Then there were all the things that I started doing again that I hadn’t done in a long time: tennis lessons, playing piano, writing on the blog…
But this latest development has taken me so far back into the past that I could almost feel at home in one of the Barbara Pym novels I wrote about last week.
Yup. It’s true.
I have taken to darning socks.
Not just any old socks, mind you. I’ve darned some fancy Smartwool socks. The kind that you’re not supposed to need to darn. DARN THEM!
The act of threading the needle in and out, back and forth, focusing on keeping my shoulders relaxed and my back straight… It’s meditative.
The pandemic has been anxiety-provoking for most everyone. For me, stitching helps to calm my mind and soothe some of that anxiety.
Honestly, it also helps to stave off feelings of boredom, uselessness and inactivity.
Loved Clothes Last: Added Bonus
I haven’t been shopping much during this pandemic. I’ve avoided my bi-annual clothes shopping excursions. I’ve tried ordering some clothes online, but the waste of having to mail so many of them back is frustrating.
I’ve participated peripherally in the slow fashion movement by making myself some sweaters. These I wear all the time.
Okay, to be fair, it’s not a question of right or wrong. It’s a question of ergonomics, and balancing productivity, efficiency and safety.
A Balancing Act
In his book, Demers makes it very clear that there is no incorrect way to knit: no one method that is superior to any other (though there is one he pooh-poohs).
How we knit is a balancing act, and he uses the image of the 3-legged stool to demonstrate. Ergonomics (or comfort) is the seat, and the three legs are what I mentioned above: productivity, efficiency and safety.
He then breaks down the elements that contribute to each of those three aspects of ergonomics and addresses them in relation to knitting.
My favorite part of this book is that Demers is himself a knitter, and truly understands how much knitters love their craft. He is just as passionate about yarn and patterns as the next knitter is!
He pairs his understanding of the knitter’s psyche with his expertise in ergonomics brilliantly, and the result is an engaging, clear and easy to understand (and apply!) book.
Applying the Concepts
You can start applying the concepts from the get-go. He begins with a discussion of posture, which (according to the physical therapist I saw back in early 2020) is the source of my problem.
What the physical therapist could not tell me (because she is not a knitter and didn’t even pay attention when I showed her how I knit), is exactly how my posture was causing me pain.
One chapter into this book, I already had significant changes I could apply. And since I had been on complete knitting rest for 10 days or so, I was starting with a clean slate and could gingerly experiment.
Here’s where the old dog factor comes in.
Old Dog; New Tricks
I learned to knit in 2012 or 2013. It’s not like I’ve been knitting forever. But once you get comfortable with it, it then becomes very hard to change how you knit.
I had already made an effort to change the way I tension my yarn (you can see my video in this post). However, that wasn’t enough to remove the pressure from my shoulder.
More drastic changes were clearly in order.
In addition to changing where I knit, I have to change how I hold my knitting. Up until now I’ve tended to hold my knitting up to look at it more easily, but doing so pulls my shoulder forward and puts pressure on both my shoulder and my elbow.
What I need to do is lower my knitting into my lap (or to a cushion on my lap) and try and keep my forearms parallel to the floor. It’s not easy to do this, as my arms have a tendency to creep up as I keep wanting to look down at my knitting.
But part of the exercise is to learn to trust that my hands know what they’re doing, and that unless I’m working a complicated stitch pattern, they can be left to their own devices, with only an occasional glace.
It needs practice, and I must constantly check in with myself to see how my shoulder is handling it. So far, so good.
Don’t Overdo It
Another change is a behavioral one: I mustn’t allow myself to sit and knit for long stretches of time. We’re always told that sitting for long periods is bad for us.
But that’s so easy to forget when we’re doing something as enjoyable as knitting!
I need to set a timer, or simply stand up to knit. I’ve got to remember to give myself plenty of breaks and ease back into it.
Not Just About Knitting
Demers’ observations and advice apply not only to knitting, but to any sedentary activity (think: using the computer, poking at your smartphone, or driving).
All of these activities involve neck strain (looking down), pressure on wrists, elbows and shoulders, and awkward postures.
So this information is not only valuable in the context of knitting, but also for computer and keyboard use, smartphone use and driving.
Don’t buy this book unless you’re a knitter. I don’t think it would even be that helpful for crocheters (though you could definitely get some useful information from it).
But if you ARE a knitter, no matter whether you’re experiencing discomfort or not, YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK.
Not only will it help you improve your knitting comfort immediately, it will open your eyes to some potentially unhealthy habits that can endanger your long-term knitting ability.
Don’t risk it. It’s not worth it. If you love your knitting as much as I do, you’ll want to make sure you can keep knitting comfortably for as long as possible.
Click here to visit Carson’s website and order your own copy. (I have not been paid to write this article, and clicking this link doesn’t give me–or Carson Demers–any money. Unless, of course, you buy his book, which would give him money. Not me. But if you want to send me money, I am on PayPal. Just saying.)
All that Election Day (and Election Week!) stress knitting took its toll.
I was already starting to feel some twinges when I finished the Bear’s Flax Lite sweater (it’s now blocked and BEAUTIFUL!), but the flurry of knitting I started on Election Day seems to have been too much.
I don’t feel the pain while I’m knitting. That’s the problem. It’s once I stop that I feel an ache in my shoulder and pain just above my elbow.
It gets to the point where my shoulder and the spot above my elbow become sensitive to the touch, and the whole area is generally achey and uncomfortable.
Before the pandemic hit, I did consult a physical therapist at a practice that is supposed to specialize in hand, arm and shoulder care. However, I was disappointed that the therapists didn’t ask to watch me knit, to see what movement I was doing, or observe my posture while I knitted. As a result, they weren’t able to pinpoint the source or cause of my pain.
I went frequently and did the exercises they gave me, but with very limited success in managing my discomfort. When the pandemic hit, I dropped my visits altogether.
More Knitting = More Pain
In periods of less knitting activity, when I’m picking something up and only working on it occasionally, this isn’t really a problem.
But when I’m working on a project I really like, or am trying to finish something by a certain date, I tend to knit more. That’s when the pain and discomfort flare up.
Everything I’ve read says that one of the biggest mental health benefits of crafting is the sense of purpose, the objective you have to work towards. Whether it’s a hat, a sweater or some baby booties, you have delayed gratification while you work towards the final product, and the anticipation of enjoyment once it’s done.
Right now, that feeling of having a goal to work towards is huge for me. With life in limbo due to the global pandemic and my career/job prospects on hold for the time being, knitting has been a beneficial creative outlet.
And now I cannot knit. As I wrote back in February, my productivity and motivation are low, and I feel very little sense of purpose.
That’s not to say that being able to knit solves all problems, but it certainly helps.
Fearful of My Needles
Also upsetting is the apprehension and worry I feel about picking up the needles again once my arm feels better. Will I just hurt myself again? Why am I doing this so wrong that it hurts?
I learned about him on the Fruity Knitting podcast, and I am hoping that his book will help me answer some of these questions. I’ve also reached out to contact him and ask if he knows any physical therapists in this area that he could recommend. It’s a long shot, but there’s no harm in asking.
Here’s hoping that with rest, icing, warming, massage and then with the help of this book, I can get back to knitting without worrying about injury.
I love this pattern from Tincanknits. I made one for the Bug years ago, one for a wee babe born in 2019, and now one for the Bear.
I used KnitPicks Stroll Tonal in color “Eucalyptus”. I like this yarn because it’s a superwash merino (very soft) blended with nylon (very strong), and can be thrown in the washer.*
*Not that I’ve actually blocked it yet. Oh no no no, that would delay the gratification of seeing it on my child!
I used my wooden Knitter’s Pride 16″ circulars for the body. I liked knitting this wool on wood, as it’s quite slippery and the wooden needles are just slightly sticky, helping to keep stitches from sliding off.
For the arms, I used my trusty Addi Clic 32″ interchangeable knitting needles. I used a longer cable and knitted the arms at the same time on magic loop. I’m not crazy about this method, but I like it better than knitting one sleeve at a time.
My gauge probably changed while working on this project. That is because I realized that part of the problem I was having earlier this year with discomfort in my shoulder was probably caused by how I tensioned my yarn!
It was such a small thing, but I thought it might help others, so I made a video and put it on YouTube:
I didn’t bother to start my project again, and was rather cavalier with the gauge. However, it seems to fit the Bear more or less, so let’s not worry about it, shall we?
I am quite proud of how neat the line between my knit and purl stitches is on the sleeve garter stitch panel. That’s thanks to a technique from VeryPink Knits (my knitting guru!).
(If you don’t feel like watching the video, here’s the rundown: whenever you switch from knitting to purling, stop after the first purl stitch. Yarn back, give your yarn a little tug, and then yarn forward and continue purling.)
I may need to unpick the bottom hem and bind it off again, as I bound off a little too tightly. I learned from my mistake and bound off with a needle TWO sizes larger on the sleeves. They’re perfect.
Really, it’s just one modification, singular.
I wanted to make sure the neckline would be as comfy as possible, so I used the VeryPink Knits tutorial below to make it double thick at the collar. It provides a little extra warmth and structure at the top.
I remembered I had purchased this pattern along with several others in the TinCanKnits ebook “Heart on Your Sleeve.” It was a campaign to raise money for malaria research, and I bought the ebook with all the wonderful patterns and PROMPTLY FORGOT ABOUT IT.
Now that I have remembered, I’m going to knit ALL THE YOKED SWEATERS!
This may not make any sense, but I’ve never thought of myself as creative.
Sure, I write. And I knit. And lately I’ve been playing the piano. I acted in plays and musicals for years as a teen and young adult. I’ve even dabbled in drawing and painting.
Not Much Spark
I just don’t consider myself creative because I always follow some kind of pattern or model.
When knitting, I follow a pattern. I always drew best when I was looking at something, rather than from the imagination. Even in teaching, I would hash out ideas for lessons and activities with colleagues, or search online for inspiration.
But it’s the execution I’m pretty good at. And it’s the act of creating that I enjoy.
Creativity in Pandemic
Since the pandemic started, I’ve found it helpful to add creativity to my daily life.
I set myself this writing challenge, which, though sometimes a bit of a pain, has also been a fantastic exercise.
Since we got a piano, I’ve been sneaking in about an hour of practice each day. I’ve been slowly plugging away at my knitting (though the warm weather slows that down).
It’s turned out to be hugely important for keeping myself sane.
For the short while that I’m writing, knitting or playing, I am taken away from the reality of confinement and the anxiety of this situation. When I’m writing, knitting or playing, those things don’t matter.
I’m an extremely social person, this is true. But this pandemic has helped me find resources within myself for coping with the isolation.
I’m tapping into a creative energy I didn’t know I had.
I’m far from being 100% okay in this situation. There are days when I’m practically climbing the walls.
But having a creative outlet has been wonderful. (It also helps that I’ve added exercise to my daily routine.)
So often we’re told to cut something out to feel better. Cut out sugar, alcohol, Facebook or TV. Sure, sometimes things do need to be cut out.
But what about the benefit of adding things in?
Tell Me About It
What do you want to add to your daily routine? What would make you feel better? What would make you feel more like yourself?
Sounds great, right? Sleeves are an afterthought, right? Well, no. Not really. Sleeves can be complicated, long, frilly, fussy, or just plain tedious.
Luckily, I’m knitting my sleeves two at a time using magic loop, and I’m knitting stockinette stitch in worsted weight wool. It shouldn’t take me too long. That’s why I’m basically writing my Weekender sweater by Andrea Mowry off as done.
Time to Move On!
I wrote a while back about some fantasy knitting. And while there are some exquisite patterns in my fantasy knitting list, the reality is that I’ve got some yarn I should probably use up.
Friends and fellow knitters, I admit I have a problem. Or perhaps several.
KnitPicks was having a St Patrick’s day sale on green yarn (naturally), and (naturally) I indulged. I sprang for a few skeins of their Stroll sock yarn, in a lovely everglade heather hue.
In a fever of startitis (when you can’t stop starting projects), I immediately prepared to cast on a pair of Tin Can Knits Rye Light socks (free pattern!). I had knit these socks before for myself to great effect, so I wasn’t worried.
Oh, but I should have been!
I dutifully knitted a swatch in the round on my DPNs and found that my row gauge was way off. But I mean WAY off. I changed needles to get the right stitch gauge, but I didn’t know what to do about the row gauge.
I decided it would be fine, and started on the first pair. Part-way through the first sock, I had a realization.
I DO NOT ENJOY KNITTING SOCKS!
They’re too fiddly. Whether knitted on DPNs or with magic loop, they’re tetchy little things (especially children’s socks).
The second problem
But now I had another problem.
In my unbridled enthusiasm to make socks for all my boys, I had been talking it up. Now my Bug and my Bear both expected socks! I couldn’t just toss them aside!
The third problem
Despite not liking the knitting process too much, I soldiered on. I finished the first sock, and then the second.
Now came the moment of truth! It was time to try them on!
They got on his feet alright, but then… They sagged. And sagged. And SAGGED.
So I cast on the second pair, this time for the Bug. But this time I did a little research.
According to Kate, socks should be knit with about 10% of negative ease. In other words, the final measurements of the socks should be about 10% smaller than your foot.
I did some careful measurements of the Bug’s feet, but I made one key mistake. I did not measure his feet while he was on the floor.
The best way to get an accurate foot measurement for sock sizing is to measure the length of the foot while it’s standing on the floor. Also, measure the width around the ball of the foot when the person is standing.
This wouldn’t have been such a problem, if it hadn’t been for that…
Dratted row gauge.
Many sock patterns tell you to knit for a certain number of inches or centimetres for the ribbing, and then down the cuff. So you might think that row gauge doesn’t matter too much.
But you would be WRONG!
Because when you get to the heel and the gusset, at these points you start counting rows. So if your row gauge is too short, your heels and gussets will be–you guessed it–too short.
When we got them on his feet, they seemed to fit just fine.
But over the course of the afternoon, they gradually slipped down, down, down… Until they were bunched up inside his shoes, poor lamb.
Being The World’s Sweetest Child, he never complained and insisted he liked his new socks. But I knew better.
Back to the drawing board
Both these pairs will have to be unraveled. I WILL get these right!
But wait, you say. Didn’t you say you didn’t enjoy knitting socks?
The Tempestry Project allows you to visualize “climate data in a way that is accurate, personal, tangible and beautiful.”
“Uh… what,” you say? It’s a marriage of crafting and climate change activism! Hooray!
Each Tempestry is a knitted tapestry of temperature data. You select your location and your year, and the Tempestry Project folks will send you the temperature highs for each day that year.
For example, I ordered a Tempestry kit for Geneva Switzerland, 1985. My kit arrived with an Excel spreadsheet with 365 lines, starting January 1st 1985, ending December 31st. Each line shows the date, the day’s high temperature, and which color you need to knit to correspond to that temperature.
The original kit also includes a color card (pictured above) with little yarn samples, and just the right amount of each color yarn for you to knit your full Tempestry.
Knit or Crochet (or Cross Stitch!)
You can choose either to knit or crochet your Tempestry. If you decide to knit, you can also choose whether to do it in garter stitch or linen stitch.
The lovely thing about the linen stitch is the texture it gives the whole Tempestry. The pattern recommends a small 3-stitch garter stitch border with the linen stitch, and I’m loving the way it looks.
Really, you can knit or crochet this any way you choose. You just have to be conscious that you only have a certain amount of each yarn. This project is easy to adapt and personalize.
Giving Climate Change Data Context
What this project does is it allows you to contextualize climate change data. If you’re like me and you struggle to see how climate change awareness and activism can fit into your daily life, then this might help.
I mentioned my kit for Geneva, 1985. I also ordered one for Geneva, 2017, because some extraordinary circumstances meant that our second son, our Bear, was born in Geneva in 2017 (we were expecting him to be born in Germany).
It will be interesting to see how these two kits compare once they’re knitted. How much warmer was Geneva in 2017 than in 1985? I remember it being hot as hell in 2017, especially as I traipsed around town the morning of the Bear’s birth, unaware that I was going to deliver a baby later that afternoon. The Tempestries should illustrate the difference.
A Tutorial for Your Tempestry
I discovered the Tempestry Project from Staci Perry over at VeryPink Knits. She published a video tutorial for knitting a Tempestry, and her colleague Casey from the (now defunct) VeryPink podcast interviewed the crew at the Tempestry Project.
I’m sharing Staci’s tutorial below, in case anyone is interested. Her YouTube channel has been my go-to resource for knitting lessons.
Other Ways to Participate
There are lots of other ways to participate in the Tempestry project. They sell their very own needle wranglers, as well as other patterns and kits on their websites.
They’ve developed a “new normal” series, which show “a visual representation of annual deviations-from-average temperature for different locations.” Some of the results are pretty nuts.
This is a great project, and a great way to dip your toes into what is now being called “craftivism.” More on that another time, perhaps.
You’ve heard of fantasy football? Well this is nothing like fantasy football. Let’s just make that clear from the start, shall we?
Since I am still off the knitting, it’s given me plenty of time to fantasize about what I want to knit once I’m allowed to. I’ve browsed through my copies of PomPom Quarterly for ideas, but mostly I’ve turned to the wonderful online world of:
I have dutifully updated my stash on Ravelry, and because of the wonder of this database, I can then look at what other people have knit with my yarns and be inspired.
Of course, I inevitably start looking at patterns that do not call for the yarns I have stashed. Oh, dear…
I do not have all the sport weight yarn necessary to make this pattern! I don’t even own the pattern! What I do own are several other patterns that I haven’t knitted yet.
So let’s focus on the patterns I actually own, shall we?
In My Ravelry Library
First off, the Statis pullover by Leila Raven for Brooklyn Tweed. I have been wanting to make myself a yolked sweater for a while now, and I’ve seen this one in the flesh before. The original pattern did not have the contrasting color around the neckline, but when I saw it like this I fell in love with it. Happily, I also have a yarn to use for this project.
Originally purchased for another sweater, I decided against knitting that one and have set the yarn aside for this baby. It’s a gorgeous O-Wool O-Wash fingering in colors I do not usually select. It’ll be nice to branch out from my usual greens/blues.
Next up is Tanis Lavallee’s Seaboard sweater. This one is an absolute gem. It’s got so many interesting details, it makes me drool! I love the dropped shoulders, the split hem, the boat neck, the combination of lace and cables… Pretty much everything about this is lovely.
Once again, I do not have a yarn for this project. So this one will have to wait, unfortunately, until I work through some of my stash.
Third is a pattern I’ve knit before, but in child sizes. Tin Can Knits make wonderful patterns for beginner knitters, and their Flax Lite sweater pattern is a favorite for baby gifts. I’ve knitted versions of this for my Bug and for other people’s kids. Now, however, I want to make it in adult size for my Chico.
It’s an easy top-down sweater knit in the round. The garter stitch detail on sleeves will look great on Chico, emphasizing his shoulders. The pattern is unisex, and shouldn’t require any shaping, but I can play with it and see if I want to taper it slightly just below the shoulder blades to give it a slimmer waist. I’ve never done any customizing, so we’ll see how that goes.
I bought yarn for this project at a fiber festival in Virginia back in the fall. But I had a forehead slapping moment earlier today when I realized that this sweater quantity of yarn I have is in DK weight, not fingering!! D’oh!! I’ll have to swatch and see what can be done.