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Archive for June, 2009

I recently spent a lovely weekend with my family on a church retreat at Ferry Beach Unitarian Universalist Camp and Conference Center in Saco, Maine. We, and about a hundred other members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Reading, MA spent a weekend relaxing, having fun, and getting adequately sunburned on the beach. All in all, a fun time was had by all.

Ferry BeachOn Saturday morning I got up early. I would even go so far as to say it was insanely early for a vacation weekend. After coffee with a couple of friends in the dining hall, I did what any sane knitter would do, I grabbed my knitting bag and headed to the rocking chairs on the porch. It was a beautiful morning in a magical place, and I was looking forward to indulging in my favorite form of therapy. I mean, really, who wouldn’t love to knit in such a beautiful place as this?

As I sat there listening to the sound of the surf intermingle with the sound of my double-pointed needles (dpns for all you non-knitters) clicking away at my new pair of socks, the rest of the world eventually woke up and I was joined by my friend Leslie and her magic loop sock project. We sat for a while and compared notes on sock knitting technique and just as I was making a pledge to try her beloved magic loop method for knitting socks, disaster struck. I shifted in my seat and dropped one of my needles.

Under normal circumstances this would not have been too bad. I mean, I fairly regularly drop my working needle in between sides. I even did so on a bus one time…it took me a whole 30 minutes to find the thing. However, this was different. Something in the way my size 2 needle fell put it in perfect alignment with the size 2 space between the boards on that porch and it just went straight through. I panicked. What am I supposed to do now? Leslie took it as a sign that I need to try magic loop and advised me to find a yarn store in the area so I could buy an obnoxiously long circular needle. I looked for a way under, but it was totally boarded up. My beloved dpn was lost.

After calling the one yarn store in the phone book and hearing the “no longer in service” recording, I went to plan B. Thankfully I was knitting on 4 dpns plus working needle. If I’d been knitting on 3, my knitting for the weekend would have been lost, but as it was I could transfer and knit on 3. I was just starting the toe, so I finished it on 3 needles throughout the course of the weekend.

After I got home it was time to start the other sock. Due to a combination of finances and laziness I didn’t go out to the store to buy a new set of needles (or an obnoxiously long circular for trying magic loop) but decided to do the other sock on 3 needles. It worked fine during the ribbing, but once I got to the pattern on the body of the sock, it became difficult. This is an 18-stitch pattern, which worked perfectly on 4 needles, but because of the mathematics required more brainpower than I was willing to exert when using only 3.

PICT0001

At this point I remembered the old yarn-and-needle stash that we had inherited from my mother-in-law (geez, that’s a lot of hyphens), particularly the dpns. Before going further, I must clarify that these needles are all older than I am; they just don’t make ’em like this anymore. After spending some time with the old needle stash and my little needle-size-thingy (what is that thing called, anyway?) I found another size 2 double-pointed needle that I could use to finish my project. I was elated! Excited! Astounded! I didn’t have to go to the yarn store and buy more needles! This would work perfectly!

More or less.

It turns out that this needle, though the right diameter, was not quite a perfect match for my needles. First, as you can probably see from the picture, it was 2 inches longer than the rest of my needles. But more importantly, it was heavier. Much heavier. My needles were modern aluminum (I think) needles, and this one was an old-fashioned steel needle. Whenever I was knitting, there was a decisive pull toward whichever side that needle was on. I had one wonky needle, and had to put up with it for the duration of an entire sock.

As a result of this experience, I have finally decided to follow Leslie’s advice in the future and invest in some long circular needles so I can try the magic loop method of sock knitting. An easily-distracted and clumsy man like myself does not need the heartbreak and anxiety of losing one of those tiny little double-pointed needles anymore.

Yes, Leslie, I guess it was a sign.

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200808 Lighthouse greenroom crI love to knit, and am not going to let anything get in my way.

There. I said it.

Coming from a man that’s supposed to be a radical statement, I guess. For me it’s simply a statement of what I love to do. You see, I didn’t really come at this from any gender-centric state of mind, and anybody who has known me for any time can tell you that I am far from “macho” (I still can’t say that word without hearing the Village People singing “Macho Man” in my head). Because of my unique perspective, I see nothing at all wrong with knitting in public. I have been known to take my knitting bag with me wherever I go. Below is a list of some of the many places this man has knit:

  • On the train
  • In restaurants while waiting for food
  • During a sermon at church
  • Staff meetings and professional development workshops
  • On a bench in an amusement park
  • On the sidewalk while walking to work
  • At the beach
  • Starbuck’s Coffee (I’ll talk about my Starbuck’s knitting friends in a later post)
  • In the lobby of the school where I teach

Some closet male knitters would wonder how I can handle the ridicule and embarrassment of coming out as a knitter. Some men are afraid of what people might say. To that I answer, “So what?” While some men are worried about maintaining their masculinity, I have the balls to knit in public.

And how have I been repaid for that? Have I been ostracized? Ridiculed? Had rotten cabbages and tomatoes thrown at me? Maybe even been forced to wear a giant red letter “K” on my chest, branding me as a male “Knitter” for the rest of my life? (Wait a minute…that sounds like a WONDERFUL sweater idea!)

By some bizarre turn of events, some miraculous twist of fates, I have received almost nothing but…

support.

That’s right. You read that correctly. And not just support. Resounding support. The kind of support that manifests in the form of strangers going out of their way to tell you how great it is to see a man knitting in public. Co-workers come up to me asking what I am working on, and are amazed by my projects. I have won serious cool points, as well as a few female knitters coming to me for advice on their knitting projects, or asking me to fix their knitted garments (this scored me an iTunes gift card from one co-worker). I think people respond to the novelty of it. A woman knitting in public is just somebody passing the time with a favorite hobby. A man knitting in public is unusual…different…COOL.

Now let me qualify all this by saying that this is NOT why I knit publicly. I am a public knitter simply because that’s where opportunities come up. I knit in church and in meetings because it helps me to self-medicate my fully-diagnosed ADHD so that I can more easily pay attention to the speaker. I knit any time I have to wait for anything because I am, by nature, a very impatient man. But as an added bonus, I find myself immersed in one of my favorite things: community. I like people, and my knitting has given me a way to connect with them.

Does that mean everybody is responsive to my knitting? Absolutely not. Some of my middle school students, dealing with the normal adolescent image struggles, think it’s downright weird. My former-linebacker-ex-military brother-in-law laughs at me, but I take much of what he says with a grain of salt anyway. These are rare exceptions to the support that I have gotten as a male public knitter, but the rest of my world more than balances these out.

So I want to urge all you closet male knitters out there to get past your fears and do something radical. Do something unique. Do something adventurous. I ask you to simply have the balls to knit in public. You may find the experience more positive and freeing than you ever imagined.

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Skipping Ahead

Okay, so I’m tired of writing about my early days as a knitter.

I’ll finish that first series of knitting blogs by very anti-climactically stating that I then made a scarf for myself based on the Harry Potter scarves from the first two movies. I decided not to use real Hogwarts colors (don’t need to brand myself a TOTAL geek) but instead was moved to knit it in forest green and black. I’ve been accused of staying a little too close to Slytherin in this choice, but I’m okay with that. I now have a 7-foot-long warm, cozy frickin’ scarf.

Since then I have been very prolific. 6 hats, 4 sweaters, and I’m currently on my 3rd pair of socks. I am a rabid knitting fanatic and am proud of it. Life is good.

I’ll write a little bit more next time, I promise.

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Her name is Amy, and though I’ve never seen her face, I love her dearly.

Now I’m not talking about a romantic love, for it would be completely creepy to be “in love” with somebody I’ve never met. And I’m not talking about the “I love her like a sister” kind of love, because that suggests a bond that has developed mutually over many years. I’m talking more about how you love somebody who anonymously gives you $83,000.00 and totally transforms your life. That is the kind of beautiful love I have for “the lady with the hands.”

knittinghelpAmy Finlay, with technical help from her husband Sheldon, runs the website knittinghelp.com and I owe my knowledge of the basics of knitting to her. With patience and ease, she shows any beginner how to do a Long Tail Cast-on or basic knit and purl stitch. And in return she asks for nothing.

Clearly she is a saint.

I sat for long periods of time at the computer with knitting needles and obnoxious variegated primary-colored yarn in my hands trying out the basics. The videos are clear close-ups of the hands from the knitter’s perspective, so you can see what it is supposed to look like in your own hands. Absolutely brilliant of her to give this perspective! After a couple of days trying things, watching the videos, trying again, and reviewing the videos, I was comfortable enough to begin my first project: a scarf for my daughter whose stash I had raided to get the yarn.

It wasn’t a particularly impressive scarf, just a basic garter stitch scarf, 18 stitches wide (though I do confess that it was 19 by the end). With Christmas coming soon, I knew my daughter would be delighted to receive the gift of her Daddy’s first knitting project, as long  as it didn’t suck.

Photo 71

And strangely enough, it came out all right. I was thrilled! My first knitted garment, and it totally didn’t suck! I was so excited that I had to make another one for my younger daughter out of some lovely bluish variegated acrylic yarn that we had around. Following the advice of a very nice lady at Stitchery Square, one of the knitting stores in Camden, Maine (yes, I finally went in) I decided to knit the second garter stitch scarf using nothing but purl stitch…back to knittinghelp.com to figure out how to purl. With Amy as my guide, I learned it well.

The result of those early projects was greatly appreciated by my daughters, and got me my start in the wonderful world of knitting. By the time I finished these two scarves, I was completely addicted. I consider this the healthiest addiction I could ever develop.

And I owe it all to Amy, “The Lady with the Hands.”

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I had need of a scarf.

I had yarn for a starter project.

I had a bizarre desire, developing into an obsession, to learn how to knit.

All I needed was some needles. As I finally got up the nerve to get serious about this idea of knitting, I went to the only place I really knew of to buy craft supplies. That’s right.

Now don’t get me wrong, there were other places to go. Just next door to my home town at the time of Rockport, Maine was the town of Camden which had not one, but two yarn stores. They were so close to each other that you could throw a rock from one and break the display window of the other, though as I now know knitters are generally way  too kind to do that.

But I couldn’t go to either of them. There were far more complicated issues.

Now, I had run the idea of knitting past my wife and though she may have thought it sounded strange she never actually said anything about said strangeness due largely to the fact that she was used to strangeness from me. After all, I do own a sewing machine AND know how to use it. But I still couldn’t, for some unexplainable reason, bring myself to admit to my strangeness so overtly as  to make a special trip out to buy needles; I needed an ulterior motive. Besides, it was about 8:00 at night and the yarn stores weren’t open.

I do not remember just what it was that I HAD to go to Wal*Mart for, but I’m sure it was something good. Since we are the type of people who rarely go to Wal*Mart, it had to have been a good one. For some reason, motor oil comes to mind. Oh, well. Whatever it was got me out of the door and on the road to that wonderful purveyor of cheap plastic Chinese-manufactured goods.

By this time my obsession had led me to do enough research to have some idea of what size needles I needed. I had found a pattern for a basic garter stitch (whatever that is) scarf on size 10 needles, so this is what I sought. I walked through the door and headed straight for the back corner where my sewing experience had taught me all of the craft supplies were. “Look for yarn,” I told myself, “and it will lead you to needles.”

And there they were. Deep metallic blue 14″ size 10 needles (now prominently displayed in my header photo). The heavens opened. I heard angels singing. I got goosebumps all over my arms. I had found them. With a strange, greedy thrill I picked up those needles and held them in my hands. These needles were the passageway to my new hobby and my new scarf.

I picked up the motor oil, or whatever the other item was,  and high-tailed it out of there. I could hardly wait to begin. As I drove home I kept getting distracted by thoughts of yarn and needles between my fingers.

I walked through the door, brandishing my new knitting needles, and declared proudly that I was ready to learn to knit.

My wife smiled and nodded, with raised eyebrows, and simply said “Okay.”

Tomorrow: Special thanks to the lady with the hands.

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Seriously, that’s how I got started on this strange and twisted journey into the world of fiber addiction. My story is probably not unlike many others out there.

It was late November 2007 and another Maine winter was on the horizon. As a singer, I had struggled all through the past 5 winters with keeping my neck toasty but none of our scarves were long enough. Do you know what I mean? Have you ever had the annoying sensation of your scarf coming unwrapped from your neck in the middle of a snowstorm?

I was determined to not let this happen again.

Yarn was not an issue in the initial stage. Thanks to my daughter’s combined traits of pack-rat and crafter, the child held on to many things because she “may be able to make something out of them someday.” This is where I found a hideous ball of primary-colored vareigated acrylic yarn. I know, it doesn’t sound anything like sexy, but that’s okay since the first project is never anything like sexy.

Now before I go any further, let me just say that I thought about this for several weeks before I confessed my compulsion to my wife. I had already figured out what yarn I would experiment with long before I got up the nerve to go look for needes. I knew it wouldn’t be the yarn I’d make my scarf out of, but maybe I could make a practice scarf for my quirky daughter out of this quirky yarn. I had thought this through for a while, to the point where I just knew I would have to do something about it. I could practically feel those needles in my hands as I thought about this at embarrassing hours of the day.

And then, finally, it was time to get some needles. But that is a story for another day.

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