Knitting the long road

After 1 year and 2 months of on and off again knitting, I’ve finally finished my Churhmouse Poncho. The intention to knit this poncho was set 4.5 years ago when I first began to knit. I purchased yarn, Rowan Tweed and was ready to go but I didn’t cast on immediately.

The Easy Folded Poncho is a perfect example of what has become a trend in my knitting practice. The poncho is fabulous project for a new beginner. That’s why I chose it. But it also is just a giant rectangle of stockinette stitch. Knit on the right side and purl on the wrong side, for 50 inches. That’s over 4 feet! So while I had the yarn, I never cast it on because other more shiny, challenging and exciting designs stepped in front of the line. And that Rowan Tweed eventually became a Junegrass Pullover. Many other yarns auditioned but I still didn’t cast on.

I tend to find a pattern that I just have to knit, purchase the yarn and then….I don’t cast on. Maybe the yarn is better for a different project? Maybe the sweater won’t suit my body shape after all. Or I already have 3 or 4 projects on my needles, discover that tempting sweater, purchase yarn and pattern to cast on once I finish a project or two. When that time arrives, the inspiration to cast on that yarn and pattern pairing may be gone. And the stash grows. Yarn once destined for a the perfect pattern is put on hold.

As time went on, I found I couldn’t let go of the idea that a poncho would be a perfect addition to my wardrobe. I looked at other poncho patterns but none had the same appeal as the Churchmouse one. After spending a good amount of time on Ravelry, I decided on Yoth’s Best Friend yarn in Cracked Pepper, held double was the match and it was cast on a short time later.

As I traveled deeper in my knitting journey, the poncho revealed itself to be the ideal social knitting project with its’ miles of stockinette stitch. It was also great to pick up when break was needed from more complicated work. And since it was just stockinette stitch, forever, it was easy to put it to the side. During the time the poncho was on the needles, I knit 4 whole sweaters start to finish, completed one WIP sweater and cast on 2 others (still WIPs) plus 5 hats and one shawl. I almost ripped out the Poncho to use the yarn for a different project so. many. times. Each time I was ready to do it, I’d remember that I really did want the poncho and kept knitting one row at a time.

So how do we keep engaged in long term project? How do we remember the intention of why we decided on a certain pattern and yarn. How do we keep the inspiration fresh, the motivation present on our current project when it’s so easy to be distracted or imagine the grass is greener elsewhere?

Sometimes ripping out the project is the answer when inspiration has taken flight and doesn’t circle back. Other times, focussing on the process instead of the outcome is helpful in the road to completion. Not actively buying yarn for projects that can’t be cast on immediately is another strategy. (Yarn store to storage bin isn’t always the best path.) Finding ways to remind yourself why this pattern and this yarn was the best choice at one point in time. Stick with it! Making an effort to filter out the constant messages that you should want/have the new, better and different.

Most of the time you just have to do the work in front of you, especially when it comes to long term, staple wardrobe items. It’s a mix of process and product knitting. It’s about rediscovering the inspiration that was present at the beginning each time you pick it back up while enduring the slog of the knitting at hand because the result at the end is worth it. What better reward than finally wearing something you’ve had on the needles for so long?

Knitting my poncho has taught me a few things: I benefit from having an easy project and a more complicated one on my needles at the same time. Following through with the yarn and patterns I already have builds confidence in my knitting practice. Knitting serves as a concrete reminder that with patience and determination, small bits of time add up to a finished piece you in which you can be proud. And most of all: casting off a long term project can feel just as good as casting on something new.

Traveling in kindness

We made it to Taiwan. I’ve have never traveled on a plane before with a broken bone. I’ve traveled many times sick (apologies to those former plane cabin mates) but never with the need for a wheelchair escort. And to be honest, there has never been much cause to pay attention to all the wheelchairs that do wheel around the airport… or anywhere. Once when I was 9 and broke my leg, I was in a wheelchair. I don’t remember for how long, maybe a month? The memory that stuck was when there was a need to use the bathroom and I was stuck on the couch while friends played with my wheelchair. Only when you can’t move as before do you realize how able-body centered our whole world is set up. And when you’re back to moving about (if you’re so lucky) it’s easy to forget. This time, my awareness had grown.

We arrived at the airport in the middle of the night. Crutches, with thick gel pads recommended by the guru cast fitting technician under my arms, kids and as minimal of a packing job as possible, we checked in for our flight. The scooter left behind and the unknown ahead.

We then experienced and witnessed such kindness as I became, for a moment, part of a club of which I never wanted to be a member. Our attendant expertly wheeled me through the airport, always at the perfect speed for my family to keep up, always knowing where to go and what line to move to the front. He, with a gentle assertiveness, asked others to move aside and got us through security in mere moments. While I got the extensive pat down, he helped my family with all the carry-on baggage, aiding in putting the Tetris-style packed bags back together and moving us along through the airport maze to the gate. Appearing again when it was time to board, pushing me to the plane door and stepping away to help the woman ahead of me by gingerly placing her on a wheelchair for the plane aisles. I was struck particularly by this scene as these strangers helped this elderly woman with such care and dignity. Never rushing, never impatient. A task they repeat countless times during their work day.

And once I passed into the care of the airline stewards, the kindness and gentle attentiveness continued throughout the flight.

We had the thankful privilege to upgrade just a bit so I could elevate my leg on the flight. The agent I spoke to was eventually able to get us in the same row, just not next to each other. When on the plane, the gentleman on the aisle agreed to switch and we were all together. The stewardess came countless times to bring me my crutches that were stowed in the closet, even bringing them un-asked just before landing. And the same calm, kind help met us on the other end. Going through customs and immigration was so pleasant and stress free.

When I fly, I generally have a good side helping of anxiety. Never the main course but always there. This flight, my circumstances demanded I let go and ask for help. I literally had to sit down and let others, complete strangers, lead me from one place to the other.

These were the unanticipated gifts of this entire travel experience: kindness, a sense calm and little stress. And of course, the extra, elevated leg room was key. Not much knitting happened and we all slept.

The summer of day dates…or not.

We decided over 6 months ago that this would be the year to take our kids to Taiwan for language summer camp. It’s a dream my husband has had since they were born. And we are set to leave soon. We’ve imagined the summer as one where the kids would do the camp and my husband and I would use the days for day dates. We haven’t had much time just the two of us since our kids were born. This would be our first opportunity for extended time together. Exploring, eating, talking, relaxing and seeing all that Taipei has to offer.

Enter fractured ankle, crutches and The Boot. Oh, and a scooter.

So yeah, I fractured my ankle recently. While walking. Every plan we have for this trip is being re-examined, changed and many things have to be let go. (Right now I’m on a long, long hold with the airline to see if I can get more leg room for my boot and crutches. Ever been on a plane with crutches? I wonder how small the bathroom will feel now!).

It’s so hard to let go. It’s so hard to rest when you have to do it. It’s so hard to be dependent on others.

Every morning I wake up I have to re-calibrate, find perspective and determination to start the day. Showers: a feat in balancing. Going downstairs: only one trip with all I need in my backpack. Cooking: takes 10 times as long. And every morning I’m trying to start with gratitude. Gratitude for exceptional kids who are stepping up; an extremely positive husband (who can be more of a pessimist in real life); an ankle that will heal. That we can afford the medical bills. A 100% survival rate. Thankful that I’m a stay at home mom with no directing job at the moment so there’s no worry getting to work.

To be honest, I wish it wasn’t so hard. I kinda feel bad that it does feel so hard. I want nothing more than to be completely content with knitting, mending, and embroidery while sitting on the couch, kids swirling around. And I am, for the most part.

But I’ve even had to let go of my original making goals for this trip as well. And while that may seem trivial to some, making is very much what helps me keep a healthy mental outlook.

My idea was to sew a mini capsule wardrobe complete with a loosely structured color story: black, white, navy blue, rust and coral. I had a few things made but was waiting until after Squam and the end of the school year craziness had passed. Gypsum skirt, Wiksten shift dress and tank top, black linen shorts and a Willow tank were on the list. It was ambitious but when a deadline is looming, I work best.

Needless to say there is no capsule wardrobe coming to Taiwan in the way I envisioned. It will still a capsule of sorts with a mix of handmade and ready to wear, but curated to make sure it works with crutches and The Boot. I had to order a million shoes to find two that would work with The Boot. (Thank you Zappos!)

This past week, the illusion that sewing could be accomplished still tugged in my mind. I really didn’t want to let it go. But reality is that my ankle needs to be elevated for most of the day not pointing down while I negotiate the sewing machine foot pedal or going back and forth between the ironing board and sewing table with crutches.

I guess I need to remember to be kind to myself. It’ll take some time to get on board with the current reality, especially when it’s so different from what I had planned and imagined. I’m not the best at being flexible. It’s the re-adjustment phase that’s most difficult.

So once I move through this most difficult transition from what I thought the trip would be like to what it really is, I hope to be able see what our day dates might look like with crutches or the scooter. Maybe bubble tea downstairs, maybe across the street for lunch. Maybe just the apartment. Not dressed in my “Taiwan Capsule Wardrobe” but in the “The Boot Wardrobe”, it’ll still be in clothes that feel good. Letting go of what is no longer possible and being open to what may be revealed under these new circumstances is the goal. Most likely there will be other trips to Taiwan were I can run my feet to the ground all over the city. This trip is about being present and letting go.

At least one suitcase will be packed with far too many knitting projects and supplies for an embroidery idea waiting to come to life. Plus reading! When have I had a chance just to knit and read the day away? It’s sounding better already. Day dates with my husband and….myself.

Me Made May and me

This was the first year that I participated in Me Made May, an event on Instagram that was created 10 years ago by Zoe Edwards to celebrate handmade clothing. Often clothes are made but not worn and this was an effort to encourage the making community to wear them proudly.

Typically with these online, month long, play along prompts if I join, I post for the first day or two and then I fall off. Me Made May was a bit different as I have to get dressed anyway each day and the longer I participated, the momentum to stay with it grew. I’ve never posted so many pictures of myself online before. Lots of me. I found a quick and dirty way to take my picture in my backyard and didn’t fuss too much over it. I figured it was more true to the prompt if I didn’t stage what I was wearing. But sometimes someone would snap a picture for me which was a nice break from the backyard selfie. Along the way I learned a few things:

There’s enough handmade clothing in my closet now that it isn’t hard to wear at least one piece each day, even as the seasons change.

The goal to have a completely handmade wardrobe isn’t as strong of a need anymore. It’s fun to mix and match ready to wear pieces with the handmade clothing. Which means I wear more of what’s in the closet already instead of always making something new.

Dresses and skirts are some of my favorite things to sew but don’t wear them as much as I’d like. So I need to invest in leggings or slip shorts to make it easier to grab a dress out of my closet.

I love to wear my linden sweatshirts, a lot, and want to make more! And maybe try some new sweatshirt style patterns?

The biggest lesson I came away with while documenting what I wore each day was unexpected. I liked the way I looked in my clothes. I don’t tend to really care for how I’m reflected in pictures. And yes, while I only selected the most flattering of pictures to share, I was fond of what I had to choose. It definitely boosted my confidence and it wasn’t because of the feedback (or lack thereof) I received, but because I felt joy in wearing my clothes and that translated into the photos.

Now for reference on my phone there are 31 outfits (many repeats) to select from in my closet and that makes packing for trips and getting dressed in the morning a little bit easier.

The gift of Squam

Freshly returned from a glorious weekend on Squam Lake in New Hampshire for the Spring Squam Art Workshop, my heart and mind are so content. Being on the lake, surrounded by all kinds of creative people and spaces, in nature, without the daily demands of home can allow for a deeper connection to values that can be forgotten day to day. Squam created space for me to remember:

The value of my fiber crafts.

The value in taking the time to be completely immersed in nature and creativity.

The value in myself and what I need to fill my cup.

The value in new and old friendships.

The value in taking a break from the everyday.

Then after being home for 48 hours, I fell at my son’s school. And as I was falling I felt a small, faint yet distinct pop.

I fractured my ankle. Same ankle that I fractured a little over two years ago.

And all that lightness, clarity and contentment from my time at Squam vanished. Reality came crashing down.

When I broke my ankle last time, it really took a toll on me physically and mentally. It’s so hard to not be able to do the things you need and want to do. It highlights all the ways our community, and my home especially, are not set up for non able body movement. Crutches hurt and balancing on one leg to cook dinner (or brush teeth or go to the bathroom) is difficult.

By choosing to go to Squam, I made the conscience decision to make time to invest in myself. This experience created space for me to further define who I am and how I want to show up in the world. Carving out this time has the added benefit of deepening my belief in myself and that what I have to offer has value, purpose and a place in this world.

In the grand scheme of things, a broken ankle is not the worst thing. And while I can’t rewind and take back the miss step that sent me tumbling to the ground, I can choose how I respond to it. Will I succumb and stumble to a darker place or will I take it slow and then slower, letting go of control and find comfort in my family, friends and especially my craft practice? Once again, life is asking me to adjust my expectations, let go of plans and be present.

Taking the time to go to an art retreat is such a privilege. And while it takes courage to go spend a week with strangers, to be vulnerable and allow oneself to be open it also is by my own choice, something I paid money to do. Now, with a fractured ankle, my values, these lessons and insights gained from my time at Squam are being tested. I’m confronted with the task to see if these revelations apply when things aren’t easy, smooth or a choice. Can I find these values in my current situation?

The value of my fiber crafts especially when I need to be resting, healing. Knowing how they bring me calm and purpose while waiting for x-rays and doctor appointments. How they give me a sense of progress in a day when nothing else gets done.

The value in taking the time to be completely immersed in nature and creativity. How going outside for a brief breath of fresh air, letting the warm air and sun hit my face. Maybe do a few knitting rows on the bench with my foot propped up instead of always lying in bed or on the couch.

The value in myself and what I need to fill my cup. Reminding myself it’s not my fault that I fractured my ankle. I’m strong and capable and I will heal and being even stronger still. Maybe I do need to order out dinner, call a friend or watch a movie midday. I must be kind to myself.

The value in new and old friendships. I can say yes to help. I can lean on those around me. To say yes doesn’t make we weak. I don’t have to hide from my friends and pretend I can do it all until I’m fully healed.

The value in taking a break from the everyday. Right now it’s almost impossible to do the everyday tasks. I have to be ok with that. If I injure myself further because I insist on putting the laundry away, doing the dishes, or sweeping the floor, is it worth it? Will the house and my family fall apart?

No.

But it will be hard because there will be moments in every day that will test me.

Employing what I learned and reconnected with by going to Squam and applying them to the present, right now, it not only essential, it’s what has the most value.

That is the true gift.

Knitting for others

Gentle People Shawl by Silvia McFadden

When you knit for others, it’s a labor of love. It takes time, skill and attention. It’s a selfless act. Most of my days are spent tending to the needs of others, namely my small children. And so knitting is often how I give back to myself. My selfish act. As a result there is often a conflict between knitting for myself (self-care) and knitting for others. To be honest, I’d much rather teach someone to knit so they can reap all the benefits of a knitting practice for themselves.

But then there’s family and that’s where the line becomes harder to hold.

I have made three Weathered Mountain Hats for my dad. A fourth was meant to be one, but I changed it to plain stockinette so I could get his gift to him on time and I thought the yarn shined better in that stitch. I’ve also knit many hats for my boys, husband, siblings and friends. And I have knit cowls, shawls, leg warmers and two kid sweaters that turned out to be too “itchy”.

Knitting the same pattern at different times for my dad over the past 3 years or so provides a snapshot of how I’ve grown as a knitter. (The pattern has gotten easier but the crown decreases in the established pattern still get me. (I think I have it almost figured out.) It also supplies a glimpse into the ebb and flow of a relationship. Knitting for someone else, especially family, usually involves love and a desire to share that love in the form of a handmade item. Sometimes you can be at odds with the person but you still want to follow through with your commitment. Sometimes you feel so much love that you want to knit all the things for them. The knitting is much smoother when your relationship is good and so laborious when it’s not.

I try to be mindful in my knitting for others and only commit to making something when I know I really can do it. I do my best not have obligation knitting on my needles. And if for some reason I find myself in that thick spot, I have to give myself permission to put it down for a bit. Then when I pick it back up, hopefully the rows come with more ease. For me, the stitches of a knitted gift hold the feelings in which you knit it with….and I only want the piece to hold the love, joy and gratitude I feel for the person.

And once something is knitted and gifted, I let it go. No matter how long it took me or what transpired while knitting it or whether it’s worn or not, it doesn’t matter. There’s love in each stitch, fulfilling my intention. (Of course, if the recipient wears it, I’m much more inclined to offer again.)

Now my husband would like a dk weight (on the lighter end of yarn) cardigan, the McQueen. I’m ready to make it, even if it takes a few months (or years).

Sewing the Alice Top

I finished the Alice Top by Tesutti Fabrics late the other night. I made so many wrong turns, I essentially sewed the top twice. (It’s in these detours that you learn the most about sewing.) Sewing a garment, inherently, is much faster than knitting a garment. It’s 1-2 weeks from start to finish versus 1-3 months (and that’s if it’s basically a straight line from start to finish). So why does sewing feel like it takes longer than knitting a sweater? 

Maybe because for the very fact that sewing is a faster process? Expectations always shift one’s perception. I expect knitting to take time; one stitch here, a row there and over a course of a long while you have a completed project. I’m not a speed knitter so when I pick a pattern, I don’t have the expectation that I can wear it the next day.

When sewing, the expectation is that if I work quickly enough I could wear it tomorrow. But I’m not a fast sewer either. And the actual sewing is only part of the process. Selecting and washing the fabric, choosing a size and tracing the pattern; cutting out the fabric, changing the needle and thread on the machine (which used to take me so long! I’d have to pull out the manual to do the bobbin for years) and then the sewing begins. 

Sewing my own clothes should be a reminder that speed is not the goal but the learning , building skills and my handmade wardrobe in the process is the purpose. It’s a relief not having to pull out the manual every time I need to change the bobbin now. It makes sewing smoother and less frustrating. Sewing the yoke of the Alice top backwards the first time then picking it out with the seam ripper enables me to really understand how it’s constructed and when I encounter that again- I’ll know how to do it. Same with sewing the armholes on upside down. Twice. I always tell my son that working quickly doesn’t always mean it gets done faster. Often the quick work has to be redone many times because you went too fast. If I slow down with my sewing, I bet it would be faster. But then, that’s not the point. Right? 

If I want a piece of clothing immediately, I can just go to a store and buy something. Fast isn’t why I make my own clothes. And sometimes, I need the reminder.