What Price Tradition?

David and I are hosting Thanksgiving for the third year in a row, and three of our five children and our grandson will be there.  As new vegans, we had a few discussions about how we wanted to handle the meal.  We decided that wanted to be true to our convictions as ethical vegans and have a vegan Thanksgiving.  And I admit that I had some trepidation about sharing the news with my son, Sam, who I thought might feel disappointed to not have his favorite “traditional” foods (cheesy au gratin potatoes for example) at the meal.

Through a text message (giving me the space to deal with my and his reactions) I shared the news.  He responded predictably–“what no cheesy potatoes?!” although he did add “lol”.  After a bit of back and forth chatting peppered with “lol’s” (mine and his) I assured him that he would be served a delicious meal and be healthier for it.  He agreed to keep an open mind as long as I didn’t tell him the specifics about exactly what he was eating.  Well, okay, I can live with that.  I am incredibly excited to see the kids and share the best my vegan culinary skills have to offer.  It’s going to be a great time.

And that brings me to a feature article I read in the Huffington Post this morning entitled, “I’ll Take Turkey Over Tofu, Thank you” and you can read it for yourself here.  The premise of the article (I think) is that tradition matters–and tradition (for this family) seems to be eating the turkey, the stuffing made with gobs of butter, and the pecan pie a la mode.  And the author emphatically (defiantly?) states that she and her family “will enjoy every bite”.  WOW.  Now I know that most people this Thanksgiving will be eating some version of the aforementioned meal (and enjoying it) but I couldn’t help but wonder about her defensive tone.  Perhaps she doth protest too much??

The author states that she is happy to eat vegan or gluten-free concoctions but others shouldn’t judge her for wanting to keep her traditions.  I agree that no one likes to be judged, and vegans, like people passionate about any cause, can ruffle plenty of feathers.  But this is not simply a matter of tit for tat or about our cooking skills or palate.  It is a matter of conscience.  I doubt I’m exaggerating when I say that millions of turkeys will be inhumanely fattened up and slaughtered so that American families can keep up this tradition.  I can work my way down the Thanksgiving menu but I won’t bother.  It’s all so very sad that as a country this is where we are at.  On some level, I wonder if the author of this article, who is making her assertions with some pretty intense energy doesn’t deep-down have her own concerns about the animals, the environment, her health and the health of her family.   I think it’s hard to live in our culture without there being some uneasiness about our values and how we live.

Regarding traditions, I do understand that family rituals can keep us feeling connected to one another, and this author alluded to an”empty chair” at her table.  I could feel the sadness in her words. The rituals around holidays (and food) are some of the most powerful we experience in our families and culture.  And one way we connect one generation to another is through rituals like these.  But even so, I believe that some traditions and rituals are worth rethinking even if the transitions feel uncomfortable.  As we all know, at one time, “being true to one’s heritage” meant owning slaves.

On a slightly lighter note (but still on the subject of tradition and ritual) I barely got my own mini-ritual started when I had to change it.  Remember this?

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That wool yarn was not animal-friendly and the macaron is full of butter.  Here is my updated spread:

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This is acrylic yarn from my stash that I am using to crochet a “snuggle blanket” for an animal shelter.  I got wind of this idea from an internet pal (thanks Barb!) who was wondering what to do with her (non-animal friendly) merino wool and she was considering making blankets for animal shelters.  I like the idea of making some mini reparations in this way as well.  The wool from the sweater above (if it’s washable) will probably be slated for shelter blankets as well.  If you want to know more about this wonderful effort you can check it out here.

As for the cookie:

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This delectable oat jam thumbprint cookie came with me from home.  I made a batch yesterday and you can find the recipe here.

While I made some changes to my mini-ritual, I still chatted with other folks at Whole Foods and thoroughly enjoyed my time there.  And here’s the thing–traditional foods are nice but they are nice because of the meaning we assign to them.  Turkey on Thanksgiving means connection and love and family.  While we can swap out one food for another, the people sitting around our tables are and will always be the main event.

New traditions await.

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Knitting + Tea + Macaron =

 

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My idea of a heavenly bi-weekly ritual.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog it’s probably pretty obvious by now that I’m a huge homebody.  Aside from hitting the hiking trails or shopping for hobby supplies I can usually be found puttering around in my house, sewing, cooking, reading or blogging.  I am a retired stay-at-home mom (thank you to my friend Betsy for coining that phrase), and it seems that after the years of running around according to everyone else’s schedule the last thing I want or crave is another schedule.  After nearly three years in Tucson I’m only just starting to think about venturing out to find some social activities.

So I didn’t actively create this away-from-home ritual;  it was born out of necessity.  Every other Wednesday morning we have our house cleaned.  I intentionally hired a cleaning “crew” so that they could blitz the place in two hours or less and be on their way.  On these mornings I usually feel anxious, not only because I have to tidy up before the crew gets here (we all know that one) but because I have to be out of the house while they are doing the blitzing. Two hours to wander around town.  And since the crew gets here early, the mall and library (my favorite places for intentional time wasting) aren’t open yet.

One week I grabbed whatever project I was working on at the time and decided to find a place to just hang out and knit.  I went over to Whole Foods where they have a large open area with high and low wooden tables.  It was quiet in there with only a smattering of people working on computers or quietly chatting.  It was so inviting.  I ordered a cup of tea and eyed the large display of macarons.  The last macaron I had was several years ago in Paris when I was visiting Anne.  I couldn’t resist and picked out a salted caramel one.  So decadent at nine in the morning.  I settled down with my bag of knitting, my (overly) sweet macaron and my tea.  I watched people come and go and enjoyed the wonderful energy in the room.  I exchanged smiles with people I didn’t know and that was fine.   I hung out there until it was time to gather up some groceries and head for home.  I felt relaxed and in a small way more connected with my community.

So now this is where I go on these Wednesday mornings.  And rather than feel anxious, I anticipate the time, tea and macaron with pleasure.  I’m not sure that going forward my yarn, tea and macaron will always be so color-coordinated  ( I clearly have a need for more red in my life) but I will take this as a sign that the greater world is calling and it may be time to step on out.

 

 

 

Look Ma, No Cable Needle!

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If you are a knitter who has already mastered the art of knitting cables without using a cable needle, feel free to change the channel pronto.   But if you are afraid of trying out this method, hang in with me for a mini-tutorial and a great project recommendation to get you started.

This work-in-progress is another lacy shawl project, although it’s not nearly as large or voluminous as my last one.  I was charmed by this Bristol Ivy pattern:

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Lacy, lightweight and really versatile.  I ordered the pattern and the Quince & Co. linen yarn, settled down to acquaint myself with the pattern and saw, ugh, cables.  I usually associate cables with  heavier wool sweaters and hats.  In fact, my only UFO knitting project was a black fisherman’s sweater I started knitting for David.  This was an early project and maybe a little advanced for my skill level at the time, but once I dropped a few cabled stitches and lost count of my rows on the first sleeve I had to put it down.  I don’t think David will miss it. After all, we do live in Arizona.

Since I hate using cable needles and I’m not particularly good at it, I decided to try my hand at knitting without the cable needle.  For the non- knitters out there, cables are simply a twisted design achieved by knitting or purling stitches out of order.  A cable needle is typically used to hold the stitches you are not ready to knit yet out of the way.  When knitting without a cable needle the approach is to move the stitches around on the regular needle and then just knit across them.  What’s intimidating is that for a split second in the process your “live” stitches are hanging out in no man’s land off the needles potentially leading to dropped stitches, which we never want if we can help it. Are you totally confused yet?

This shawl project turned out to be a great one to experiment on for two reasons.  First, the cables are three stitch cables which means you are either stranding one or two live stitches.  That’s not so bad.  For a six stitch cable, for example, you’d be hanging three live stitches out at once.  I’m not sure I’d try that!  Second and more importantly, in this pattern, if you do happen to drop one of the live stitches (and I’ve done it plenty) it’s very easy to retrieve the dropped stitches because the previous rows are all stockinette stitch.  When I first started knitting this I literally kept a crochet hook between my teeth–  that’s how often I had to go retrieving stitches.  But I finally got the hang of it.  Here’s how I did it:

Here’s a place where I am going to do a right cross cable on three stitches.  The three stitches on the left needle are the ones we’re moving around:

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The first step is to insert the right needle into the front of the third stitch on the left needle:DSCN1978

Next you slide all three stitches off the tip of the needle.  This will leave the third stitch on the right needle and the two others hanging out behind the work:

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Can you see the two stitches on top?  You quick, quick put the tip of the left needle through those:

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And then slide the last stitch on the right needle back onto the left:

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Lots of drama just to reorder those stitches!  Once you’ve done that (and that’s the hairy part) you just knit across those stitches like you normally would and it looks like this:

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Tada!

The left hand cross is the exact opposite of this one.  First insert the right needle into the back of the second and third stitches:

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Slip them off the tip of the left needle, leaving two stitches on the right needle and one hanging out in front of the work:DSCN1984

Quick, quick (can’t forget that part) slip the tip of the left needle into the free stitch and then slip the two stitches from the right needle back to the left:DSCN1986

Knit across these three stitches and voila:

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Cables are done!

This takes a little bit of practice, but it makes the entire process so much more enjoyable and less fussy!

This was my first attempt at offering up any bit of knitting “technique” on my blog and I’m not sure these photos are clear enough to be actual “tutorial” material, but if I’ve encouraged you to face your knitting fear and ditch that cable needle then I’ve done what I set out to do.  As with everything, there are tons of videos and other how-tos all over the internet that can help you get started.

In the meantime it shouldn’t be much longer before this project is done.  I’ll report back with the finished garment.

 

 

 

 

 

Done!!!

This past Friday morning I was composing a blog post (not this one) as David and I were sitting at the Tucson airport waiting to board a Southwest flight to Chicago.  This would be the time for a very appropriate collective groan.  We planned this trip to see Anne a long time ago and we had goodies for her in our carry-on bag.  I was writing about those goodies and planning on posting after the trip.

Well, as most everyone knows by now, there was a fire at the air traffic facility in Chicago and nothing was going in or out.  Such a bummer. Anne and I cried our tears, and we promised to reschedule as soon as possible.  After some typically infuriating time with American Airlines and some less infuriating time with Southwest we replanned the trip for the end of October.

So David and I found ourselves with an unexpectedly free weekend at home, and aside from restocking our refrigerator we got busy with our respective hobbies.  And that’s when I finished this:

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Woohoo!!!!  This was a labor of love if there ever was one.  Endless and tedious but in the end oh so worth it.  This shawl was made from Quince and Company linen yarn that after blocking is soft and beautiful.  Here’s a better look:

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I was afraid that after I blocked it and opened up all the lace (the fun part really) my mistakes would be glaringly obvious.  Not so! I’m sure there are mistakes but they’re certainly not obvious. I guess all that ripping and redoing paid off.  Here’s what this gorgeous pattern looks like up close:

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If you can spot mistakes, shhh, don’t tell me.

I have to admit, that while I chose this gray/blue color because it’s fairly neutral it is a little blah.  Oh well.  I also really have no idea how to wear this.  I’ve never owned a “shawl” or should I call it a “wrap”?  Some folks can jauntily arrange wraps or shawls or whatever over their shoulders but for me I think it will take some practice.  For my first attempt I went for the ancestral (i.e. “shtetl”) vibe:

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I’m not gonna lie, there’s something about this I like.  I certainly wouldn’t have to worry about how my hair looks!  Ok, never mind.  How about this:

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Definitely a work in progress.

So in the end, the change of plans this weekend provided me with a good opportunity to practice acceptance and not cause unnecessary suffering for myself.  It was so disappointing to not be able to see Anne as planned and the whole airport thing is frustrating and maddening, but all of it was completely out of my control.  In the past I would probably have obsessed about it all weekend but not acknowledged my sadness and anger.  This time I did the opposite.  I let myself feel the full impact of my disappointment and frustration and then I got on with it and enjoyed the weekend.

Good for me.

 

 

 

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Or more accurately, ten rows forward and five rows back.

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This shawl, my latest knitting project, has been sent by the universe to teach me something.  I’m sure that’s what’s going on here.

The short version (of the long/endless shawl project) is that I keep making the same mistakes over and over.  And while I can fix many mistakes now, the one I keep making can’t be fixed (by someone at my skill level anyway).  And this time I can’t “live with it” either because the result will be a wholly unraveled shawl.  I’ll spare you the details about the exact sort of knitting trouble I’m getting into but suffice it to say that I don’t usually notice the problem until I am rows and rows along, which means I have to painstakingly backtrack stitch by stitch, row by row.  There are about 400 stitches in each row.  On Sunday, I spent the entire afternoon watching football and knitting backwards.  Yikes.

Today I finally got back in “drive”;  I was literally down to the last three rows (I’ve been to this point before by the way) when I spotted another mistake about four rows back.  So really, at this point it is time to contemplate those bigger universal lessons.  I think I’m struggling with the same situation over and over because I have yet to master the following : Patience, process rather than results, patience, acceptance of things we can not change, patience, kindness to self, patience, gratitude for do-overs, patience, using lifelines (knitting term), patience.  Oh, and did I mention patience?

In meditation I’m learning that I can hang in and be with some pretty annoying thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.  They won’t kill me.  They will pass.  And in my day-to-day life I’m always trying to remember that, especially when things aren’t going my way.  This Sisyphean knitting project will end.  I will be the proud owner of a beautiful shawl that (hopefully) will not unravel at an inopportune time.  I’m just not going to finish it today as I had hoped and planned.  And that is not a catastrophe.

Oh and there’s one more lesson:

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I am allowed to step away from that which is making me unhappy and find something else that will make me happier-baking this cake, for instance.  If you want to bake it, I promise it will make you happier too.  The recipe is here.

 

 

A Knitted Accessory…

…for the thermostatically challenged!

I’ll get to that in a minute, but this project really all started with this:

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I had an idea to knit a very sheer summery sweater with this wonderful linen yarn from Quince & Co., one of my favorite yarn manufacturers. I had never knitted with linen before and for some reason I wasn’t having any luck with the patterns I was choosing.  Ripping out, starting over.  I simply wasn’t feeling it.  I was just about to put the yarn away when I spotted a pattern for a simple summer-weight scarf/shawl, and it got me thinking about this:

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This peek into my purse reveals the folded/mushed up J. Crew cardigan (circa 2009) that I lug around to manage my ever-changing internal thermostat.  If you are of a certain age and reading this you know exactly what I mean.  One minute I’m surreptitiously dipping my fingers in the nearest water glass and dotting my temples and neck (and anywhere else I wouldn’t be embarrassed to “dot” in public) in order to stave off a complete meltdown and next I’m frantically grabbing at my purse to get the sweater on to keep my teeth from chattering in the air conditioning.

Functionally, the J. Crew sweater has been doing the trick but lately I’ve noticed that when I pull it out this is what I’m putting on:

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Not so fetching.  Perhaps a scarf/shawl item would look a little better.  I didn’t have any other ideas for the linen yarn so I knitted it right up and here’s how it looks:

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This is a super-simple pattern that really calls for a contrasting color on the “stripes” but I definitely wanted to go solid for something I could be putting on all the time.  Once I was finished knitting and blocking I realized that the dimensions were more “scarf” than “shawl”.  Here’s a look at my best attempt (I’m awful at this!) to drape the scarf:

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Actually that’s a pretty poor attempt, but you get the idea.  I really like the look of this but I don’t know about helping out with much temperature control.  How about like this:

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Again, I think it’s cute but I’m not sure if it will keep the teeth from chattering.  I’m pretty sold on this idea, and rather than stow the scarf/shawl down in the depths of my purse (who knows what might happen to it in there!)  I can tie it around my purse handle like this:

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I’m already looking at other patterns for a bonafide shawl, and I have a hunch that this one will become a spring/fall decorative scarf, but in the meantime I will forgo function in favor of form and step out tonight without the wrinkled cardigan.  And I won’t sit under the air conditioning vent 🙂

 

 

Do Frogs Like Blueberry Pie?

To pick up on a thread (yarn?) from a while ago, remember this?

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After I frogged my project I was determined to make something out of this perfect cream-colored yarn.  I loved working with it.  After several false starts I settled on a short-sleeved leaf pattern top.  In order to make the gauge I had to drop down two needle sizes.  As a result I was dealing with lots of little stitches.  It came with me to Montana and here’s a shot in progress (upside down) on the circular needles:

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And today I finally finished it!  Here’s how it looks:

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I love it!  After several projects now that include lace I can say that I am completely hooked.  Here’s a close-up of the lace panel:

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Oh and for those who can’t see without their glasses…

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Ha!  Actually I was just playing around with the “macro” setting on my camera 🙂

This pattern was fun to knit (the gazillions of stitches notwithstanding) because there are only nineteen stitches of a changing pattern on each row and the rest is all circular (i.e. fast) knitting.  It’s a good project to do when the TV is on, assuming you can find anything to watch. Speaking of TV, and on a happy note, we are now very into “Halt and Catch Fire” on AMC.  But I digress…

I think the reason I like knitting lace patterns is because the negative space is such an integral part of the pattern.  I’m very into “space” these days in everything from design to my psyche.  The more the better.  I don’t think we’ve seen the last of my lacy knitwear.  And here I am modeling the new sweater:

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OK, so it wouldn’t have killed me to put on some make-up for my photo session but it’s Saturday and I’ll be dunking in the pool soon.

So by now if you are wondering what my reknitted ex-frogged project has to do with blueberry pie, the answer is “absolutely nothing”.  Total nonsense.  But I did, in fact, need a segue to this:

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Hope you are having a great weekend.

Green Green Everywhere

A Sweater for Anne  Me

Oh my!  I returned a few days ago from a week-long trip to New Jersey to see family and friends.  I had a few days to myself before David joined me and I planned to blog during the trip.  It was a great trip with so much to write about but in the end the words wouldn’t come.  So, rather than push it, I decided to let it go.  I am home now, back in my space where creating just seems to happen.  So remember this?

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This was the yarn that Anne selected for the sweater that I was knitting for her.  Well, it’s a good thing I like green. In fact, it’s my favorite color.  Because this sweater turned out to be my size (barely), not hers.  I had warned Anne, as I was halfway through the project, that it was looking a little skimpier than I had anticipated.  This was disappointing because one of the reasons we chose this pattern was because I had already knitted it up in a short sleeve version that fit Anne perfectly.  Sorry honey.

The thing about knitting is that if you change the weight of the yarn even a little bit the gauge can be off.  Gauge refers to the number of stitches per inch, both horizontally and vertically that you need to have in order to achieve the finished measurements.  A way to “make the gauge” is to change up needle sizes.  This also helps knitters adjust for how loosely or tightly they knit.  So before a project really gets going there’s a bit of tinkering that goes on.

In this case, the yarn Anne chose was slightly lighter in weight than the one I had used previously and even after upping the needle sizes the gauge was a little bit small.  And I learned that a little bit small adds up to a whole size small when all is said and done.  So without further ado, here’s my new sweater:

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And up close, here’s the lace pattern:

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And the trim:

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If you’re thinking, “wow, those stitches are soooo even”, so am I!  As a relatively new knitter it’s been a real challenge to knit with even tension.  There are a couple of reasons why this project was so technically successful (the gauge issue notwithstanding).  First, the entire sweater is knit “in the round” using these:

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Knitting in the round means that the entire body of the sweater is knitted at once eliminating the need for pesky seaming which I’m not great at.  In addition, the smooth “stockinette stitch” which makes up the non-lace part of the body is achieved by knitting all the rows.  If a project requires turning the work after each row the stockinette stitch is created by knitting a row and purling a row.  For me those purl rows are a bear;  the motion is not as natural for me and this inevitably shows up as uneven tension from row to row.  And that brings me to:

Blocking

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Years ago when I first tried (and failed) at knitting I complained about uneven stitches, and my mother always said “oh, you can block that out”.  I didn’t even get that far back then, but now I get it.  Blocking is essentially wetting the sweater, either by submerging or spraying it, pushing and pulling it into the proper shape and dimensions, pinning it down and letting it dry completely.  Wetting the yarn literally causes it to relax and the stitches almost reorganize themselves into a more even configuration.  Plus any lace patterns or cables will become more prominent. My “pinned into submission” sweater is shown above.  I blocked it yesterday and it was fully dry this morning.  Blocking hides a multitude of sins and in this case, helped me make a too-small sweater fit.

As it turns out, Anne is in the middle of mild Chicago summer weather, and David and I are headed to Montana in ten days to explore Glacier National Park.  So maybe this turned out the way it was meant to.  I will be rocking this look, “apres-hike” in Montana:

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And while we’re on the subject of green, look what else we came home to:

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This honking zucchini is our first full-size veggie from the garden.  Shocking to see it really!  Well this guy is slated for some zucchini, quinoa and parmesan fritters.  Details to follow 🙂

Gotta Know When to “Frog ’em”

“Rip it, rip it”!

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Yes, a bit of knitting humor.  Oh so necessary when I get to that inevitable point (and it’s happened with every project so far) when I ask myself the question “Can I live with it”?  By “it” I mean the crooked stitches, the too loose stitches, the wrong row decrease, the knit instead of purl, purl instead of knit, missed yarn over, etc. etc. etc.

What I “can live with” has changed as I’ve gained some experience, learned better technique and tackled bigger and more complicated projects.   One of my first projects was an orange cable knit pillow that I gave to my daughter.  Oh dear.   At my last visit to her apartment I’m pretty sure it was literally holding on by a thread (or a strand).  It was the best I could do at the time and I felt proud that I completed it and could give her a handmade gift.  But I was living with a whole lot of mediocre technique.  I’m hardly a pro now, but the bar has definitely gotten higher.

Can I fix it?

“Knitting as life” metaphors abound, but I’ll leave my readers to connect those dots.  Suffice it to say that I have learned that many times the answer is “yes” and when faced with a possible “frogger” it almost always makes sense to give it a try.  Believe me, when the alternative is ripping out days, if not weeks, of work I have no problem poring over YouTube to find some kind knitting soul who felt a need to document this or that fix-it technique.  Of course, that’s still no guarantee that can do it, but I’ve learned a lot that way and avoided a bit of frustration.

That being said I have a choice to make about today’s project.  This is the beginning of a tank-style sweater with a lace pattern worked on either side.  I love knitting lace patterns and in the scheme of things this one is really uncomplicated, however as with many lace patterns it takes some getting into it before the pattern takes shape.  So I was happily knitting along and then I saw this:

 

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Ummm, I do not think this is what the founding knitting fathers had in mind.  The other side gives an idea of what it should look like (controlling for factors like me):

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Hardly perfection but I could live with it- the other side not so much unless I can find a way to fix it.  And since that mess is so big and so wide and so deep (thanks Dr. Seuss) it simply. must. go.

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I feel better already.