Monthly Archives: November 2010

Tangentially related to knitting

There are some days when, despite having a blog devoted almost entirely to knitting, I come across something else that I can’t help but want to show off; like finding a cool thing and needing someone to run to and say “LOOK, I found this cool thing,” because finding it makes your day better.

Sometimes those things are fannish videos edited together from clips of Harry Potter films.

(Note: also includes clips from the most recent film).

I love fannish offerings like this that distill the original text into the very essence of what makes it great in the first place – in this case the friendship and inherent acts of everyday bravery that have grown these characters into not just admirable young people but admirable role models in general.

Stories like the Harry Potter series are powerful because you know that as you turn one page at a time or watch one scene after the next, there are millions of other people doing the same thing. And it makes me smile to know (and then have confirmation later), that the thousands (millions?) of knitters watching these films are parsing out all the beautiful knitted garments worn by the characters, and/or reverse-engineering patterns to make them. Heck, I’ve got my own hand-knitted Ravenclaw scarf as testament to that.

I don’t think it’s a surprise that knitters have started to gather around popular stories like this, and expressing their fan appreciation through their knitting. I like that the same thing can be said about knitting, if such a bold statement can be allowed – that knitting one stitch after the next means that you belong to a group of people who are doing the same thing, putting one stitch after another, possibly with a certain amount of bravery in a world that expects you to get your socks and sweaters from Wal-Mart, not through a laborious but knowledge-dependent and possibly community-building process of handcraft over a period of weeks and months.

Here’s to you, knitters – fannish and otherwise!


Filed under fandom, fearless knitting

Speaking of Elizabeth Zimmerman (Book Review)

I’ve been doing a bit of Elizabeth Zimmerman knitting lately, so I was extra supportive of having a look at an EZ commemorative edition for a book review. The folks at Dover sent me over a review copy of the Knitter’s Almanac, revived in full-colour hard back form for a fall 2010 release, on the occasion of her 100th birthday (or would have been 100th, were she alive today). It’s a lovely edition, and worth considering, I would say, particularly in the gift-giving season that quickly approaches.


The patterns in here are identical to those found in the original edition of the Knitter’s Almanac (published 1974), and include a few favourites like the Pi Shawl (that I’m currently working on and starting to see the end of), mitred mittens, and even a pattern for knitted leggings (or, “nether garment”) which in some moments I consider casting on for because seriously, hand-knitting leggings. Totally what winter ordered up. (Possibly also: extreme motivation to never gain weight and maintain current size forever and ever.)

There are a few new things in this edition, most notably the inclusion of colour photographs (many new altogether) of finished items, which is a remarkable change from the black & white photos and might well help many knitters view these patterns in modern context. Another is the re-printing of the adapted free online pattern for the “February Lady Sweater,” which you might find helpful in print form just in case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t encountered one of the thousands of online knitters who have already knitted one of these.

I came only recently to the discovery of who Elizabeth Zimmerman was and what her contributions to the knitting world were like. My own knitting life has happened in a world which did not include her living presence. And so what I like the most about this revised edition, is the inclusion of a written preface by Meg Swansen (Elizabeth Zimmerman’s daughter), an Introduction by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (The Yarn Harlot), and a letter to Elizabeth Zimmerman by Barbara Walker, both in praise of Elizabeth and her writing. Because of course, she wasn’t just writing patterns, she was writing to knitters about bringing confidence and self-assertion to their knitting lives.

So while the book itself has been glitzed up a bit in this commemorative edition, in a snazzier and sturdier hard-back edition, the purpose is entirely the same as it always has been. I rather like how Stephanie describes it in her introduction: “My own love of knitting and my belief that it was clever and worthy was reflected in those pages. I believed then, and I believe now that knitting is so much more than it appears, so much more than the sum of its parts.”

Thanks, Elizabeth! And happy 100th birthday.


Filed under book review

Hit or Mess

As I continue on these simultaneous and co-dependent paths of Knitting Things and Also Designing Things That Other People Might Want To Knit Too, I am learning that sometimes there is a fine line between creativity and frustration. Sometimes I get hit with five ideas at once and I love them all to bits and pieces and want to cuddle them and make everyone love them as much as i do, but then I don’t have time to act on all of them at first and then the ideas Must Wait and then I get Impatient. Other times I find myself having nothing to knit that does not involve making a set of decisions before progressing forward, or ripping out and re-doing, and the Creative Process starts to look a lot like Walking Around With A Black Raincloud Over My Head. (Or, that could just be today’s weather. Whichever).

This weekend was such an occasion/process for me. This month I assigned myself the task of knitting a Fair Isle Yoke cardigan from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s instructions, knowing that it involved relatively quick worsted weight knitting and that I had the yarn in my stash all ready to go, and therefore that this should be pretty easy as far as my knitting life was concerned. But of course, because my knitting brain tends to reject things that seem too easy, I also assigned myself the task of inserting a fair isle panel near the cuffs on the sleeves, even though this wasn’t in the original instructions. I was also motivated to do this in the interest of saving yarn – I have a limited amount of the dark brown (main colour) in use for the body and sleeves, and so inserting other colours onto the sleeves is a way of extending the lifespan of the dark brown skeins.


Of course, this also meant choosing fair isle motifs to go on the sleeves, AND front-loading the decision about what colours to use for said motifs (rather than waiting until after the sleeves and body were done, and making said decision after having started the yoke). I procrastinated on this step like CRAZY. I let the sleeve cuff sit there, barely started, for a week. I gave myself 9 different shades to choose from, even though I only needed 4-5, which of course only made it harder for myself. And then when you add in the voice that says “make it better, make it more than that, dummy,” even simple tasks become challenging. I got there in the end, after a few tries and after convincing myself that it really is totally OK if it’s something fairly simple and not seven different kinds of complicated, but truthfully, I probably wouldn’t have agonized over it so much if I wasn’t also agonizing over other things.


Take this wee mitten cuff, as Exhibit #2. It’s almost half a mitt, even, and I was really enjoying working the motif on it, and I also rather like the colour. But the more I kept knitting it the more I started to re-think it, and am not entirely convinced of the stitch count for the fit, the complexity of the motif, or even the matchup between the pattern and the colourway.

So, another thing that feels like a mess is going to get ripped and restarted, and I’ll start again and it’s going to be better the 2nd time around, but by the end of Sunday I was really starting to wish I had some knitting to turn to that didn’t involve the entire fate of the project being left to my decisions. And then, I realized that I do! I do have such a project. I have the Pi Shawl. Which is stockinette and easy, and, um, also now in the five-hundred-and-mumblety-mumblety number of stitches phase.


And now I’m not sure if I don’t actually prefer the mess.
Go figure.


Filed under design, elizabeth zimmerman, fair isle

The Crazy In Progress

Over the last few weeks I’ve had the chance to go back to working on a little set of designs that I’ve had on the brain since the summer, and have been able to sink into properly now that the knits of the summer and early fall are finished. It’s going to be a set of 3 mittens/gloves, in a sort of mini-collection, all using Indigodragonfly merino/cashmere/nylon in different weights.

All I really needed to go on were Kim’s colourway names. This project idea lodged itself in my brain back in May at the Toronto Knitter’s Frolic, when I picked up a skein of the MCN sport/dk in a deep dark purple called ‘Not Another Teen Vampire Movie,’ and then a little later on when I snagged a skein of the MCN sock in a deep dark red called ‘Happy Goth.’ Clearly, gothic somethingorothers needed to be made with these.


So then I emailed up Kim and said “hey, you know if I had a skein of the MCN worsted to complete this set, we could have a nice little gothic mini-collection going.” And she said “Oh yes, something dark and blue/green, maybe for Oz. Definitely not Jacob. Oz.” And so these mittens are coming along nicely in his colourway labelled “Hootenanny – Well it’s chock full of hoot, just a little bit of nanny.”

We may, in fact, be a little bit crazy about this. But I’m willing to bet we are not the only knitters who walk around with characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the brain, and it works just fine as a design inspiration, so no matter. I’m still mulling over the final pattern names, but in my head, they correspond alternately to Drusilla, Oz, and Willow (for the vampire, werewolf, and witch contingents). And if nothing else, well. Delicious merino/cashmere gloves and mitts for all. I am enjoying this little project and am aiming for a winter release when they’re all finished. I just love knitting gloves, they are so satisfying in the end, and mittens are just as satisfying while also being quicker to knit.

In other news, I’ve finished the stockinette portion of my Elizabeth Zimmerman fair isle yoke cardigan, and am now pondering the sleeves, and the diversion of placing some colourwork panels down near the cuff. It’s never a dull moment here at Knitting To Stay Sane, I tell you what.

I hope your warm and wintery knits are going well! Stay warm.


Filed under design

Book Review: Aran Knitting

I’ve got to keep up a better pace than this, folks. I’ve got 3 more books on the shelf for reviews and at the rate I’m going you’ll be hearing about the last of them right as the new batch of spring publications are released. (Note to self: stop letting paying work get in the way of your knitting time. Where are your priorities?)

I was debating which one to talk about next, and reached for my copy of the new and expanded edition of Aran Knitting, sent to me by the fine folks at Dover Publishing. It’s a beautiful book, make no mistake.


This book is two things: A collection of Aran-style knitting patterns, and a history/explanation of the origins of Aran knitting. It’s also been flying off the shelves, as from what I hear, my fave Toronto shop The Purple Purl is already on their second ordering. There are good reasons why this is the case. The patterns are stunning. Originally released in 1997 and then allowed to go out of print, this is one of Alice Starmore’s pattern collections that is highly coveted. I myself am thrilled at the prospects of being able to make my own St. Brigid (Ravelry link), for example, along with a few of the others. There is a new one called Eala Bhan which is done in fingering weight and looks beautiful as well as stylish, and – unlike the other sweaters – uses the cables to include shaping and flare at the waist. In general, all patterns follow the Aran style of symmetrically placed panels of cables, knitted flat.

It’s the sort of collection that will be very much at home in a knitter’s library, regardless of whether or not you plan to cast on for any of the projects right now. The time will come (at least, it often does for me, and I hope I’m not alone) when you’ll need a selection of adventurous cabled knits to choose from, patterns that you can really sink into with skill and tradition. The collection in Aran Knitting includes mostly sweaters, but also a few rectangular shawls and hats. A few of the sweaters are styled to be unisex pieces, which adds some versatility.

Starmore also devotes a few dozen pages in the first chapters of the book to a history of Aran knitting, which I suspect is her true concern with this publication and re-publication. It’s a presentation of very detailed research in which she explains how Aran knitting tradition is rooted in 20th Century processes of production in the Scottish isles, and is emphatically not the same as ‘celtic’ knitting (which, incidentally, she wants you to know is something she herself established through another of her publications). There’s more to it than that, of course, and it’s worth consideration. She very much wants to set the record straight on the origins of Aran sweater knitting, so much so that I am not sure whether she is more concerned with people having this knowledge, so much as she wants to be the one to explain it to you.

I feel some sympathy for her at this point, because although she is breathlessly trying to convince her readers that Aran knitting and Celtic knitting are emphatically NOT the same thing, I can predict pretty quickly that this misconception is still going to persist. Partly because, quite simply, many people will read the book primarily for the patterns alone, and only skim the surface of the historical writing; The patterns are beautiful and are worth the price of the book in and of themselves. Also, in the end I am not sure she is helped by the format of this book – the patterns and historical discussion are two almost entirely separate pieces, and the knitter who doesn’t read the first half will eventually get to the section of the patterns titled “Celtic Designs,” and conclude that if a book called “Aran Knitting” includes a section called “Celtic Designs”, then surely Celtic knitting and Aran knitting are directly related.

(Also, I’m a geographer and not once in this book does there ever appear a map pointing out where any of this history happens. Respect the power of maps, yo, they help.)

A few technical notes on the patterns – I fully believe that they are well edited, as Alice Starmore’s reputation for precision and detail well precedes her, and the charts are excellent. Sizing is definitely skewed towards slimmer bodies wearing these sweaters with several inches of ease, so women with bust sizes above about 42″ or so will need to look into modification in order to complete them. And finally, all the patterns are written using Alice Starmore’s specific yarns, and clear specs on the yarn (i.e. yardage per weight) are not included in the book, so if you want to substitute yarns for the project, account for that few minutes of thought process to match up your yarns to intended gauge and so forth.

I hope that Starmore’s books remain in publication. As collections of patterns they are worth keeping active in knitters’ imaginations, and as sources of knowledge they will do very little good sitting gathering dust in scarce few libraries and archives. Knowledge needs to circulate, otherwise it will be lost.


Filed under book review

Now or Never

So, I’ve been poring over my Elizabeth Zimmerman books for what seems like ages. (For real – there was a while where they were bedtime or bathtime reading. It’s sort of like knitting without actually doing any knitting.) About a month and a half ago I finally caved and started a Pi Shawl, because I had all manner of laceweight yarn kicking around to start something with, and I couldn’t stand waiting it out any more. It’s coming along, albeit slower now that I’m at the longest rounds that are over 500 sts.

The other project I’ve been coveting is the Fair Isle yoked sweater, with instructions in the Knitting Around book. I’ve also had the yarn kicking around, and knew straight out that I want mine to be a cardigan (steeking involved, but of course! mmm, delicious steeks), but have been stalling out due to other ongoing projects. So I told myself I would start it in November, and give myself a month. Tons of kntitters choose November as “National Sweater Knitting Month” or NaSweKniMo, a la “National Novel Writing Month” or NaNoWriMo. Sometimes it’s the deadline that gets things done.


Well, I didn’t start it right on November 1st, but November 3rd was good enough, and I’m a few inches into the body. It’s a lot of stockinette right at first, which is a bit hard to keep interesting, but on the other hand it’s good because this gives me a bit of stalling time to figure out exactly which colours I’ll use on the yoked part. I’ve got lots of options, just haven’t settled on the specific order yet.

I love knitting. You’re never short of fun decisions, I tell ya.


A few others on Twitter are following along with their own Elizabeth Zimmerman project for the month of November – come join in if you like! We’re using the hashtag #EZnovember and are entirely at our own whims otherwise.

Happy knitting this weekend!


Filed under elizabeth zimmerman, sweaters