Monday, 31 December 2012

Knitting in the New Year

Have you found yourself making any knitting-related New Year's resolutions this evening? I have, of sorts. I wrote a list of the knitting projects I want to do in my snazzy new leather-covered planner. I won't share it here, but I must say it's daunting, especially when I've got a few stained glass projects, one needlepoint project, and never mind how many sewing projects also listed on the same page.

Making New Year's resolutions and planning knitting projects are two activities with certain commonalities. They're both an act of faith, of optimism, of expectations that the future will be better than today, because if you can bring them to pass, your life will be improved by some small but measurable degree: you'll have quit smoking, trained yourself to run continuously for half an hour, founded a savings account or a small business, finally begun or finally finished your university degree, begun to learn Spanish, or adopted a pet. Or you'll have a beautiful new sweater to wear. In a world where horrific things happen every day and more disasters are lurking in the shadows of next week, resolutions and knitting project plans promise us some small sense of mastery over ourselves and our own little corner of the world, that at this time next year though we're one year closer to the end of our lives, we'll have a sense of progression rather than one of stagnation or decline.

Making resolutions and plans and dreaming of the day they'll be realized is such an intoxicating feeling that one often gets carried with the easy, early stages: buying exercise machines or budgeting apps or bags of beautiful yarn or Beginner Spanish books that then... just sit there, insistent reminders of our lack of self-discipline or realism.

So while I think it's important to make resolutions and plan knitting projects that excite and inspire us, it's also important to add some ballast to them and to keep them grounded in reality. When writing out my knitting project list tonight I made myself add the two projects that are sitting in my work basket right now and that I am very tired of working on, but that must be finished before I can start anything else. I made myself leave off a couple of items that I'd love to make but just won't get to this year, as there's no point setting myself up for the frustration of a list doomed to incompletion. I let myself add just one project that will require the purchase of more yarn — all the rest of the projects will be made out of yarn I've already got on hand.

I've been finding as I get older that all my plans and to do lists are changing in similar ways, that they're being stripped of some of the frills, fancies and extravagances, and becoming leaner, more prosaic, and.... more likely to happen. And I have no real regrets about this seismic shift. Dreaming of learning a foreign language or of getting a black belt might have made for exciting daydreams, but buckling down to getting my novel done at last, getting an hour's brisk hike in every day, and working hard enough at my freelance editing business to earn the money to pay off my mortgage, get a new furnace, kitchen and rooftop deck, and maybe take a trip for the first time in five years will make for a more satisfying reality. After all, one gets more real satisfaction and wear out of a plain but well-shaped and flattering pullover in one's favourite colour than the most intricate lace shawl ever made.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Some Baggage is Good Baggage

I'm not generally a fan of knitted bags. This may just be a matter of personal preference. I like smart and polished-looking bags with a good, definite shape that close securely and are easy and comfortable to carry, and few knitted bag patterns meet that criteria. They tend to look lumpy and shapeless and awkward, to be Boho in style with flowers and stripes, to call for the use of tacky novelty yarns, and to gape at the top, which leaves my stuff falling out or my wallet at risk for being stolen.

But there are some out there that I like. Tonight I did a search and found two (yes, just two) that I like enough to consider making for myself. The one above is a free Berroco pattern, and it's also on Ravelry.

This bag is actually commercially made, and priced at $200, but it's so cute I decided to seek out a pattern for something similar.

I almost immediately found this bag, which is pretty damn close to the one above. It's a free Michaels' pattern. It also has its own page on Ravelry. And you can probably make it for under $40.

But those are just my favourites. Feel free to leave links to bags that you like in the comments!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

Ravelry's Top Five Knitting Patterns

Ravelry, a community website for knitters and crocheters, has among its countless wonderful features ways search among and to filter its pattern database. A member can look at patterns rated according to which is "most popular" or which has or is being used for the "most projects" among Ravelry members. Ravelry seems to determine a project's "popularity" according to the total of how many projects, blog posts, forum posts, and comments it has.

I'd say the number of projects a pattern is used for is a better indicator of its real popularity than the amount of buzz there is about it. It's easy to admire a pattern, and to post or comment about it, but the real test of how much you love a pattern is whether you're willing to commit to the time and effort and cost of making it. Ravelry's "most popular" pattern has been used for, as of this writing, 8,047 projects among Ravelry members, while Ravelry's pattern that is most used for projects has 19,986 project pages listed, so you can see there is a divide between the two metrics.

Let's have a look at the current top five most-used knitting patterns on Ravelry.

Clapotis, a scarf pattern, is the knitting pattern that is in the most projects on Ravelry, 19,986 to be exact. I can see why. It is a nice piece. But I think equal weight should be given to the fact that a) it's a Knitty pattern and therefore free, and b) it's quick and easy to knit up, given that it uses an Aran yarn. Most of the most-used patterns on Ravelry are smaller items such as accessories and baby clothes. When one filters the patterns by "most projects", there's only one adult-sized sweater among the 36 items on the first page of results.

This is the second most-used pattern on Ravelry, with 19,241 projects, and it's... a pair of fingerless gloves, entitled Fetching. Well, someone had to be making them, given how often fingerless glove patterns appear in knitting magazines. I must admit they are rather cute, even, well, fetching. They are another Knitty pattern, and a big part of their appeal is that they can be made from a single ball of yarn.

The third most-used pattern, with 18,822 projects, is this Baby Surprise Jacket, which is an Elizabeth Zimmermann design. When I look at the pictures of it, I think I might have guessed who the designer was without being told. Zimmermann could design a piece using nothing but the garter stitch and make it look like a design rather than a beginner project. This is not something I see often.

The fourth-most knitted pattern on Ravelry is this sock pattern, entitled Monkey, with 16,139 projects. I'm not sure I understand why. This is not to say I don't like the pattern, because it is perfectly attractive and well-designed, but I've got another sock pattern among my Ravelry favourites that I like just as well, and it only has 13 projects. Perhaps this sock pattern just got better distribution and publicity. It's appeared in Knit. Sock. Love., appeared on Knitting Daily TV, and is a Knitty pattern. Oh, and it's free, whereas the sock pattern in my favourites is not.

This headband pattern, called Calorimetry, is the fifth-most knitted pattern on Ravelry, with 15,313 projects. At first glance I was going to be rather negative about it, but the more I looked at it, the more good points I saw in it. It's a simple-looking piece, but a lot of care and thought has gone into the design. Unlike pretty much every other headband I've ever seen, it's shaped to cover the top of the head and the ears where warmth is needed, and yet go under a woman's ponytail, bun, or fall of hair. It seems to be reasonably flattering. It is a Knitty pattern and therefore free, and can be made with one ball of yarn. One caveat, though. I'd knit it in a yarn that is varied in colour rather than a solid tone, as that will help hide the shaping, which as you can see from the third picture can look a little rough.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Hobby Lobby's Misconceptions

Hobby Lobby, a chain of U.S. craft supply stores, has announced that it will "defy a federal mandate requiring it to offer employees health coverage that includes access to the morning-after pill, despite risking potential fines of up to $1.3 million per day".

Hobby Lobby claims "the mandate violates the religious beliefs of their owners. They say the morning-after pill is tantamount to abortion because it can prevent a fertilized egg from becoming implanted in a woman's womb".

Leaving aside the whole abortion morality debate for a moment, let's make something clear here. Emergency contraceptives like the morning-after pill are not abortifacients. They do not prevent a fertilized egg from implanting itself in a woman's womb; they prevent the egg and sperm from ever meeting in the first place. You can verify this fact on Wikipedia if you wish. Hobby Lobby is illegally denying its employees coverage for contraceptives based on their religious principles, which in turn are based what I can only call willful ignorance of the facts, since surely someone has at least tried to explain the family that owns Hobby Lobby that "emergency contraceptives" are called "emergency contraceptives" for a reason.

I first read about this issue on, and as always MeFites brought their considerable collective intelligence and snark to the debate. It makes for entertaining and thought-provoking reading if you're looking for a more in-depth discussion than you'll find in this post.

It'll be interesting to see if Hobby Lobby actually carries out its threat, however, or how many days they'll be willing to pay that $1.3 million fine. As has been remarked in the Metafilter thread, although Hobby Lobby prides themselves on closing their stores on Sunday in accordance with the fourth of the ten commandments, the fact is that a number of their employees are still required to come to work on Sunday to do inventory behind those closed doors.

But assuming that Hobby Lobby does defy the mandate and incur those massive fines for any significant length of time, if you're an American knitter who's inclined to dismiss this issue because you believe employers should have a right to decide what benefits or because you think this issue isn't important, and intend to go shopping at the Hobby Lobby in the near future anyway, please take a minute to think through the ramifications.

If employers can decide what benefits to give their employees according to their religious principles, your Jewish employer will have the right to deny you your statutory holidays at Christmas and Easter. Your Jehovah's Witness employer will have the right to deny you medical coverage for an operation because it requires a blood transfusion. Your Christian Science employer will have the right to deny you any medication or psychiatric treatment benefits at all. Your fundamentalist Christian employer will have the right to deny any coverage to your common-law or gay or lesbian partner, or perhaps even your second spouse if you divorced the first one. Are you comfortable going down that road, or do you wish to help uphold the U.S. law, which says that no employer has the right to deny employees legally mandated benefits and insurance coverage for legally available medical services on religious grounds?

If you think the Hobby Lobby employees can simply pay for their own emergency contraception because it won't cost much or be needed often, take a minute to think about what it would be like to be a young woman who's already having trouble making ends meet on Hobby Lobby's average hourly wage of no more than $14 an hour, who maybe is trying to put herself through school, or who perhaps already has a child or two to support, and who needs the morning after pill because a condom broke, or because she's been raped. Are you comfortable supporting an organization that is breaking the law by refusing to give her the benefits she's legally entitled to and helping to make her life that much harder? Or would you rather buy your yarn somewhere else until Hobby Lobby is willing to abide by U.S. law?

The final decision of whether to support a boycott always has to rest with each consumer, of course, but I would like all those who shop at Hobby Lobby to know and consider the facts of this situation. I'm not asking anyone to rely on my presentation of the matter. Please read the accompanying links and google the issue to learn more.

And I bet you never expected the act of buying yarn for your new fingerless gloves project to become a political statement. I know when I started writing a knitting blog I never expected to find myself doing socio-political posts — and I've already done several in the 49 days of this blog's existence. But then it's not so surprising, really. Knitting takes resources (time, money, and materials), and the allocation of resources is always political.

Not that I regret my politicized posts. My only regret is that, as a Canadian, the only political statement I can make on the Hobby Lobby issue is here on this blog. We do not have Hobby Lobby stores in Canada and so I can't make a point of not shopping at them. However, I can continue to happily shop at the closest Canadian equivalent of Hobby Lobby, which is probably Mary Maxim, bless its Canadian and secular little heart. And, for any U.S. knitters who are looking for alternatives to Hobby Lobby, I note for your benefit that Mary Maxim also does business in the U.S.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Not Tonight Darling, I Enjoy Knitting More Than I Enjoy You

The title of this book is a real conversation starter, or perhaps equally a conversation stopper.

Not tonight Darling, I'm Knitting is available on Amazon, with an updated cover. If you're thinking about buying it, do read the reader reviews before you click "add to cart", because some of the reviewers claim the book's content didn't live up to its title. It appears to be a book of basic knitting history and basic knitting instruction, laid out in "design circus" format (i.e., lots of visuals and tidbits of information). It could be fun book for those who are just learning to knit and want a general overview of knitting history, but more skilled knitters who want a more in-depth approach to knitting history will want to take a pass on this book and buy another more suited to their existing level of knowledge and skill.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Knitting for Sandy Hook

If you are wondering how you might help the surviving victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy, some group knitting projects have been organized. There's a Ravelry group making stuffed toy monsters for every child who attends the Sandy Hook elementary school.

A teacher named Jeanne Malgioglio is asking people to knit or crochet green and white scarves (green and white being the Sandy Hook school colours) for the Sandy hook students, faculty and first responders.

A web site called Snappy Tots is asking knitters and crocheters to make green and white hats to be give to the children of Sandy Hook school.

I have a few thoughts about these charitable efforts that I'd like to express, but doing so has cost me not a few minutes spent staring blankly at a blank computer screen, trying to frame what I want to say in a way that will not in any way denigrate the group efforts I've listed above.

In a time of tragedy like this one, people who weren't directly affected by the events try to process their horror and grief and often end by wondering what on earth they can do to help those who were hard hit. They are often willing to give considerable amounts of time, effort and money in order to help. This being the case, it seems a shame that, so often, these wonderful, generous, loving outpourings of time, effort, and money can get misdirected into activities that don't actually help anyone, that are the equivalent of baking an American flag cake.

I think of accounts I read after 9/11 that related how the Red Cross had so much money in their 9/11 relief fund that they wound up simply handing out money to those who just happened to live near the World Trade Center — who had not suffered the loss of any loved ones, any injury, or any destruction of their property in the terrorist attack. I think of how, in WWI and WWII, women were encouraged to help in the war effort by knitting socks and other items, though a factory could turn out more socks in a day than quite a large group of women could knit in a year. This is not to say that the hand-knitted socks were useless, as I am sure they were put to good use and were much appreciated by the soldiers who got them. One must look at the larger picture, at the fact that the war work of those on the homefront was very varied and could hardly have been greater, and that the knitting they did was probably only a way to put their little leisure time to good use. However, let it be said that the soldiers who didn't get hand-knitted socks didn't go barefoot, and that the main benefit of wartime knitting seems to have been that it made the women who did it feel useful, that it gave them a way to cope with their anxiety over the fact that the men they loved might never come back from the war. And some war-time knitting and needlework was indeed completely useless and self-indulgent. And so I consider that these efforts were at least partially misdirected, because at least in the case of the tragically pointless WWI, asking hard questions about why such a war needed to take place and lobbying for withdrawal from it would have done the soldiers who fought it far more good than any amount of hand-knitted socks.

Please don't take all this as a criticism of the charities I have mentioned. It's important that the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre receive support. There have been two deaths in my family in the past thirteen months, and I know just how much it means to people who are grieving to receive these gestures of sympathy and support. These scarves and hats and toys won't in any way make up for what those who receive them have lost and won't by itself help them recover from their traumatizing experiences, but it will demonstrate to them that there are many people out there who sympathize and care about them. When the children who attend Sandy Hook receive their cuddly knitted monsters, they'll learn that though there was one mentally ill stranger out there who wanted to kill them, there are thousands of strangers who care so much about them and what they've been through that they're willing to spend time and money making a toy especially for them.

What I would like, though, is for people to try to see the bigger picture, and to be mindful and far-seeing about the ways in which they try to work through and respond this tragedy. I'd like people to think about how they can help address some of the root causes of these horrific mass shootings: the lax gun control laws; the substandard treatment of the mentally ill; the lack of support for families trying to raise a child with mental health issues; and some of the issues with media coverage. I'd like people to really think about what they can do to change our society for the better, about becoming more politically active, or about volunteering, or organizing a group effort of their own if they've got a great idea for one.

Many who will knit for these causes are already volunteering or contributing to social or political causes, and they, or others who are already overwhelmed with their own responsibilities, may decide that all they want to do or can do is knit an item during their public transit commute or TV-watching time in evening. But there are those of us who could spare the time to work for change, and I'd like us all to think carefully before we pick up the needles. Knitting is a wonderful past-time, and it's not non-productive, but sometimes it is better to leave the needles lying in our work baskets, because there are other, more important things that we could be doing.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

How Knitted are Thy Branches

Yes, that's a knitted Christmas tree, made by the members of Poulton-le-Flyde Methodist Church as well as other members of the same community in Lancashire, England.

The plan is to take the tree down after Christmas, and stitch the leaves into blankets, which can then be donated to charity.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Monday, 24 December 2012

What Not to Knit For the Holidays

Christmas sweaters always get such a bad rap. has assembled a slideshow of holiday sweaters that will help you understand why.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

The Materialistics: making material art in a material world

In 2011 a group of 40 women known as The Materialistics exhibited a collection of their art work called "The Grand Tour", at the Customs House in South Shields, England. "The Grand Tour" comprised 50 pieces of art work and it took The Materialistics a year to create them. What made this collection remarkable was the medium used to create these art works: they were not painted or sculpted, but knitted, crocheted, and embroidered. Through needlework, The Materialistics had recreated 50 well-known works of art in painstaking detail: Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe, Edvard Munch's The Scream, Vincent Van Gogh's Sunflowers, Pablo Picasso's Woman in Garden, Rembrandt's self-portrait, Dante Gabriel's Rosetti's Daydream, Gustav Klimt's The Kiss, and many more.

"The Grand Tour", which travelled to various venues in England for exhibition, was not the first nor the last of The Materialistics' exhibitions. Their first two were "A Coat for a Boat" in 2009 (which involved an actual boat covered in knitting) and "Victorian Christmas" (a full scale room including window, Christmas tree, and Santa by a fireplace all in victorian style) in 2010, and in 2012 their exhibition was a recreation of fairy tale characters and scenes entitled Once Upon a Time. Their current project, which is a work in progress, is called Home Sweet Home.

There's everything to love about The Materialistics and their work, but my favourite thing about The Grand Tour project is that no one who sees it can ever deny that needlework is as much, and as variable, an artistic medium as paint or clay or metal.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Oh, Deer

A reader named Karen (thanks Karen!) enlightened me as to the existence of a fornicating deer motif pattern on Ravelry. It was designed by Anne Rutten, and is available as a free download here. It has really added considerably to the joy of my holidays to see that, as of this writing, the motif has or is being used in 1380 projects on Ravelry. Most of the projects are hats, but there are also socks, scarves, and a few sweaters. Here are a few pictures.

I especially love that there are Christmas stars shining down over the deer in three of these.

If you don't celebrate Christmas but procreating animals are your thing, you might want to check out some of the other naughty animal motifs on Ravelry: there are cows (for the Black Angus farmer convention), kangaroos (for that trip to Australia), elephants (for that relative in Africa), penguins (for that expedition to the South Pole), bunnies (for Easter), and unicorns (for that friend of yours who really likes unicorns).

Friday, 21 December 2012

You Say Knitting, I Say Crochet, Let's Call the Whole Thing a Sweater

Holy Taco has put together a slideshow of 25 of the most disturbing knitting projects ever (do take care when and where you view this, as much of it is NSFW).

The slideshow is even more disturbing than the Holy Taco editors think, though not for the reasons they imagine, because I don't think there are more than nine actual knitting projects in that slideshow at the most. The other items are crocheted, or consist of just strands or skeins of yarn. This kind of thing is common, however. Whenever I do any googling involving the word "knitting", at least 20% of the search results items are crocheted.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Twist Collective's Winter 2012: A Review

Twist Collective is yet another online knitting magazine that I had never heard of before I launched this blog and that was a happy discovery. It's a thoroughly professional production, unlike some online-only magazines, which tend to have that start-up or grassroots look. Incidentally, if there's a knitting magazine you'd like me to review, flip me a link via email. Just keep in mind that the magazine will have to have a website and preview pictures for me to be able to do my thing.

Let's have a look at Twist Collective's Winter 2012 Issue.

It always amazes me how the simplest little touch, like the lace stitch used on the cowl and double pocket on this sweater, can make a very basic pattern look fresh and distinctive.

I'm not a fan of buttonless cardigans, but putting a belt tie on this one makes it look really pulled together in both the literal and the figurative sense.

When I saw this cardigan I was going to not include it because it didn't look like anything special, but when I looked at the close up shot I saw some interesting detail. I'd maybe make this one in a solid colour yarn because any variation in the colour will compete with the design.

Nice little pullover with some interesting detail. Though it looks like a summer sweater to me. Lengthening the sleeves and making it a richer colour would "winterize" it.

This very, very delicate wrap looks at first glance more like tatting than knitting, and could probably double as an evening shawl.

Great use of self-striping yarn. It adds complexity and sophistication to what would otherwise be a pretty standard fair isle hat and mittens set.

I have just two nitpicks to make about this cardigan: that it's wrap-front and that the mini shawl collar isn't quite working in front. I have my doubts about how both the front of the cardigan (see how the model is clutching it?) and the collar would sit (or rather, not sit) over the course of the day. Otherwise the sweater is beautiful and the back looks fantastic, although the collar is rolling up in the back.

Love these mittens. Twist Collective seems to be really good at picking colourwork hat and mitten patterns that look like they're intended for adults. Usually intarsia hats and mittens look like they're strictly recess wear.

Simple, pretty pullover with a bit of interesting detail.

Nice striking vest. You could put this with a plain white shirt and black trousers and it'll make your outfit.

Nice classic coat, if a little hard to wear because of its tendency to bulk up a woman's figure. Make sure you make it big enough, because this kind of textured stitch has a slightly elastic quality — you can see the button bands pulling a little apart on this model.

Oooh, love this cardigan. The pictures for the patterns in this grouping are all tagged with the word "vintage", and I can see why when I look at this one. This looks like one of the sophisticated, striking, detailed yet wearable pieces worn by 30s and 40s movies stars. My one criticism, which unfortunately is not a minor one, is that the neckline is so poorly designed. There's no way that sweater could be buttoned to the top without half-choking the model. If you want to buy this pattern and don't like feeling like your neckline is cutting into your neck, make sure you've got the skills to adjust that neckline. It's not going to be at all easy to do that without ruining the effect of the leaves around the yoke.

I don't know why this cardigan was included in such a good collection of designs. My guess is that the little buttonless opening at the waistband is supposed to echo the collar's design, but this isn't a collar you want to draw attention to, and the sweater just looks crude and unfinished.

I do really like this jacket, but again, the texture is going to give it bulk and a tendency to contract, so make sure you knit it big enough, because the button bands are pulling open on this model.

This one looks like the perfect around-the-house sweater, and it'll be quick and easy to make. You can go with a playful colour combination like this one here, or upgrade the look by choosing a more classic colour and style of buttons.

Nice cardigan! The stripes and cables pattern is smart, and I like the buttons that continue across the ends of the collar.

I'm not a fan of the Peruvian cap, which tend to look just too goofy on non-Peruvians over 30. In The Language of Clothes, Alison Lurie wrote something along the lines that inappropriate headgear tends to make people sillier than any other odd wardrobe choice, perhaps because it's so close to where they think. I included this for the sake of the yarn, which I love... ahhh, those rich blues and golds are in such wonderful harmony.

Perfect hoodie. It actually has full-length sleeves, which is rare in knitting patterns. Sometimes I wonder if there was a sleeve-length revolution that I missed out on.

I like the texture of this piece and it's striking and original, but I find myself wondering if it wouldn't work better as a throw on a couch in a very cool, modern, loft apartment than as a wrap for a woman. It doesn't help that we can't tell from these pictures whether it has any shaping at all.

I quite like this simple pullover that's been turned into something striking with the use of just a little detailing at the neckline, cuffs and hem, but the neckline is folding in half on the model, which doesn't bode well for how it may sit on you in real life.

There are some striking details on this cardigan that really make it look distinctive: the cable pattern at the one shoulder and opposite side, and the curving tops of the pockets.

I'm not a big fan of cardigans that only button at the top (very few women are all that comfortable with the feeling that their sweaters are acting as theatre curtains parting and leaving their stomach area centre stage), but this one is so beautiful otherwise that it'll do. The back, with its sideways cables, is really stunning, and it looks like the hood has some interesting detail as well.

Another pretty hat and mittens set.

I wasn't going to include this one until I noticed the cable detail at the waist. That might give the sweater some waist shaping, but it's impossible to tell from this picture if it does.

Mismatched socks wouldn't normally be my thing, but such is the power of really good design that these actually look eye-catching and fun without looking the least bit silly.

I love this sweater, which looks amazingly flattering and well-shaped for such a heavy knit, but, well, toggles. Some engraved steel buttons would have looked amazing on this item.

This hat and cowl set is only half successful. The hat looks great, and the cowl just looks too insubstantial to sit properly or to be warm. Judging from the cowls I've seen, they do need to have a certain bulk to them to look right. When the edges show, when they are just a single thickness of knitting sitting limply around someone's neck, they just look too wimpy to be up to the task of being a cowl. If you want to make something to go with a hat that's knitted in, say, a DK weight yarn or anything lighter (and this set is in Shalimar Yarns' Breathless, which is a fingering weight), make a scarf, not a cowl.