Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Social Knitting - Everybody's Doing It

Social Knitting – or Everybody's Doing It

When I decided to go public with my knitting, I thought it might be fun to seek out other knitters.  I was certain that there were quite a few and thought I could probably learn something from others.  I thought I could even find a knitting group.

My Local Yarn Shop (LYS), Knit & Caboodle, has a weekly knit-in so I thought I would try it out.  I went and there were 4 other ladies and another guy sitting around a table knitting.  They welcomed me, and asked me to return, and I did for a while.  One of the ladies said I should check into Ravelry (an online knitting community) so I did.

  Holy Cow!!

This year, Ravelry got their 2,000,000th member.  At any time, there are between 5,000 and 10,000 knitters online searching for patterns or talking about whatever.  I had no idea what I was getting into.  They have groups for everything you can imagine.  I have a Boston Terrier, so for fun, I did a search of groups who like to talk about Boston Terriers – There are 7 different groups.  I’m in one called Boston Terrier Owners and Lovers.  There are 588 members.  If you like a specific designer I’m sure there is a group where people discuss her designs.  For example, if you like the Rosemary Hill (Romi), there a group called Romi’s Studio with nearly 5,000 members.

On Ravelry I heard that Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (the Yarn Harlot) was coming to the St Louis area for a book signing.  I couldn’t believe it.  I entered the world of public knitting just in time to find out my hero was coming to town.  The book signing was held at a local church.  I decided to go.  Again, I was still very new to social knitting so I didn’t know what to expect.  Luckily, someone said to bring your knitting so I brought some.  (This was before I learned that you can and should take your knitting everywhere).

I got to the church early because I wasn’t sure how long it would take me to get there.  I sat down and started knitting.  Pretty soon the church filled up – completely.  In fact, some people were standing in the back.  Everyone was knitting.  I was surprised at how friendly everyone was.  Everyone was checking out shawls and sweaters people were wearing.  People would ask you what you were knitting.  Nobody even thought it was strange that I, a man, was knitting (there were several of us.)  The program was late starting, but nobody cared – because we were all knitting.

The actual program was awesome.  At the end of the presentation she did a book signing.  There were several hundred people there and she was going to sign books for everyone.  She said an interesting thing up front.  She said that people should start the line from the front row and work backwards – but if anyone needed to leave early, they could just come up front of the line.  She said nobody would mind because we’re all knitters so we’re friendly.  She was right.  Nobody complained about the line.  Nobody complained about people that went up front and cut in.  I stood in line for over an hour and everyone was happy.  I learned an important lesson – Knitters are kind, friendly people.  Stephanie acted happy to talk to me.  I had a picture taken with her (sorry it’s fuzzy, blame the lady who took it.)  She did refuse my proposal of marriage but other than that it was great. 

Since that time, through Ravelry I have found other groups locally.  I believe every yarn shop has knit ins.  I know of many many knit-ins done at women’s homes or in rest homes or churches or where ever.  I’ve kind of settled into a group that meets here in St Louis.   We’re called the Gateway Knitters and have over 200 members.  We have monthly meetings with 30 or 40 women and an old man meeting together for a few hours to eat cookies, show off our projects, give each other knitting hints – and knit.

I have since also discovered a knitting group which meets monthly at our local library which I attend regularly.  I was there last night and was again impressed with how nice everyone is.  It’s more than just showing each other how to knit – it’s a place where someone can go without a friend and be immediately accepted.  One lady had just had her cat put down and was alone and new in the area.  One young woman was trying to learn and was knitting her first scarf.  Everyone is so helpful, supportive and friendly.

Of course, there are much more sophisticated knitting events.  Our little group had 2 retreats a year where we go to a local hotel for a long weekend.  There are other events that are much more exotic.  I just did a computer search for knitting cruises.  There’s one going to China in Mar 2013, the Panama Canal in April, and Alaska in July – and so forth.   There are mountain and/or beach retreats on both coasts.   You can go to a retreat in Vancouver where they just do sock knitting for a week.  These can cost thousands of dollars.

There are Knit-a-longs (KALs) where a group decides to knit the same pattern.  You can help each other over difficult parts, compare yarns, or just see how different people knit the same thing.  These groups can be in a small LYS knitting group, a designer’s forum, or a Ravelry group with hundreds of people knitting the same thing all around the world. 

One additional point I will make is that most knitters are obsessed with yarn shops.  For me, I’m content with on-line shopping; I use knitpicks.com for nearly everything, so I don’t go to the LYS too often.  When I do, it’s in and out.  I’m not sure what the big deal is.  Other knitters talk about going to the LYS and spending all their time and money there.  I guess it’s a testosterone thing.  I may knit – but I don’t shop.

So, what I learned from going public is that there are lots and lots of knitters out there.  They are uncommonly kind people.  They love to knit and they love to talk about knitting.  They love to help.  What I really learned is that I am not alone.  Last weekend I visited my mother in law.  I knit while I’m there (surprise) and one of my sisters-in-law told me that she thought there might be a knitting group there in the area.  I just smiled and thought, “Yes, there probably is.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Death Shawl

The Death Shawl

OK, I really hesitate to tell this story because it may offend.  On the other hand, it’s Halloween, and everything in this story happened a long time ago – so What the heck. – here’s the true story of the Death Shawl.
I was in the military stationed in Virginia.  We decided to go visit family in Utah for Christmas.  My first wife’s grandmother was very sick and was not expected to live more than a few weeks so we especially wanted to get a chance to visit with her for one last visit.  I had been making a few shawls and decided it would be nice to make one for her grandma. 
The pattern was lacy, but this is before I discovered there was something besides acrylic worsted yarn from Michaels, so I made it out of some sparkly white acrylic yarn from the local big box store.  We were staying at my parent’s home in Provo.  I worked on it like mad for a couple days after we got to Utah so it would be done when we went to visit Grandma.  I finished it the night before we drove to her home in Ogden
Grandma was thrilled.  She cried (no surprise there my wife’s whole family has leaky tear ducts) and was so happy. 
She died a couple weeks later.  No surprise there.  We flew out for the funeral.  After it was over, Grandpa returned the shawl to me. 
A couple years later on a summer vacation to visit Utah again I gave the shawl to my mom.  A few weeks later my mom announced to my sister that she was going to take a nap on the couch for an hour or so before the football game.  She never woke up.  This was a complete surprise.  My mom was old and had a history of heart trouble, but had been fine for quite a while before this.  When we were dividing up my mom’s possessions, there was the shawl.  Of course, since I had made it, I again took it home.
On that visit we visited my first wife’s other grandmother.  She was in a rest home and would fade in and out of reality.  She asked why we were there in Utah and I told her that my mom had passed.  When I told her how mom had died, grandma teared up and said that was so beautiful.  Then she told us that she couldn’t die because she had a pace maker. 
Grandma lingered on for a few years, wishing she could pass on, fading in and out of reality.  She would stand by the micro wave because she had heard people with pace-makers shouldn't stand by macro waves.  She wanted the pace maker removed - but of course doctors won't do that.  She was convinced she couldn't die as long as she had the pace maker.

   Before our next visit to family in Utah, my mother-in-law told me it was time to give Grandma the “shawl.”  Of course that was a joke, but it did remind me that I had that basically unused shawl that Grandma would probably enjoy - so, I packed up the shawl and brought it to Grandma.  I was hesitant to do so because I have heard stories about how nice things owned by people in rest homes are stolen by the staff and that shawls especially find a way of disappearing, but the shawl was just sitting in a drawer not being used so I figured Grandma might as well enjoy it.  So, I brought it to her.
Two weeks later Grandma died!!!
To quote Goldfinger in James Bond, “Once is happenstance.  Twice is coincidence.  The third time it’s enemy action.”
            The shawl is now buried deep in my old knitting boxes.  I really should destroy it because I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to find it when I’m gone and decide it’s a pretty shawl.  On the other hand, it’s an old acrylic shawl.  I have lots of really nice ones that will be found first, so it will probably be thrown out anyway.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Baby Blanket from Heck

The Baby Blanket from Heck

In my original how-to-knit book, there was a nice baby bootie pattern.  I used it to make booties for several different people who had babies.  When I started having grandchildren, I decided to graduate to the next step – The Baby Blanket.  I currently have 13 grandchildren and have made 9 baby blankets.  I guess I should go back and make 4 for the older kids, but I’m not sure how much a 10 year old would enjoy a baby blanket. 
Simple block pattern
            Baby blankets are really just a big square.  You don’t have to worry about gauge because it really can’t be the wrong size – somewhere between 28 and 48 inches square – and square – or nearly square.
           You can do square blocks, stripes, solid, diagonal, or even entrelac.  I have done at least one of each.  It’s fun to compare my knitting skills progress from blanket to blanket. 
The quickest blanket that isn’t just straight garter stitch is probably the diagonal blanket.  You can find the pattern all over the web.  Normally it’s for a wash cloth or something else like that – but what’s a baby blanket but a big wash cloth.  The pattern is simple.  Basically you increase every row until it’s big enough, then you decrease every row.  You end up with a square.  Here’s the pattern:
Diagonal Baby Blanket (or wash cloth or whatever)
·       Cast on 5 stitches
·       Knit one row
·       Increase row:  K3, YO, K to end.
·       Repeat Increase row until blanket is half done.
·       Decrease row: K2, K2tog, yo, K2tog, K to end
·       Repeat Decrease row until there are 5 stitches remaining
·       Bind off

I had to do 2 blankets close together (my kids should learn to space their children out better.)  I made the first one using the diagonal pattern and two colors of yarn together.  For the baby girl, I used white and pink.  I went from several rows of two white yarns, to several rows of one white and one pink to several rows of two pink yarns – and then reverse.  It turned out pretty cool with diagonal strips blending from white to pink and back.  It was also very fast since I used large needles and a very simple pattern – nearly all in garter stitch.
Since the blanket was so easy – I decided to make another one using blue and white in the same way.
Dexter tries out all my knitting first
         I also tried an entrelac pattern for a baby blanket.  My daughter-in-law says she has been stopped by people on the street commenting on the blanket.  Entrelac looks hard, and is not.  If you haven’t tried it, do it.  A baby blanket is a great place to start because it uses large stitches and the gauge doesn’t matter.  Of course a huge drawback is that it is not at all reversible.  The right side is beautiful.  The wrong side looks like the wrong side.
So, my oldest granddaughter didn’t get a baby blanket (I hadn’t started making them when she was a baby.  I decided I should make her a “big girl” blanket.   She loves rainbows so I decided to make her a rainbow blanket.  I went back to the good old diagonal pattern.  My wife always gives me a bad time about my stash - so I threw about 40 different balls of yarn into a big bag.  Fingering, worsted, bulky - whatever.  Then I would randomly pull a ball out, knit a row, throw that ball into a different bag and grab another ball.  When I finished all 40 balls, I just start over.  I left the ends about 10 inches long on each end.  Then every row, I would tie the end with the end left from the previous row.  I used over 40 different yarns – all different sizes and materials, chunky next to fingerling.  When I got done, I trimmed the ends to about 6 inches.  Even though she’s now 8 – but she loves her rainbow blanket.  It was the best stash burner ever.  You know – you can never throw any yarn away longer than 3 feet.  You never know when you might need it.  In fact, I liked the idea so much I made a “rainbow” scarf for my newest daughter-in-law.  Figured she should know right off that she had a crazy knitting father-in-law.
Again with the dog
        I also made one blanket based on an afghan pattern I got for free.  It started with a large square.  Then you pick up the stitches along one side and knit for a while.  Then pick up the stitches along the side of the 2 pieces and knit for a while.  Keep going until you have a blanket – kind of like a log cabin blanket only you just keep building.  (I also made a Log Cabin blanket)
An important part of making a baby blanket is that it has to be reversible.  Babies tend to mess them up so if there’s not a “right” side, it helps.  The diagonal blanket is great for this because it’s all garter stitch which is the same on both sides.  With this in mind I saw a pattern for a reversible shawl.  I saw it on KnitPicks.com.  It’s called Courtyard Drape  from Reversible Knits © 2009 by Iris Schreier.  It is multi-colored with white cables going across one side.  The cables are cleverly worked on one side only and don’t even show on the other side.  I saw it and immediately thought it would be a cool baby blanket with soft white cables going down one side.  The pattern said to use US size 5 needles – so I did.  I learned a valuable lesson - never use anything smaller than US size 8 on a baby blanket.  The above diagonal blankets I mentioned used double strand and US size 11 needles.  Anyway, the blanket turned out beautiful and it’s one of my favorite baby blankets – it’s not the “baby blanket from heck” but it did take a heck of a long time.
That brings me to the Baby Blanket from Heck.
I knit a set of hats for my granddaughters.  I picked up  a little pamphlet with 3 different hats.  One of them had a cute pattern going around brim with a star stitch design.  Basically it’s knit the RS and on the WS  P3Tog leaving the triplet on the left needle, do a YO, then P3Tog through the same 3 forming a star.  Then Purl one stitch and do it again.  Repeat.  That makes a 2 row pattern of stars.  If you switch colors and on the next WS row you Purl 2 before you start the first star, you’ll build another row of stars that fit nicely down between the stars in the previous row.  Very simple.  Very fast.
           The “stars” turn out to be nice little squares and I noticed they formed a square diagonally as well as up and down.  This gave me the bright idea – make a variation of the diagonal blanket I described above only instead of using simple garter stitch, use this star stitch.
It worked beautifully.  I did one pattern in pink, 2 in white, one in yellow, 2 in white and so on. It looked great.  I got to the halfway point and noticed that the blanket didn’t look too square.  Well, one thing I’ve learned from many knitters – we are stubborn.  I mean, we can see a sweater is big enough to fit a hippo and still press on thinking it will block alright.  So, I ignored what looked like a catastrophe and pushed on.  Near the end, it was clear I was crazy, but I kept on.  Finally, I got to the last row of just 5 stitches and bound off.  Now, I put it out on the floor and had to face the reality that I had just knit an abomination.  It looked like a kite.
So, I was a Jr High math teacher, I told myself I could figure out what happened.  Let’s look at the anatomy of the diagonal blanket.  Garter stitch has the wonderful property of having 1 stitch be almost the same length as 2 rows.  Because of this, if you add one stitch at each end for every 2 rows, you are building a nearly perfect right isosceles triangle with the active row being the hypotenuse.  If I lost you, just trust me, it works great.  Now the star stitch is close to the same measurement as stockinette.  2 stitches = about 1 1/3 rows.  Again, if I lost you that means, it won’t work.
After figuring out what went wrong and messing with the math, I figured out that if I added 2 stitches every other row on the increase rows and decreased 2 stitches every other row on the decrease rows it would work.  I frogged the whole dang thing.  I rolled each color onto its own ball and then reknit the blanket using the pieces I rolled together.  It turned out the pieces were close to the same size (in fact I required a little less which meant I didn’t need to use other yarn.  When I finished I have a beautiful blanket that had to be completely knit 2 times.  I plan on publishing the pattern if I ever get around to it. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Coming out of the Closet

As you'll see by the note at the end, I wrote this in Sept 2011.  It's now Oct 2012.  So much for keeping up.  Anyway, now that I'm finally getting around to starting the blog - I'm putting this in as my first post.  - Bart

Coming out of the Closet
As a little boy I heard of how my grandfather, Joseph Barton, knitted socks for soldiers in World War I.   The story goes that he would go to the place where they handed out yarn and get enough yarn for only one pair of socks.  They would not give more than that at a time.  He returned the next day and asked for more yarn.  After 2 or 3 days of this they finally just gave him enough yarn to do several socks at a time.  My mother said he was the fastest knitter she had ever seen. I never saw anything he knitted, but I always thought it was cool that an old man could knit.
In my mid 20s, I was a young Lieutenant in the Air Force.  I got sick and knew that I would be home for a couple weeks with nothing to do (we didn’t have a TV at the time.)  I was reading a book of family history and thought of my grandfather knitting, and decided there was no reason to wait until I was an old man to start.  I sent my wife out for a book on knitting.  She came home with the book, The Bernat Book of Complete Knitting.

 I picked out an afghan pattern which was knitted as a set of long narrow strips using #13 needles (Note, the picture below is not my afghan, it's the pattern in the book.
The book gives detailed instructions on how to cast on and other basic knitting steps.  I looked at the pictures and figured out how to do it.  I couldn’t really ask anyone how to do it, because men don’t knit – and of course there was no internet yet.  I finished the afghan in those two weeks while I was home.
For the next few years, I knitted on and off.  I knitted nearly everything in the book.  I was very self-conscious about knitting as a man but now and then I would knit something for someone outside of the family.  Usually it would be a pair of baby booties (from the book) for a co-worker or for someone at church having a baby.  They were always very well received but very few people knew that I had knitted them.  Most thought my wife had done it.
Things progressed until I had the knitting bug bad.  I started to knit all the time.  During work I would think about what I would knit once I got home.  I started knitting something for everyone every Christmas.  (This is not something that should be started unless you are really serious – I’ll probably dedicate future blogs to this subject)  I remember once I went to pick someone up at the airport.  I was knitting something on circular needles so I decided to take my knitting along while I waited.  I really tried to knit there in the waiting room, but there were so many people there, I couldn’t bring myself to do it.  I was truly a closet knitter.
As the years have progressed, I thought one day I should write a book about my experiences with yarn.  I was going to call it Knitting in the Closet.  It would be about knitting from a man’s point of view.
Last year, during my usual marathon Christmas knitting, my wife and I went to Hawaii to visit my youngest daughter and her husband.  They had a new baby which we had to see – even if it meant traveling to Hawaii and spending a week on the beaches – the things we do for our children.  Anyway, I was in the middle of my Christmas knitting and couldn’t really see how I could possibly take off a week and still finish everything.  I decided I would be around strangers who wouldn’t know me so what the heck – I decided to come out of the closet (at least for two weeks).
I started knitting on the flight to Hawaii.  One of the stewardesses came over and asked what I was knitting.  I would have liked to have said, “A gun holster” but instead I told the truth and said, “Baby doll panties.”  Well she wanted to see the doll pattern, and the next thing I knew, I was in the back of the plane with her and she was showing me the linen stitch shawl she was just finishing for herself.  She gave me the pattern and made me promise to send her an email picture of the finished doll and of the linen stich shawl if I ever decided to make it (still haven’t, but it’s in my list of things to do – I promise to start as soon as I finish my current Christmas list.)  On that trip and at other public places, I was approached by countless women.  I got 3 email addresses from women I didn’t even know – all the time sitting next to my wife. 
This is something that should be taught to boys of dating age.  Knitting in public is a babe-magnet, more than a puppy, more than a baby.  Women come out of the wood-work to talk to a guy that’s knitting.  I recently read Free-Range Knitter: The Yarn Harlot Writes again by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee.  She mentions this fact and says it is an insult to men because women make a big deal when a man does something many women can.  Well, that may be true, but that shouldn’t stop us from enjoying the attention.
Now, I take my needles wherever I go.  I show off my projects at work.  I’ve even stopped a woman once to admire a sweater she was wearing and took notes on how parts of it were done.
That brings me to my blog.  I never got around to writing a book, so here’s the next best thing.  I’m going to try and put up something weekly.  Go ahead and nose around.  Let me know your thoughts, things you like, things you don’t, or even ideas for other things I should write about.  You’ll notice my title changed – I’m now Knitting Outside of the Closet.
-                     Bart Larsen, Sep 2011