Archive for September, 2009

public domain image--"Girl Knitting" by Walter Langley

public domain image--"Girl Knitting" by Walter Langley

I am currently taking a course through my school district that focuses on 21st century skills. Using Web 2.0 tools such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, and social networks, we can revolutionize the way we teach, and how students learn, making them more competetive in a 21st century global society. I am excited to be part of this cohort of 30 teachers, and looking forward to seeing how my classroom changes from what I learn.

But as I read what others in my class are writing, and as I think about my own life, I can’t help thinking that as we look to the future, we can still learn a lot from the past. As a knitter, I have joined a resurgence in the learning of older skills through new technologies. Knitting blogs, online patterns, and a wonderful community called Ravelry (username “aclark” if you want to find me), have shown how the past can walk hand-in-hand with new ideas. Knitting isn’t the only skill that has seen growth thanks to the internet, either. I’ve lately begun the hobby of homebrewing, another older skill that is enjoying growth at this time. Anybody anywhere can order homebrewing supplies from a large number of companies. Somehow in this modern age, where we’re bombarded with information about everything under the sun (in some cases whether or not we want it), people are finding joy in making something with their own two hands. Something tangible. Something real.

And it’s not just the making of things that’s important, but the connection with people. I readily admit that I’m way too addicted to facebook and twitter, but they just don’t replace face-to-face friendships. I found my knitting group online, but that was just a listing. We meet every Wednesday at a nearby Starbuck’s to knit and talk about life. I wouldn’t trade these friends for the world. Yes, I’m the only man in the group, but that has never been an issue (though occasionally people from outside the group see me as a novelty).  

But it’s real.

It’s tangible.

It’s community.

In the fast-paced, rapidly-evolving 21st century, where everything new is obsolete before it hits the shelves, old skills and strong communities live on. For this I am thankful.


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Au Naturale

I think I’m becoming a yarn snob.

In my beginning days, I knitted with plenty of whatever yarn I could get cheap, which usually meant Red Heart bargain yarn from Wal-Mart. At least my first 6 projects were made from acrylic yarn, the same type of yarn that my mommy crochets with. And there is definitely value in using acrylic yarn. It’s inexpensive, easy to wash (just throw it into the washer) and readily available…most big box stores, such as the aforementioned Wal-Mart, A.C. Moore, and Michael’s, carry plenty of acrylic yarn.

But I’ve since tried nice wool yarn and it has spoiled me.

I like the way it slides through the needles so easily. I love the texture of a good wool yarn. And don’t even get me started on Alpaca yarn…absolute fiber heaven!!

But acrylic yarn just is. It’s yarn that just exists. Nothing really special about it. The colors are consistent, the thickness completely even.

Last April I completed a sweater for my sister using Jared Flood’s “Smokin'” pattern from “Son of Stitch ‘n’ Bitch”. Being fairly sure that my sister would not be likely to hand wash a garment, I used acrylic yarn. It knitted up just fine, and my sister loved it. When I decided to make a sweater for myself, I picked up the extra skein from my sister’s sweater, a humongous 8 oz. skein of Bernat Super Value yarn, and started.

I hated it.

It was so sticky to knit with (I had forgotten about that), and it was too consistent. I wanted yarn with character, with flaws, with little bits of natural imperfection. I was knitting with plastic yarn and I was not happy.

Aside from the aesthetics of yarn choice, I’m also starting to feel the need to align my knitting with my other personal beliefs, those of sticking as close to nature as possible. I am becoming more eco-conscious as I journey through life, and knitting with plastic yarn just feels wrong to me. Yes, it costs more money to use wool or alpaca yarn, but it just feels more real. It’s like eating organic food or biking to work instead of driving. It just makes sense to me.

I do not look down upon those who consistently use acrylic yarn, and I know that people have many reasons for knit or crochet with it. I respect that. But as for me, I am making a choice to go “au naturale”.

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Perfection is Elusive

MorganI have given a name to my pain and it is Morgan.

Morgan is the name of a hat, not a person (though it may have  been named after a person. Who knows?). It all started when I was looking through “Son of Stitch and Bitch” and found a nice-looking English-style Driving Cap like one I had when I was a teenager. I loved that hat, and was excited about finding a pattern that would allow me to knit one.

And then I read the pattern. Crap. It’s crochet. I couldn’t crochet if my life depended on it.

But this led me to a search for a knit pattern for the same style of hat. And that led me, via Ravelry, to Morgan. I do love this hat, and every time I wear it I am showered with compliments.

“You made that?”

“Wow. I love that hat!”

“You should make those and sell them!”

I think Knitty would take issue with that last one.

On the whole it was a fairly enjoyable knit, but it had its painful moments. Things like “[Insert left needle into back loop of the st which is 3 rows below next st on needle; k this loop together with next st on needle] for every st to end of round. 145 sts.” Yikes. I called this the Endless Row.

But it turned out well. So well, in fact, that a co-worker threatened to steal it. Of course her head, full of thick hair, is considerably larger than mine, so my hat would never fit her. Believe me, she tried. Several times. And then a plan started to form. After receiving a really nice-looking skein of yarn (green worsted-weight Encore) through a barter (see “The Art of Bartering” post) I decided to knit one for my co-worker. I had forgiven her for wanting to steal my hat, since she is just about as nice a person as you’d ever want to meet. Since her head is bigger, I used size 8 needles rather than the prescribed size 6.

All went well on this rather large hat. I made it through the painful Endless Row and all looked good. That is, until I had that sickening, stomach-churning realization: there’s no way this is enough yarn, and I don’t know where to find more. I had a decision to make. Do I find and buy another skein of yarn for the 20 feet or so I was short, or do I try to fudge it? I chose the latter.

“If I delete the last 8 rows or so, it won’t make THAT much of a difference.” This is what I told myself. Strangely enough, I was actually right. Well, kind of. Until I cast off too tightly for this hat to ever find its way onto my head, let alone the larger cranium that this hat was supposed to fit. So after weeks of letting it lie, afraid to touch it again, I ripped out the cast-off and 2 rows before cast-off and then I re-cast-off much more loosely so that it would fit (for those keeping track, I am now 10 rows shy of the full pattern).

And it worked.

And she loved it.

And I learned something. Knitting is not exact science. It’s art. It’s craft. It’s about rolling with what comes your way and adapting as necessary. Creativity is not just about making something new. It also involves finding unique solutions to the problems that come your way, so that nobody can even tell that there ever was a problem.

It won’t be perfect, because perfection is elusive. And that’s okay.

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I would like to apologize to all of you who wait with bated breath for my each and every blog post (thanks, mom and the Starbuck’s Knit Chicks). I  know it’s been a while, but school is starting up and therefore life has gotten crazy. For those who don’t know, I’m a middle school choral director with a very large choral program that I inherited from the previous teacher just a year ago. This means lots of work due to sheer numbers of students and the fact that I’m still trying to make this thing my own. On top of that, I spent a bit of time at the end of the summer reading and preparing for a class I’m taking this year that has a reputation for being all-encompassing.

So that’s my lame excuse for not blogging in a while. I am very sorry and I promise I will try to post at least once a week. If it’s any consolation, the knitting has also felt the pinch. I did knit during the obligatory “Welcome Back” teacher pep rally last Monday, but until yesterday hadn’t picked up needles since then. So I guess I should also apologize to my knitting bag for neglecting it, too.

My wife says I apologize too much. I guess she’s right.

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