Saturday, October 31, 2009


Parker, sitting in the same place for hours yesterday, looking at more raining coming down.
I eventually tried to entice him down to the yard by walking down the stairs and tossing a tennis ball for a game of fetch. He dashed off, grabbed the ball up, and ran right back up the steps to the porch. Ah well, I tried. (Later on I did take him for a longish walk in the rain.)
A skein of Misti Alpaca handpainted sock yarn. I like that you can see the little, fuzzy alpaca hairs sticking out of the skein. In real life, the yarn is more blue-green and less pumpkin-yellow.
I learned a lesson with this one: read the care instructions before purchase. I can't see myself handwashing socks, so this will either be a scarf or be an exchange for some Noro for the Brooklyn Tweed striped Noro scarf.
And my current bugaboo: a very simple cardigan, based on the Set-in Sleeve Cardigan from Ann Budd's Handy Book of Knitted Sweater Patterns. Still like the yarn: Cascade 220. Still like the color: a cordovan brown with touches of maroon and olive green. Still like the edging: black Cascade.
But somehow, even with this direct and clear a pattern, I've made mistakes. Yesterday, after realizing that the sleeve was too long and too wide, and when I should have put it away until I had a clearer mind, I accidentally ripped back the right front, thinking that it was the sleeve.
That was actually dilemma #1: how in heck can the sleeve be bigger than the front of the sweater? (This is the sleeve, by the way. You could fit two small children inside.)
I managed to find my way back to where I stopped and worked my way back up the right front while watching The Office. Then I compared the fronts to the pattern, and I think that I neglected to do about three more inches and some neckline decreases after finishing the armholes.

How can it be so hard for me to knit one, darn, simple sweater? Arggghhhh. I put it away for the night (okay, after googling how to knit two sleeves at the same time...and peeking at Ravelry, because if you're not knitting, you might as well be thinking or reading about knitting) and will look at pattern and sweater again today.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Telling the Truth

A photo of some canine friends on a beach in Chennai. Communication seems to be going smoothly, which leads me into today's post about all the complications of humans trying to communicate...
I'm always intrigued by the order of information in the Yoga Sutra-s. So I find if interesting that Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutra-s, places how we behave toward our fellow human beings ahead of one's personal behaviors in discussing ways to decrease suffering and improve our understanding - basically, how to be a better person.

It reminds me that this text keeps reminding us that the ultimate purpose of yoga is to improve our ability to navigate the world. Not so much perfecting what happens in class, or on the mat, but in our day-to-day interactions with family, friends, bosses, strangers on the street or in the cars next to us on the expressway.

These ways of interacting with one's community are called Yama - what Mr. Desikachar, in his edition of the Sutra-s, calls "our attitudes towards our environment."

Today, I've been thinking about truth, or satya. Satya is the practice of clear, honest communication. This includes what we say to one another as well as the things we write, our actions, and even our gestures. (What parent hasn't seen that eye roll from a teenager that means - yep, I'm saying that I'm listening - but I'm really off in another, happier place in my mind where I am the one who is RIGHT!)

Being honest can be tough. But what is even trickier is communicating in a way that does not hurt the other person.

Back to that ordering principle: the first Yama is ahimsa: non-violence, as in being considerate to others, not hurting, as in the physician's mandate to "first do no harm." So, as we are working to practice truthfulness in our conversations or in an email or in a brief interaction with a stranger who pushes in front of us in line, we also want to take the time to frame the communication appropriately, with some svadhyaya - self-reflection. Will what I am about to say hurt this person? Am I speaking out because I have an axe to grind - or because I really believe that this needs to be said? What words should I use? And is this the right time for the conversation - or will the other person be embarrassed because there are too many other people around observing and listening?

In my tradition, we call satya "the truth that does not hurt." And I like this distinction, because too many self-help books are encouraging the act of speaking up - what some call "speaking my truth" - as though the action of throwing those words and feelings out into the maelstrom of human relations is the first priority.

But words can be like little bombs striking an emotional ground. Even when it's the truth, it's good to stop and consider how to say your message, when to say it, whether it will cause pain to the other person, and if that discomfort is warranted by the situation. We need not be Stepford wives, spreading bland acceptance wherever we go. Neither should we be warriors for our own perceptions.

Lately, I've been thinking about a wonderful quote from Thich Nhat Hahn from a Speaking of Faith podcast my daughter referred me to. When asked how he brings his message of compassion to so many different groups of people - Hollywood celebs, 9/11 responders, people reeling from earthquake or other tragedies - he said something like this: I try to understand the particular suffering of each person. Only by understanding another's suffering can we begin to feel compassion for them.

I've been thinking about this - I try to understand the particular suffering of each person - when someone is driving me crazy. If I can think about how he or she is struggling, I'm a little more likely to practice compassion, and then, the right kind of communication - satya.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hiking in Minneapolis

One of the amazing things about Minneapolis is that you can be out in the woods and by the water in no-time flat. On Monday morning we went for a hike along the Mississippi. Tuesday morning, another walk, this time by one of the many lakes scattered throughout the city. The sun was shining, the air was brisk but still sweater-weather, and you could see the blue sky.

Much of the walk reminded me of Rivers and Tides, the documentary about the work of sculptor Andy Goldsworthy and the influences of time and nature on his work. I was inspired, as we hiked, to collect hundreds of leaves, arrange them by shades of orange and yellow and green, pin them together with thorns with an uneven circle of open space at the center, and set them to flow with the Mississippi. I didn't, but I thought about it.
Here's a beach along the Mississippi. A beach. In Minnesota?
And the river with the sun shining. Makes me think about Huck and Jim.
And three of the group hiking.
These pictures and the wet fall leaves, lying on the ground, as I walked from the car into the house today, make me want to dye some yarn in these colors. Maybe I'll try to collect some photos for inspiration for another day, as Sundara, a master dyer, seems to do.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I'm working on a cardigan from Ann Budd's The Knitter's Book of Handy Sweater Patterns. (Or is it the Handy Book of Knitted Sweaters?)

The yarn is Cascade 220 in a heathered brown with a slight overlay of maroons and olive green that gives the yarn some depth. (It's Cordovan, #9408.) And I'm trying to stick with a fusion of the very basic, set-in sleeve cardigan with a few touches from the Cropped Cardigan, such as using black Cascade for a very minimalist edging.

My goal is for this sweater to be a tutorial that helps me learn how the Cascade behaves, how the specs of this sweater work for me - so that I can improve my ability to get a decent fit - and to do something stockinette so that I can achieve a finished sweater in a reasonable amount of time. We drove to and from Minneapolis this weekend and I worked through the back and part of the left front: knitting with no distractions and a good Elizabeth Peters book-on-tape really let you get some serious knitting done.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Weaving a Felted Yoga Bag

I'm testing how to weave a felted yoga mat bag. I warped the loom with Harrisville Designs worsted-weight yarn in a lilac shade at 8 ends per inch. The pattern is set up for Balanced Twill from Davison, but I'm weaving the fabric in plain weave because I found the samples that I did in twill to be too busy. The warp is the same lilac, a deep violet, and a sea-glass green and is woven at about 4 picks per inch.

The result is a very open fabric, more like a large-scale burlap than a woven cloth. But I found through sampling that felting is counter-intuitive: the more open and floppy the fabric, the more dense and thick is the final felted product. And I did decide to just jump into the project after forcing myself to do two different sample warps. Either it will work, or I'll have a piece of felted tweed cloth to find a destination for.

Trying to think ahead to what I would need if I was knitting the bag instead of weaving it, I put in a floating selvage of a mercerized cotton thread, doubled, at either edge. This makes it much easier to keep the margins straight - and will allow me to have a focus for where to pick up stitches or seam when the cloth is felted. (Note: I decided to seam the tube before felting. But the floating selvages still helped keep my edges straight and showed me where to put the needle as I was seaming.) I did something similar at the top and bottom edges, but as I also decided to knit a bottom by picking up stitches from the lower edge, I'm not sure that I needed this step. Next time, I'd use a contrast color in the warp yarn so that when I pick the stitches up for the bottom, I'd have a hem in a different color inside the bag.

This is all in the speculative stage. I'm trying to focus and finish the finishing (still need to pick up and knit on a strap) so that I can toss it all into the washing machine and see what happens.
And a new toy: my husband gave me a swift and a winder for my birthday.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Dirgha Kala

Dirgha kala, in Sanskrit, means over a long time. The phrase comes up in the 14th sutra in Book I of Patanjali's Yoga Sutra-s.
This sutra sets out some suggestions for ways to develop a practice. As always, you can understand these writings from the perspective of yoga: how do we build a consistent yoga practice? But you can also think about them as applying to life in a wider context: how do we maintain and develop any kind of endeavor, whether it is work, play, or a combination thereof?

In this sutra, Patanjali suggests that we try a few things. First, stick with it for a period of time. This is the dirgha kala part: kala means time and dirgha suggests an extended period of time. Not a few minutes and then we move on. Not a few days and then we abandon. Nope - staying the course for a chunk of time.

Next nairantarya: without interruption. This one is my favorite, both for the sound of the word in Sanskirt -- nigh-run-tarrr-yee-ah -- and for the meaning. It reminds me that if I want to learn something thoroughly, that I need to resist the urge to multi-task and jump from interest to interest. If I want to become more proficient as a knitter, I need to knit for a while. Not knit today, weave tomorrow, start a quilt the next day. Or, more specifically, if I want to truly understand how a yarn behaves, what projects it will work for, how it will change with different gauges and stitches, then I need to knit with that one type of yarn for a while. I was reminded of this by a master knitter at my LYS, who pointed out that because there is so much choice available in yarns now, that we rarely come to know a yarn well enough to trust it. Or to become creative with it. As I've been knitting my current pair of mittens in Alice Starmore's Hebrides 3-ply, I've been considering staying with that yarn for several pairs, trying out different colorways, and keeping the cost of this amazing yarn within some sense of reason by using it for a small project like mittens.

But back to the sutra: satkara adara asevito are the next suggestions for developing a practice. Satkara means to have a sense of commitment, a belief in what you are doing, to do something sincerely. Adara is to have a positive attitude: we look forward to the venture. And asevito means to do something with a sense of service or respect. This last one is a bit tricky to explain to Westerners, because the idea of service has a negative connotation for many of us. I think of asevito not in the sense of being a servant, but in terms of being part of a tradition, being a student who carries forward the learning from my predecessors.

The last word of the sutra is drdhabumih, which means a strong foundation. As is typical of sutras, the most important word, the point of the sentence, is in the last position. You can start here and work your way forward to get the elaboration. In this case, Patanjali is explaining that, in order to build a strong, solid foundation for a venture - whether it's yoga, or learning to bake bread, or perfecting your tango - you will want to stay with it for a long time, without interruption, with respect and a positive attitude and eagerness.

Patanjali is not telling the reader not to try different things, not taking an authoritarian stance that there is only one right practice. One thing that I love about the sutras is that they are not proscriptive. One of the most often utilised words in the first book is the word va, which means or. As in, if that didn't work, try this. Or this. Or this. But he is noting that the thinner you spread yourself, the less depth in your understanding of each activity. If you're happy experimenting with a new yarn for every project, no problem. But if your goal is to know a yarn so well that you almost don't have to swatch, so that you can readily adapt a pattern to that favorite yarn, so that you take pleasure in knitting because you have reached samadhi - the stage at which the effort falls away and there is a strong link between the mind and the object - then you are going to want some dirgha kala, nairantarya, and so on.
Note: this is the first mitten of a pair of Aethelwyne from Robin Melanson's Knitting New Mittens and Gloves. The yarn is Alice Starmore's Hebrides 3-ply in Kelpie (the blue) and a green whose color I can't recall. Hard to photograph but amazing colorways and a fun, elfin pair of mittens. I feel like I'm ready to be in Lord of the Rings.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Mitten for every Pocket

I am trying to knit enough mittens so that I can stash a pair in the pocket of every winter coat.

And during or after that, knit a shawl like the one that I saw today at Stockholm Objects. (Sadly, not on the website and only one left at the store.) A square of grey wool lace, probably DK weight, edged with a hot pink, mondo-crocheted edging. Perhaps I'll base it on Priscilla Gibson-Robert's Christening Chrysalis in the Knitter's Magazine best of shawls and scarves collection.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Working from Home

The rhythm of working from home is hard to accustom myself to. Some days are empty of appointments and full of time for me to structure on my own. Other days are busy, jumbled, full of classes with students and voicemails and driving to appointments to places that I've not been to meet with people who are new to me, and broken up into many, many tiny elements. I look up and it's dinnertime.

I've mentally assigned an appliance to each kind of day. The slow, quiet, solitary day is my refrigerator. Every day I intend to clean it. It really needs to be done: it's in that state where vegetables have died off and the drips of milk from the gallon jug and the indecipherable stream of something unknown beneath the vegetable drawers is noticeable. And almost every day, as I make my lunch, I'll say to myself, today is the day to clean the refrigerator. And then, it does not get done. I am productive, but in a desultory fashion: I study, I prepare the lecture for my class on Yoga and Weight Loss, I work on outreach for the yoga therapy work, I answer emails from prospective clients, and I try to get some exercise/walk the dog so that we both get some fresh air. Dinner time rolls around. I start to cook, pour myself a glass of wine, and consider that I have managed to make it through another day without cleaning the fridge.

The other kind of day is my cell phone. Never before have I been so linked to a cell phone. Last month we had a HUGE bill, and when I mentioned this to two friends who have teenagers, they were like, well, it was time way back to go for the unlimited minutes and texting. Who knew: I've never used my phone for much beside the possible emergency use or the do-we-need-milk-on-my-way-home call. Now, the busy days seemed centered around answering the thing, checking the voicemail, trying to return the calls I've gotten, and always a few stray calls that I realize, just when I think that I'm done, that I want to try to get under my belt. The thing follows me around, physically or mentally, and I think, this is one of the things that I did not relish about academic life: the difficulty in separating work from home life.

At the same time, it's exciting to be talking with people who are themselves excited about what I do.

Other good things: I am a winner! I won a prize from Twist's first anniversary contest. It's a square knitting needle (I know, I haven't tried it yet, but the packaging insists several times that they are ergonomically engineered to reduce stress on the hands), a free pattern (not yet chosen), and a lovely postcard. And I am trying to get out from under the few last projects not finished. Below, a detail from Moriah's Wildflower cardigan in Cascade Eco. I had the brilliant idea of trying to steek a cardigan for the first time without directions. Now almost done with working on the fronts, I've bailed - among the problems was that I didn't know that the button band gets picked up after the steeking, as well as plenty o' mistakes in the seed stitch band, the buttonholes, and that the sweater seems wide enough (no waist shaping in this pattern...) that I may be able to jury rig a different finishing. My plan is to just sew up the front sides, cut away the seed stitch and pick up a new edging.