City Knitting

this is a piece i wrote about my favorite yarn store: City Knitting. the piece appeared in SEE Magazine, which i think is an internal magazine at Herman Miller (yes, the furniture people).

City Knitting, 423 Norwood SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
616 454-9276

I'll admit it. I walked into my LYS (Local Yarn Store) a few days ago with my new mittens in hopes of someone noticing them; I flopped them onto the counter while I paid for more yarn, and Lorilee snatched them up before she took my money.

"Marilyn," she called out to someone knitting on the couch, "Come over here and look at these mittens." She tried them on without asking, which pleased me a great deal. It meant she was focusing on the mittens and not on me, a fine compliment from one knitter to another. "I've never thought to use a double rib," she said, turning her hands to see my mittens from both sides. "What a good idea."

There's a tacit understanding about things one makes with string. The rules are changed, like when the world has permission to reach out and touch a pregnant woman's belly. In a yarn shop like this, if you're wearing something you've knitted, expect to be noticed, praised, and maybe pawed a bit. Some of us go to the yarn shop for precisely that.

Lorilee, I'm surprised to discover, is the owner of City Knitting. I'd have thought this a part time job for her, something a good friend asked her to do because she's knitted for years, might appreciate a discount on yarn, and is outgoing and friendly. Since I work retail in a book store, I recognize that Lorilee and I are the same breed. Our passion lies in what we sell; otherwise, we wouldn't be there at all. Her love for yarn lends her an enthusiasm that makes her good at her job. I appreciate this. She asks if she can take a picture of me and my mittens for the "Wall of Fame." I hate having my picture taken, but my mittens don't. They win.

Yarn is all about imagining the things it can be. Hanging on hooks are scarfs, sweaters, ponchos in orange, blue and green. Little square samples hang on hooks to give the imagination a nudge. The place smells faintly of dye, a metallic and earthy smell.

The main room is not overwhelmed with yarn; rather, yarn surrounds it in black wooden cubbies that reach just over my head. In the center are two sofas facing each other with two more chairs on each end, the "living room" of the knitting store. Tonight, two women are sitting there, their faces blank with concentration.

I feel perfectly at home here--a working mother among other working mothers overbusy in the first decade of a new century. We share a passion for a domestic art previously associated with our grandmothers. It might be a secret women have always known and we're just rediscovering it: knitting is about combining quiet time with productivity. Magic!

Of course, it's more than that. There's a genuine love of yarn and knitting in a place like this. This is what draws me here even though I could get the same yarn a bit cheaper on Ebay. I couldn't get a strong sense of place and community anywhere else. In a culture where on-line community is often the only sort of community most people experience, the LYS is a refreshing embrace of good old fashioned sharing of something many people love.

Night falls early in Michigan December. The streetlights flash on. My family will be expecting me home and wondering what's for dinner, though I wish I could stay here a little longer. A folk mitten class is about to start, and the women arrive alone or in pairs. Not one of them is hard or cold or distant. This class is like a retreat for them, and each woman knows she's among her kind. They smile.
  • Current Music
    Amelie Soundtrack

devil baby clothes

i love to knit baby clothes. it's immediate gratification, and the clothes are so cute!

anyway, my best friend's daughter is having a baby. these are people with a good sense of humor, so i thought it was time to knit what i've always wanted to knit for a baby: the stitch n bitch devil hat and devil pants:

if anything, these ought to be a good fit around halloween.
  • Current Music
    doctor who episode

i still got it

well, it's something, at least. following a pattern is something i can do. i've made many of these in the past, but i think these turned out well.

felted clog slippers.

i used the pattern by fiber trends ( the purple is the child's large, and the gray/green is the adult men's medium.

here's a picture of the slippers unfelted:

and here's a picture of the same slippers after they've been through the washing machine.

again, there are sizing issues. the purple slippers are for my niece, so i just barely felted them in hopes that they'll still fit her. the gray/green slippers are for a friend of mine whose feet are about two sizes bigger than these slippers. i know from experience that the slippers stretch. i hope they stretch enough! if not, they fit me; i can approprate them and i'll make him another pair.

there's always a way.

Venting: Hitting the Wall

i have officially hit the wall. the creative juices have stopped. i think i may be exhausted, in the sense of the word that i'm all used up.

maybe it's christmas.

maybe it's the mountain of felted sweaters on top of my dining room table.

it could be the many lists littering the carpet at my feet, here as i sit in my little creative corner, which is packed with yarn scraps, knitting needles, knitting books, empty fast food containers, nail clippers, coffee cups, my laptop and digital camera ... well, you get the picture. it's a very lived in space. and the crumpled lists are discarded for two reasons:

1) because the list is always incomplete and i must add something i forgot, must remember someone, something, somewhere else. there is always more to do.

2) because of the lists' unrealistic expectations. does this list really expect me to make eight bags, ten pairs of smittens, two pairs of slippers and a hat? it's madness, i tell you...

i've done more before. the slipper xmas, for instance. i think i clocked in 72 hours of knitting over the course of six weeks. i grew rambo muscles in my hands. i dreamed knitting. i stayed up all night christmas eve finishing a pair of slippers for my dad, so that when he opened them, the felted wool was still wet. he took one whiff and said, "it smells like someone's already worn these." we laughed about that all day. i was a bit manic by that point, but i was happy. the good feeling was big.

now i have none of the good feeling, though i've made nifty things. i don't even feel worthy of saying the word "nifty." it's my creative holy word, a word i may use only if i'm feeling "spiffy" or perhaps "neat." alas.

i had lunch with a dear friend yesterday, and he helped me pinpoint my problem to two things.

1) i hate sewing because i'm bad at it and i have no desire to get good at it. there is no knitty satisfaction. thus the daunting mountain of felted sweaters. each one of them desires cutting and sewing. while i can do it, i've already botched one sweater body and a pair of sleeves. i am not the creative goddess i thought i was (insert weeping and gnashing of teeth). what is there to do?

2) a fear of failure. normally, i can take failure pretty well in stride. i just frog a bit, rip out wads of knitting and start over. i'm a fast knitter, no problem, right? if it's worth doing, it's worth doing right, right? i still think this, but when i make gifts for people far away and must send my knitting creations through the mail, i have nearly desperate fears of the things not fitting. i mean why pick out the pattern and buy the yarn and sit for hours with sticks and come up with something no one wants? it's a desperate feeling. i have a lovely poncho here lying here unfinished because i'm afraid it's too small!

so, what should i do about this?

first of all, i'm going easy on myself and taking off the pressure. i've destroyed all my lists. i actually bought a gift for my sister. really.

next, i'm taking mountain of sweaters back downstairs.

though i'll leave one up here. something to nudge me with all the things it might end up being..........
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    blah blah


i never realized how versatile a sleeve can be--namely the sleeves from all the sweaters i plan to turn into bags and blankets (see below).

things a sleeve can be:
-a scarf (sliced up the side and stitched to other sleeves)

that's all i have so far. i may discover other uses as i forge ahead into the dismemberment of sweaters.

here are a pair of mittens i made from the first pair of sleeves:

basically, i used the cuff of the sweater as the cuff of the mitten.
then i cut around the shape of my hand and turned the sleeve inside out and sewed a seam with my sewing machine.
the tricky part was the thumb. i cut a slit in the sleeve where my thumb should go. then a wrapped a part of the sleeve around my thumb overlapping the mitten part for room to sew it on. again, inside out, i sewed the thumb shut and then sewed it onto the main mitten.

they turned out pretty well! i call them "smittens."
  • Current Music
    goldfrapp ~ supernature

makin' bags

i mentioned earlier that i was working on some bags i found in this book: Alterknits : Imaginative Projects and Creativity Exercises:

i made two bags tonight. the first took at least three hours and it turned out, uh, the only word for it is "sucky."

i bought a bunch of wool sweaters from the salvation army and felted them all in the washing machine. then i picked a blue one, because my mum likes blue and i want to make something for her for christmas (in addition to the mittens i've knitted).

anyway, this is how it started:

i cut the sweater according to directions. so far so good.

then, i tried sewing the edges with my sewing machine per instructions, which is when i discovered that my sewing machine needs some serious help and it was dropping stitches. what to do? i found some wool i had on hand and sewed around all the edges instead. the wool was a bit slubby, so in addition to my sloppy stitching, it was thick and thin all over--uneven all on its own. i was hoping i could re-felt the bag and it would erase some of my sloppiness.

well, here's how it turned out. bag # 1:

oof! maybe it isn't so terrible, but i couldn't give it to someone in good conscience. nor do i want it myself. i may throw it away. anyone want it?

anyway, i needed to try another one because i have 25 felted sweaters in my basement (call me crazy). i spent some time with my sewing machine and discovered a setting that didn't drop stitches. yay! i was very happy that i'd started with the less lovely blue sweater. this one turned out well and took me less than an hour to finish. bag # 2:

i'll probably make about 8 more bags and then sew the rest together for a blanket or two. i'll let you know how that turns out. christmas, here i come!
  • Current Music
    an alias episode, season 1

what've i been up to?

well, i've been knitting this poncho for a girlfriend in maryland:

the pattern is here:

i knitted it in black using the lionbrand homespun. i fear it may be a bit small, so i might add fringe. a photo of my project is forthcoming.

in other news, i found a great book. it's called Alterknits : Imaginative Projects and Creativity Exercises:

it has some nifty projects in it. the two i'm planning to work on are all about cheap materials, namely old t-shirts and wool sweaters to be purchased from the salvation army or goodwill.

project number one is a rug knitted with strips from t-shirts. cut 1/2 inch strips from t-shirts spiraling up from the bottom. the pattern says i'll need about 18 t-shirts (we'll see how many i can get my hands on for .50 cents a pop), then knit it up on size 19 needles, which i have around here somewhere. the pattern calls to edge the rug in some material i can't remember, but i think i'll leave my edges raw and add fringe on the ends with the t-shirt strips. i'll let you know how it turns out.

the second project uses wool sweaters to make tote bags. once i make a couple, i'll post the pics. it's hard to describe without pictures...

xine bag with lucy closure update

here's the finished product:

and here's the pattern:

xine bag with lucy closure

materials: 2 skeins lion brand suede. i used black. 16" size 5 circular needles (plus a pair of size 5 regular needles). 2 markers. 2 double pointed needles. 1 blunt yarn-sewing needle.

note: the "suede" yarn feels a bit like chenille, though it's a bit hard to knit since it doesn't really stretch. i found metal needles slippery enough to compensate for the stightly sticky yarn and easier to work with than bamboo.

short strap: using straight size 5 needles, c/o 7 stitches. work in seed stitch until the piece measures 6 inches long. pick up seven stitches from the beginning of the strap (to knit into the body later) and leave on a double pointed needle, like the one in this image:

long strap: the same with the short strap, except work until piece measures about 24 inches. it seems a little short, but the strap stretches with use.

-with the circular needles, continue in the seed stitch and knit one of the strap ends onto the circular needles.
-next, cast on 11 stitches
-in seed stitch, continue by knitting the other end of the strap onto the circular needles. the strap ends should be facing in the same direction. try to keep some continuity with the strap stitches (knitting the pearls and pearling the knits) so there's no line between the strap and the body. it's a futsy thing. if it doesn't turn out perfectly, either rip it out and try another way, or live with it and say you meant to do it. this is the benefit of making up one's own patterns.
-cast on 19 more stitches
-then do the same with the next strap: knit it onto the circular needles using seed stitch.
-c/o 11 more stitches
-then knit the other end of the strap onto the circular needles
-c/o 20 more stitches and you're ready to join the whole thing into a circle. (89 stitches in all)

here's a little diagram of what you just did:

the 7s indicate how many stitches each strap takes. the 11s are the spaces between the straps, and the 19 & 20 will be the sides of the bag (these are different numbers because i had to add one to preserve the seed stitch).

-anyway, once you join the circle (making sure your knitting isn't twisted), continue in seed stitch for about two inches.

-switch to stockinette stitch for 9 or 10 inches, depending on how deep you want your bag.

-for the bottom rim of the bag, switch back to seed stitch for 3 more inches.

i decided i wanted a rectangular bottom, so i cast off the sides and the back, and knitted the front (side with long strap) long enough to fold over and sew to the other edges.

first, i figured out the dimensions of my rectangle: here's another diagram:

-the front of the bag is the side with the long strap. figure out how to place 31 stitches evenly along the front of the bag (the way i did it: i figured out where the edges of my long strap ended and counted outward until i got to 31 stitches in total). place markers around these 31 stitches.

-cast off everything around the markers, which should be 58 st all together.

-you should have 31 stitches remaining on your circular needles. continue to knit back and forth in seed stitch for about 3 and a half more inches. cast off.

-turn the bag inside out. pin the bottom edges together to make sure they match up; then with a blunt yarn needle, take a strand of the yarn and sew the bottom together. i used a simple whip stitch.

-tuck in the ends and vioa! you're done.

hint: a trick i learned from elizabeth zimmermann (Knitting Without Tears) when you're starting a new skein of yarn or joining two pieces of yarn in general, i hold the old yarn alongside the new yarn and knit them together for 3 stitches. this way, even if i do a botchy job of tucking the ends in, the pieces won't unravel the knitting because they've been knit together. also, this keeps one from having to place any knots in one's knitting. no knots!

i say this because you can't knit the suede into the yarn itself and the pieces on my finished bag stick out here and there. i just tuck them to the inside and trust the bag won't unravel.
  • Current Mood
    sleepy sleepy

another happy camper


and for this i get help painting my living room!

ps--the third time is the charm. the first two times i knit something, i'm still experimenting.

the third time i knit something, it's perfect!

after that, it all goes downhill due to boredom. alas.

next project: a hat for my son, a sweater for my best friend and a poncho for my good friend out in maryland (and a couple kitty hats for her daughter and her daughter's friend). oh, and two pairs of slippers. all before xmas. can i do it?
  • Current Music
    son's video game

open mittens

i started out with a pattern from "hip to knit," but of course changed it. i wanted a pair of mittens, but i also wanted access to my fingers without having to take the mitten off (thus the ability to fold them back). so i came up with this. i knit mine with the debbie bliss alpaca silk:

then i knitted a pair for my husband. i thought they would be good a little bit longer. these are done with the debbie bliss cashmerino chunky:

here's the pattern

open mittens

materials: 2 skeins of yarn, a set of size 5 double pointed needles, stitch markers, yarn holder

-cast on loosely 38 stitches onto a straight needle (i used size 8) and transfer onto dp needles, proportioned like this: 12, 14, 12.

-knit in single rib for three inches. place marker (pm).

-switch to stockinette (st st) for four rounds

-after third round in st st, m1 every 4th stitch with an extra stitch in the last three stitch. this will make 48 stitches in all. knit 5 more rounds in st st.
(addendum: to make smaller mittens, just add two stitches, making the count 40 stitches in all. i just made a pair for my mom, whi has small hands, and this worked perfectly. with the 40 stitches, there will be no more decreases for the rest of the mitten, not even in te double rib stage. makes it a lot simpler.)

-thumb gusset:
round 1: k1, m1, k to last 3 sts, k1, m1, k2
round 2 and all even rounds: k
round 3: k2, m1, k to last 3 sts, k1, m1, k2
round 5: k3, m1, k to last 4 sts, k1, m1, k3
round 7: k4, m1, k to last 5 sts, k1, m1, k4
round 9: k5, m1, k to last 6 sts, k1, m1, k5
round 11: k6, m1, k to last 7 sts, k1, m1, k6
round 12: k to last 7 sts. slip the next 14 sts on holder for thumb. remove markers.
co 2 sts on the rh needle (48 sts).

work in st st for seven more rounds.

-start knitting in a double rib. after an inch or so, k2tog in two places, once above the thumb gusset and once on the opposite side of the mitten. knit another round in st st, then decrease in another two places (right next to the place you decreased before), so you'll have 40 stitches in all. continue the integrity of the rib, though in the places where you decreased, it'll be a single rib. knit the double rib until it's 3.5 to 4 inches long (depending on how long you want the mitten).

(again, for the smaller mittens, don't decrease in the double rib stage).

divide thumb st from holder between 3 needles. pick up 2 stitches from the hand where it meets the thumb. (16 sts) work even in st st for about 1 inch. then knit three rounds in single rib. bind off.

tuck in loose pieces. then make another one just like it. voila!