In which I feature someone else who knits, and it leads to a healing connection

A short story about medicine in a small town, or how small communities and their connectedness can be healing. As a side note, when I share any patient stories I will usually change significant details to avoid breaking confidentiality but maintain the essence of the problem. If I feel like a story needs more real details to share, I’ve asked permission of the patient to share first, as in this case.

In the hospital is currently a woman who I’ll call Mary who’s been in a healthcare facility for over three months. She initially came in with near total paralysis from Guillain Barre syndrome, an immune disorder that attacks your nerves, can leave you unable to walk, use your hands, and in rare cases, even breathe. Our hospital here functions as an acute care hospital as well as an inpatient rehab unit, so once the initial part of her hospitalization was over, she transitioned to acute rehab where she’s remained as she gets stronger, with her goal of walking freely again. During her time here, her husband had brought her a knitting loom, which she took to with aplomb and began churning out hats. She’s made hats for other patients, the children’s unit, and hospital staff. Once I walked in on another patient of mine wearing a sprightly red and black hat, and asked if Mary had made it, and of course she had. Over the course of the last week, she’d had a few features written up about her, one in the hospital newsletter, and then one in the local paper, focusing on her rehab and how her love of craft and knitting had helped her to heal.

Over the last week, however, she had been getting quite despondent with what she felt was the slowness of her progress, and wanting things to get back to her normal, which I think anyone in her situation would feel.  An elderly patient in the hospital in a different ward happened to read one of the newspaper articles and remembered that her husband had been afflicted with the same disease many years ago, and told him that he had to find Mary and go talk to her. And he did – coming into the ward, he asked for her room and walked in tentatively calling her name. She answered and he came in and sat at the side of her bed for over an hour, talking about his journey with Guillain Barre, how his recovery took six months, how he had even cried many times at his low moments wondering if he would fully recover, but how he eventually had.

I spoke with her the next day, and she felt entirely validated by the experience. Her tears and worry were not unusual, nor was she recovering too slowly. Someone else had struggled the same way she had, and had lived and thrived afterwards.

It was a healing conversation for Mary, and though it can’t take away all of the worries she has, was wonderful for her to have a connection with someone else. This is an aspect of rural small town medicine that I think is wonderful. The interconnectedness of the community and the openness of it make interactions like this possible, to the benefit of all.

-s

In which a bit of Iceland comes to New Zealand, or…I knit another sweater

Remember back in June, when my real excitement in Iceland was picking up some Plotulopi yarn? It’s found it’s way into a sweater!

IMG_0286

Look like you’re in love, the photographer said…I ended up simpering

It took me a while to find a good pattern. A lot of the traditional Icelandic sweater patterns look, well…old, and not particularly pretty or stylish. The other finalist was the pattern below, but I felt like it wasn’t as modern looking, and I loved the geometric shapes of this one and the details on the bottom and the sleeves.

Grettir_1

Grettir from Brooklyn Tweed, the rejected pattern

 

The yarn is untwisted roving, which means that it breaks apart very easily. Try to imagine using fluffy bolts of cotton candy to sew together a leather jerkin, and you’ll have a decent idea of what it’s like to knit with. As with many things involving knitting, I try to find a metaphor in this, and for this project it was learning exactly how much tension and pressure to hold the yarn with. Too little, and the yarn would loop and sag unattractively in the stitch. Too much and it would simply tear apart. A happy medium existed, though it took a while to find it. Extrapolate that to a life lesson as you will.

 

IMG_0288

Neckline close up

 

The other difficulty was that I the pattern I’d chosen called for this yarn to be held singly, though it’s usually knit double. I swatched both and greatly preferred the double thickness, creating as it did a lofty and cozy fabric. With a sigh, I pulled out a calculator as using a bigger yarn meant that I’d have to do math to figure out the new sizing. I figured out that if I just followed the instructions for the smallest size, it should work out okay.

It almost was, until the very end. While I’d been able to change the horizontal measurements of the sweater with fewer stitches and I could simply knit fewer rows to make the length correct, this didn’t translate with the neck of the pattern where you can’t just cut out rows. The first iteration of this did not work well, and I looked like I’d made a sweater for a thick-necked giraffe.

 

IMG_0291.JPG

The pic I sent to my phone a friend, thick necked giraffey sweater

After a telephonic and picture consultation with a knitting friend back home, I ripped back to the middle of the yellow diamonds, switched to a smaller needle and began decreases in the black areas between to hide them and maintain the pattern. It worked pretty well! I wish I could tell you that this sweater was 100% perfect to me, and it almost is. Trying to account for vertical gauge and burned by the extra fabric Eric’s sweater had in the shoulders with all the short rows, I knit fewer of them and I wish I hadn’t. I would have preferred the sweater come up a bit higher in the back, and I wish I’d knit the sleeves just a touch longer but overall I’m pretty happy with it! I especially love the shaping in the waist, which is key in such a big bulky sweater to avoid making one look like the Michelin Man.

IMG_0287

Next up, to finally finish all the socks for the kids I’ve promised them and have completely ignored. Of course, now that they run around barefoot like all the other Kiwi kids, I wonder if I should even bother.

IMG_0289

Sweater in action along West End, Ohope Beach

pattern: Telja by Jennifer Steingass

-s

Ugh. Just Ugh.

Dear Friends, I have done that which I promised never to do.

I have knit something truly ugly.

This is not really the first time I’ve ever knitted something hideous, but the last time was really more because I didn’t know what I was doing. That time I was knitting a little hat with berries on it, and I used a variegated yarn thinking that each berry would be a separate color and oh how cute that would be and really, it was a splotchy mess.  That hat was undone and became some washcloths.

That hat is one of the reasons I’m leery of variegated yarns anyway. I’ve done some other projects with them but have learned only to use variegated yarns that are tonal variations so it’s a subtle color shift, otherwise you end up with a piece that looks like clown vomit.

So for this piece, the intent was there, I used a tonal variegated yarn with a solid yarn to knit with it for strength and thinking that it would add consistency of color. Instead what  I ended up with was this:

20140430-152217.jpg

 

 

What is that thing, you might ask. Well, it is meant to be a fetching little shoulder capelet thing to wear over tanks or sundresses, or flipped around as a scarf.

See how cute it is on the pattern page?

citron

Citron Shawl

by Hillary Smith Callis

Yarns used: Habu A-60 Linen Paper Shoseni, 1 skein

Habu A-1 Tsumugi Silk

Maybe, I thought, maybe it will look better ON. You never know.

20140428-201027.jpg

I’m too embarrassed to even spend time with it on to take better pictures. It doesn’t help.

Here it is worn as a “scarf”

20140428-201042.jpg

 

I was especially excited since it’s with my beloved Habu yarns, a linen paper yarn and a silk held together, which I thought, hey, linen and silk! perfect for summer. But the linen is a paper linen and I thought it would soften with washing and it’s like wearing raffia.

Eric says I look like I’m wearing a bib. And he’s right.

I’ve shown a few people this and said, testing, “This is so ugly!” Hoping that they would disagree with me and say something like “No! It’s beautiful!”

That hasn’t happened yet.  Usually I just get a face and a sucking through the teeth and a slow, knowing, nod.

So it’ll be unraveled and made into something else. Maybe. Or I might just have some knitters PTSD with it and it will languish in my stash, forever.

Nette Sweater

IMG_4388

Pattern:Nette by Julie Weisberger

Yarn: Habu Yarns Nerimaki Silk

New Habu yarn project off the needles! I was worried while knitting this thing. The thick and thin silk yarn looks weird and dead while you’re knitting it, and then when it all came together it was just lovely. I love this sweater. I am going to change the button placement though-they are a bit too close together and I’d like it to button a little lower, but other than that it’s great. The yarn is a thick and thin silk so it naturally has areas that are a bit bigger and some are smaller, which creates a nice texture. Here’s a more closeup picture:

IMG_4356_2

A note on sizing – I found the sleeves to be very narrow in circumference if knit according to pattern. They fit around my arms but could be a bit looser. It could also be my knitting. I made the 2nd size which calls for 7 skeins at 130 yards, and I’ve easily got at least one skein left over, so maybe I knit them a bit too tightly? Or maybe that’s because the pattern includes yarn for the optional collar? That collar, by the way, is hideous and I can’t understand why anyone would want to put that on this sweater.  At any rate, now I have to figure out what I can make with 130 yards of silk. The website says it’s enough for a scarf! Hmm…

One more Habu yarns project then it’ll be the last. I swear. At least for a while. Or until I go back to New York to buy more.

Dryad Scarf

The scarf is done! I gave it to Eric, who put it on, wrinkled his nose, and asked, “Do you think it’s too long?”

I had to restrain myself from grabbing a pair of scissors and simply slicing off a few inches of the scarf in spite, and then watching it unravel.

I tried to get an “action” shot of Eric as he usually is on a Saturday morning, but my artistic integrity was interrupted.

IMGP5151

I love this scarf-here’s a detail of the cabling:

IMGP5154

This tweed looks so pretty with the pattern. Perfect for the lounging intellectual reading some relaxing Plato on a Saturday morning.

IMGP5155Pattern: Dryad by Jared Flood

Yarn: Takhi Yarns Donegal Tweed, 4 skeins

Preblocked the scarf was 9″ by 72″, post blocking it’s 9 1/2″ by 80″. So yes, a bit on the long side but not really for someone who’s as tall as Eric.

I did pick up that sweater I’d been a bit bored of, so will try to get that one done before too long.  And then apparently I have to teach someone how to make a sweater with a wolf on it, which as we all know is the sign of an ultimate weirdo, so I may have to refuse for the person’s own good.

Knitting, old and new

So let’s do some catchup on relatively recent projects, shall we?

There’s these fingerless gloves that I made for the kids, waaay too big really but they don’t seem to care. The Boy has already lost one of them anyway. What is it about gloves in our house? We can NOT hold onto an actual pair through a whole season. How do people make this magic happen?

fingerless mitts

fingerless mitts

Next up: the Gretel tank top, knit with my favorite yarn obsession, Habu. This is knit with a cotton tape yarn, which feels like paper when you’re knitting with it. According to the pattern, you only need two tiny little balls for a whole tank top! See how well that worked out?

IMG_3689

Or…not.  I used up all 2 balls of yarn that the pattern told me I would need and had nowhere near enough yarn. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the one I wanted anywhere but New York as Fancy Tiger wasn’t carrying this yarn at the time. So I waited for my summer trip, went to Habu, and got another ball of black yarn. You can see how well it matches by looking at the difference in colors in the cowl and the bottom, where I picked up stitches and knit down to make it long enough.

IMG_3740

Actually…that looks pretty cool. When it was all done I enlisted my elves to help me take a picture, and they insisted on photobombing me at every step.

IMG_4017

IMG_4012Pattern: Gretel, by Julie Weisberger

Yarn: Habu Cotton Gima, 2 balls in black and 1 in charcoal (pattern states you’ll only need 2, this is not true)

It was fortuitous that this lacy, lightweight tank was finished just in time for winter!

Since I couldn’t wear the tank top during that crazy cold snap we had in December, and I needed a warm hat, I made one.

IMG_4038

Pattern: Really Warm Hat by Melissa LeBarre

Yarn: Blue Sky Alpaca Bulky, 1 ish skein.

Don’t even think about stealing this hat, people. This one is actually a bit too big around the brim so I threaded elastic cord through the bottom and now it stays on nicely.

And last is the current project I’m working on, another Jared Flood design. I started this sometime over the summer and then actually looked at my knitting.

IMG_3881

See how the first pattern section looks nothing like the second? Yeah, that’s a complete screw up where I missed some cables and then did some others backwards.  Since it’s going to be a scarf for Eric, I asked him what he thought, and he promptly replied, “Oh yeah that’s all messed up. It would bug me.” Not cool, knitting recipient, not cool. However, he was right and the whole thing was ripped out and reknit correctly. Color is much truer in this picture.

IMG_3944Pattern: Dryad by Jared Flood

Yarn: Takhi Yarns Donegal Tweed

I’m about 2/3 of the way done with it by now, and I love this scarf. The tweedy yarn works so well with the big cables, and it’s going to be big and cozy and warm and lovely when it’s all done.

After the scarf I have a sweater to finish up that I’ve lost some interest in, so we’ll see if I pick that back up again or start something new. Part of me wants to make a big crazy throw out of all the yarn scraps I have, something to snuggle under in our basement when it gets to be cold, but that might  make me feel like a 70s afghan knitter, chevron pattern and all.  Am I that person? Maybe so.

Umaro Blanket

When our friends Sarah and Ben announced their engagement, I knew that I’d knit them a blanket.  I know I’ve said that I wouldn’t do it again, but I’d been wanting to make this pattern for some time and this was the perfect reason.

IMG_3407Pattern: Umaro by Jared Flood

Yarn: Cascade Eco Wool in Latte (5 1/4 skeins total)

I LOVE this blanket.  It is soft and squishy and beautiful and snuggly. I chose a minimally processed undyed wool-I love that this is the color that it grows on the sheep. Something about that just feels organic.

Whenever I knit a large piece like this, especially one that is intended for gifting, I always think of the emotions and feelings and places that are knitted into the piece itself. This blanket travelled with me to New York and to the mountains. It has travelled by train, car, and plane.  I was at times happy while knitting it, sometimes loving, sometimes angry, sometimes weary, and sometimes sad.  I think that these are knitted into the fabric itself-and all are important especially for a blanket gifted for a wedding, or perhaps more importantly a marriage.

The lessons of knitting a large piece also lend itself to some other metaphors-there was a time when I found a minor error a few rows down, where I was able to fix it without having to unravel very much.  There was another time that I looked at the piece only to see that 10 rows back I had forgotten an entire row of cables. The only way to fix that was to unravel all those 10 rows and do it right. As in marriage, so goes knitting.

Knitterly details for the fiber artists among you-I found Flood’s instructions for cabling to be onerous, especially when using such a bulky wool. I switched to one of those U shaped cable needles instead and then would slip stitches from the front and back of it to my left hand needle when it came time to knit them. Blocking was also a bit treacherous-I tried to steam block as Flood recommends but my little puny iron didn’t even touch the fabric. So I nervously placed it in my front loader and ran it on soak for 5 minutes, then let it spin while I prayed it wouldn’t felt.  This enabled the stitches to really open up, and I’m so so glad I did it–it was 43×67 pre blocking and 52 x 65 after. And while the yarn was held double, it quickly got too tricky to hold two strands from two skeins, so I simply knit from the front and back ends of a center wound ball instead.

Pre blocking-43x67 and all squished up looking

Pre blocking-43×67 and all squished up looking

I’ve also been doing a fair amount of cardmaking these days, so stitched up this card to accompany it. I really like stitched cards-it’s such a simple embellishment and it looks wonderful.

IMG_3415

All wrapped up, with my new stamp labels to boot!

IMG_3417

I hope that Sarah and Ben enjoy this blanket as much as I enjoyed making it! Lots and lots of happiness (and warm cozy nights) to them!