Archives for posts with tag: pattern

Hey everyone,

Breaking my radio silence at last… with wedding planning I was going a little nuts (more on that later; I sewed my dress, my bridesmaids’ dresses, and knit a shawl! But it all came out fine and we got married and it was great!) Post-wedding, there were all the thank-you notes to write, and I got done with all that, but still felt like hiding my head in the sand for a while. But I thought I’d reemerge and share a semi-recent FO (ha, semi-recent = knit just before Thanksgiving) with the world, and work my way up to posting about the various things I made for the wedding.

I published the Bel Canto Cowl (rav link) in Knitcircus a couple of years ago, but due to their changes, it was no longer available for purchase from their site. Someone on Ravelry requested it, which was the impetus to reknit, rephotograph, and reformat the pattern for sale on my own site, since I couldn’t use the KC photos/pattern layout. So it’s up for sale on Ravelry, in case anyone was looking for it, and here are some pics:

Pattern: Bel Canto Cowl
Yarn Used: Malabrigo Merino Worsted in 37 Lettuce, 1 skein.
Needles used: US 8 (5.0 mm) 16-inch circulars
Date started: November 21, 2012
Date completed: November 23, 2012
Mods/Notes:
The first version of this cowl was knit in Malabrigo Rios, which is superwash, plied, and slightly thinner than the singles/non-superwash Merino Worsted. I like the extra body and cushier fabric of the Merino Worsted version. Also, I think the lighter color shows off cables better, although there’s no denying that rich cobalt blue from the original version is TO DIE FOR.

(Side note: I haven’t cut my hair for probably a year, and it’s longer than it’s been anytime since grade school, so I’ve been having fun with hairdos–although this may look vaguely pixieish, it’s actually precariously pinned Heidi braids that came apart immediately after the photoshoot.)

Closeup:

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I got kind of annoyed with the Freakonomics guys when Superfreakonomics came out, but nevertheless, their New York Times blog usually makes for a pretty interesting read. Yesterday more than ever: they posted a letter from a young Ravelry user named Sarah Johnson about the difficulty ratings on Ravelry and whether there is “an elitist oligarchy in the underworld of knitters.”

Johnson took a look at some data from the site and asked the questions:

  • Why, on a site that contains 205,069 patterns, are less than 100 patterns user-rated as “difficult?”
  • Why are 90.3 percent of the patterns rated for quality on Ravelry considered by users to be very good or excellent?
  • Possible answer #1: Most patterns on Rav are, in fact, good and easy
  • Possible answer #2: Rav data is largely made up of input from “master craftsmen,” and their subjective considerations of relative ease and difficulty are artificially skewing the ratings on Ravelry to make patterns that are objectively more difficult appear much less so.

This in itself was sort of an interesting question, but to me, it’s more about flaws or inherent biases in the data based on the ratings collection system. Some good points brought up in the article’s comments, where the issue was discussed in much greater detail:

  • People who don’t make a pattern (by adding it to their notebook as a project) cannot rate it.
  • Most people won’t choose to even attempt to make a pattern they perceive to be out of their skill level. (When I first started knitting, I remember obsessively perusing the Knitty archives for anything rated “mellow” or “tangy,” as I perceived “piquant” to be something far above and beyond my abilities.) Due to this self-selection, anything with a rating has already been pre-filtered as apparently appropriate for the knitter’s skill level.
  • People usually don’t rate patterns until they’ve finished their project, so if something is too hard and gets abandoned, usually it won’t get a rating at all. If you’ve managed to finish a project, then most people would think to themselves that by definition, it couldn’t have been that hard.
  • There’s no lower limit on the number of reviewers needed for something to show up in the difficulty rankings, so the majority of projects rated “10” in difficulty have been rated that way by a single person.

If you’re really interested in finding the truly difficult patterns on Ravelry, it’s probably more productive to look at this discussion about the “brain surgery” of knitting.

I was more interested in trying to tease out what it actually means for a knitting (or crochet) pattern to be “difficult.”

As Stephanie Pearl-McPhee says in Knitting Rules, in response to those who say, “I couldn’t knit, I’m not smart enough”: “Knitting, all knitting–every single item–is made up of two stitches, knit and purl.” In the end, this is essentially a question of following directions someone has written down for you, using well-documented, physically undemanding techniques that are easily broken down to their atomic level–knits and purls. (I’m not thinking about designing and writing knitting patterns, which involve a different skillset and a different set of difficulties.)

I took a quick look on Wikipedia, and while I’m sure there’s a lot more relevant stuff out there that I just didn’t manage to find, what I did find was this breakdown of “characteristics of difficult problems,” which doesn’t seem to apply to what we call “a difficult pattern”: it applies to problems, and the solutions thereto, which is not exactly what we’re dealing with when looking at knitting patterns. Nothing really needs to be “solved,” unless a pattern is particularly poorly written, or you’re actually designing it. Patterns are essentially instructional texts: the ideal, if you’re a designer (and not Elizabeth Zimmermann), is for someone to be able to just pick up your pattern and knit it all the way through without running into any doubts or confusion, in “blind follower” mode.

So, rather than spending a lot of time researching existing literature about this topic, I thought about things–not just from the knitting realm, but throughout my life–that I’ve found difficult recently, and tried to figure out what I could take away from them that would apply:

  • I checked out a book of John Ashbery poems from the library and tried to understand it. I’m finding this pretty tough going. This might be a problem of not having the proper background or training to understand what techniques he’s using, what he’s alluding to, and what he’s trying to achieve; or maybe an issue of short attention span.
  • In rock climbing, short routes that you boulder (climb without ropes) are usually referred to “problems” and they are indeed often difficult for me to complete, but usually for purely physical reasons: the limitations of my own body–flexibility, strength, balance, fear, stamina.
  • In my non-knitting life, I’m a project manager, and certain projects I work on seem more difficult than others. The projects that seem most difficult to me involve either a great deal of complexity–many details, resources, files, and requirements that need to be managed simultaneously–or, more often, projects that involve a custom process, where I don’t have a good mental map of the road I’ll need to follow to complete the job, or the issues that are likely to come up and how to solve them.
  • I cannot, for the life of me, play the drums in Rock Band. I nearly always get booed offstage by those cruel, cruel virtual fans. This is a difficulty of physical coordination (if the damn drum pedal wasn’t involved, I’d do better, I think, but two hands and one foot is more than I can handle at once) and also mentally processing a lot of information at high speed, in a time-dependent environment.
  • I’m taking an Italian conversation class right now, and my instructor keeps telling me I need to jump in there more, interrupt people, talk over other people when I have a point to make, i.e. act more Italian (i.e., rude). Even though I’m pretty sure nobody would take this personally, I find it very difficult, from my social conditioning, to just jump in and keep talking over someone else until they shut up.
  • I make pie crust from scratch pretty often. Sometimes it comes out well, sometimes it doesn’t. I think a large part of the difficulty in making a good crust is that there are variations in the ingredients (how much the flour is packed down, the amount of water added, how cold the butter is), the measurements, the oven temperature, how much the dough is handled, how well the butter is distributed, how thin the crust is rolled out… a lot of factors and variations, many of which are impossible for me to measure accurately in the moment as I’m making the pie. And what do I do if I accidentally add too much water? I can’t really un-add it after the fact.

So, all that in mind, I played around with bubbl.us (which is a really fun site, by the way) to make a mind map of how I think difficulty breaks down. You’ll see a few entries that aren’t knitting-related, so I haven’t gone into them in detail, but I wanted to at least mention them since they cover some of the difficult areas I listed above. Click to enlarge to a readable size, and start at the yellow “What is DIFFICULTY?” in the middle.

Disclaimer: there’s probably going to be a fair amount of overlap in these categories, and I’ve put this all together in one big verbal diarrhea marathon session, having read the article and 2 pages of comments, but none of the discussions on Ravelry about it yet, so maybe I haven’t thought through everything super carefully, but hey, this is a hobby, not a term paper:

WHAT IS DIFFICULTY?

Knitting difficulty mind map

The high-level categories I broke this down into are:

1) Difficulty in understanding instructions–essentially, user error or designer error (or maybe not “error,” but the inherent difficulty of describing certain techniques or presenting certain types of information without taking up 20 pages). Many of the patterns rated “10” for difficulty were rated by 1 person, and this undoubtedly reflects a lack of experience, or understanding of the rating system, more than anything terribly difficult about, say, this felted purse or this cabled hat. (Maybe that’s just me being a presumptuous elitist oligarch?)

2) Difficulty in achieving desired results–Let’s put it this way. I think there’s nothing inherently difficult about knitting a top-down raglan sweater. Knit knit knit, follow directions–increase a bit, put some stitches on waste yarn, knit knit knit. Eventually, if you can follow directions, you have a sweater. However, there are plenty of difficult things about knitting a top-down raglan sweater that actually fits you, whether it’s making the sweater too loose or too tight, the sleeves too long or short or different lengths, the neck too tight or way too huge, or some unholy combination of the above. This is mostly unrelated to knitting patterns, but I do think it’s something that often leads to people saying a project was hard. I’ve broken this down into:

  • Fit–Fit and Gauge both overlap the category I’ve labeled Mental Difficulty, as the issue of “difficulty” here is that for a sweater to fit right and look flattering, you need to customize the instructions to suit your own specific requirements, which forces you to enter the realm of design–measuring yourself, measuring your work, doing a lot of math.
  • Gauge
  • Irrevocability of actions–sorry for the unwieldy title, I couldn’t think of anything better. Basically, how hard is it to go back and fix something if it’s wrong? This is the cause of a lot of difficulty in non-knitting fields (and in fact I should have broken out “time constraints” separately), but one of the things that I like about knitting is that this factor often doesn’t enter into the craft at all. In my examples above, think of playing drums in Rock Band: once I’ve hit the wrong drum, I can’t go back and fix it, and it matters a lot if I play the drums super slow when I’m not supposed to. Unlike knitting, where I can knit as fast or as slow as I want, and if I do something wrong, I can usually tink back and fix it. There are, however, a few areas where this plays a role in knitting. Steeking is the most obvious: if you take the scissors to your colorwork sweater and then find out you screwed up, there’s no going back. Felting is another one (though it usually covers a multitude of sins)–you can’t take the extra water out of your pie crust, you can’t unfelt your felted purse. And I’ve also listed “difficulty of correcting previous errors” here: if you get to the end and see that you accidentally purled where you should have knit ten rows below, in a plain stockinette sweater, you can drop that stitch and fix it with a crochet hook, but only the insane will attempt this in their Niebling lace. Even Nancy Marchant finds it hard to correct errors in brioche stitch.
  • Unsuitable materials (also listed under Physical Difficulty)–If you use sari silk, don’t be surprised if it’s nearly impossible to make, say, a ribbed hat that will stay on your head.

3) Social difficulty–while this is a cause of so, so many difficulties in life, maybe the vast majority of them, for the most part, it’s not relevant to knitting pattern difficulty (or only tangentially so, e.g., anxiety about asking for help when you don’t understand) so I haven’t gone into any kind of detail about this. Perhaps one issue to note here is the phenomenon in rock climbing of “sandbagging” when rating the difficulty of climbing routes: giving a climb an easier score than it deserves. I think of knitting as being a non-competitive activity, but at least one commenter on the article mentioned the possible shame factor of rating something “easy” as difficult for them–“nobody likes to be thought a fool”–leading to lots of patterns being rated easier than they should be.

4) Physical difficulty–again, in life in general, issues related to physical limitations are far more common than in the world of knitting (in my list above: rock climbing, playing drums, making pie crust), but this is definitely one of the important factors in determining knitting pattern difficulty.

  • Unsuitable materials, again: Typical conversation with beginning knitter: “This is so hard, this hurts my hands!” “What yarn are you using?” “Lion Brand Homespun.” Well, of course it hurts your hands. I found my You Bastard Scarf very, very difficult–not because of the scarf itself, which was mistake rib (just knits and purls) but because of the Camissimo yarn, which was basically a dressed-up version of inflexible, snaggy Homespun for yarn snobs.
  • Difficulty of execution–Some stitches are just physically harder than others to execute, no ifs, ands, or buts. Anything involving purling 5 stitches together through the back loop, or cabling 12 over 12 stitches, for instance. Seafoam stitch is one of the easiest lacy-looking stitches there is (being just fancied-up garter stitch) but I actually find it kind of hard to work for purely physical reasons, because the extra wraps always get stuck on my needles and wind up being hard to push along.
  • Being “fiddly”–I guess this overlaps a bit with “difficulty of execution” but doesn’t necessarily have to do with just the execution of the stitch pattern–the notes I made on this item were: “limited space, opposing forces (small-scale knitting in the round, picking up stitches, twined knitting constantly twisting, intarsia with a million bobbins)”

5) Mental difficulty–this one’s the biggie when it comes to this craft, and I would argue that the biggest item under “mental difficulty” is actually:

  • Novelty. Pretty much everything is hard when you’re doing it for the first time. This relates to my example about difficult, custom-process work projects above–when you lack a mental toolkit to draw from, when you haven’t practiced something and have no muscle memory, internalized background information or recognition of common patterns, every single step becomes a struggle or a source of doubt; there’s none of the mental coasting you can do when you’re doing a familiar and well-understood task.
    • When you’ve knit 10,000 plain stockinette stitches, you don’t have to think about them anymore. I’m sure the same is true of making 10,000 entrelac squares. I find entrelac a somewhat difficult technique, but not because any of its component parts are actually difficult for me. I just haven’t done it often enough to immediately understand, when I’m looking at my work, “oh, here’s where I pick up X stitches along the edge of Y rectangle”–so I need to refer back to the pattern often, or stop and think about what I’m doing, it’s not TV knitting for me. But there’s nothing hard about knitting, purling, picking up stitches, or decreasing, just about understanding what’s going on without consciously having to think about it at every stage.
    • I get emails every so often from people who have bought Prickle and are freaking out about the moebius cast-on or the sideways knit edging. These things can be very difficult the first time you do them, when you’re still trying to figure out what exactly is going on, but once you get used to them, there’s nothing especially difficult involved.
    • I read stories sometimes of people who say “I’ve been knitting for 25 years but all I can do is knit,” and they mean it–no purling, garter stitch only. This is a little blasphemous, sorry, but to quote Gracie Allen, “Never place a period where God has placed a comma.” We almost all put down periods in all kinds of areas of our lives where there should be commas, including deciding that everything you’ve learned to date (knitting, purling, increasing, decreasing…) is OK, but drawing an arbitrary dividing line of difficulty when it comes to steeking Fair Isle, moebius knitting, charted lace, or two-color brioche, or what have you. I firmly believe nothing in following knitting patterns is that hard in the end, it just requires you to build up your mental toolkit to handle it without so much conscious effort.
  • Calculations/customization–again, this typically falls outside the scope of a knitting pattern itself, except for some that are built like worksheets rather than for “blind followers,” but there is certainly far more mental effort involved and far more risk of error once you stray from following a pattern and into designer territory
  • Creative leaps–see the entry above. You shouldn’t have to do this unless you’re working from a spectacularly poorly written pattern, or making a lot of modifications. I did make an arrow to “background knowledge”–as a broad base of background knowledge is often a required input for successful creative leaps or lateral thinking, and feats of recall are often what makes work in other arenas “hard”. Based purely on watching a bunch of House M.D., I imagine that this is part of what makes a doctor’s job difficult, drawing on a large amount of observation and stored background information to come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan. In a similar, if less important, vein, I spent a bit of time yesterday for work troubleshooting a corrupted file and trying to figure out how to repair it with the tools we had on hand, under certain time/budget constraints. Or see my John Ashbery problem from my examples above. A lot of “difficult problems” we need to solve in everyday life fall into this category, but not, typically, in knitting.
  • Ambiguity of next required step–Part of the mental toolkit you build up when something goes from being novel to being well-known and understood is the ability to figure out the next step. This (like many of these entries) should probably go back to poor pattern writing as well. The other thing is that, when you get into instructions like “knit into the back of the stitch 2 rows below,” it can be really hard to figure out where, exactly, that is instruction is referring to: alles klar with the stitches on the needle, but there’s a lot of confusion with terminology when it comes to the rest of the knitted fabric. Crocheters will probably disagree with me here, but one thing I find difficult about crochet as compared to knitting is that you can’t just look at the next loop queued up on your needle: you need to figure out where in the existing fabric to stick your hook and which parts of the stitch to put the hook into, and (being an inexperienced crocheter) I usually get that wrong. Commas and periods.
  • Attention required–along with novelty, this is a huge factor in difficulty ratings. Like with Physical Difficulty, there are certain patterns where you just have to pay a lot of attention, no way around it. There are different types of attention, though:
    • Difficulty in reading your knitting: (and in catching mistakes quickly, as they happen, and reassuring yourself that you’re on the right track without having to backtrack and count…) I remember remarking at TBKGE after knitting my Hemlock Ring that I was having some issues with keeping track of my work. Kalani said something to the effect of “I’ve never heard anyone call Feather and Fan ‘hard’ before” and–well, it’s an extraordinarily easy pattern to memorize and to physically execute, and it only requires thought in one out of every 4 rounds or so, but the issue I was having with it was that it was hard to read, and I was constantly paranoid that I’d let my mind wander and gotten the whole pattern shifted off kilter by a few stitches over hundreds of stitches. This is the same thing that makes people eschew colorwork worked flat: it’s hard to see what’s going on from the back of the work, and floats get in the way.
    • Complexity: Even if there are thousands of stitches on your needles, you only knit one stitch at a time: how complex can it be? The issue with complexity in knitting, I think, is when there are multiple simultaneous instructions or requirements to keep track of: the infamous “at the same time…” that has sent so many knitters into the depths of despair is one of them; how about “decrease while maintaining st pattern” (also requiring on-the-fly calculations), or Bohus knitting, requiring you to work with more than two colors and a mixture of knits and purls? Part of this is an issue of pattern writing and the constraints of space and readability in knitting patterns: you’ll often see people solving the complexity problem by rewriting or re-charting their size of a sweater to spell out all the instructions line by line, so they don’t have to remember to do something every four rows at the same time as they’re doing something else every fifteen rows. If a sweater pattern has eight sizes, it’s not feasible for the designer to write everything out line by line in this fashion for every size, but the knitter can do it as an aide-memoire for their one size to reduce complexity. There are patterns that require a lot of modular pieces to be assembled and I suppose that might fall into this category as well.
    • Size/scope: patterns for large items with thousands of stitches or patterns that may be smaller but very dense or non-repetitive both require a great deal of attention: stamina, in either a lengthy, sustained concentration, or an intensely focused concentration that does not allow for breaks in attention. For example, there’s this distinction between “lacy knitting” and “knitted lace”–the former employing plain rows every other row or round, where the work is only knitted, without any patterning stitches in play, and hence offering the knitter a chance to rest and recharge without constant concentration. I haven’t tried a Niebling yet, or pictorial lace like the Heere be Dragone shawl, but my guess is that it’s this question of scope that makes them difficult. I can read a chart, I can knit lace, but can I do it for hundreds of rows and thousands of stitches without losing my place or messing up? An analogy that came to mind for me was proofreading a language you speak, like English, versus a language you don’t, like, for me, Hindi (at work it comes up occasionally that I’ll need to verify if text has been pasted in accurately or if it’s been misplaced, characters dropped, etc.). In English or another Latin-alphabet language, my eye can scan over the page at the word level with a reasonable level of accuracy, whereas in an unfamiliar language like Hindi I have to go character-by-character, with a much greater visual focus and heightened attention.

Phew! (Speaking of sustained attention, I hope you’re still with me…) With all that in mind, let’s look at a few examples of “difficult” patterns:

  • Morrigan, by Jenna Wilson: a fine-gauge twisted stitch pullover. In theory, if you’re following the directions, there’s nothing hugely different about this than this same designer’s chemo cap Shedir (warning, PDF link): the differences are chiefly in scope and the problems of achieving proper gauge and fit in a form-fitting sweater versus a hat.
  • Katherine Howard, by Jade Starmore: scope and fit are obviously issues again here, but in addition we run into novelty and complexity. It looks like there are 3 or 4 colors used per row in some rows (can’t tell if those little bobble things are knit in or embroidered afterwards), and… I’m not sure exactly what’s going on with the colorwork and texture, but I think it’s maybe intarsia with cables and short rows? A lot of crap going on simultaneously that you don’t see every day, in any case. I don’t find the end product an especially attractive sweater, I’m sorry to say, but it is certainly extremely technically impressive.
  • Drifting Pleats, by Lynne Barr: this is just a scarf on a stockinette ribbed base [corrected 2011-03-03], so issues of gauge, fit, complexity, and scope don’t really enter into it: I think the issues here are with novelty and possibly also physical difficulty (keeping the needles holding the pleat stitches organized and out of your way). I don’t know of any other patterns that use this pleating technique, so it’s going to be a completely new experience for most people trying it, leading to missteps and confusion about what is being explained–but looking at the notes in Ravelry, most people said that it wasn’t hard after it “clicked,” and the scarf’s overall difficulty rating is not as high as you might otherwise expect.
  • Forest Path Stole, by Faina M. Letoutchaia: entrelac plus multiple different lace patterns (many with shifting stitch counts)–to me, I’d have issues with the novelty of this combination of pattern techniques and tracking my progress: until I got used to the pattern I’d be afraid of picking up the wrong stitches since this can (to me) be confusing and ambiguous in entrelac, and it would be hard to tell until the next long row if you’d screwed it up. Not to mention that lace can be confusing in and of itself, and it’s easy to accidentally drop or add stitches. You are, however, working the same little lace squares over and over again rather than one long row of repeats of the lace pattern, so I’d think it would be easier to at least check at the end of each square if you’d done it right. But if you mess up the entrelac, it’s also very hard to go back and fix problems in a pattern like this.
  • Geometric Star, by Kaffe Fassett. From Kaffe’s “Glorious Acid Freakout” collection. This is a problem of complexity all the way–I have no idea how many colors are being used per row but I’m sure it’s more than one and fairly sure it’s less than fifty. Since it’s a sweater, I’d normally say there’s a gauge/fit issue here as well, but frankly, if you’re wearing a one-size-fits-all, chunky-weight, tragic-kaleidoscope-accident colorwork sweater I don’t think you care all that much about how good it looks on you in the end.

OK. Phew. 4500 words later, I think I’m going to call it good and go 1) read what everyone else in the Ravoblogotwittersphere is saying about this topic and 2) maybe do a little bit of actual knitting instead of just blabbing about it. What are your thoughts on all this? Have I overlooked something massive, or am I ignorant of some huge body of literature already existing on this topic? What makes a pattern difficult for you?  What do you think about the NYT blog post and Ms. Johnson’s interpretations of that data?

(Oh and one last thing: I ran across this gorgeous peacock feather scarf, Fremont Street, when I was doing pattern research for this post–sadly, it seems to be rated difficult because there are a lot of errors in the pattern, so I probably won’t bother knitting it until they release corrections, but I think it is beautiful. I didn’t want to discuss it as a “difficult pattern,” but thought I’d point it out in case anyone else wants to give it a go despite the reported pattern issues.)

–corrected 2011-03-03: Lynne Barr wrote to me that Drifting Pleats is on a ribbed base, not stockinette. Oops, sorry, Lynne!

It’s been months since I posted (things have been hectic in my non-knitting life!) and I’m almost a month late with posting about this… but better late than never, right?

I’m pleased to announce that I have a pattern published in the Winter 2010-2011 issue of Knitcircus, a Madison-based online knitting magazine. (My pattern is on page 84, but take the time to flip through the whole issue–there are some really great patterns. The layout may look similar to Twist Collective, but unlike Twist, you can purchase the entire pattern collection at once and get ALL the patterns for $8, instead of $8 apiece… my favorites this time are probably Beckett, Treccia, and Sweet Georgia.)

My pattern is called Bel Canto–the design reminded me of a hair-braiding scene in Ann Patchett’s book of the same name. It’s a simple design, all stockinette, flared at the base of the cowl to fit the body where neck meets shoulders, with simple rolled edges at the cast-on and bind-off–the one focal point of the design is a dramatic three-strand plaited cable framed with lace eyelets and sweeping diagonally across the cowl.

The sample was worked in Rios, the new plied, worsted-weight, superwash merino yarn from Malabrigo. I was afraid the color (Azul Profundo) might be too dark to photograph well, but it came out fine. It’s a lovely yarn, a bit thinner, shinier, and more slippery than the normal worsted weight singles yarn. I think you could substitute normal Malabrigo Worsted Merino in this pattern pretty easily, but I might go up a needle size for improved drape.

This was my first magazine publication, and it was exciting seeing my design professionally modeled and photographed! How cute is this photo?


This would make a nice quick Christmas present if you are so inclined–it uses less than one skein (210 yards) of Rios. In fact, the original prototype for this cowl was knit in just a few hours, and used only 98 yards of yarn (the La Lana Phat Silk Phat I picked up in Taos last summer)–it didn’t have the flared shaping at the base, though, so I don’t think you could pull off that low yardage with the current version of the pattern.

Anyway, if you’re interested, I have one copy of the Knitcircus Winter 2010-2011 Pattern Collection to give away! Leave a comment by midnight on Saturday December 4 telling me what yarn you’d use to make this, and I’ll do a random drawing on Sunday. I’m on the East Coast (Boston and NY) for the whole month of December, so I’m hoping that since I won’t have my normal life and domestic responsibilities to distract me, I’ll get a little more time to catch up on updating my blog. And finish my Christmas knitting and shopping in the next two weeks. It might be too ambitious a plan, but hope springs eternal.

OK, folks, ready for some magic?

Abra…
hatlat

Cadabra!
hatlong

Presto…
cowllong

Change-o!
cowllat

OK, it ain’t David Copperfield, but it’s still pretty cool, right?

My latest pattern release, Latitude and Longitude (Rav link for purchase: buy now), is a set of three accessories, meant to be knit up in two complementary colors of Noro Kureyon, Silk Garden, or another self-striping yarn: the PDF includes instructions for a scarf, cowl, and hat. All three are fully reversible and, as you saw, have vertical stripes on one side and horizontal stripes on the other. You only use one color per row, and there’s no real fancy business going on, stitch-wise–the basic pattern is just knits, purls, and slipped stitches. There are a few fancier things happening in the hat to keep the decreases as balanced and invisible as possible, but follow the written directions or chart and you’ll be fine.

I probably shouldn’t gush too much about the awesomeness of my own work, but seriously, I love these. (Sadly, one hat and the scarf have gone missing already. I seem to always lose my absolute favorite knitwear. At least I still know where two rainbowy cowls and a hat are.)
set

I first came across the stitch pattern a couple of years ago, in Jane Neighbors’s out of print Reversible Two-Color Knitting, which I found in the Cleveland Public Library system (one of Cleveland’s only redeeming points, in my humble opinion). It took a while, but one day I realized its full potential as I was contemplating another Noro striped scarf–previously my favorite renditions were the vertically striped two-color brioche rib or the horizontally striped mistake rib scarf. I realized that with this pattern, at last, there was no need to choose between the two.

So I worked up the scarf, then put the pattern into the round for the cowl, and last but not least, figured out some nice-looking decreases for the hat–I think it looks pretty good from both sides:
hattop
hattop2

The opposite directional striping shows up when you fold up the brim of the hat:
hat

Or when you fold down the edge of the cowl:
me6

Or when your scarf twists or folds, as scarves are prone to do:
IMG_1517
IMG_1462
IMG_1482

The hat and cowl each take two skeins of Noro–the scarf, a more budget-busting four skeins. The cowl, like most cowls, is pretty much just a big tube, but it is a nice portable piece of knitwear to tote around in your purse (or murse, or pocket, as the case may be) in case your neck gets cold.
me2

One of the hardest things about knitting these two-color Noro pieces is picking out colors that will work together.

Contrasting dark and light, warm and cool, dull and bright colors seems to work well. But there are always those surprising lengths of weird colors like neon yellow or muddy olive that aren’t visible from the outside of the skein, then show up with a vengeance when you’re halfway through. Liz and Other Liz, friends from my Wednesday night knitting group, were kind enough to test knit for me; Liz (or Other Liz?) had to frog a bunch of her hat because two nearly identical shades of green showed up in both skeins at the same time. I try to avoid these situations by keeping both the centerpull and outside end of each skein accessible, and switching them out as needed. But sometimes just cutting out a length of a nasty color is unavoidable.
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A perfect example of careful color selection: the hat I lost was knit in an ivory colorway of Silk Garden contrasted with purple shades, which seemed to go together really well when I held up the skeins next to each other, but the contrast all washed out when it was knit up. It was attractive and subtle, but didn’t photograph well–so it was a good opportunity to choose the two most garish colors of Kureyon in my stash and knit up hat #2.
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The two-sided stripes help camouflage everyone’s other least favorite thing about Noro (well, aside from twigs, breaking, uneven spin, and all the other things I see people complaining about on the Ravelry Yarn forum every few weeks like clockwork)–knots, with completely different colors tied together at the join.
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So there you go. Latitude and Longitude. Please consider them for your future Noro striped accessory needs! More info, including a chart of possible yarn substitutions and links to tubular cast-on and bind-off tutorials, can be found on my main pattern page.
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My stupid internet access at home has been down almost constantly for the past two days, so I’ve been bouncing from cafe to cafe to work, using their wi-fi and praying it won’t be too slow. Today we might get 6 inches of snow–there are lots of windblown flakes out there looking very wintry–and there’s nothing I would like more than the luxury of staying at home and drinking hot chocolate instead of going out to work. On the bright side, without the temptation of aimless internet surfing, it’s much easier to go to bed at a reasonable time.

Anyway, until my internet connection is fixed, I can’t do much blogging. I just wanted to post today to let you all know that I’ve revised the pattern for the Prismatic Scarf to fix some common problems people were having with it: I used knitting symbols on the chart instead of the extremely confusing “k” and “p” I had chosen originally, changed the pattern to start on the RS instead of the WS, and incorporated the i-cord edging into the stitch pattern instructions instead of saying “work edging, work from stitch pattern chart, work edging”–several people on Ravelry had gotten confused because of this and left out the i-cord edging altogether. Anyway, hopefully it will be an improvement, and hopefully I haven’t accidentally introduced other, worse problems while making these revisions. Also, due to the change to the chart symbols, the pattern is now only available as a PDF, instead of as both HTML and PDF.

Sorry about the silence for a while there–I really needed that Thanksgiving break! I was drowning in work, and a week or two spent working into the wee hours of the morning paid off in allowing me to spend the long Thanksgiving weekend relatively work-free and relaxed.

On Thanksgiving day, we drove about 5 hours south to Rahul’s aunt and uncle’s house in rural central Illinois, and his parents drove up from Missouri to meet us there.  It’s deep in America’s flat, corn-filled heartland, the type of area where they show GM seed corn ads on prime time TV and you can listen to radio call-in shows dedicated to farm equipment classifieds (RFD Trading Post)–fascinating for an urban Californian! “Uh, hello, I’m interested in buying some billy goats, but I only want billy goats without horns. No horns. So if you have a billy goat with no horns, please call me at XXX-XXX-XXXX.” “I got some farm fresh eggs for sale. XXX-XXX-XXXX. Thanks.”

We had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner–turkey with all the fixings–but some yummy Indian food the other days, too: tandoori chicken, shrimp curry, biryani, a coconut-rice vermicelli dish called shevia (the last half of the word should be pronounced in a sort of slurry of vowels and approximants, sort of like Ozzy Osborne in that Samsung commercial).

We went shopping in Springfield on Black Friday and the day after. I feel sort of ashamed to admit that I had any part of this celebration of gluttonous American consumerism, but we were fairly practical, buying useful, cold-weather things on sale like chapstick and flannel sheets and a fake-down comforter, instead of silly things like Bacon-Waves and talking football-shaped candy dishes. We did buy a semi-frivolous Roomba at a doorbuster sale but found upon opening it that it didn’t have all the features we wanted: you have to manually start it–it can’t be set up to run automatically, and it doesn’t “go home” to charge afterwards, you just have to stumble over it wherever it happened to stop vacuuming and take it back to recharge. So we returned it, and my dreams of an amazing robot maid will have to be deferred. (An aside: I think iRobot is a terrible name for a robot company, don’t you?)

We did see some good old-fashioned Black Friday douchebaggery: a woman asked Rahul to hold her place in line for a sec when we first lined up, then she came back 45 minutes later, when we were about 5 people from the front of the line, and said “Oh, there you are! Thanks for holding my place” and shamelessly ducked back into line, completely ignoring her mortified husband telling her they had to go to the end of the line. Amazingly, aside from some complaining from us, a manager, and the people directly behind her, there were essentially no consequences for her jerkface behavior: she got to check out pretty much right away. But that was the biggest drama we saw, no fistfights over Wiis or anything like that.

Aside from that, we spent lots of time vegetating and hanging out with Rahul’s family. We watched lots and lots and lots of news about Mumbai, and I saw The Godfather for the first time, and the The Last King of Scotland. Both fantastic, of course.

Plus, at the same time, I did lots and lots of knitting! I cast on for Eastlake just before we left, and knit for a total of 20+ hours over the course of 4 days during car rides and while we watched movies or TV. I was trying desperately to meet my NaKniSweMo goal of finishing Flicca plus making one more sweater during the month of November, but fell short last night, only getting a few inches into the sleeves before calling it quits for the night. Still, I made good progress, and the sweater is going to be cushy and delicious once I’m done–I’m making it in a velvety taupe worsted-weight cashmere from School Products (via Klosekraft’s destash sale), and knitting as much of it as possible in the round. The leaf motif is so addictive I think I might even make an Eastscarf.

Last but not least, I finished the Malabrigo socks that were giving me such fits before, and wrote up the pattern! It’s available as a free download, with the caveat that this is a sock pattern by a sock moron and thus is not at all guaranteed to be any good. Here they are, the Tyro Socks, knit in the lovely Indiecita colorway:

Toe-up socks written for beginners, using the yarn-over short-row toe and heel described by Priscilla Gibson-Roberts in Simple Socks: Plain and Fancy (photo tutorial included in the pattern, for sock morons like me), and a simple, softly curving lace pattern mirrored on the left and right feet. The lace pattern is easy to read and to memorize, and it’s mostly stockinette (every other row is plain knit stitches).

You may notice some visual similarities to other patterns: the Pomatomus socks and Spirogyra mitts in particular. (There may be others, too, but those are the only ones I know of.) However, despite the similarities, which only occurred to me after I’d started, I can assure you that these socks were designed the old-fashioned way, from scratch, futzing around with a stitch dictionary and doing some swatching and math to mirror the stitch pattern and make it work with the stitch count. Namely, the parent stitch pattern is the Overlapping Waves pattern in The Big Book of Knitting Stitch Patterns.

This is a pattern of many knitting milestones for me. First pair of socks, first sock pattern, first short-row toe, and last but not least, first semi-creepy Flickr group request for photos of my feet. Ha! I’d read all kinds of tempest-in-a-teapot discussions on Ravelry about foot fetishists lurking on knitting websites to ogle sock FO photos, but this was the first direct encounter I’d had with them.

OK, aside from “have a happy one,” I don’t have much to say about Halloween, actually. We forgot to carve a pumpkin this year, and our costumes are homemade but pretty half-assed (I’m wearing a Kittyville hat, Rahul’s wearing his mustache hat.) I have a bag of Fun Size Kit Kats at the ready (but this size is the least fun of all! They should name the Costco-sized, bigger-than-Family-Size, baking-and-industrial-use-only candy bars “Fun Size.”) No children have come by, yet, though.

Mainly, I’m really looking forward to the show we’re going to in a couple of hours: local Madison bands are impersonating greats of the past, many of which are particular favorites of mine: Spinal Tap, Nirvana, Oasis, the Stone Roses, Weezer, and the Kinks.

Aside from that, tomorrow is a big crazy Halloween party in downtown Madison (not sure if we’ll go) and more than that, tomorrow is my trip with fiber-lovin’ friends to the Wisconsin Spin-In! It’s nearly 2 hours away, but hopefully will be lots of fun.

Here are two things I want to share with you today:

Are you ready to see the cutest baby sloth in the entire world and squeal over sleepy sloth cuteness? Then watch this Youtube video. Sneezing panda, you have been deposed from the Youtube animal baby throne.

Also, I just published a new cowl pattern named Metheglin. I’ve been working on this for ages (Nicole helped me test knit this back when I was still in Bloomington) and I finally finished reformatting the chart and instructions. You can see the details of the pattern here. It’s kind of Teva Durham-meets-Louis Comfort Tiffany, kind of science fictiony, kind of Arts and Craftsy, and because it uses so little yarn, it’s a great showcase for small amounts of something special–a variegated or self-striping main yarn would look great in this pattern, contrasted with a solid color.

I’ve been wearing these cowls a ton while I’m working at home. The garter stitch makes a thick, dense, cozy fabric that traps heat around my neck like a little chimney, and the tidy cowl feels much easier and less cumbersome than wearing a scarf at home. I like the fact that the base of the cowl flares to cover the top of my chest, an area that gets cold easily. (I’d call that area the dickey zone, but that sounds like something else entirely.) The only problem with wearing it is that I really look like a crazy woman when I’m all kitted up in my usual work-at-home outfit of blue penguin pajama pants, handpainted, handknit sweater, and this cowl and the UPS guy comes to the door to have me sign for a package. At least I’m warm.



I have two new finished objects to show you, both made from Knit Picks Cotlin yarn in Moroccan Red, an inexpensive DK weight cotton-linen blend. I blogged about it before here, when I made a Bainbridge Scarf with it for my friend Jeanne.

Now that I’ve used it a bit more, some further thoughts: the color of this yarn is lovely and bright, and the yarn is pretty soft and drapey as far as I can tell. The two things I disliked about it were the occasional long, pokey fibers I would have to pull out of the yarn, presumably bits of flax, and its tendency to shed red fuzz as I was knitting with it (mentioned in my last post). It made me feel sneezy, and if I washed my hands after knitting with it for a while, little red fuzz pills would rub off my palms. These skeins seemed less fuzzy than the one I knit before–maybe it’s the effect of aging the yarn a bit.

I was undecided before, but I’ve decided I like it after all and I would use it again, especially since they’ve added a bunch of new colors that are right up my alley. Of the old ones, only this red and the natural linen color really appealed to me. Maybe Nightfall. But I wasn’t crazy about the sherbet colors like coral and turquoise. I love all the new ones, though–Coffee, Glacier, and Kohlrabi are all beautiful.

The Cotlin yarn for these two new FOs and the Bainbridge scarf is all from the same batch. I got it from chemgrrl, who bought too much for her super-adorable Cherry sweater. I was curious about it, so she gave me the skein I made into the Bainbridge scarf, and then she swapped me the sweater quantity, plus some mohair, for some Elann Den-m-nit
I had so she could make a jacket or something for her small niece.

I had it lined up for a lobster for a friend’s baby, but I’ll have to find a different red yarn for that, because the Cotlin is now all used up!

First up, Rusted Root! (Wow, it’s been ages since I’ve done a proper FO post)

Pattern: Rusted Root, from Zephyr Style, given to me as a Random Act of Kindness by knottygnome
Size made: Small (for 32-35″ bust), although my gauge wound up being off and the sweater measured about 34″ before blocking when it should have been 32″. Not that the pattern tells you this, of course.
Yarn used: Knit Picks Cotlin, Moroccan Red, approximately 4.5 skeins
Needles used: US size 7/4.5 mm Denises for most of the sweater; US size 3/3.25 mm for the ribbing on the sleeves
Date started: May 5, 2008
Date finished: May 11, 2008
Mods: More tedious details about size and yarn usage can be found on the Ravelry page. I started with the neckline ribbing (since you pick up the same number of stitches as you cast on, in the same ratio, without short rows or any such things going on, I see no particular reason to pick up the neckline later) and worked 5 rows instead of 3, using the larger needles instead of going down a size. I did paired M1 increases around the raglan seam lines (lift from back and knit through front loop, k2, lift from front and knit through back loop).

I totally reworked the waist shaping, and then my gauge was off and I was unable to finish my reworked shaping scheme anyway–after I’d worked only 3 sets of hip increases out of my desired 5, the sweater was long enough and I decided to stop.

I also put in Elizabeth Zimmermann’s phoney seams on the sides before starting the ribbing.

I knit the neck and hip ribbing (about 9 rows) on size 7 needles, since I didn’t want them to draw in particularly, then knit the sleeve ribbing for 5 rows on size 3’s (I used k1fb to increase one on each sleeve to make the k2, p1 ribbing pattern work properly).

I used a sewn bindoff for the sleeves to make them stretchy, and a suspended bindoff in rib for the hip (since I hate sewing with that long, long tail over long distances… I really should have used the sewn bindoff at the hip, too; it could definitely be stretchier, but it’s not terrible as is, either.)

Notes:
I hope to have more photos later. It’s unblocked and hot off the needles in this photo (so it’s all uneven and lumpy, and it’s being worn over a clearly unsuitable tunic top instead of a camisole).

The thing is, I committed a Cardinal Sin of knitting with this sweater. I didn’t knit or wash my swatch the way I would wash my finished garment–I knit a flat swatch instead of one in the round (hence the aforementioned gauge issues), then hand-washed and laid it flat instead of machine-washing and drying. Then I finished the sweater and threw it in the washer and dryer. We’ll see what happens! Hopefully I can still wear the sweater afterwards. It seems silly to have to hand-wash and flat dry what is essentially a t-shirt, so if it’s not easy care, I guess I might as well find out now instead of after it’s a cherished essential piece in my wardrobe and I accidentally toss it in the hamper. Anyway, I did read up on it beforehand and people have said it tightens up a bit and takes very well to machine washing. Not sure about drying. If it’s a disaster, I surely will have notes on it in the near future–it’s in the dryer as I type this. Wish me luck!

While I think the finished top is really cute, I did find the pattern kind of weird and annoying to work with at certain points, for a few minor reasons. Believe me, I totally understand the headaches of trying to sort these things out when drafting a pattern, and I don’t think I could do any better (people who live in glass houses shouldn’t point fingers at other people’s pattern-writing abilities!) but nonetheless, should you be in the market for Zephyr Style patterns and wondering about how they’re written, let me tell you what my gripes with this were:

  • No schematics in the pattern. This is the biggest annoyance. I couldn’t decide if I should make the XS or the S (since both cover a 32” bust)–seems like the S gives a 32” actual bust size, meaning negative ease if you’re on the larger end of the range. I wasn’t sure if the sleeves would actually fit over my biceps (thankfully, they did)–I had an issue with the sleeves being too tight on my Green Gable and had to redo my bind-offs on that top before I could actually wear it. There is also no information about the intended or modeled ease.
  • No stitches put on hold/cast on at the underarm. Just a note, not a gripe (yet). I’ve just seen the put 8%-of-underarm-stitches-on-hold thing in numerous patterns, though I’m not sure what type of functional difference it makes in the fit. I’ll see how it fits when it’s done and washed.
  • Asymmetrical waist shaping decreases. OK, actually, there’s nothing wrong with this, but I kind of like symmetrical ssk/k2tog shaping on either side of a seam instead of using just k2tog on one side of the seam.
  • Very sparse with the stitch counts. I’m pretty sure I got it right, but it would have been very helpful to see a detailed breakdown of stitch counts in the puff sleeve increase/decrease sections in particular so I could easily double-check my work and see if everything was OK. I’m not personally bothered by the lack of information about the increase rounds, as I’m capable of figuring out the number of increases per increase round from looking at the directions, but a beginner might have issues.
  • The lace is not charted out, and sl1-k1-psso is written as 3 separate steps (separated by commas) which confuses me since the 3 steps consume 2 stitches and result in 1 stitch. I prefer seeing it written using hyphens/dashes. In any case, I rewrote it using ssk.
  • The lace also calls for you to read your knitting on every other round, knitting into the knit stitches and YOs and purling into the purls. I don’t mind this, but again, if you’re a beginner, it might be easier to have it specified as “Row 10: K7, p2, k6” etc.
  • As someone’s notes somewhere on the internet point out (I can’t find them now, of course), the poof in the sleeves tends to vanish for many people, probably because of the tiered increases–i.e. XS and S have the same number of increases for the puffed sleeves, meaning the XS sleeves will be puffier than the S in proportion to the rest of the sweater, and the same deal for M/L, XL/XXL. We’ll see how mine come out. I don’t have my heart set on it either way.
  • Not a lot of information about the techniques they use. M1 is specified as Make One, but there are at least 4 different actual increases that could mean. The instructions for knitting the sleeves on two circulars are very sparse (they tell you to divide the stitches onto two circulars and knit in the round, but I can see this potentially causing issues for a beginner who wasn’t familiar with the technique). No cast-on is specified, even though they specify that you should use the backwards loop cast-on in their FAQ because apparently a lot of people were having issues with their necklines or underarm seams binding because the cast-on wasn’t stretchy enough.

It’s been ages since I made Green Gable, but I remember having some of the same issues with that top as well.

Anyway–I’m excited about wearing it, so thank you again for the pattern, knottygnome! I desperately hope it fits when it comes out of the dryer.

I had a bit of the yarn left over, about half a skein, so I cast on for a dishcloth.

Pattern: Yvonne’s Double Flower Cloth
Yarn used: Knit Picks Cotlin, Moroccan Red, approximately 1 skein
Needles used: A set of 5 US size 8/5 mm bamboo DPNs (sort of annoying–they kept falling out of the stitches. Two circs or magic loop would be easier to deal with)
Date started: May 12, 2008
Date finished: May 13, 2008

Mods: I was trying to use up the half-skein of yarn left over from my Rusted Root–I ran out of yarn at row 31 and had to rummage around to find the other half-skein of yarn left over from the Bainbridge Scarf so I could finish the cloth. I had some left over, so I knit a little garter stitch loop to use for hanging the cloth up to dry (just cast on 3 sts, knit every row for maybe 2 inches, folded it over, picked up stitches from the base of the loop and knit them together with the live stitches) and used the rest of the yarn to single-crochet around the outer border of the washcloth. Also, I used a lighter weight yarn and larger needles than recommended.
Notes: I don’t know the last time I spent so little time on a project and wound up with something so pretty and functional! Again, this photo is before washing and drying the cloth, so the knitting isn’t terribly even-looking. I think this is a great pattern, though–very easy to follow and fast to knit, with beautiful results.

I was born on April 18, 1980, the 74th anniversary of the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. This was also the date Paul Revere rode, the date Billy the Kid escaped from a jail in New Mexico, and the date Albert Einstein died.

Despite the fact that I’m far, far from home and major Pacific Rim fault lines, my first present of the day for my 28th birthday was a commemorative earthquake at 5:30 AM! A 5.2 earthquake centered about 100-odd miles southwest of here, in Illinois. I was asleep and registered it only as a huge, loud, scary noise that woke me up. Rahul said the ground was shaking, but I didn’t think there had been shaking, just a noise–I thought it was a tornado, to be honest, and eventually got up to look out the window for funnel clouds or toppled trees. I couldn’t get back to sleep for an hour or so, so I’m super tired now. Ugh.

I had other things to write about before the earthquake came and got in the way!

First: I finished the third variation, took pictures, and published the pattern for my The Water Is Wide scarf! Go take a look–it’s now available for sale through Ravelry! I also put up the non-outtake photos of the main scarf–a mini-tour of scenic spots on the IU Bloomington campus. I hemmed and hawed over the price for a bit on this one, since I think people might find it steep for a scarf pattern, but in the end, I think this is fair considering there are 3 (or 4) different reversible scarf patterns included in the price, and it’s more than just a stitch dictionary pattern applied to a rectangle.

Second: I didn’t enjoy spinning that second bag of buffalo down roving that much, so I would like to give the rest of it away to one lucky reader. I suspect you might enjoy spinning it more if you had some hand cards or a drum carder and could better prep the fiber, or blend it with some wool. I have about 35g left, a bit over half an ounce. If you’d like it, please comment on this post to let me know you’d like to enter in the fiber drawing. I will use a random number generator to pick a winner out of the comments a week from today, Friday, April 25 2008.

I’ve been tagged for two memes–I’ll do Kristen’s first, because I’ve been thinking about it for a bit.

Both these memes are meant to be about me. I find it much more difficult to write about myself than to write about external things like books or knitting… perhaps because I find it stressful to be the center of attention, or perhaps for the same reason I’ve found it hard to answer when people say “what’s X person like?” or “what was it like to live in X place?” For complex subjects I know well, I don’t construct a simple narrative about them the same way I do for simple subjects or people/places I know only in passing. I should practice coming up with “elevator speeches” if I think I’ll be asked about something, but honestly, I never think about it until the question drops and I’m left stymied and stammering and going into far more detail than the person asking really wanted.

Anyway, here’s the six-word memoir I decided to write.

Searching for happiness. Is happiness enough?

Growing up, whenever I blew out the candles on my birthday cake, or blew dandelion fluff clean away, I always closed my eyes and simply wished to be happy. I didn’t ask for particular things to happen or for particular items. I wished for a state of mind. Mostly, as an adult, I’ve been successful in that. But–the essence of my quarterlife crisis–

Is happiness enough?

I went to Quaker church last Sunday with Rahul. The church is non-hierarchical, so you sit in silence in the meeting of Friends, and when someone feels moved to speak by the Holy Spirit, they stand up and say their piece. Best church I’ve ever been to, though being more spiritual than religious, I don’t know that I really believe in the Holy Spirit or a personified God. Anyway, someone stood up at church and talked about a successful lawyer who had been moved to drop his career and move down to Nicaragua to live in a shack.

“What would the world be like,” the speaker said, “if all Christians felt like it was their Christian duty to be poor?”

Now, I don’t think that has to mean moving to Nicaragua and living in a shack. Studies have shown that money does buy happiness, up to a certain point, once your basic needs are met and you don’t feel afraid about where your next meal will come from. But what if we actively aspired to stop wanting at that point? Not passively, with the “camel through the eye of a needle” proverb in the back of the mind, or with alms or tithing as a sort of duty separate from ourselves, but actively, as a pillar of faith. What if we tried, like Buddhists (and not the kind of consumerist Buddhism that comes from buying prayer flags and wearing yoga pants) to let our desires fall away and ignore the I want mindset? If we stopped asking for more money, promotions, power, stopped buying stuff except when we needed it? What if we focused on love and simplicity and the things that please us?

What if we didn’t need more? Could it be enough to be happy?

I think we tend to give lip service to this idea, but in practice, without thinking about it, we value money, objects, status, and achievement more. We secretly look down on people who reach a certain point in their careers, not too high up the ladder, and then stop advancing, calling these “dead-end careers.” But is it always better to be at the top? You get more money and more status, but (depending on your particular position) you may trade off free time and your level of stress may skyrocket. There was some movie about this a few years back, where a very happy temp worker got hired full-time and his life went to hell.

I don’t mean to advocate selfishness, of course, or hedonism to the detriment of the greater good, and I’m all in favor of making enough money to take care of yourself both now and in the future. And it makes life so much easier to have lots of money, no question. But there’s a feeling in personal lives analogous to our ideas about the economy that more is better, growth is necessary, but what if it’s not only unnecessary but harmful? I read this interesting story in the Atlantic Monthly called Fear of fallowing: the specter of a no-growth world (abstract here) that goes into these ideas a bit, on an economic/societal scale rather than a strictly personal one–Collapse, by Jared Diamond, does as well, but then Diamond is a successful author and professor and doesn’t really need to worry about his place in the world.

So, without going too far into the details, and without addressing consumerism (I have a wee problem with loving and acquiring stuff, though I’ve gotten much better about it in recent years) my current crisis is that despite sometimes feeling like I’ve never been happier, I get this vague itchy feeling like I ought to be doing more, achieving more, or making more money. But what if I already have enough? What if I could, but I don’t want to, and what if that’s enough? (Maybe I should move to Bhutan, where they measure and deeply value their Gross National Happiness.)

I’m feeling this crisis particularly right now because, well, I just filed my taxes and am feeling extremely poor and angry and grudgingly, selfishly in favor of this idiotic economic stimulus plan, because it will mean another $600 in my pocket. But on the other hand, I don’t really need it, I just hate having to pay the government a big chunk of money, and I know I could be making more. I can pay my rent and my bills and sock away money every month for retirement. And I have lots of free time and mental balance right now. But I can’t help thinking, sort of longingly, of the days when I had a lot more money and a lot less free time and general happiness.

I mean, springtime is finally here in Bloomington, and just look at it! Magnolias, sunshine, rainbow scarves, forsythia… would I really rather be stuck in a cubicle or in meetings in an office park until 10 PM, making a bit more money? (Um… maybe? Check back in with me in a year…)

Observe:

A star magnolia outside the public library:

Pink trees on 3rd Street:

A reversible scarf pattern I’ve been working on, called “The Water is Wide”–it will have 3 variations, and I’m working on the 3rd right now. Here are variations 1 and 2.

The main version shows wave cables on one side and a quilted “gull stitch” ribbing on the other side. It’s knit in Malabrigo Silky Merino in Indiecita, 2 skeins. I have lots of nice pictures of this that I took this weekend around the IU campus. I’ll share more later, but here are some of the outtakes I don’t plan to use in the final pattern:
Too nipply:


Shows construction in the background:

And here are some photos of version 2, a version showing quilted rib on both sides, knit with 2 skeins of Noro Kureyon and 1 skein of Plymouth Boku, all striped together. I might use some of these photos for the final pattern–I’m pleased with how they came out, but then I have a real weakness for rainbow-striped scarves, so how could I have gone wrong?
In the star magnolia:

Floating in forsythia:

TP

Close up

Far off

(Version 3 will show wave cables on both sides, but I ran out of yarn and have to wait for more to come in the mail. I hope the dyelots are similar. I love it so far–it’s luscious–but it eats yarn like crazy.)

This NPR story inspired the meme, and here are the guidelines:

Here are the guidelines, should you choose to participate in this yourself:

  • Write your own six word memoir.
  • Post it on your blog and include a visual illustration if you’d like.
  • Link to the person that tagged you in your post and to this original post if possible so we can track it as it travels across the blogosphere.
  • Tag five more blogs with links.

I hereby tag:

  1. Goldtop, in revenge exchange for tagging me with the “seven things” meme
  2. gleek
  3. Emilee
  4. Kate
  5. Big Sister

(Apologies if you’ve been tagged before… I didn’t do a search to check. And no obligations here. It was definitely hard to figure out what to write in my 6-word bio, so totally I’ll understand if you don’t want to.)

And anyone else who wants to be tagged, please do participate and let me know!