December 15, 2011

22 Scarves

My father used to call me a "frustrated perfectionist." He would say this as he watched me practicing my piano lessons and trying so hard to make each piece right--no mistakes. I was motivated  by a desire to jump on to harder things. I thought that the harder pieces would sound better and more like "real" music than scales, arpeggios and simple tunes.

It is definitely hard as a beginner to hear others so much more practiced--so much more talented, maybe, too--than you are and know it is going to take a very long while to reach your lofty goals, if you ever do. So instead of playing where others will hear you, you keep your music to yourself, working on your own until such a time as you feel you might be "worthy" to be heard by others. In knitting, there is a similar feeling sometimes among beginners: they feel shy about their skills and don't feel worthy of knitting with more experienced people or giving knitted gifts.

We get down on ourselves. We do things like compare knitted retail items to what we could make, for example, and tell ourselves it isn't worth it to make an inferior product that will surely cost us more in yarn and time than the store bought knitwear. Maybe we also think about the things we are good at, and feel like knitting, too, should be at the level of our other talents before we share it. After all, only kids can get away with being beginners, right? Adult women and men should have learned those skills long ago, right? Wrong.

A friend of mine emailed me a story out of the December 2011 issue of Guideposts Magazine about this very thing.

In the very short story on page 16 of the issue, a woman tells of not only her novice knitting skills, but of how she has never really improved them. As she says, "I only know one stitch." "Know." Present tense. And I must assume she means garter stitch since there is no mention of others.

This woman wanted to make scarves for Christmas for 22 people. 22! That is daunting for anyone. I would have to start in spring to finish a goal like that by Christmas. She goes on to say that since she can only knit in "one stitch," she understands that there will be no variation in the scarves. They will all be garter.

Her idea was this: she very carefully considered every person on her list. Were they artistic? She bought them more avant garde colors, and bolder combinations than most might wear. One friend was a cook at a camp. Colors of veggies for her. Another was someone she admired for her insight and wisdom. That friend received a scarf reflecting those personal qualitied in jewel tones and richness of color.

This list of painstaking detail goes on 22 times. The knitter was poetic, insightful and showed that she really, truly knew her friends. It was not on her mind that the scarves would be the same, or people might feel like she "cheaped" out making a beginner's pattern. Rather, she poured her heart into every gift, and I see no way they could have been received with anything but astonished gratitude.

So to you knitters who feel you little or nothing to offer your family and friends (myself included in that), you are wrong. A little love and attention to detail can go a long way. A really long way.

Are you secretly asking yourself what this woman must have done with all the left over yarn?

She knitted herself a scarf, matching in stitch, with every single color she used for her friends. That way, every time she wears it, she thinks of each of them.

How's that for a Merry Christmas?

Want to create that feeling with your own friends? Here is a quick, loosely retold guide to a "friendship scarf," borrowwed from "Knit it Together" by Suzyn Jackson.

Gather several friends and be sure you have a nice block of time, say 3 hours.

Each person brings a new skein of yarn to the party in matching size/approx gauge. Bulky might be good for speed.

The yarn is to share and each participant uses their own needles.

Sit in a circle and begin knitting a scarf, any pattern, any width. Just keep in mind that you will want to have a scarf when you are done, so maybe not too complicated.

Begin with your own yarn and knit away (try garter!) until a signal occurs. This is agreed upon before the game begins--we have one gal who likes to mention her cats, for example, this might be a signal. When the signal occurs, cut your yarn and pass it to your left.

Do this until the alloted time has passed, then everyone has essentially the same scarf, but different, too!

December 13, 2011

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Fight

The holidays.

How many heartwarming, heartwrenching or simply corny stories have been told about them? How many times have we all read about the trials and tribulations of shoppers, hostesses and planners everywhere? How many times have we wanted to scream or barf at the redundancy of these writings--or just recycled them on sight with no thought at all? And yet, here we all are: Time marches and on we must wade through one more season of Christmas in our shared tribulations. 

Don't misunderstand me. I adore the Christmas season. I really do believe that, no matter how old one becomes, there is magic and wonder to be found. I even work diligently to perpetuate this idea in my children. But something seems to be happening to me as I age. 

Time truly does march on, but it marches faster and faster as more of it passes. It is as though I am part of a vast hourglass, and, like any hourglass, the fewer sands there are, the faster they seem to fall. (For you Wizard of Oz fans, you may now imagine the Wicked Witch cackling as the sands run dangerously to their end).

I can remember what my Christmas season was like as a much younger woman working at a local retail store--Fred Meyer, for those of you familiar with the western half of the United States. I keenly recall the start of it all: Black Friday.

We would prepare from July to November, receiving boxes and boxes of special sale freight just for that day. All us girls in the Ready-to-Wear department had to wear nylons and skirts while we whiled away the hours cutting cardboard, sorting product and labeling it all. Just so it could be destroyed by the crazed early morning shoppers insanely wild about getting a 50% off deal on socks--socks that we knew had about a 300% markup in the first place.

On "BF" (not to be confused with today's acronym "BFF"), all was ready. We store employees would dress way up, wearing suits and dresses, and stand back--WAY back--to watch the shoppers enter the store at o'dark thirty.

I ran the "Domestics" department, which included pillows, bedding, towels, curtains, lamps and crafts. The department was in the back of the store, but we weren't completely hidden from the world. There was one very long aisle that led from outside the building and all the way back to Domestics.

I had a special BF vantage point that included this entire aisle, and enjoyed watching the variety of customers entering the store and heading my way. Some would be reserved, almost as though they were there to people-watch, too, while others were like some women who would burst through the door right at 7am, dragging still-pj-clad toddlers all the way down the long aisle to the towels. Some took it a bit further and even pressed through the ever-growing crowd all the way to the bowels of Domestics until they reached the ceiling displays.

These were boxes displayed over rows and rows of towels stacked on glass shelves. The four boxes in my towel section each contained a form shaped to hold a single towel, while giving the illusion of several towels stacked in a shelf, like you might see in your perfectly imagined linen closet. The most desperate of shoppers would occasionally climb the glass shelving and try to tear down the "multiple" towels in the display boxes very high up on the walls, just to get what they thought were those last few towels to complete their mauve set of eight.

We had to rescue many a shopper from potentially shattered glass and certain disappointment.

Those were the days. The long, long days.

Following BF was what seemed an eternity stretching out before the actual day of Christmas. Every day I would enter the store with Christmas music playing, more stock for putting out, cleaning, and selling. I loved helping the customers--especially the crafters who started their special holiday work in July.

We had special sales just for them, year-round. I couldn't believe their foresight, dedication and...paranoia. Why did these people start so early? As an early twenty something, I marveled. There was so much time, even time after Thanksgiving! Were they really so worried about being ready for December 25th that they headed out shopping in July?

This puzzlement has given way to understanding over these past 20 years. I have 6 children to prepare for, a college degree complete with matching profession, a husband, home, church membership and oh, so many more responsibilities. I have also slowly added interests one at a time: cooking, gardening, cross-stitch, sewing, scrap booking, photography....and now knitting. And I simply cannot bring myself to leave any of them behind. I love them all so dearly.

Perhaps I have always assumed that this was what all people did. Maybe I am right. Is this is one of the things driving the time crunch that seems to go with age? Maybe so.

In addition to learning new skills, I really find myself wanting to use them in making things for people: calendars complete with photos of my kids taken by me; slippers and mittens and hats; felted clog slippers (I have 3 done, need 2 more!); home-sewn jammies for Christmas morning; loving decorations in our home that mean something from year to year for my family.

As another December goes hurtling by at an even faster rate, I am, in spite of my industry, aching for time to enjoy it. I love going to mass on Christmas, participating in the drives for warm things for the homeless, helping fill our church food bank, even in a small way. But it feels impossible to do those things effectively, contemplatively, if I wait till after Thanksgiving to start making gifts.

Now I understand: those July crafters may have been getting it right. Perhaps they have discovered the secret to enjoying Christmas: Enjoy it year-round by doing secret thoughtful things for others all the time, only to reveal them at Christmas.

I might never get back that feeling of the vastness of time I had years ago, but perhaps I can make the time that I have richer than ever.

December 10, 2011

Christmas Slippers, Just in Time!

Grandma’s Slippers 

Gather together:
·       Size 11 Needles
·       2 Skeins worsted weight yarn (about 250-300 yds. I used 2 skeins Lion Brand Wool Ease)
·       Yarn Needle
·       Your wits about you

Notes: This pattern uses two strands of yarn held together throughout. This means you will be holding and knitting two strands of yarn together as one. The upside: you can use two different colors/textures of same-size yarn to change the effect! Also, this pattern is very forgiving and stretches to fit a variety of sizes, however, you should get as close as possible to the recommended gauge. The danger? Your slipper could get too big! I know, I’ve done it.

Gauge: 12 stitches and 10 rows to 4 inches in garter stitch holding 2 strands of yarn. Knit a 4”x4” swatch first, then measure for size. I admittedly tend to be a tight knitter, so your gauge may be bigger.

Sized to fit a M/L women's foot, or a men's S/M

The Pattern:

CO 37 stitches, leaving a 12” tail for sewing later on.
Row 1: (WS) K15, P1, K5, P1, K15
Row 2: (RS) Knit across
Repeat rows 1 and 2 for 14 rows

Row 15: At the start of row 15 (WS), BO 7 stitches, then knit in pattern across
Row 16: At the start of row 16 (RS), BO 7 stitches, then knit across. You should now have 23 stitches on your needle.

Row 17 (WS): P1, K1 across
Row 18 (RS): K across all stitches
Repeat Rows 17 & 18 nine times more for a total of 20 rows, or as long as your own foot.

At the end of row 20 (or your selected length), you are at the toe of your slipper. It should look like a “T,” with the wide part of the T being the heel and ankle end. Your needles should be at the end of the narrow part of the T. Cut a 12” length of yarn for sewing, put your free needle down as you will not be binding the toe off.

Thread your yarn needle with both strands of yarn. Thread your yarn needle through all the stitches remaining on your knitting needle. As you do this, slip each stitch off the end of the needle and onto the sewing yarn. When all the stitches have been transferred to the yarn, cinch the toe up tightly. Sew up the top of the toe.

Finally, using the extra yarn you left in the beginning for sewing (It should be dangling from the heel portion of the slipper), sew up the back of the slipper! 


Optional: To make pom poms: wrap yarn of choice around 3-4 fingers held together about 40-50 times if doubling yarn, 90-100 times if using a single strand, depending on how tightly fluffy you want your pom. Cut yarn. Carefully slip the yarn off your fingers and lay on a flat surface. Cut a length of the same yarn used for pom that will be long enough for use to sew pom onto slipper.

Wrap the length of yarn around the center of the wound yarn, tie and cinch as tightly as you can. ( I get my husband to help with this part) Tie a knot and sew pom onto slipper. Repeat.

Floss: Not Just for Teeth Anymore

           I am a dental hygienist. It's a wonderful profession and I enjoy it immensely.Yes, I may be a secret Sneak Knitter, a Lucille Ball-esque wife, a wannabe knitwear designer and many other things, but when I am not moonlighting as a pseudo-sock-developer and writer-in-training, I am helping to take care of people's oral health as an RDH.

Notwithstanding some of the sillier stereotypes you may find yourself calling to mind upon hearing this acronym, such as the RDH portrayed on "The Office" as a short-term love interest for Dwight, the alpha male beet farmer, you may be wondering right now if you like me anymore. You might be thinking, "Hey! Isn't she the chick who yells at me about flossing everytime I visit the dentist?" Then you might snort to yourself--the sort of involuntary sound that leaves one's throat, via the nose, in disgust--that you must now decide whether or not to read on.

Well, dear reader, this story will not be about tooth flossing today, per se, so you can relax. (Though you really should consider the habit. New Year's fast approaches. And oral bacteria sleeps for no man.)

I work in a wonderful dental office. We have a terrific staff and are fortunate to have doctors who regularly implement the latest research and technology into the practice. Consquently, we have pretty high tech equipment and we all try our hardest to pass on the latest health research to our patients in order to best serve them. Yet, while 3-D panoramic xrays and cutting edge restorative materials may really help to improve patient care, some of the standard equipment still seem irreplacable. Like good ol' dental floss.

Floss, it could be argued, is one of the most important things we use in our homecare instruction, and we generally spend a lot of time and energy teaching people how to use it correctly. And usually it is in the promotion of the health of their gums.

A while back, I was working very early. It was one of a few days in the week where we all arrive at 6:45a.m. and begin seeing patients at 7:10 a.m. Anyone who has ever worked that early knows that everyone, including the patients/customers/students (depending on the setting), feel a little reserved, mellow, at that time of day. In a phrase, all is quiet.

On that very early morning, one of my favorite patients was coming in. She is a knitting friend and a super all-around person. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to see her. I knew she would set a positive, energetic tone for my whole day.

Enter Dory, one of the coolest, spriteliest (did I just make that word up?), red-headed, tiny women to ever walk the earth. She bubbled into my operatory, smiling and generally exuding sparkly energy all around her. Time of day has no effect on her and she instantly livened the atmosphere in our little space together, even if the rest of the world seemed sleepy.

Dory was a beginning knitter at the time--and let's face it, so was I. It was hard for us to get down to dental business when we had so many stitches, patterns and ideas to discuss. We excitement to share in our newly-discovered lifestyle--er, hobby. We enjoyed helping each other and there was trouble shooting to do.

We went through most of the hour resisting the urge to break out into a full knitting discussion. We updated all of her dental care, did her cleaning through short, frequent breaks to add one sentence pieces to our ongoing knitting conversation and before we knew it, we had happily completed our dental necessities--our real reason for being there. We agreed that we really needed to get together sometime to have a full on help-each-other session in knitting. While we waited for her exam with the doctor, Dory mentioned to me, "You know, I just can't get that purl stitch down."

I gave a rough beginner's explanation of how to purl. But there is something that happens when one is a beginner. You might know yourself how to do a new task, but have a hard time explaining it to another. You don't have mastery yourself, so you simply cannot use terms that mean anything to anyone, let alone another learner. I struggled to explain where to place the right needle in terms that made sense and the counterclockwise direction of the yarn needed for wrapping said needle for the new stitch was lost in my words.

Dory looked at me. I knew I was the blind leading the blind. Now we were both confused. There was a little silence. Then, as is often the case with people who are excited to share a new skill before they are really ready, I decided I needed a visual presentation. Right then.

I did not have yarn. I had floss, though. Miles of it. And I had no needles. I looked at my hands. Fingers would not do. How about...pencils? I had heard of children using them to learn on. I had none. I had pens. Two of them in the pocket of my white coat. One red and one black. I pulled them out. They were both covered in the poplular non-slip rubbery coating so often seen on office pens.

I held them in my left hand and pulled out a length of waxed floss with my right. As I attempted to explain what I was doing, I made a slip knot and tried--out of context--to cast on. That was even lost on me for a moment. I faltered. Then I got it. I put a few challenging, sticky waxed stitches onto the even stickier red pen. They looked really uneven. I mentally flashed back to a 1979 summer recreation class for kids and really bad macrame.

Dory was trying to watch what I was doing as though I were some sort of expert. At this point, I think she thought that I knew what I was talking about and that she was just not understanding.  I kept the truth to myself as I struggled with the black pen and tried to decide how I was going to even slide the makeshift "yarn" along the "needle."

I poked the black pen towards myself through the first loop on the red one, wrapped the floss around the black pen and attempted to make a stich.

It took me about 3 minutes to get 3 stitches transfered from left pen to right pen. I held them up as I used more and more words, trying to get the right description, explaining not only the actual stitches and how they should be executed, but also how they were looking different in this waxey format.

My friend looked puzzled. I think she was catching on. I caught a pity smile. She even tried to imitate my jerky purl motions on the pens.

After a long pause, she said, "Oh, I'll get it! I'll try it at home. Don't worry about it!" Now she laughed as though to laugh with me (and it was pretty convincing), "There's always Youtube!"

Just then, the very patient dentist I work for came into the room. He smiled. "Did you get any cleaning done in here?" More pity smiles? Maybe I imagined those. Maybe not.

Two things are certain. First, there will unlikely be any classes on knitting with waxed floss offered anywhere anytime soon. Second, I now have a knitting basket in my room at work.

You never know.