Getting Organized

In the run-up to Spring knitting events I went through all my yarn, notions and needles. The purpose was to remind me what I have, so that I wouldn’t double (and sometimes triple or quadruple) my supplies.

The most challenging thing was being a “weekender” on Orcas Island is that my knitting goodies were not in one place. Fixing that took some coordination, but to reduce extra spending, it was well worth the effort.

Nick enjoying the sunset at West Beach in his “Island Sweater” knit with local wool from island sheep.

I’d like to have my yarn and supplies on Orcas Island since I knit more there or on my commute to and from. However, I do more project planning on the mainland. So, when I had to decide where to take inventory, it made sense to move to the smaller concentration to the higher.

It’s no surprise that I have a terrifying amount of yarn (it actually was… a bit), as most of my stash had been logged in Ravelry. What surprised me most was the quantity of needles and notions. Partly this is because I pick them up as I travel and partly it is because I inherited loads from my grandmother along with her stash. Some of these notions are antiques—which I will not part with—but an equal amount went into the donate pile along with some my own purchases.

Old plastic needles–handy for travel

Probably the best thing to come out of sorting all of my bibs and bobs was the creation of small organized packets of notion kits—four in total—so that I have virtually everything I need to hand, whether it is in the car, island or mainland, or for traveling with individual projects. Some well-chosen Tom Bihn knitting organizers really helped.

Tom Bihn is a local bag maker in SeaTac, who in addition to luggage, makes specialized knitting bags and accessories. And if the luggage at Red Alder Fiber Arts Retreat is any indication, both types of bags are very popular among the knitting community.

Anyone else doing Spring notions cleaning? Any interesting organizational ideas?

Learning My Own Knit Style

This week I attended my first Red Alder Fiber Arts Retreat (AKA Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat) and it was worth it. It’s relatively local to me, just a long drive, and the classes were well balanced between beginning, intermediate and advanced. It was also smaller and less expensive than many knitting events.

Being a long-time knitter, I took moderate to advanced topics; such as Knitting Argyle Socks and Patterned and Textured Double-knitting. Overheard from an attendee coming out of the pre-requisite for one of my classes, “that hurt my head”. I agree. Some of these techniques that employ new ideas, especially with color, take concentration when you are learning them. As with everything, with practice, they become easier.

What surprised me is not what I learned in class, but what I learned about what like, and don’t, as a fiber artist. In part this is because this is a very introspective time for me. I’m on leave considering leaving the workforce (for good) or what might be a ‘next career’ for me.

Not to say that the classes weren’t all consuming. Hats off to the instructors, who were patient and expert at their craft. I would recommend the classes I took at Red Alder above many, maybe even most, I’ve taken in more than 20 years of fiber conference class attendance. I’ll talk more about them as I use the learnings in future blogs.

In general, what helped most was finding out what works for me as a knitter. Maybe it will help you too:

  1. It’s okay to be practical. I should make things that my family asks for, will wear and use. The things I was most drawn to on other attendees and display were were both beautiful and practical.
  2. Challenging to make can be challenging to wear. It’s time to clean out my Ravelry queue of hard to make, never to be worn, specialty items requiring expensive, highly contrasting, skinny yarns. On real people, they can look more costume than couture.
  3. I’m so *over* shawls. They age everyone–even the very young!
  4. Designing colorwork patterns is hard. Charting color patterns is easy to get wrong and they are worth every penny. While I aspire to do colorwork designs, for the time being it’s perfectly okay to use someone else’s tried and true pattern.
  5. New designs DO look better. Older patterns were created to sell yarn and often lacked attention to detail, especially in sweater finishing and socks. New teachers are teaching new techniques that look and fit better. And many are easy to learn and apply to old patterns.

I’m now looking forward to Seattle Vogue Knitting next month. It’s even closer to home. And, as usual, I’ve signed up for lots of classes.

I hope I never get tired of learning new things.

Have you picked up any new techniques and ideas lately?

A stitch gauge with size in millimeters on one side and US needle sizes on the other.

PS: Though I did buy things at the marketplace—real fur pompoms and an elegant stainless steel stitch gauge necklace from Crossover Industries, I managed to stick to my resolution to knit only from my stash this year.

It’s Hip to Be Square – Sticking With Classic Designs

Some things are “classic” like Bach concertos and other things are likely to go the way of the song that inspired the title of this blog, Huey Lewis and the News and their song, Hip to be Square. I suspect that Bach will be heard more often and long after I’m around, given how long it has been since he was around (he died in 1750).

The upshot? Trends die and classics last. So why not knit things that never go out of style?

Last week I mentioned my grandmother used to, out of boredom, knit the frilliest, most intricate couch throws. And though I know she knit my family dozens of these beautiful showpieces; I cannot tell you where any of these are today–probably hiding out in closets. You don’t see them because they were showpieces and not particularly useful.

I’m lazy, so if I’m going to take the time to knit an afghan, rather than creating a visual piece, I’d rather see it wear out from use. And even better if it looks good too.

My first afghan, knit from yarn in my grandmother’s stash, was a series of stockinette and reverse stockinette squares with a seed stitch border. Since then, I’ve stuck with this very classic “squares” design, varying only the size of the squares, the weight of the yarn and the border. And though the first one is from many years ago, it is warm, washable, reversable and comfortable. And being a basic ivory color, it should also match any possible décor.

Simple Squares Throw in Ivory Acrylic

I’m on the last block of squares of my latest afghan in this series. After which I’m going to try a Purl Soho pattern to do something just a bit different, but not so different it won’t get used.

Shadow Squares Pattern from Purl Soho

I’m definitely happy to be a square when it comes to creating classic, useful household items. What I tend to splurge on is the fiber itself. These two afghans are a wool-silk blend and they are warm, warm, warm. Perfect for these chilly winter months.

These simple contemporary designs which are both easy to make and great for every day use.

This coming weekend I’m heading to the Red Alder Fiber Art Retreat in Tacoma. I’ve missed it every year–until this year–because of work and travel. I’m super excited to hone my double-knitting skills so I can do more reversible items. Hope to see you there!

What would you do if you forgot how to knit?

For most of my life, I’ve been a sweater knitter. I think this is because my grandmother, who taught me to knit, was a prolific knitter of sweaters—30+ a year. She also made afghans, but not as many because she’d get bored. To keep things interesting, she’d choose intricate patterns with bells and baubles. When I think of the ‘lost art of knitting’ it’s these fancy items that come to mind.

What’s amazing is after my grandmother stopped knitting, there was only one work in progress in her stash. She was a finisher, but later in life she became ill with Alzheimer’s and literally forgot how to knit. At some point, she thought if she didn’t have the yarn, she’d be less likely to want to pick up a project. And this would reduce her torment of starting and not knowing how to keep going. Except, of course, for the times she forgot that she’d forgotten how to knit.

This is how I came to ‘inherit’ a huge amount of yarn more than 10 years years before she passed away at 90 years old.

As a knitter, to forget how to weild your craft seems like the ultimate punishment. If it were me, I’d do what she did–find someone to inspire. And boy did she have a lot of inspiration to share! She’d been collecting for years and with every store closing or fire sale, her stash grew and grew until it overwhelmed her house.

As her memory faded, my grandfather reminded her that I was a knitter. So, she called and asked me to drive from Arizona, home to Idaho, to take away her stash. When I arrived, my grandmother told me it “made her sick” to look at it. She kept asking me, “you’ll use it won’t you?” at least a dozen times. “I just don’t want to see it go to waste.” I assured her it wouldn’t, and I meant it.

Then, as now, I am intensely grateful for the gift of her stash which I’ve knit into all kinds of things.

At that time, I would never, at that time, have been able to afford these yarns—not even the synthetics. Overnight, my nonexistent stash bulged with wools, silks, angora, cottons and linens as well. Most of it odds and ends, because she never knit with more than one yarn or color at a time. Since I do, her leftovers work just fine.

In this new year–new decade–in fact, I am challenging myself to put the remaining yarn to the best possible use. There will be difficulties, as many of them have no yardage or care information. It will also be fun figure how I can best use this gift of yarn to its best advantage.

I look forward to sharing!