One of my earliest projects. It’s from a book by Tracy Ullman and Mel Clark, pictured here:
This is a book for beginning knitters. It’s not a new book, but even though some of the projects are not current fashions, others are timeless. It has good advice peppered throughout. Also, while the patterns are suitable for beginners, there are several that jump out at me, still, as attractive, interesting projects I’d like to make.
This cardigan is a cozy, slouchy thing made from a glorified rectangle. As a new knitter, it took me forever. Cardigans made of rectangles are simple in construction, but there is more knitting in total than something which is shaped to the body. Both types of design are great for different reasons, but when I was less familiar with shaping, and with garment construction in general, I took comfort in rectangles.
Okay, I still do. The simplicity appeals to me.
Here is a photo of the cardigan from the book:
The concept is a comfortable, slouchy, just-throw-it-on kind of sweater, and it’s great for that. Also, it is extremely warm.
I have a terrible time photographing this garment. I’m never sure how to lay it out, and the color of the yarn shows up weirdly.
I knitted it in Cascade 220. The shade is called Galaxy. It’s a dark purple with subtle flecks of other colors in it. That all sounds weirder than it actually is. It reads as very dark purple, and has worked well for me as a less-boring neutral. I didn’t even try to capture the color accurately on camera.
I wouldn’t recommend Cascade 220 for this project. It doesn’t lend itself to creating a garment with the same glorious drape as the cardigan in the photo. However, the finished project is serviceable, and I still really like it.
As an aside, when I was learning to knit, I didn’t feel I deserved nice yarn because I didn’t know if my projects were going to be successful, so I’d buy the cheapest ‘practice’ yarn I could, and experiment with that. When I think back, I don’t know what to say about that strategy. I guess some of my very earliest stuff really was too simple and nothing I’d really want to wear, but I wish I had switched to nice yarn much sooner. Cascade 220 is fine for projects which are designed for such a yarn, but I shouldn’t have used it (or similar yarn) when it wasn’t the yarn for the job. You invest so many hours in cardigans, and if you care for them well, they last a nice, long time (this one is, I think, maybe 12 years old so far). I’d have enjoyed this sweater even more if I had used a more appropriate yarn.
It’s a difficult balance, because you have to do lots of knitting in order to increase skill level, but it can get expensive. And, if you don’t use a suitable yarn for the project, the project isn’t very successful. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to maintain that balance, thinking about how I could get materials for the projects I wanted to do. There are people who have interesting methods like purchasing sweaters at the thrift store to unravel and use as yarn (although you have to check how the sweater was constructed to see if that will work or not), but my strategy was mostly to use cheap yarn or patterns which used the least yardage. I still habitually shy away from high-yardage projects, even though circumstances are different now. Other times, I have completed projects, then unraveled them to reuse the yarn on another, new project. You really have to be careful the yarn won’t look too tattered, though, or that you can unravel it. Not every yarn will tolerate unraveling.
There are other ways to address the issue: choosing projects with a more open stitch pattern, knitting fewer but more challenging projects, or, rather than making an entire garment, instead add edgings to sewing projects or to items you already own. You may know people who will commission projects, and you can get practice while getting paid (although, good luck getting paid adequately for your time). Sometimes people or businesses will donate yarn for knitters to make into items for those in need.
Back to this project: Can you see the stitch pattern? The open triangles? Those caused me anxiety! They were new to me, and, working from written instructions I wasn’t quite sure I had completed a maneuver which wouldn’t come undone at the first opportunity. I felt very triumphant when the triangles stayed in, and they were a fun technique to learn.
Maybe I should make it again, better? I have so many projects on my to-do list, though…
I didn’t study much literature in school, so I only heard people say these names in a tone which conveyed a sense of intimidation and necessary distance, it was clear these books were not for the faint of heart.
Generally, we were offered alternatives: perhaps something newer, shorter? An excerpt?
To be fair, I’m not sure I would have appreciated anything else at that time. I was much more interested in horsing around than in paying attention to my teachers. It was very unfortunate.
When I got to university, I needed distractions. I was disoriented, stressed-out, frankly, miserable. I turned to quiet places and books. I became an expert on quiet places. I tried new kinds of books.
One was this one:
This very copy. I expected to hate it. I expected to not be able to understand it, and certainly never to finish it. I had the urge to try, though. I needed something different.
It wasn’t hard to understand! It was absorbing, and funny, and it felt like listening to a clever friend.
It was the first time I chose a well-known work of literature for myself, and, rather than being heavy and dull, it was completely accessible and opened the door to a new world. It gave me the confidence to try more.
I haven’t read Austen in a while, I’m not sure if I would still enjoy her books, but they will always be important to me because they welcomed me so warmly.
Tolstoy. The books have great storytelling and images, though they’re more about people, their deep insides. I get the impression of profound stillness from Tolstoy. The writing is beautiful, and even more beautiful in the original language, I’m told by a Russian friend who, when she talks about him, sounds like she’s in love.
A bonus point is that, due to a generous impulse on the part of the author, everyone in Russia is included in the longer novels. I’m teasing, but, yes, there are many characters. Don’t be put off, there are cheat sheets in the front of the books, and it’s easy enough to bookmark them to consult as needed.
Proust. Just this one, here, because I have more reading to do. It was another book I thought I might not be able to understand or finish.
What I love about Proust, other than vibes, is the way he talks about the complicated nature of emotions, people, relationships, scenarios, as integral. It is like this, it must be like this, and he describes it perfectly . There is tension inherent always, but also exquisite beauty. He helps you understand.
So, three authors who are important for good reason, and who are special to me.
As far as I know, I didn’t have anyone in my life who knitted until after I learned to knit. This means that, although I wanted to learn, I had no one to teach me.
I’d sit and look at pattern books in the store, and I couldn’t imagine what it must be like to be able to make things like that.
I finally decided I needed to try. I figured I could probably make something happen, even if it was wasn’t elaborate or, well, very nice. I asked for some books for Christmas, ones that had projects I wanted to try. Then, I went to the craft store and got this:
It felt like the right vibe.
I knitted a rectangle. It was crooked. So was the next one. I kept knitting rectangles. Eventually they were not crooked.
I tried something in the round, knitting in circles until my arms were sore. I learned to increase and decrease the number of stitches on my needle intentionally, rather than by accident. I learned how doing this could make pretty patterns in the work.
I bought this set of pattern cards:
You can see how relatively simple the lace patterns are, but effective, and, I thought, pretty. I still think so. I knitted lace rectangles.
I got these classics:
I began to try the patterns for textures, lace, ribbing, etc. on…well, rectangles. I had so many rectangles.
I learned good, practical advice from this book:
It was indispensable to me for quite some time.
I looked at my inspiring pattern books, and bought more. If anything caught my eye, I tried it. A wonderful thing began to happen, which was that I could do whatever I tried. If there was an unfamiliar technique or stitch, I looked it up…in a book, in a forum, an online video, an online video from a different angle or which was slower or faster, whatever it took. I could always find what I needed, someone helpful had always gone before and left a trail for me and others. People are great that way.
So, nothing was out of reach. Nothing. As long as I tried hard enough or for long enough, it happened. Some things took a very long time to get straight, trying, ripping back, trying again, over and over and over. So many hours. But, it always worked out in the end.
One happy day I discovered Ravelry. Suddenly there were more patterns than I could ever even see, just there at my fingertips. I tried so much. Again, whatever caught my eye, no matter how elaborate or difficult-looking. I learned technique after technique from Ravelry. I also learned the absolute necessity of counting, ha.
And, of perfection. Every stitch wasn’t executed perfectly every time, aesthetically speaking, but each kind of stitch needed to be accurately done, at least, and in its place, or it must all be ripped out and redone. If counts are off, if angles are off, the piece will not be end up looking like it should. The way to learn is to do it correctly, even if it’s a huge pain. At least, that’s what I think.
As I said before, it’s a luxury to have the time and resources for learning to do things with your hands, but it’s worth it. It feels like alchemy when you get it right, and having something to lose yourself in is a good and necessary thing. A necessary thing shouldn’t be a luxury, but that’s where we are, I guess. I hope you’ll have time to work on your stuff, whatever it is.
Olive Editions (Harper Collins imprint) did this decorative bunch of titles, the price is $10 each, and I spied a Dorothy Sayers mystery which had been on my wish list for a while. It’s fun, but not my favorite Sayers so far. My favorite so far is The Nine Tailors.
Oh, this album. It’s old and a bit strange, but it has been a favorite since my friend played it for me almost 25 years ago. It has a quality of feeling like home while feeling not at all like home. It’s great music for walking in cold darkness, there’s the smell of woodsmoke and decaying leaves, and a wind is kicking up. Yes.
More Ann Wood ships for the holidays. These are fun to make, and very pretty. You should look at her stuff. It’s inspiring. Here are links so you can find out more:
This time last year, my older son and I were working though some Native history and literature. It’s beautiful and devastating. The books here are a small selection of what’s available. A beginning.
If these perspectives are unfamiliar to you, please take some time and read. It’s so worth it. These words are gifts.
Here’s what we read:
An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. This is essential.
Life of Black Hawk, by Black Hawk. A Native view of the conflict resulting from the US push west in the 1800s , as well as what life was like.
The Journey of Crazy Horse, by Joseph M. Marshall III. The story of Crazy Horse’s life. It will haunt you.
American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings, by Zitkala-Sa. The ‘other writings’ are letters, articles, and speeches about Native issues of the day. She will open your eyes.
The Soul of the Indian, by Charles Alexander Eastman. For insight into a culture.
Two Old Women, by Velma Wallis. Written for a younger reader, it takes place in Alaska. A legend about two old women who are left by their people to die, and what happens next.
Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann. I did my best to use books written by Native people, but I ended up using this because the story sucked me in, it was written well, and if you want an idea of the suffocating injustice faced by Natives, this book will help.
I think the next two books are particularly compelling read one after the other. It doesn’t matter the order. They are not the same story, and the conflicts are not handled the same way, but, well, you’ll see. There are similarities, and it’s interesting to compare and contrast the two. My son preferred one, and I preferred the other.
Winter in the Blood, by James Welch. It’s a classic, and it’s beautiful. My son liked this one better.
Ceremony, by Leslie Marmon Silko. This. It’s lodged in my heart. If I had to choose one favorite book from the whole list, it would be Ceremony.
Blonde Indian, by Ernestine Hayes. Life as a Tlingit (I hope I have that right). This is more contemporary. I needed to take deep breaths and settle down for the storytelling aspect of the book, and, once I did, I found it to be a rich and captivating memoir.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie. Another one written for a younger audience, while remaining equally interesting to an adult. It will kick you right in the stomach, and you should read it.
There, There, by Tommy Orange. A relatively newly-released work of fiction. It’s got a hard edge but it’s the softness that hurts. If you read through the whole list, by the time you get to this one, you’ll recognize the themes. You will be sad, horrified, sick, and hopefully more aware. Compassionate. Just do it. Read the list, and read this book.