Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Cabal of Knitters

As I've said, I generally take a more solitary approach to knitting, but the other night I decided to get out of the house and sit in on a knitting circle, having been invited by a woman I met at an Irish dance class.  It was, in fact, a delightful night all around filled with wine and cheese and chocolate-covered Matzo and lots of women - some with professional artistic backgrounds and some knitting for recreation and some knitting for charity - working on different projects.  There was a very tight, comradely sort of atmosphere as we all chatted about different events and tools of the trade (alpaca! mohair! raglans! Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival, which I am officially banning myself from attending this year because I have no money to spend on more fancy wool!)  And it might just be me imagining it, but I'm pretty sure the knitting I did there was less sloppy than usual, because I was actually focusing on what I did.

There was also a lot of pressure to knit your best, because some of the women's other nearly finished garments were seriously gorgeous.  One or two of them were proper maestros, taking a properly creative approach to their craft.  I mean, I know a few knitting tricks by this point.  I can make a decent sweater, I can increase and decrease like a champ, and I am unfazed by cables.  But the women here were so far beyond all of that they were using patterns as guidelines only, making their own flourishes and changing the measurements or numbers of stitches whenever they felt it was necessary, which I would be terrified to do.  Plus, a lot of them knew how to knit pockets, which is my next big goal.  At any rate, it was a great community for bouncing ideas off of each other and asking for advice.  The most advanced of them was able to tell me the point of the whole turn and wrap technique, which I'd figured out how to do but couldn't put my finger on why.  It is, in fact, to be used when you want to preserve a certain pattern but have one side of the piece you're knitting shorter than the other, as in a trapezoid shape.  I needed this to knit a collar for a new sweater I'm attempting, and she described it as allowing for a sort of sawn-off cone shape to the collar rather than a cylinder shape, which would make it arrange itself more naturally on your shoulders.

So there was much chatting and gossiping and laughing late into the night, and everyone was very interested to hear about Peru, and especially the trove of alpaca wool I'd brought home from there.  One interesting thing I noticed, which seems to be universal among knitters who hang out with other knitters, is that it was very good manners to come up to someone, ask to see what they're working on, and then pick it up and feel it very intently it all over with your hands.  In fact, it's quite flattering when someone does that, and especially if they then start rubbing your stash of yarn between their fingers.  And anyone who shows up wearing an interesting sweater or shawl can expect to have it complimented and then petted by various different people who might be interested in replicating it.

The project I began there is the Alienor sweater by Anna Larsson which is beautiful but intimidating.  (It's the one that had me all frustrated by the whole notion of turning and wrapping.)  But I've gotten the initial cable pattern down for the collar and am making headway with that.

And, best of all, I've finally broken into my alpaca wool from Arequipa.  It is absolutely the finest stuff I've ever dealt with, soft and silky but with a slick feel of lanolin, and I have to hold myself back from knitting every spare second I get.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Publishment and Pontificating

In lieu of any actual travel tales, (although I am slowly plotting out my trip to England in June!) I have two big announcements to make on this blog.

Announcement the first, 24 Hours Dublin is finally up on, ready to order for $4.99 and have for your very own.  Follow this link to take a look, browse through the sample pages and read about all the different reasons why Dublin is the greatest city in all the history of all the world.  No exaggerations there, no sir.

See!  Look how happy I look there!  Look!  Everyone just go to Dublin - you will not be sorry.

Announcement the second, I am currently attempting to knit a tunic dress, loosely based off of the Liesl pattern by Julie Weisenberger only I've nixed the pockets and am making up the dimensions as I go, hoping that the finished product will fit a tall, gangly person such as myself.  The pattern required that I learn the selvedge stitch, which requires that you slip the first and last stitch of each row, but in such a way that you don't end up with any less stitches at the end of it.... it's all still somewhat of mathematical wizardry to me, but it seems to be working out well enough.  I especially love that my stockinette stitch doesn't curl at the edges now, something I had resigned myself to years ago as just one of knitting's inherent tragedies.

Otherwise, I've been reading a lot about all the secret health benefits associated with knitting and crocheting, which have been getting a lot of press recently.  And finding out there's actual scientific evidence behind how addictive knitting can get makes me feel like much less of a weirdo, which is always nice.

First of all, knitting offers some of the same benefits as meditation.  I probably lose some of the effect, since I generally knit to stave off guilt as I watch TV shows (currently Breaking Bad) or sometimes while I'm buying anti-guilt by listening to audio books.  But the simple, repetitive movements of casting on stitches apparently activate the same areas of your brain as reciting a mantra, decreasing production of stress hormones and increasing production of dopamine and serotonin.  Aside from the mental benefits this sort of "instant relaxation" technique can have, helping ameliorate symptoms of everything from ADHD to Alzheimer's.

In addition to the more esoteric benefits, you also get to enjoy the good old increased nimbleness in your hands, which can help stave off the onset of arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome (the last one which occasionally worries me, as my job includes frenziedly typing a bajillion words a day).

And the endless ways knitting can assist with an emotionally and healthy lifestyle shouldn't be overlooked either.  Stereotypes of hermitly cat-ladies aside, joining a crafts club can be a great way to find a close-knit (!!!) group of friends with the same interests as you.  And, in these high-strung, adrenalin-fueled ADHD days of jumping from distraction to distraction and buying quasi-disposable clothes from monstrous super-mall warehouse-marts, it can be immensely fulfilling to wear something that you've put time and and effort into creating.  (Of course, no one but another knitter will ever realize you're wearing a self-made item, but you get mad respect from anyone who's in the club.)

Perk #1: Spending your money on fancy yarn and bamboo needles is better than spending it on drugs.

Perk #2: Wooden needles can double as stakes for vampire slaying.

Perk #3: You can give failed experiments  to your mom for Mother's Day and tell her it's a stylish scarf.  She will be overwhelmed.

Perk #4: Having some sort of demonstrable survival skill, such as hat-making, will make you a valuable asset to post-apocalyptic warrior societies.