a little cancer thing and a need for subsidized health insurance through an actual employer.  The travel with said employer was getting to be too much to concurrently run a business and race the rat at the same time.  So the question was, how could she fill up time and discover a new passion when one significant chapter of the girl's life is effectively closing?

The answer was found on the last day Corduroy's Espresso Spot was open.  As I (yes, I am switching to the First Person) was packing up all 1,500 books to donate to local schools and resale shops, I ran across a knitting book published in 1980.  I started unconsciously flipping through the pages, and mostly letting the actual physics behind knitting go unnoticed as I got caught up in looking at the fashions of the time, and thought that maybe this is something I should try.  How hard can it be?  If eighty-year-old women can manipulate their hands that way, then why couldn't I?

I went to Michael's Arts and Crafts.  I had no idea what a Local Yarn Store even WAS.  I bought two balls of yarn because I thought the color was pretty.  I bought needles based on what my 1980 knitting book told me I should buy.  I went home.  I tried to knit.  I failed miserably for about two hours.  I decided that this particular day was not the day I taught myself to knit.

It turned out that the actual day was about four days later.  I got it.  My work was not very impressive, but it at least looked like "knitting."  Knots all facing the correct direction, nothing falling off the needle (mostly because new knitters have a death-grip on their yarn; it is what it is), and no unraveling if I yanked at each side.

Over the next couple of months, my mother caught wind of my new endeavor and thought it would be a good idea to buy me a gift certificate to a yarn store called Knitche, in Downers Grove, Illinois.  Even after being in probably a hundred yarn stores since then, I am here to tell you:  Knitche is a lovely place to fondle yarn.

And on that note, Knitche is where the ballgame changed dramatically.  I was not at the time in love with knitting.  I was in love with yarn.  The knitting with it was just a way to prevent from covering my bed and sleeping on the unknitted hanks in sheer, heavenly, orgasmic bliss.

Now, years later, I cannot allow myself to either travel or move without mapping out the landscape by Local Yarn Store.  The color, the feel, the texture, the creativity behind creating that combination...I love all of it.  My friends at Yarntopia in Katy, Texas find it amusing that I treat the yarn store like the animal shelter:  everything gets touched, but since I know I can't go home with everything, I just go home with one.  Of course in this case, "one" might be a ten-ball bag, or it might be one skein of Shaefer in all of its silky handpainted loveliness for more money than your average tank of gasoline.

It does not matter.  Five or fifty dollars spent to bring home something that can fuel my creativity and balance my stress equally.  It is worth every penny, and I still cannot get enough of it.  My stash is not a stash.  It is half a trunk of a car, a cardboard box in the house, a backpack, and a tote with the stray balls left after a project has been completed.  Or, maybe I should look at that tote as the house for smaller balls needed for future smaller projects.  Whatever.  I am not apologizing for the happiness that All Things Fiber bring me.

Join me in the coming months and/or years and I will tell you what is behind my passion, and what the finished products look like.  My knitting blog may be no better or worse than others...you can decide...but I do invite you to comment and ask me questions.