What a Feeling!

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I was working today and looked down and realized how happy I am in these legwarmers. And how happy I am that I now work from home and no one sees my get-ups.

I made a bunch of legwarmers on a trip recently. They’re crazy-fast, and use reasonably priced worsted weight wool yarn; this was already only $10 a skein and then 40% off at my local yarn store, and one skein can make a pair of legwarmers. So you do the math. Cheap. Legwarmers in the summer might seem a wee bit silly, but its been nippy here, and these keep me just warm enough to be comfortable. I used the same kitchen scale I use for making soap to weigh out the skein and stop one legwarmer when I hit the halfway point. In the end, I had a tiny ball left that will go into one of my leftover throws.

Pattern: Leg Warmers by Jane Richmond (check out her Oatmeal pattern, too, which I’ve made twice and am going to make again; I love it so much)
Yarn: Cascade 220, 1 skein
Needles: U.S. size 7, set of 4 double points

Just take your passion, and make it happen.

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Knitting Life Lessons


While recently at my dad’s house, I came across my eighth grade yearbook that included this snapshot of me in the second sweater I ever knit. You can’t tell from the black and white photo, but the front and back alternated thick cream, red, and blue stripes, and the sleeves featured slimmer cream and red stripes. With my junior high fashion sense, I used cream yarn, eschewing the white called for in the printed pattern, as I felt a red, white, and blue color combination would be a little too You’re a Grand Ole Flag. As you can see, I enjoyed accessorizing my masterpiece with a Foxmoor denim jumper, dark knee socks, and a clarinet.

Here’s what’s important about that Family Circle-featured, plastic-yarn sweater. After the Seventeen magazine twisted stitches fail, a crafty friend showed me what I was doing wrong with my knitting, and I made this sweater correctly — not twisting the stitches, and even switching the yarn color between stripes with little incident. I got halfway up the back when I noticed something: several inches down, I had a little strip of maybe six twisted stitches. I debated. Do I rip it out (something I wasn’t advanced enough to do)? Do I put a flag decal over the error? Do I stuff the half-knit sweater in a bag and forget about it for five years (a technique I perfected several years later)?

I was visiting my grandma in the nursing home where she lived, and showed her my sweater in progress and the mistake I’d found. Grandma was the one who’d originally taught me to knit in first grade, a skill I’d abandoned and mostly forgotten for several years. My mom’s mom, she was the only grandparent I’d ever known. She seemed omnipresent, always willing to babysit my brother, sister, and me when we were younger, and even moving in when my mom was out for a couple of weeks with surgery. She was born in 1902, and her penniless family had emigrated, with the help of a kind uncle, from England to Canada when she was very young. She’d had eight kids and several miscarriages. She had seen an adult son die too young, and had been married for decades to an alcoholic who worked only sporadically, providing little for their large family. She talked with me for hours about her childhood. I adored her.

I painfully brought my mistake to her in her small shared room, and my only grandparent, my beloved grandma, rolled her eyes and pshaw’d me.

“It’s at the bottom of the sweater and no one’s going to see it,” she’d said.

I showed her how, if you stretched that spot, you could see the six twisted stitches.

She grew more impatient, stretching the spot as I had. “No one’s going to stretch your sweater down here and notice those stitches,” she’d said.

I started protesting again, and she strongly implied I needed to Let. It. Go.

Because when you’ve lived with an alcoholic and often not had two nickels to rub together and had to hold your large family together single-handedly, an inch of twisted stitches is really not worth crying over. Grandma’s been gone for more than 25 years, but her perspective and practicality live on, in my knitting, my weedy yard, my chaotic kitchen. It’s probably why I let my kids — all three of them — wear whatever young-kid getups they chose, knowing that sometimes it’s not worth the fight if four-year-old Tommy insists on wearing Power Ranger pajamas to daycare three days in a row. Often when I’m helping a newer knitter with something, I channel Grandma and tell them not to sweat the tiny mistakes that are plaguing them. Because so much of knitting and life is figuring out what is and isn’t important and keeping an eye on the big picture.

See, Grandma? I was listening.

Knitting Memories…

Last week and the week before I was traveling for work. All very sane and civilized, with a ton of Bliss sample products that were hoarded and brought home. But while I can resist the lure of online shopping at home and resist the urge to hang out at the mall, I’m really powerless against impulse purchases when I’m feeling a little lonely and isolated in a hotel room. That’s when I’ll purchase Flirty Girl dance-to-fitness DVDs. (Yes, I have — from a hotel in Sarasota.) So after some fairly intense work days and nights, I found myself on eBay and bought this vintage, August 1978 Seventeen magazine. With shipping, I paid 15 times the cover price; perhaps I should have invested in stacks and stacks of magazines back in 1978.

This magazine and I, we have history. I had a copy back in the day that I pinched from a pile at my church that had been donated for collage projects. That’s right; I stole it from my church. It was already a year or two old, but I pored over it, studying the Famalore shoe ads and tutorials on how to alter your wide straight pants into the new tapered pants — so hot this season.

So amidst the suggestive ads for Gee, Your Hair Smells Terrific! …

… and the Columbia House offers (11 8-tracks or albums for only $1 plus shipping and handling!) …

… and supermodel Jennifer O’Neill talking and talking and talking about 87-cent nail polish …

… and late-teen Michael Jackson looking healthy and normal and not sporting a razor-thin nose or a weird split in his chin …

… and Mariel Hemingway modeling this season’s new Annie Hall-inspired menswear …

… was a feature on seven pieces you could make to assort for a month’s worth of ensembles:

Brilliant!

A couple of years after swiping the magazine, I knitted my first sweater with my trusted friend, Seventeen — that green classic sweater that could supposedly knit up for $4.75 and assort into so many outfits. I used black K-Mart brand sayelle yarn; the same yarn my grandma preferred for all of the ripple afghans she was churning out at the time. So it wasn’t luxurious. And the fit — well, it was horrible. I later learned this was because I was knitting incorrectly, twisting every stitch, which made a tight, tight fit that wasn’t really appropriate for either that year’s preppy fashions or the dress code at my Christian junior high school.

A bit after my failed sweater, armed with a Coats & Clarks booklet that showed me how to make cable stitches, I tackled making cables and knitted that sweater’s companion, the vest (with “cables fore and aft”) on the same feature. That turned out much better and was actually wearable, so I wore it. A lot.

That 1978 Back to School Issue of Seventeen paved the way for the dozens and dozens of sweaters (and scarves, hats, mittens, shawls, baby blankets and, once, an attempt at a knitted cat cozy) over the next three decades. Some worked, some didn’t, but the win percentage has definitely increased over the years.

So maybe this late-night, lonely-hotel-room purchase wasn’t so frivolous after all. In fact, I might add to my bucket list to one day remake that green sweater, this time not twisting every stitch.

Use It Up: The Leftover Throw

A good friend from college let me read her novel-in-progress several years ago, which was funny and smart and touching. The first-person protagonist at one point referred to a relative’s home being filled with Scraps of Beauty afghans; it was not meant to be complimentary.

I was puzzled. “What’s a ‘Scrap of Beauty’ afghan?” I asked. I was told it’s an afghan crocheted with all the leftovers from other crochet projects; you crochet with one leftover ball of yarn until it’s gone, and then start on another. Beauty, my friend informed me, was rarely the result.

And yet for crocheters and us knitters, leftovers are part of our world. Pattern books exist that solely cover clever ways to use scraps without making them look like scraps. And hats and striped scarves are always nice standbys.

This year I somewhat disgustedly took a look at my yarn stash — leftovers, projects in process, scraps from finished projects — and finally saw what my husband always sees: Too much yarn. So I’ve been trying to work through it. One day, with a basket of leftover balls handy, I cast on 120 stitches on a size 9 needle, and began garter-stitching my own Scraps of Beauty throw. Since there was no counting, no stitch switching, it was a great project for reading or watching an engaging movie or hanging out with the kids. I’d pull it out when I wanted something mindless, or when I finished a different project whose scraps lent themselves nicely. I initially started out coordinating colors (Seriously? How many green projects must I have knit in the past several years?), but as coordinating yarns got scarce, I got a little bolder with my scraps.

I made it long enough, as a friend suggested, to completely cover us from chin to past our toes. And then I stopped. I’d meant to single-crochet around the whole thing, but didn’t bother.

This throw is now the kids’ (and, unfortunately, the perpetually smelly Dachshund’s) favorite cover up. They’ve suggested more than once that I should make one for every member of the family so that we can reduce the fighting over who gets it on cold weekend mornings.

And I’ve found that even though it isn’t what you’d call “beautiful,” I love remembering the projects that went into it: A scarf I’d made a friend, a knitted jumper I’d made for toddler Sylvia, fingerless gloves I knitted to stave off the cold when my mom started chemo, a special sweater I unfortunately and inadvertently felted in the dryer.

I’m starting a new throw: This one begun with leftovers from a Harry Potter House Sweater I made Tommy over the holidays. Maybe in 15 or so years, I’ll have enough scraps to make five six-foot-long throws; in the meantime, I’m liking the process and the memories.

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Use It Up: Sylvie’s Red Vest

Back in 1999, when we lived in Brooklyn, my parents came to visit. We went to a Yankee’s game, walked around Central Park, visited our favorite restaurant. Saturday morning, we spent a bit of time doing my favorite Saturday-morning acivity: Walking a couple blocks to a magnificent farmer’s market near the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens.

Morehouse Farm Merinos, a merino wool farm in upstate New York, always had a booth, and I think I knit through just about every kit and pattern they offered. Mom, who periodically tried to take up knitting, was very interested in a super-simple toddler-vest pattern featuring hand-dyed yarn; she thought it would look adorable on my then-two-year-old nephew, Gabe. After contemplating for a bit, being my mom, she decided not to spend the money. So the next weekend I went back, bought the kit, and sent it to her.

This summer, after my mom died, my sister and I were going through her things, helping my dad with the sorting. I found numerous bags of knitting supplies, almost all purchased with me in the hope that we could share knitting. Most were partially knit, some had never been touched. Knitting wasn’t really her thing. The vest kit I’d sent her was still in the bag, although she’d wound the skeins of yarn into balls. I took the kit, and all of her half-knitted projects, home with me, and left them in the bag for six months, unable to look at the things she’d touched or remember all the craft-store trips she’d indulgently shared with me.

But after the holidays, I finally, tentatively, opened the bag. And remembered the feel of Morehouse Farm yarn, and the fun morning we’d spent buying artisanal cheeses and vegetables and talking with the Morehouse Farm owner. The nephew the vest was intended for is now 15, so I made it in Sylvia’s size. It was a very fast knit, having no ribbing or embellishments. Sylvia knew it was from Grandma’s house, and that it had been intended for her now high-school-aged cousin; its history made it more exciting for her. When I finished, she wore it immediately — before I could block it. Then she wore it to bed. Then she wore it the next day, injecting her own style.

My mom would be so happy.