If it were any other sport

Are you a person who makes personal resolutions at the beginning of the year? I often am, this year included. (Being more frugal is up there, and to wit I have not purchased any yarn since Boxing Day, I’m holding up pretty well so far, thanks to ye olde stash.) If your resolutions involved any kind of new regimen which is now, 6 weeks into the year, starting to show signs of flagging, I humbly suggest knitting fitness as something to bring into your routine for a late winter boost.

A lot of us make it through winter with a pretty high productivity level. Knitting is a survival tactic both for the process and the results: we get warm things to wear outside in the cold, and we get a warm and colourful hobby to keep us busy inside when the outside world is the opposite of warm and colourful. If you’re the sort of knitter who also makes a lot of gifts during the winter season, your level of activity has probably given you some aches and strains at a few points, which is a good reminder to take knitting seriously as a physical activity.

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I am of course, not a medical professional, nor do I play one on television. If your knitting is actually causing you real pain, please consult a doctor. (I actually had to do this once after I developed tennis elbow from knitting too much. I adjusted my form a little bit and made sure to take breaks more frequently as a result, but my knitting was out for the count for a little while and I was less than thrilled.) I can, however, contribute some recommendations learned over ten years of pretty dedicated knitting.

1. Take breaks.
If you’re a person who can’t go more than fifteen minutes without checking your smartphone, you’ve got this one locked down, because you’re probably putting down your knitting to do that. But this can be harder to remind yourself to do if, say, you’ve got a weekend free of any scheduled responsibilities other than watching Netflix and knitting continuously while the next episode of whatever you’re watching gets queued up automatically. (Hypothetically speaking of course. I mean, maybe someone could end up rewatching the entire series of Gilmore Girls and X-Files back to back because they’re there, not that I would know of course ::coughcough:: )

The important thing is to give your hands a break on a frequent basis. I’ve seen recommendations to do this every 15 minutes on up to every 30-45 minutes. Put down your work, stand up, and let your circulation return to normal for a couple of minutes.

2. Stretch.
If we were talking about any other physical activity that gets repeated for at least an hour a day every day, there would be whole magazine articles (if not whole magazines full stop) devoted to helping you perform this activity with strength and endurance and without injury. But because it’s knitting we too often take it for granted as a passive leisure activity rather than than something that takes a continuous toll on our bodies.

So, when you’re taking those breaks, pause to stretch out your hands, arms, and shoulders. Knitting is almost a full-body experience, so while stretching and massaging your hands is important, don’t stop there. Craftsy has a good post on hand stretches, this blog post has some great focus on the forearm and wrist, and this excerpt from Pam Allen and Shannon Okey’s For Dummies book has a good set of stretches for both hand and shoulders. The wrist exercises on this Livestrong post are focussed on tennis elbow, but are equally good for knitting strain as well.

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3. Enhance your Exercise

I’m a right-handed knitter as well as being right-handed generally. As a result I find that the arm muscles on my right side are stronger than my left side, but the right shoulder is weaker. This was something I discovered pretty acutely last year while I was working with a trainer at the gym on a weekly basis. As a commuter I joined the ranks of gym-goers because it was the only way I could make regular physical exercise happen during the week, and I started doing the trainer sessions to help me with strength training to support my running. I also discovered that other imbalances in my strength really were due to knitting, and as a result my trainer gave me exercises to focus on building strength one side at a time to try to correct it. Dumbell workouts are my friend now.

There was also a time when I wasn’t running and yoga was my dominant form of physical activity, and it helped me build a moderate amount of shoulder and arm strength that in turn helped me keep up several hours of daily knitting. If you’re a regular yoga practitioner you probably agree with this. While yoga isn’t as dominant in my current exercise routine, I do a few minutes of it after running to keep it in the mix. As a knitter, I think if you were to do even a simple routine a few times a week that included a couple of sun salutations, downward dog, triangle (ohhh that is my favourite for the shoulders), cow face pose (or at least the arms, with modification if you can’t reach all the way), and some kind of twist pose, you would be doing pretty darned well.

In other words, whatever your regular exercise routine is, if you think of it in part as cross training for your knitting, you’ll be well situated to keep doing both.

And, if you do sustain a knitting-related injury that is bad enough to need you to take time off, you have my utmost sympathies and I hope you are using the time to enjoy all those other hobbies like reading or shovelling popcorn into your face, that continuous knitting tends to get in the way of.

Stay fit, knitter friends! Until next time at least ;)

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When you knit things, they get knitted

This week, just as I was starting to feel the glumness of having the same set of knitting projects keeping me company for the last 6 weeks, I turned a corner and now there might still be hope again. This might not look like much, but that right there is proof that I have reached the armhole decreases on the back of Ossel, which is pretty amazing to me right now. This means I am in actual striking distance of starting the front piece, which in addition to being the last piece is also a piece with cabling on it and therefore more interest-holding than plain moss stitch. It’s almost as though I planned it that way – oh wait I did. Thank goodness, too.

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Also next weekend, which is a long weekend both here in Ontario and in the U.S., one of my DC knitter pals is coming to visit and hang out. Normally I do this visit in the other direction and go there, but forces of budgeting are keeping me closer to home for the next little while. And since I would normally treat holiday weekends with the excuse of finishing a project to wear or starting a new project to knit, part of me is starting to wonder if I could actually get the entire front piece knitted in the next week.

I am pretty sure that would be theoretically possible but not practically so – but in any event it is giving me a bit more momentum to keep going and get ‘er done. New projects are exciting to contemplate.

Happy knitting this weekend, knitter friends!

 

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Pattern: Ossel, by Allison Green for Twist Collective
Yarn: Cascade 220 Heathers, #8401 Silver Grey

 

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Wash day

Occasionally in the course of blogging about knitting-related things, I get asked how I wash the things I knit. After about ten years of producing knitted things that get worn, I’ve gotten a bit of practice washing them (and I do indeed like to wash the things I wear), and actually it turns out that this is not a terribly complicated thing to do. The internet is full of advice on things like this, but here’s what I do.

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First, I’ve stopped bothering to pre-sort my laundry into knitted things and non-knitted things. I realized that what would happen is that I would shove the non-knitted (i.e. “regular”) laundry into the washing machine first, and then by the time it came around to deal with the knitted stuff it was all too easy to get lazy and post-pone it another week. Which you can get away with, of course, if you’ve got enough socks and sweaters, but it does pile up. Instead I sort things at the time of doing the laundry, and knitted things get put into the sink with a dose of Soakwash or Eucalan. The nice thing about Soak and similar products is that they are intended to be used literally to soak your knitted things. You don’t need to wash and rinse, you really do just squeeze it into the sink (or tub, depending on how much you’re washing) and let it foam up, and dunk your sweaters and socks in and let them sit for a bit. Then you drain the sink and squeeze out the water.

Once I’ve squeezed out as much of the water as I possibly can, I let the items air dry on a drying rack in the laundry area. For sweaters I lay them as flat as I can. I really do need to up my game on this, and I’m embarrassed to admit that it was only just last year I learned that such sweater drying systems as this one exist in the world, and now I want one.
Waiting for the stuff to dry still takes a day or two, but again, at least I’ve got backup stuff to wear.

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I did used to save up all my socks and run them with my other delicates in the washing machine on the delicates cycle, but I found that they started to felt a little bit over time, and my attrition rate of handknit socks went up too quickly for my liking so I stopped doing that. Your mileage may vary, of course, but after a few mishaps with washing machines over time, I’ve stopped using them for my handknits if I can at all help it.

Related to this is, of course, the issue of ‘pilling’, and I wrote a post about that a couple of years ago that you might find useful if this is the first time you’ve happened upon this issue. Rest assured that you will most likely encounter pilling on your garments the more you wear them, and that even if you are very gentle and careful and methodical about your washing, the pilling will still happen – probably in the same places on the same kinds of garments. It’s not even necessarily a result of how good the yarn is, but just a fact of life when it comes to wearing things. Your commercial knits will pill too.

If I’m really in a bind and I need something to dry fast (like if I’m sending off a design sample for a deadline), I will lay it out on blocking mats in front of a fan overnight and that usually takes care of it. But if I can help it I like things to air dry.

Do you have favourite tools or tips for washing your knits? If you’ve ever had a mishap, no doubt you’ve ended up with quite a few best practices of your own through learned experience – it’s a badge of knitter honour.

Happy knitting this Monday!

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Sweater weather

I looked at the calendar the other day and realized February is next week, which seems strange, and yet the holidays feel very far away at the same time so I suppose those two things go hand in hand. It also turns out that if you do continuously knit away on a project, it will get knitted, which also requires passage of time, go figure?

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I may yet knit myself out of Moss Stitch Island, which is a prospect that thrill me to no end. My Ossel dress now has more than half of its back done, and while it is entirely possible that I over-estimated how much length to add/modify before starting the waist shaping (this is worked bottom up, and I’m 5’9″), if I end up with a slightly higher waisted dress I am still good with that. I think once I get the front started I might find a new gear in the momentum. Maybe I’ll even get to wear this before spring? I’m dreaming big.

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New Pullover Design is also moving along, and has both a back and most of a front which is extremely exciting. I’m especially looking forward to having this done because it is a wool/silk blend from Julie Asselin and the silk content is going to make it that extra little bit warmer in the cold months.

There’s a couple more months of sweater weather around here and I plan to take advantage of it! I hope you’re able to do the same, if you’ve got snow outside of your door.

Happy knitting this week!

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Pattern: Ossel, by Allison Green for Twist Collective
Yarn: Cascade 220 Heathers, #8401 Silver Grey

Pattern: In progress, by me
Yarn: Julie Asselin Leizu Worsted, in ‘moussaillon’ grey/purple

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Whirlwind weekend

I spent last weekend in the company of many other knitters at the Vogue Knit Live workshops in New York City, and it was an enjoyable whirlwind. I was at one of the very first of these weekends four years ago in New York, and my fellow knitter friend Lisa suggested we go again. Knitting tourism weekends definitely break up the winter monotony pretty well. The part where I endeavoured to share New York tourist sites with what felt like every single other human being on the planet (Saturday of a long weekend, heh) was perhaps less adviseable, but on the other hand I did get to see the Met and do some pretty significant city walking. Also, I must express my admiration for the New York institution of weekend brunch, and would like to adopt this practice into my life more frequently. (Fried things and boozy drinks before noon? Or all day? Why am I not doing this every weekend.)

IPad for Knitting Design

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I was lucky enough to have 2 classes on Friday with Norah Gaughan, who I have never met but whose designs I have admired for a long time. I took her iPad for Knitting Design class in the morning (there we are all blurrily learning from her which apps to download while using the free hotel lobby WiFi – protip, Sketchbook Express is delightful), and Modern Sweater Styles in the afternoon. The timing could not have been better, as I have more time on my hands to spend on design work (unemployment will do that for you) at the moment, so I now have a few new ideas to work on. Norah is a great teacher.

I also took a class in top-down sweater knitting with Kristina McGowan, who is also delightful, and I may in fact be inspired to knit more than one top-down sweater as a result. Bottom-up is still my comfort zone, but I would like to stretch my skills a bit and am hoping to put to use what we learned in these classes in the coming year.

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Death Becomes Her

Chelsea Market

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I imagine living in a Vogue Knit Live city (LA and Chicago have also been frequent hosts) must be a pretty lucky situation for knitters. But of course learning can happen any time any where, so I am also going to make sure I don’t ignore the technique books I have on my shelf. Keeping your skills fresh is so important.

I hope your Thursday has some knitting in it! Until next time, friends.

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Moss stitch island

This weekend I triumphantly finished the sleeves on my Ossel dress in progress, which I made sure to complete before doing the body. I like getting the sleeves out of the way first if I can, because it’s a nice safe re-indication of gauge if for some reason my swatch was way off, and then when you later finish the body you can actually feel the accomplishment of being almost done, rather than the sagging realization that you’re only about 2/3 done or so.

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I started on the back next, partly because it’s all moss stitch and no cabling, so that means the more interesting piece (the front, with cables all down the centre) will up on deck at the time when I am most likely to be flagging due to boredom. I also like doing the back first because, again, in the event of a gauge mishap, it is easier to recover from a too-small back (you just make the front a bit bigger – proportionally there is often likely to be more of you on the front than on the back) than a too-small front, so here I am.

I’m a few inches in to the back, which on a sweater would normally be close to starting the decreases to shape the waist. Because this is a dress and not a sweater, though, I have about a zillion more inches (approximately) to go before I start the decreases for the waist, so I guess I’ll be here on moss stitch island for a while.

Good thing I’ve got some travel knitting time coming up! I am lucky enough to be headed to Vogue Knitting Live NYC this weekend for workshops and a bit of tourist time, and am glad I booked it months ago for a New Year’s surprise. I just have to, uh, pack. And knit some swatches for homework. Minor details, details.

Stay warm and cozy, knitter friends!

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Pattern: Ossel, by Allison Green for Twist Collective
Yarn: Cascade 220 Heathers, #8401 Silver Grey

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Knitting as usual

The first week of January is coming to an end and it’s odd how quickly the holidays have faded – it feels like it should be much farther along than January 9th! But I’m quite all right with having more knitting time ahead in the month, because I’d like to finish something new at the beginning of 2015, and there are no shortage of things to work on. In addition to considering some Unfinished Projects cast aside in 2014 and (gulp) earlier, I’ve got other design ideas kicking around in my head that have been there for a few months.

At least one of them is moving forward though, as the swatches from last week are starting to take shape in actual knitted form. I’m enjoying how this is coming together so far, and am planning some time with it this weekend for sure.

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My Pi Shawl is also still hovering patiently in the background. I took it out for a spin to a viewing of The Imitation Game last weekend (and later managed to recover some dropped stitches done in the last few minutes of dark theatre knitting, phew), so if I can make it out to some more flicks pre-Oscars then I think this might have a shot at being done by the spring. Pi Shawls, you can’t knit just one, am I right?

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I hope you’re getting some nice knitting time in for you as well this coming weekend – especially if you have a lot of holiday knitting to recover from. Happy Friday!

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Pattern: In progress, by me
Yarn: Julie Asselin Leizu Worsted, in ‘moussaillon’ grey/purple

Pattern: Pi Shawl (“July shawl”, instructions with many variations in Knitter’s Almanac by Elizabeth Zimmerman)
Yarn: Miss Babs Kathadin, colourway ‘holy moly’
Needles: 4.5mm/US #7 circulars

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