Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Stitch 'n Bitch Calendar: a Quarter in Review

Toward the end of last year, I got it into my head to buy a page a day calendar for my desk at work. Naturally, I gravitated to the two geared to knitters: The Stitch 'n Bitch Calendar (hereinafter "SnB"), and the Knitting Pattern a Day Calendar.

I dithered between them; an informed decision was hampered by the fact that none of the places I went to had them out for display. I asked other knitters what they thought of previous editions, and got a few general opinions. I ultimately settled on the SnB because it was more than just patterns, and I figured that even if I didn't knit any of the patterns, I might get some useful tips.
Given my moderate expectations, I am pleasantly surprised thus far.

1. Patterns

Patterns appear on Fridays, and of the 13 that appeared this quarter, I liked about 1/3 of them and am currently knitting 2: a simple lace scarf (the one in Artfibers Sylph that is helping me keep the shreds of my sanity together), and a feather and fan wrap that uses three gorgeous Colinette yarns and was designed by Helen Kim at Urban Knitting Studio.

Ordinarily, I am a big one for planning projects in advance, and usually consider the yarn purchases extremely carefully. This is certainly true for long-term, "big" projects. I am a little more spontaneous when it comes to "on the go" and quick projects. So, it was fun to have suitable patterns at hand and feel inspired to look for yarn and start them soon. When the scarf pattern appeared, I bought the yarn the same day on my lunch hour, knowing that I would want something both simple and entertaining for some upcoming travel.

There is a third pattern that really stands out for me, which was a big surprise. To my way of thinking there are two types of knitters. Those who knit entrelac (or are willing to give it a whirl), and those who don't (or aren't willing). I was firmly planted in the latter category until the entrelac pouch pattern appeared on the calendar last week. As soon as I saw it, I said, "I have to knit that. It is the perfect first entrelac pattern and I love it." It uses one ball of Noro Silk Garden, which I have yet to try, and I think it will be fun.

For me, that kind of inspiration - something that gets me to try something I never thought I would try - is worth the price of admission.

2. Tips/Techniques

A number of useful things, but the best aspect of this is that I can take the ones I want and file them, and recycle the rest. It is very convenient. By way of comparison, I get a tips and tricks e-newsletter that is chock-full of great information. Frankly, a lot of those tips are more amazing and fabulous than some of the tips in the calendar, but I tend not to print things out right away, and I hate slogging through old email. As a result, I end up just deleting these emails when my inbox gets full. I have to hope that the most relevant of the email tips somehow stick in my head.

3. Favorite Yarns

I like this feature more for the yarn pr0n factor than anything else. It isn't particularly useful to me, as I am unlikely to go out and just buy yarn without a pattern in mind. Although I filed a couple of these pages away because the yarns were unique or particularly lust-worthy, for everyday knitting it is far more likely that I will either use the yarn specified in a pattern (if I like it), or look for a substitute in my LYS before turning to my very slender file on yarns. It's gotta be pretty spectacular to make it into that file -- those are yarns so rare and fabulous that I could see myself buying them in reasonable quantities if I happen upon them.

It was really cool, though to see mentions of my favorite yarns, especially Artfibers Kyoto.

4. Websites

This would have to fall into the "meh" category for me. Most were sites I already know about, and the few new ones weren't that interesting to me. We can all search the internet to find what we want, or get recommendations from other knitters. A calendar page featuring a website doesn't seem like much of a value-add.

5. Other content

The calendar also features quotes and knitting-related anecdotes. I LOVE quotes, and there were a number of good ones in Q1. The thing I liked about them was that most were not specific to knitting, but had to do with creativity or happiness, or something else that most crafty folk would identify with. Two were destined for my refrigerator, which is a good ratio for these things. Realistically, you don't want to collect loads and loads of quotes because then you have too many to display (and it is a little dotty to keep a file, unless you're a writer or something). A few pithy ones are all you need.

Similarly, the stories weren't the sort of things I would save or file away, but they did provide a pleasant moment between tasks at work, or first thing in the morning over my cup of coffee.

Overall, I'd give the SnB calendar a B+ for Q1. I probably will post a review at the end of each quarter, much more concise than this one, since there won't be much background. Just the highlights.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Rash of Stash

Lots of talk about stashes lately. Lots of talk. Folks de-stashing, cataloguing stash, knitting from stash, justifying stash, measuring stash, reading stash....

I like reading stash, because it is one of those fluid concepts that have always appealed to my liberally art-ed brain. It's the classic essay question that consists of one sentence describing the topic, followed by one word: discuss. Just dive in, bang around for awhile, and out comes genius. Or, what you hope is genius anyway. You could write a poem if you felt like it, and it might work. Not on the bar exam, but pretty much everywhere else.

But the other boats, I missed. I wasn't even on the pier. In fact, I was probably sitting at the cafe next to the pier having a glass of wine after a successful yarn shopping excursion. Except for a de-stash to charity around Thanksgiving, and a stash re-org after the New Year, I haven't seriously addressed the stash question in my home apart from, apparently, adding to it.

Here's the thing. On an individual level, I get it. Knitter has too much yarn and commits to knitting a bunch of it before buying anything new, or Knitter has yarn she knows she will never knit, and finds a recipient for same. I find it curious, however, that so many people are seized by the same impulse at the same time. De-stashing is all the rage. De-stashing is the new knitting, or new yoga or new... something?

Ordinarily, I'd start ruminating about why this is the case. What is it about all of these Knitters that draws them to De-stashtown, while I am heading the opposite way, to Los Altos, home to two great yarn shops? Why was everyone knitting Clapotis, and my impulse to do so began and ended at printing out the pattern? It's really beautiful, and in a yummy yarn, and I love pretty much anything that could reasonably be called a shawl; yet I was so off the Clapotis bandwagon, that I didn't know it was pronounced Clap-oh-tee. How did you all know that? Here I was, six years of French classes under my belt, calling it Cla-paw-tiss.

The answer doesn't truly lie with all the de-stashing, Clapotis-knitting Knitters out there. They are all doing it for various worthy and perfectly unassailable reasons. I am not doing it for the same reason I have not done many, many other things:

I am not a joiner. You could have tattooed it on my forehead in Kindergarten (someone threatened this to my parents, I am sure), and it would still be relevant today. I am considering putting it on my tombstone.

One of these days, though, I might get around to somehow cataloguing or quantifying my stash in some way. Of course, I'd do it and never keep it up to date, but that's another story.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

By the book....

Somewhat belatedly, here is my inaugural entry in the Read Your Stash Project .

Before I was an obsessive knitter, I was an obsessive reader. That tapered off a bit when I didn't have a commute. I lived walking distance from my office, and somehow, it didn't seem wise to wander through the Tenderloin and the Financial District with my nose in a book. The former might get my ass kicked, the latter would annoy all the other Fi-Di denizens because I would be in their way. Either could get me hit by a car.

Since I moved to the suburbs and acquired a really quite lovely commute on Caltrain, reading has been back on the agenda. Usually something light and funny, but occasionally I crave something more serious. On my current reading list is Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset. This classic medieval romance was written in 1928, and earned Ms. Undset the Nobel Prize for literature. It is also the first serious work I have fully committed to since finishing The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie two years ago.

The Moor's Last Sigh took a lot out of me. It gave me something, too, but reading it was such a tremendously emotional experience that upon finishing it, I cried good and hard for a solid 30 minutes. It is at once the saddest, most affirming, most vivid and most wonderful thing I have ever read. I think on some level I will never read anything that perfect ever again. It is a difficult thing for any other book to live up to.

After that, I re-read some old favorites, picked up a few authors I hadn't read before (Carl Hiaasen became a favorite), and occasionally tried something serious again, only to put it down after a few pages.

Knitting sometimes works that way for me, too. I commit to something large, time consuming, and/or complicated and spend about 90% of my knitting energies on it until it is done. After that, I alternate among some smaller, simpler projects, with perhaps a mediumish project in the background. At some point, the urge for something on a grander scale kicks in, and the cycle starts anew. It is a shorter cycle, I think, than for books, as I knit a lot more than I read most of the time.

But I have digressed. One of the things that strikes me about Kristin Lavransdatter is the time period in which it is set. Kristin lives in the 14th century in Scandinavia, a time period in which everything was made by hand, and in a place that has given us some of knitting's most treasured classics. Kristin actually doesn't knit (at least not so far), but she, along with her mother and sisters, spins and weaves. The cloth they make marks the significant moments in their lives (a wedding dress for Kristin, her trousseau, swaddling cloths) and is a part of their daily lives as well (bedding, tablecloths, everyday clothing).

For most of the people in the world today, the things we make are not a necessity of every day life -- not in the sense of "if we don't make it, we won't have clothes." In fact, crafting has become somewhat of a luxury, whether that luxury is time, money for supplies, a wealth of options from which to choose, or a combination of these. Happily, handmade things do still mark the significant occasions in our lives. Weddings and babies are both heralded with what most of us would consider our greatest masterpieces (wedding ring shawl, anyone?) and sweetest whimsies (like the watermelon hat I recently made for a friend's baby shower).

The act of making these things, however, might have an element of necessity, in the sense that this act gives us something adaptive and useful that we otherwise might not have. It gives us patience waiting in line, it gives us solace when we are too overwrought to read or listen to music. It puts us in touch with something traditional and handmade in a world that is increasingly detached from tradition and focused on mass production. Perhaps in this last way, making something by hand is a revolutionary act. How many of you have been knitting, crocheting, or cross-stitching in public, and encounter someone observing you who seems a completely shocked?

For me, the solace of crafting (in my case, knitting) has a particular relevance. At its most mundane level, it is something that helps me calm down when I am anxious, or feel better when I am upset. One time, it was a necessity for me. I was at work one morning last summer, when I got a call from my mom. It was a call I had been dreading for weeks, as my grandpa had been in the hospital with cancer for some time. She gave me the news we had all feared, that he had died, and then we hung up. I was literally incapable of speaking through the sobs, so I instant-messaged my boss to tell him I needed to leave.

On the train home, my book was useless. It may as well have been written in hieroglyphics, for all I was able to read of it. I had, however, been knitting my first-ever sock during my commute, and that is what I reached for when I needed something, anything, to keep my eyes downward and the tears at bay until I got home.

Reading Kristin Lavransdatter, I wonder if Kristin finds solace in her work. If spinning, for example, produces something her family needs, as well as gives her solace for her troubles. Ms. Undset does not really say. Kristin seeks solace in her faith, more than anything else. She is pious, and her faith is demanding. It requires obedience, atonement, and self-examination, which seem to add sometimes to Kristin's inner turmoil. Spinning and knitting, even with their occasional snarls and tangles and dropped stitches somehow avoid causing more troubles for the troubled. They soothe by giving the troubled person something external to focus on.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


First of all, I wanted to send a shout-out and thank you to the recent commenters, Sarah, Kate and Denise. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment! Its so nice to see the bloggers I read regularly find their way here as well.

Now then, I have a friend named Katherine who likes to refer to her angry self as the "Wrath of Kath." She once suggested that I might start trotting out my "Zen of Jen" on suitable occasions, but let's face it: I just don't have it. But I might be learning it; three recent episodes have reinforced the zen-ness of knitting in my otherwise completely zen-less brain.

Episode 1: last Friday, lunch hour.

It was a stressful day at the end of a stressful week. I decided some knitting refreshment was in order, so I headed out to meet my knitting buddies at the usual place and time (we meet occasionally on Fridays at lunch).

I do virtually all of my knitting at home, after I have had a chance to unwind. By the time I pick up the needles, I am already in relaxing mode. Similarly, at previous lunch hour knitting meetings, work has been relatively calm, and I have been able to slip pretty readily into knitting mode. Not this time. My needles couldn't seem to find a comfortable place in my hands, and my pattern seemed confusing at first. This latter bit was particularly telling, as I'd been knitting on this scarf for a few days now, and it is a herringbone lace, which is easier (!!) than even the ol' feather and fan. Seriously.

It was the first time I had ever noticed the difference between my state of mind in Work Mode, and my state of mind in Knit Mode. Truth be told, Work Mode is kind of a twitchy klutz who can't focus unless 500 things are happening at once. But I kept at it, and sure enough, Knit Mode got up off the chaise longue, stretched a bit, and picked up the needles. I felt a steady wave of calm suffuse my body, followed by an internal click, after which I was knitting along at my usual rhythm. I was amazed.

Episode 2: on airplane Friday night.

I used to be a great flyer. But as I got older and had more to lose (and after 9/11, too), the whole concept of flying seemed really scary to me. So scary, in fact, that when I landed in Las Vegas for my bachelorette weekend (Memorial Day Weekend, 2006) I actually had a panic attack. The whole show came out on stage, with shortness of breath, racing heart, overwhelming feelings of impending disaster and, of course, shnuffly tears accompanied by mucus, all dancing merrily together in a long chorus line. Hoooboy.

I did more or less successfully fly to and from Italy last September without much in the way of panic, but then, DH was with me and I'd had a couple of drinks. It was also really late at night and I was exhausted.

So, the true test came on Friday, March 16, when I flew to Las Vegas for my dear friend's baby shower (no, it wasn't that we were all going to see Thunder from Down Under, she lives in Henderson). I had fortified myself with a glass of way too buttery Chardonnay, but the main thing is, I had my knitting on board (the aforementioned scarf). Though I had to put it away for landing, I was able to draw on that zen-like feeling to short-circuit my fear. For some reason, planes coming into Vegas do so really fast, and continue at what feels like the same lightning speed when they meet the runway.

When I felt the panic rise, for rise it did, I found myself repeating the stitch pattern in my head over and over again: "knit two yarn over purl two together, knit two yarn over purl two together...." Before I knew it, we were at the gate, and I was ready to disembark. Crisis averted. The lesson apparently stuck, because I didn't have a single bit of panic on the way back Sunday.

Episode 3: Today's lunch special is yarn.

A bit of a crazy morning got me thinking that I'd like to knit at lunch today. I headed up to Artfibers with the now famous panic-averting scarf, which I am knitting in their Sylph yarn. After checking out their new roving, Miso (of which I bought 100 grams), I sat down in a chair to knit. And you know what? This time, I didn't have any problems switching from Work Mode to Knit Mode. Knit Mode just happened. Zen just happened.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Wine Pairing: What to Drink With Yarn

For those who are both wine lovers and knitters, at some point you will face the following dilemma:

You have had a long and difficult day at work (or you have had a wonderful day and feel like a little celebration). In either case, perhaps some grape-derived refreshment is in order. However, you always knit in the evenings. It is how you unwind, so to speak. Also, you have a sweater on deadline. A sweater with cables perhaps, or a tricky bit of shortrowing somewhere. In other words, the wine cannot interfere with your ability to knit. Maybe the yarn is cream-colored, too, and wouldn't look too hot with splotches of your favorite Pinot Noir. There's hand-dyeing, and then there are wild accidents. What are you going to do?

I have your answer. German Rieslings. They are low in alcohol, often complex, tannin free (no headaches, for those who have sensitivities to red wine) and come in both sweeter and drier styles. They have an unparalleled quality-to-price ratio. The drier ones can pair extremely well with food; everything from seafood to your favorite Chinese or Thai takeaway. My husband and I drink quite a bit of Riesling. It is defintely his favorite white wine, and is near the top of my list as well (the only thing that beats it for me is Condrieu -- a wine from northern Rhone made from Viognier).

The only sticking points are that these can be a little hard to find, and the terminology can be daunting. Oh, and if you don't care for white wines, you are out of luck. But for the rest of you, check out this helpful guide to German wines, as well as some of our experiences with Rieslings.

I would even say that the act of knitting is kind of like drinking a good German Riesling (I have to keep saying "German," by the way, because there are some made in other places which, sad to say, do not compare with the real thing). The palate entry is like casting on. You've just started, and although you know what you are making, you don't have a sense of what it looks like yet. As the wine expands on your palate, you start the stitch pattern. The flavors and stitches take shape and show their beauty and complexity. There are some tricky bits, and you don't quite know what you are tasting. The flavors are somewhat elusive, and you're not sure what your pattern is telling you to do either. At this point, you just need to have a little bit of faith. The wine and the pattern will reveal themselves in the fullness of time. Ultimately, you will finish, where the flavors will linger a bit, leaving just their memory on your tongue, and every time you pick up your shawl, or sweater, or hat, you will look back on the minutes, hours and days you spent knitting it, and smile.

Salut (and happy knitting)!