Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why hand knits get a bad rap

Recently I inter-library loaned a book published the year I was born.  Before the chapters even started teaching knitting, there was a list 36 items long about why so many hand knits look homemade.  Sometimes these reasons are why our creations get a bad rap.  Sometimes it's what I call the Ralphie syndrome.  The Ralphie syndrome is what I take away from the Christmas movie, The Christmas Story.  Someone sends a boy a large pink bunny suit, most likely a relative who doesn't see him often and lost track of how old he is.  Once you reach an age over say 4 or so, you don't really want a large pink bunny suit, except for maybe as a costume.

The book gives some other reasons why.  Poor knitting habits, poor finishing skills seem to top the list.  Sides not matching up in a variety of ways, saggy this or that, baggy here, too short there.  The list can go on and on.  As I was reading this list I was also listening to the Knitmore Girls' interview with Stephen West.  I realize he is not a conservative fashion person in the least.  He is, after all, one who made Swants aka sweater pants a popular clothing item among some circles.  But I doubt even he would approve of shoddy workmanship.

Poor knitting habits can be overcome if you know what you are looking for.  In general, needles way over sized or undersized for the yarn used, creating a fabric that is bullet proof is not really flattering.  A refusal to block your swatch and then your completed work can also be a poor knitting habit.  It can cover a multitude of sins like uneven stitches and make sure your fabric won't grow or shrivel thus creating something unwearable to the recipient.  Mistakes in the knitting such as dropped stitches, extra stitches, misreading the pattern are also poor knitting habits.  Don't be afraid to rip.  No you don't have to go all the way back to the beginning of the piece, usually.  Many times you can pick up the dropped stitch with a crochet hook or knit it back up.  You can drop and redistribute the yarn from an extra stitch added or do a knit 2 together or rip back to the point where the extra stitch was added.  Misreading the pattern is where you might have to rip back to the beginning of the section where you started the mistake OR you could continue if you like the fabric you are getting.  Misreading the pattern could be a stitch pattern that gets misunderstood or you missed something.  AS long as you keep the stitch count to what it needs to be, you can be adventurous.

Poor finishing skills can also make your garment look less than you would hope.  Things like not getting the fronts and backs to match up, making one sleeve or body panel longer or shorter than its mate, seaming failures are all poor finishing skills.  You need to be willing to rip back what is making your project look sloppy.  Now, while the front being too long for the back could be a poor finishing skill, it could also be a fit option.  Are you larger in the front than in the back?  Then you may choose to make the front longer than the back with the use of short rows.  That is a fashion fit.  Knit 2 extra inches on the front(s) than you have on the back?  That is a finishing fail.  Tear back those 2 inches by one of several methods.  Sleeves that are too long, short, wide or narrow need to be reworked.

I have no idea what the original purpose of this sweater was to be.  But it does cover some of the homemade failures I was writing about or at least enough for me to pick it apart.  The neckline is too wide.  The lower neckline where the stitches were picked up or changed from the sweater stockinette to ribbing shows uneven pick up rate.  The sleeves at the wrists are not the same size.  Unless this is to be an off the shoulder sweater, the room between the underarm and the shoulder will grip the wearer tightly.  The bottom edge is not even.  I'm sure it started out that way but the seaming created some bad things.  It decreases at the bust.  Most people (men and women) are not concave in the chest area.

Ways I would fix this sweater.  The sweater is probably supposed to be cropped. The concave areas on the sides of the sweater are obviously part of the armscye.  Remove the sleeves and stretch the sleeve cap or pick up evenly around the whole armhole for the sleeve.  Pull the side seams tighter so the sides are even with the center.  Use a ruler or one of those marked off dressmaking boards where there are squares every inch.  Block the whole thing in pieces after fixing the poor knitting.  Make sure all pieces are the proper size.  Each sleeve must be the same as its mate.  From the looks of it the front and back must be the same.  Do the seams.  Keep even tension from one end to the other.  If you are a pull tight person, make sure the same tightness is throughout the whole seam.  If you are a looser seamer, you have a slightly harder job.  Keep the same tension from one end to the other and from one seam to the next.  Pick up the neck evenly.  Each sleeve should have the same number of stitches on the same side in the tip of the cap.  The front and back may or may not have the same number.  It depends on the sweater.  But still care needs to be taken that it looks balanced.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Ways to have more knitting and crocheting time

Lately I have seen articles about the health benefits of knitting and crocheting.  Your mental and physical health can be helped in so many ways by the repetitious nature of these hobbies.  But I hear so many say, "I don't have time to knit, how do you do it." "Do you ever sleep?"

Yes I do sleep.  I have spent more than a little time thinking where can I find minutes here and there to knit or crochet.  I've been a stay at home mom, a working mom, an empty nester, and for a short time one of our baby birds has come home to roost.  With crazy schedules and deadlines to meet, I turned to tools to help.

1.  Cook with slow cookers.  I have some tried and true quick to prep and toss into the crock.  Now I have some free time to work on projects while a meal is cooking.

2.  Find minutes when you have some down time.  In my town, there is a railroad track bisecting the town.  I kept projects in the car for these times.  Half of the businesses I frequent are on the opposite side of the tracks from where I live.  Get caught by a train?  Not a problem, I have a project to work on.  Have to wait for a kid at school?  Again no problem.  Waiting in lines at the grocery store, bank, doctors office?  I have time there, more sadly at the doctor's office than other places.  I even take a small project with me to restaurants to work on while waiting for waitstaff to take the order, bring the food, bring the check.

3.  Keep up with clutter.  Try to practice the one touch approach.  Decide whether the mail needs shredded, put away for later paying, filed.  Done reading that magazine, newspaper, other?  Put it to recycle, put it away if it needs kept.  

4.  Use a dishwasher, if that is something within your budget or if your kitchen has space for it.  Only a couple of people in your home?  Run it only once a day or every other day (after rinsing well).  It's been shown that new dishwashers use less water than hand washing also.

5.  Delegate.  Have kids at home?  Have other adults in your abode?  No one says everything has to be just for mom to do or that it's women's work.  There are age appropriate jobs for even the pre-school set.  If the other adults make things dirty or a mess, they can clean it up.  

6.  Schedule your crafting time. This might sound silly to some, but there are those in our midst who  live by the calendar and schedules.  Put time in your schedule for relaxation, crafting, whatever.  We make time to shower, exercise, and cooking and cleaning.  Why not knitting and crocheting?

7.  Use labor saving devices and environmentally friendly cleaners that cut time from the drudgery.  They are out there, you might have to hunt for them at times.

And yes there are times when I feel the need to finish something and do without some sleep.  I also look forward to snowstorms.  When things slow down and stop outside, I have some prime time for knit or crochet.  This doesn't mean I want people stranded in dangerous places; as has happened recently near my home.  I also understand my husband and I will have some major clean up after to dig out after the snow stops and help the neighbors to do the same. 

Do you have more ideas for carving more time out for knitting and crocheting?  Let me and others know what they are.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

People watching

Ever since I was a small child, we have been a family of people watchers.  This is not to say we spied on the neighbors.  This was strictly a mall activity.  My mom didn't drive so shopping expeditions were of the drop off and come back at a prearranged time type.  If you have little kids, you know that shopping can be a wearying adventure.  So when tired, we would sit and people watch or color in our new coloring books, hopefully with a cool drink.

This story is to say I have not lost the people watching ability.  I have a lot less time for it though.  I also drive and don't do shopping the same way my parents did.  And all this relates to knitting and crocheting.  I watch my students, potential students, peers at guild meetings.

I have learned that when I taught myself to knit as a child, I knit in a mixed bunch of ways.  I knit into the back of the stitches.  I held my yarn in my right hand.  I knit very close to the tips and held every thing in a death grip.  When I finally understood purling, years later, I had a bizarre look to my knitting.  Because of how I put the yarn around the needle on the knit row, when I pulled the new stitch through the old one, I would have a row of crossed stitches and a row of straight stitches. As a kid I had a lot of trouble understanding the how and why it happened.  Yes my garter stitch had crossed stitches on every row.  It caused my stuff to spiral.  Scarves took on the look of DNA strands since I didn't know about blocking.  When I learned to work in the round, all my stitches crossed and that made my knitting bias horribly.  Sitting down as an adult when I had free time allowed me to figure out how I was doing this.  It was the direction I wrapped the yarn.

This has given me the knowledge to help my students easily fix problems with their knitting and crocheting.   It has also made me interested in how the students coming in for a refresher class learned.  I have seen a unique way where the needle is held between knees and stitches are put on with both hands.  Turns out these women learned from Italian grandmothers.  I don't know if this is a local  thing, regional, or something all Italian grandmas do.  I have also had a chance to talk to local Russian women about their knitting and learned that the Continental/German method is also part of the Russian method.  The Eastern method is also a part of the Russian method. I don't know any Portuguese people, but have checked out their method on line.  There are many ways to get yarn onto knitting needles and I'm interested in learning them all.  Someday.  Maybe.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Prayer Shawls

Last month during a prayer shawl meeting at my church, we were discussing upcoming projects we were each going to be doing.  I mentioned my goal of doing the Advent scarves for gifts.  (It's much slower going than I anticipated for the record.  Still moving forward but slower.)  One of the women said how that sounded like a great idea and she would like to see something like that for the prayer shawls.  Understandably doing nothing but garter stitch or other very simple stitches can be a bit boring for the knitter or crocheter.  She also said that it would be a great idea because I could teach some new stitches at the same time, if I didn't mind.  Of course I don't mind.  This is a project near and dear to my heart and I let the idea germinate in my mind.

Last night during supper, I whipped out what had come up.  It was complete with references that more or less met with the patterns I chose.  We are testing it now.  I warned the ladies it may need tweaked a bit after I explained what my ideas were for the finished look.  The ladies present last night were very enthusiastic about the ideas I had.  Publication ideas were proposed.  That last part is far from possible right now.

The knitting is going quickly.  I want to be as far as the rest plus have the next section half done for the teaching for March.  There are some complex cables and smocking stitches coming our way as well as some really easy things that don't need explanation.

The reason this is near and dear to me is because of my Mom.  She died 6 years ago during Thanksgiving weekend from complications of dementia.  One of the things that we could do was pray together in addition to looking at country magazines.  Fashion magazines and tabloids never held interest for Mom.  Country and Reminisce from Reiman Publications did hold her interest.  (Reiman Publications may not be the owners of these anymore.  I don't know.)  Part of it was that it reminded her of her growing up years "when times were simpler".  Part of it was the bright, colorful photos.  But during her short time in the nursing home, she received a prayer shawl.  It was something she really loved.  It kept her warm in many ways, from the physical warmth to the prayers crocheted into it, to the warmth shown when someone talked to her and prayed with her.

It was then that I found the website for prayer shawls and our church was starting a group.  Being busy at that time with Mom, my own family getting ready to go off on their own ways as they grew up, and work, I didn't get to join at that time.  When life slowed down for me a bit, I joined.  One of the first big projects our group did was gifts for the military.  It was during the second big push of the Gulf war in Afghanistan and Iraq.  We had family serving over there from our church family.  Each one got a huge box with prayer shawls, stuffies, candies, toiletries, fun stuff.....  We sent prayer shawls and smaller lap afghans as well as the pocket squares.  We received some very nice thank yous for the efforts put forth.

So this is why I really feel a need to participate in this ministry.  The chance to give something tangible and pray with  people is amazing.

And now back to the knitting and crocheting that must get done.  I have a sock to finsh for Tuesday.  Another one to start for Tuesday.  A dishcloth for tomorrow.  And a large meal to cook for tonight's work crew.  I'm thinking something with pork chops.