Saturday, July 25, 2009

Update on Vivian

My working notes for Vivian. See the messy section at the top right hand part of the page? My habit is to keep a running list of "next row" to be knit. In other words, at the end of row 89, I cross that number out and note that 90 is the next row to work. I learned this habit from weaving. If the phone rings or a child needs you in the middle of a sequence, it's a good idea to note where you were, so that you can pick up your work hours, or days, later and get back to work.

As you can see from the picture above, there's a lot of note taking going on. Instead of seeing this as a highly efficient system, please recognize that the amount of apparent organization is in direct relation to my need to be organized, or I would be making many more mistakes than I am. Instead of rifling through several pages of pattern for different cable sections, I copied them all, cut them out, taped them onto the front and back of one page, and copied that. And then I wrote the main two lines of the pattern out at the bottom, so that I can follow the wrong side in order from right to left and the right side from left to right. And I color-coded the left and right cables. And wrote myself a reminder that left-hand cables hold two stitches to the front and right to the back. This is counter-intuitive for me: for some reason, my brain wants the right-leaning cable to have stitches held to the front. (An interesting psychological question. Perhaps because I'm right-handed and front seems more important than back....?)

This pattern is wonderfully engineered. You work the fronts and back at the same time on one long cable needle, and each row consists of a series of modular sections: cables, seed stitch, and purled areas. In most cases, the cabling on all of these individual units happens on the same row. So, in addition to my "next row" list, I have a section that tells me the next row to watch for where all of the left and right cabling happens. In between, you get about 6 rows of working the stitches as they appear. Very efficient and fairly easy to keep track of, especially if I write myself these reminder notes.

And I am persevering, after putting the sweater aside for a month or two. I've even taught myself to unweave a giant section, many rows long, to correct a cable twisting in the wrong direction.

I would not advise unweaving this many rows. On the other hand, today, when I reworked two misshapen cables that I discovered only a few rows after the error, piece of cake to correct them.
Here's where I am so far on the body of the sweater: This is a bench on my back porch. So old that it is beginning to decay. But after the chair in my bedroom, this is my favorite place for knitting. I come out for a bit each morning, work on Vivian or my Fiddlehead mittens (yeah for colorwork!), drink my coffee, and listen to the hawks that have moved into the neighborhood and the other birds in the yards around me.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Cold Mangles

Who knew? A source for cold mangling of your fine, handwoven linens.


This is I feel quite often this summer.This is the mental state I am aiming for.
Thus, I am trying to motivate myself to get a project that I enjoy onto my loom.

It has been so long since I've used it, and I have been thinking, this summer, about the wonderfully meditative rhythm of weaving as a way for me to ground my sense of constant movement with little proof of coming any closer to a destination. (I'm getting a few metaphoric signposts, when what I'd like is an overnight stay, mentally, with some of my goals.) Recently, I read that scientists are speculating that our brains are becoming programmed for over stimulation, and though I am venturing down that rabbit hole too often, I have tried, this week, to reduce my field of attention as much as possible. No, don't be dialing the cellphone, even if the light is green. Cereal for breakfast? Okay, then forget about the bagel. Knitting the Fiddlehead Mittens from HelloYarn, finally? Then commit to the chartreuse green and grey, and ignore the bright red skein in the stash. Effort/vairagyam. Practice/tapah. Reawakening patterns/samskara of fractured attention. Begin again...

I found a good blog, Leigh's Fiber Journal, which is Step One in moving back to weaving. Many very inspiring posts on this blog, and she is a knitter and a spinner and a dyer as well as a weaver.

I am wondering, however, if most of the weaving world is stuck in 1965. Last week, at the Midwest Fiber Festival, I took a look at a few current issues of Handwoven as well as the weaving being demonstrated. And I was amazed to still see giant cocoon-shaped jacket patterns (maybe this is why shoulder pads are making a comeback?), inkle-loom belts, and table runners. Has the world of weavers missed the tidal wave that moved knitting to where it is today, with a diversity of designs, voices, and creativity to place knitting into the twenty-first century?

My goal for the loom: design something simple with plenty of color. Perhaps some dishtowels? Or the napkins that I promised my older daughter, oh, five years ago? Order the yarn. Warp it. And start weaving a little bit every few days

Friday, July 17, 2009

Little Lace Shrug

Men do not understand shrugs. They are an odd animal (shrugs, I mean). Sleeves and a wisp of something behind the back. But honestly, this did keep me warm during the speeches at the Freedom to Read benefit.
Pattern: Little Lace Shrug
Designer: Pam Allen
Source: LaceStyle
Yarn: Brooks Farm Solo Silk, 1 skein (400 yds., with some leftover). Brilliant yarn, brilliant company. Lovely to work with - it has the softness of Malabrigo and the sturdiness of Cascade 220. Great for lace or garter stitch or what have you. (And I just bought a skein of Solo Silk and a skein of Acero at the Midwest Fiber and Folk Art Fair, after much pondering of colorways and fiber mixtures. Pictures soon.)
Needles: size 5 Addi Turbo circ for edging, size 6 Addi Turbo circ for body
Size: Small
Modifications: I used a sportweight yarn instead of the worsted weight La Lana used in the original pattern. And I worked a 3 1/2" seam on each arm instead of the 2" called for. The result was a size Small shrug. If you want something larger, stick with the pattern specs. And attend to the instructions to only pick up 2 stitches for every 3; I deviated and the shrug is a bit floppy at the back instead of fitted.
And more brilliance: the store where I bought my dress sells ballroom dancing shoes! Heels that are about as comfortable as it gets. I managed to walk from the parking garage several blocks to the Art Institute, walked through several galleries, sat a bit, and walked back to the car, feeling pretty spiffy. Here they are:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Freedom to Read

There is hope for the universe. We have librarians to thank.

Last night I attended a bang-up party given in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. And my sense of optimism was soundly reawakened, as I sat and listened to speeches from Judy Blume, Scott Turow, the Treasurer of the Freedom to Read Foundation (he closed the night with a smart speech peppered with several great jokes, including one about Albert Einstein misplacing his ticket on a train - the young conductor repeatedly assured him that it was fine, Dr. Einstein, you don't need your ticket, until Einstein, looking up from his search for the ticket beneath his seat, declared "Young man, it is no longer a question of the ticket. It is a question of where I am going."), along with many well-deserved tributes to Judith A.Krug, the fearless force behind the foundation, who was honored posthumously for her incredible body of work.

Among my favorite moments: Judy Blume's story about the young man who was given one of her books as a Bar Mitzvah present, and his mom cut out the pages that she deemed inappropriate, despite his turning 13 years old. Several years later, Blume asked the young man about the book. Oh, he said, I read the whole thing -- I just went to the library and took out their copy. Yeah Number One for libraries preserving our access to materials.

And Scott Turow describing a summer spent delivering mail in Glencoe. Once he'd learned his route well enough to speed through it and also learned that he was persona non grata at the post office until his 8-hour shift had ended (otherwise making it look bad for the rest), he spent every afternoon at the library reading Joyce's Ulysses. More than this, I appreciated Turow's reminder that while anti-censorship tends to be the concern more of the liberal political left, that preserving the ideas and rights of the conservative right is as important as protecting those of the liberal left, because without equal protection, there is no real freedom of thought. And his comment that being able to read and write, to express one's thoughts in a clear fashion, is fundamental to our workings as a world.

On the way into the benefit, which was held at the new Modern wing of the Art Institute, I listened to a piece on Fresh Air about the Internet, the decline of print mediums, and the average - read, short - attention span of the college-age reader. At first I was sad, when, for example, the author being interviewed noted that a 30-second ad on the Internet might be too long for most users. And then he talked about the approaching end of the newspaper as I know it - something tactile, able to be spread out on the table as I eat breakfast on Sundays, foldable, transportable - and I thought, what are we coming to when the newspaper will be extinct? But then he said something that, again, gave me hope: that the book, as a technology, works very well, and that he doesn't see the book going away. People like its size, its form, its paper-ness. And the Kindle and the computer and the audio book can't match it for ease of use and appeal.

So, let's all thank librarians. They protect our right to think. They stand watch over our right to materials. They advocate for our access to diverse points of view, both popular and unpopular. And they provide a haven for the universe of the book, which offers a home to all at the best and the worst of times.

Sunday, July 05, 2009


I've been noticing, lately, that many of my friends and students are giving themselves the summer off. Not necessarily literally, but mentally, as though we all need to take our minds to the beach, plant them in a chair, and let them stare at the ocean and read a good mystery while eating an ice cream bar.

Between bouts of my own at-the-beach from home (knitting constantly, reading books and magazines about knitting, knitting while I listen to recorded books or watch reality TV), I've been thinking about effort. Or, more specifically, the balance between effort and results. And the relationship of effort to detachment.

In Sutra I.12, Patanjali notes that both practice -- abhyasa -- and vairagyam -- detachment -- are elements equally influential in moving us toward a state of yoga. Think of that state not as the execution of a perfect pose -- but the larger, more valuable yoga state in which we feel connection to the self or something greater, we are able to observe life and all of its ridiculous twists and upending without flying into a rage or despair, we are linked deeply to that quiet and that perfection that lies somewhere within each of us. My teacher speaks of this inner self, the purusa, as like a diamond shining, but which gets cloaked and muddied by all what Thornton Wilder in Our Town calls the layers and layers of ridiculousness that is humanity.

Detachment is a huge subject. And effort? Almost as big. When is it enough? When is it too much? How do we continue to push forward with a goal or idea when the finish line looks so far away? Or we wonder if there will even be a race, or if we've trained and dressed and shown up for an event that may not happen?

In Sutra I.13, Patanjali reminds us that the showing up is the part that counts. In order to have that -- tatra -- meaning the type of mind that is in a calm, neutral, focused state of yoga, you need to make an effort and you need to practice. If we want to maintain a state of mind that can ride out the waves of this especially insane summer of banks failing, wars expanding, jobs disappearing, then we need to start simply by showing up, on a regular basis, and trying. So it is the action of making an effort - and not the result -- that is significant. Just show up, Patanjlali is saying, and whatever happens next will happen. But if you don't at least go to the party, how will you enjoy the band?

With effort - yatno - and practice - abhyasa - that lovely sense of being a little at peace, a little confident, a little clearer about relationships, a little better at communication - choose your own sense of being comfortable in your own skin and insert that thought here - the citta nirodah - the refined mind - will be felt. I love this word stithau, which means to stay, or to be firmly in place. When all around us is in flux, effort and practice will help us to link to that unchanging, stable inner part of us that can be reassuring, and much wiser, than the parts of ourselves that we usually tend to rely upon.

Effort and practice build something like a platform that is firmly anchored to the floor of the ocean. Waves, wind, rain come - but we stay firmly in place. Or, to shift the metaphor, because we stuck with the emergency training, made the effort to learn what to do, and practiced it so many times that it became second nature, we manage to get everyone off the platform and to the life rafts. Without yatno and abhyasa, not so likely.

So this summer, I'm trying to convince myself to just keep showing up, whether that is for my own practice, for a class, for a meeting with someone who I hope to introduce to yoga therapy. It's not easy. I wish that I could guarantee an outcome; I'm passionate about the number of ways that yoga can work to improve health. But I'm trying to wrap my mind around yatno and abhyasa, if for no other reason than that it is July in a difficult economy and a good time for doing my own yoga practice, trying to learn to be a better teacher, and in between, watching back seasons of 30Rock on Netflix, knitting, and enjoying the classes and students that I have the opportunity to teach.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Spidery Tank

A little red for the Fourth of July.

Pattern: Spidery Tank
Designer: Nicole Thompson
Source: Interweave Knits Summer 2009
Yarn: Maggi's Linen (about 5 skeins used)
Size: 34
Needles: size 5 and size 7 Addi circulars
Modifications included adding waist shaping by decreasing from the size 7 to size 6, then size 5,then back up to 6, then 7 for two rows a piece after the second of four lace repeats. And working the bodice on the size 7 needle instead of size 5. This after completing the entire top section, trying it on, and knowing that I just wouldn't be happy with how snug it was in the area of the armholes.
I'm not sure how I feel about knitting with a linen-cotton blend. Well, actually, I do know, but don't want to be a whiny blogger, because I'm not in love with it. I much prefer the springiness and forgiving nature of wool. Ah, well, it's been that kind of summer: two steps forward, and then I look back and ahead and hear a million questions jumping at me for attention. Onward ho: I'm working on the Little Lace Shrug from LaceStyle to wear with a beautiful black-and-white party dress next weekend. Brooks Farm Solo Silk, bought at last year's Stitches Midwest.