Comfort Me With Yarn

Knitters turn to yarn for myriad things: inspiration, creative outlet, to satisfy a need to buy something new, to celebrate, and to be comforted.  We flock to yarn shops to feel sheltered from the harsh realities of life and to gain inspiration.  To hold something small and beautiful in one’s hands is to experience a bit of peace while the world whooshes by around you.  The soft fibers, interesting colors, and sometimes even the fragrance of a beautiful yarn can transport you to a place of peace, if even just for a moment.

This is the story of one such skein of yarn.  This single strand of string has symbolized many things to me over the past 2 years: celebration, inspiration, consolation, comfort, renewal, and new beginnings.  Our affair began on a sunny Monday afternoon in February 2008, the day I found out I was pregnant.

I had been trying to get pregnant for 2 ½ years at that point.  Our quest to become parents began simply and innocently as it does for most people.  My partner and I knew that we were ready to become parents, and so we started looking into prenatal vitamins, doctors, pregnancy books, and midwives.  I knew with all of my heart that I was meant to be a mother.  I was young, healthy, and we had the space in our lives for children.  It seemed as if things would go as we had planned, and within the year we would be taking turns getting up in the middle of the night to feed and change diapers.

Fast forward a year.  I was still not pregnant, with no indications as to why.  The fact that our perfectly crafted plan wasn’t working out was beginning to take its toll on me.  As was the fact that several close friends had given birth to beautiful babies with apparently no struggles to get pregnant.

Life intervened and we moved to a new state and it felt like a fresh start was just the thing: new location, new doctor, new outlook.  It was around this time that I started knitting with earnest.  I had learned earlier, but it didn’t move me, didn’t really stick.  Starting over meant that I needed to meet people, get out of the house, and learn about the area.  Something compelled me to seek out a knitting group, and I quickly found myself at a local Stitch ‘n Bitch meetup.

For months I fumbled around with yarn and needles, learning through my mistakes and eventually getting better at the skill of knitting.  At the same time, we began seeing a fertility specialist and upped our efforts at getting me pregnant.  In some ways it was comforting when my doctor reassured me that I was healthy and should have no problem getting pregnant using Artificial Insemination (AI).  On the other hand, I felt sad that it hadn’t happened easily, that my body wasn’t doing what I thought should come naturally.

As I accepted more and more medical interventions into my life, I began to depend more on my knitting for support.  Holding yarn and needles in my hands, creating something tangible and beautiful, allowed me to feel as if I had some semblance of control over my life.  I may not be able to make a baby on my own, but I could knit a gorgeous pair of socks or a stunning baby blanket for friends having babies.  I knit in the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices while I waited for tests, exams, procedures, and results.  I knit during the simultaneously dreadful and hopeful two week wait, a time where I once again allowed myself to believe that I was pregnant.  I knit through the sadness and disappointment that followed every month when the pregnancy test came back negative.

Knitting helped me come to terms with the reality of my situation: after a year of AIs, IUIs, diagnostic tests, and fertility drugs, I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility.  Helpful.  My doctor suggested we consider In-Vitro Fertilization, or IVF, as a means to becoming parents.  At the beginning of our journey, this was so off my radar.  It was something desperate people did, people who had nothing left to lose and were clinging to the last threads of hope of having biological children.  Was that me?  I didn’t think so, and so we put off making any decisions about it until a few more rounds of treatment failed.  After much soul-searching, knitting, and conversations with our doctor, we decided to give it a try.  We were reassured that at my young age and with the considerable health of my reproductive system that I would definitely become pregnant.

For 2 weeks I endured daily injections of hormones, had blood tests and ultrasounds every other day, and finally, when things looked ready, egg retrieval.  A few days later, two fertilized embryos were placed back inside my uterus, and I was hopeful.  I knit a seed stitch scarf in stunning Noro yarn during the two week wait, imbuing each stitch with hope, promises to my unborn children, and love.  Lots of love.

I was at knitting group the day my blood test results came in. Sweetie called me on the phone and told me the good news: “You’re pregnant!”  I could hardly believe that those powerful words were directed at me, that after years of trying, I finally had the tentative first weeks of life inside my body.  My tired, battered, body had responded to drugs and positive thinking and had come through for me!

As was customary, some of the ladies from my group went to the neighboring yarn shop after our meeting.  I followed along, in a daze of disbelief.  So many thoughts were racing through my mind: when will I be due?  Is it twins or a singleton?  So this is what being pregnant feels like!  I could hardly focus on any yarn, and yet my hand kept reaching out, feeling skein after skein of yarn.  At once, a beautiful skein of sock yarn jumped out at me: Colinette Jitterbug in the colorway Marble.  It is mainly a cream color, punctuated by delicate shades of green and lavender.  The color combination reminded me of an orchid; I had to have it!  Celebratory yarn purchases are some of the best!

About a week later, I started to have spotting.  My doctor assured me it was nothing to worry about.  When the bleeding increased the next day, we all started getting more concerned.  I tried to knit to distract myself from worrying, but after a short time it was only frustrating me more.  How could my body be doing this to me now?  I spent the next couple of days begging God, the universe, and my babies to hang on, to give me a chance to be a mother.

My first ultrasound, a moment I had been looking forward to and dreading at the same time, revealed an empty uterus.  They were both gone.  Devastated and raw, we returned home and began the long process of grieving and rebuilding.  Words could not describe what I was going through to anyone, and though I desperately needed help and care, I didn’t know what to ask for.  Eventually, I turned to my knitting.  There was that lovely skein of sock yarn sitting in my stash, the pretty orchid colorway, my celebration yarn.  For some reason, this was the only yarn I was able to get excited about knitting.

Instead of socks, I chose to knit something that I could wrap around myself, something that would remind me to have hope and faith that life would be bright again someday.  I found a pattern for a lovely drop stitch scarf that seemed doable with just one skein of yarn and set to work.  I knit all my hope and love, sadness, anger, and grief, into that scarf.  It flew off the needles, and when it was done something within me, something small and tender, was healed.  There was still a long road of healing ahead of me, but for that moment, I knew I would be alright.

The next several months were a time of healing, restructuring my expectations, and focusing on knitting.  I rediscovered a love of writing, and tried my hand at designing knitting patterns. After taking time to heal and rebuild, we felt ready to try again.

And this time, it worked!

When I found out I was pregnant for the second time, I took that drop stitch scarf, made out of my celebration yarn turned comfort yarn, and undid the cast off.  I wound it into a skein straight off the scarf, spinning new hope into it with each revolution.

That “new” skein sat in my stash for all the months of this pregnancy as I waited and hoped for a better outcome.  Finally, when the time came to have Peaceful Baby, I pulled out the yarn and brought it with me to the hospital.  As I worked through the first few hours of labor, I knit my special yarn.  This time, it wanted to be socks; special celebration socks.

Last week I finished these socks, just as the second anniversay of the miscarriage passed.  It feels as if I have come full circle now.  I am done with this yarn, and done dwelling on past hurt and disappointment.  As my new life as a mother begins, I am trying to focus on the future.  This includes new yarn and knitting projects as well as new adventures with my little family.

Of Mice and Frogs

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This recommendation from the Yarn Harlot could not have come at a better time.  Actually it could have come a few days sooner, I suppose.  Like last Wednesday, the day before I discovered my craft drawers had been seeing some mouse activity.

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I am fortunate enough to have a craft room to call my own.  It is a sweet room, with a dormer window that allows for a built in window seat.  This is where I have my swift and ball winder set up on permanent display.  Cut out of the wall next to the yarn winding station is a charming set of 4 drawers that slide right out of the wall. When setting up the room, I had fun putting away my knitting notions, button tins, and finished objects that had no home in these drawers.

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Over the weekend I was attempting to tidy this room up a bit when, upon opening the knitting needle drawer, I discovered this:

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That’s my gorgeous silk Lantern Moon needle case, home to all of my straight knitting needles.  And Someone decided it looked like a good snack, or building material, or stuffing for a tiny bed in the attic.  Someone was very sneaky and didn’t even arouse the suspicion of either feline in residence.  I need to have a talk with those cats.

Further inspection of the drawers revealed a few minuscule mouse turds, and a hole from the attic space into the framing of the drawers.  Sigh.  I immediately tossed my stash of FOs onto the floor, as well as anything else I thought the mice might find delicious or comfortable as bedding.

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Fortunately, I had kept these items in sealed plastic bags and there does not appear to be any damage.  But seeing it there, all piled up on the floor, made me sort of sad.  I did not knit these things so they could languish in a dark, mouse-infested drawer!

So I set about doing something I have never done: I picked out the items I knew  a) would never find a home because they were ill-fitting or poorly finished, or b) I loved the yarn and could re-use it in a new project.

In all, I have frogged 3 projects so far:

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  • Pattern:  Shrug This, original details here

  • Yarn: Araucania Pomaire Multy in color 4

This was just a bit too small around the arms, and after wearing it a couple of times the stitches in the underarm were stretched out and looking a little shabby.  Since I had about 3/4 a skein of the yarn leftover, I think I could remake the same pattern a little larger.

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I loved this yarn and pattern together.  The dropped stitch “lace” was fun to create, and the payoff looked more complicated than it actually was.  And even though I originally cast on fewer stitches than the pattern called for, it was always a little to short to be a satisfying scarf.  Now I have a skein of beautiful sock yarn back in my stash that could become anything!

The final project was a neckwarmer in a fantastic hot pink shade of Malabrigo.  It seems I was dissatisfied enough with it from the beginning, because I have no photo of the finished object to reference!  But you can imagine it now looks more like this:

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The one on the left, or course.

If you have any FOs or works in progress that have been languishing in knitting purgatory, I urge you to set them (and yourself) free!

This frogging of finished objects exercise was surprisingly satisfying.  I no longer have to convince myself that I will wear something or find someone to gift it to.  I have yarn I love back in my stash, ready for me when I have the urge to knit with it again.  Now I think I’ll go see what else I can frog.  I know there’s some perfectly good Malabrigo going to waste…

Another One Bites the Dust

  • Pattern: Morning Surf Scarf by Jackie Erickson-Schweitzer of HeartStrings
  • Yarn: Jitterbug by Colinette, fingering weight, in Marble 88
  • Needles: US size 6
  • Modifications: I cast on 66 stitches instead of 76. I wanted this to be a one skein project, but it ended up a little short, even after blocking. If you only have about 300 yards, I would suggest casting on 46 for a narrower, longer scarf.

This is one of those patterns that looks more complicated than it actually is. It’s mostly straight knitting, with one purl row and one row of different sized yarn overs per repeat. You just knit along, wrap 2, 3, 4, 3, 2 stitches with a knit in between. Then on the next row, you let all of those stitches drop intentionally and you end up with these beautiful open waves.

Blocking made a huge difference for the stitches in this pattern as well. It was a bit curly and bumpy before, and measured in at a meager 25 inches long and 11 inches wide.

After my special sink-towel-yoga mat blocking technique, the scarf grew 14 inches in length and 2.5 inches in width. I love the magic effect a little bit of water and stretching has on knitting!

So, that’s 4 works in progress dealt with this month. Now I am knitting with a much more relaxed attitude, less self-imposed pressure. I cast on for my second Embossed Leaves sock on Monday, and have been working on a 2-color garter stitch scarf for my sister. Then all I have left is the second Diagonal Cross Rib sock and my TKGA Master swatches. I am back in my comfort zone, and it feels wonderful!

Knitting is supposed to be a relaxing, peaceful activity for me. Feeling scattered and surrounded by too many projects was really affecting my enjoyment of knitting, and that was no fun. So after a week of dealing with these projects, I finally feel able to relax and knit with no deadlines or objectives. Knitting and I are over our little disagreements and lover’s quarrels and are back in a harmonious relationship!

It’s My Birthday & I’ll Knit If I Want To

I’m sitting here eating a piece of chocolate cake for my 2nd breakfast. It’s 10:30 am, and the toast I had at 7:30 is long gone. I don’t really need anything to eat again until lunch, but who could resist this?

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I may be a pastry chef, but on my birthday the cake I crave most is made by my partner and comes from a little red box, the icing from a plastic tub. It’s soooo good. Food experts worked long and hard to create a cake mix that would turn out moist and delicious every time, and that’s nothing to scoff at.

Yesterday was my birthday and it was a great day full of surprises, good food, and knitting fun. My sweetie surprised me with some wonderful knitting resources that I have been admiring from afar for some time now. Thank goodness for the Amazon wishlist; I got exactly what I wanted!

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Clockwise from the top: The Best of Vogue Knitting, The Harmony Guides Knit & Purl stitch dictionary, and Knit 2 Together by Tracey Ullman and Mel Clark.

I have already read through a few of the articles in Vogue, a compilation of articles from the past 25 years of the magazine. There’s information on knitting history, techniques, and advice. It’s interesting to see photos from magazines in the 80s and 90s; there are some funky sweaters then as there are now!

The Harmony Guides include several stitch dictionaries for knitters and crocheters. The layout in these more recent editions is clear and easy to read, with beautiful color photos of the stitch patterns. I look forward to incorporating some of these into my own designs at some point.

And what can I say about Knit 2 Together? I have checked this book out from the library twice, each time enjoying the witty narrative and unique patterns. I have yet to knit any of them ( I get a queasy feeling when I photocopy patterns from library books…call it copyright infringement-induced nausea). Now that I have the book at my disposal, I am thinking about several of them, from the knitted photo frame and felted slippers to the complicated-looking Pimlico Shrug.

In a complete surprise, a friend of mine from California sent a much-appreciated gift of yarn.

 

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That’s Malabrigo Chunky merino in Charrua and it’s quite beautiful. Thank you Kristen!

So I basically spent the day looking at my presents and knitting as much as I could on the Morning Surf Scarf. There was a side trip to Lowe’s and some wallpaper removal in there as well, but I’d prefer to pretend that I didn’t feel compelled to work on my birthday and knit all day instead.

This post is my 50th post on this blog! When I started this gig back in November, I had no idea where it would lead. But I have rediscovered a passion for writing and photography that I had left behind in the race to do other, seemingly more productive activities. Well, forget that! Art and creative work of all kinds have immense value in the world, and I am going to participate in creating whatever I can each day. Blogging, knitting, writing, and taking pictures enriches my own life, and who knows, maybe it will amuse or inspire someone else too.

Thanks for reading!

The Spirit of Spring

It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ~Charles Dickens

Easter weekend was beautiful here in New England. It was still very cold, but the sun was shining through bright blue skies, promising that the warmth of summer will return. All that sunshine went to my head, and I thought it was time to buy some spring flowers and cast on a new spring colors knitting project.

First, the flowers I purchased. It’s still too cold to leave them outside overnight, so they are brightening up my house in the meantime.

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White hyacinth

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Purple & white pansies

Next are the flowers that have been brave enough to show themselves through the old fall leaves and frosty ground in my garden:

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I think these are called snowbells…

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Purple crocus

I find these spring bulbs so heartening, little promises that life goes on after the harshness of winter. They are little bright spots in my day, and I find joy in discovering the new life popping up in gardens all over town.

Spring has not only brought new flowers and longer days, but the urge to cast on new knitting projects as well. I have fought this urge back a few times in the past couple of weeks. There was a time when I wanted to start a bamboo tank top, or a skirt even. But I convinced myself that those garments were a little too optimistic. After all, the sun is shining but it’s still freezing out there!

And so I decided to cast on a simple drop stitch scarf in a new yarn I love. It’s the Jitterbug superwash sock yarn I got a few weeks ago. I have been eying it daily, admiring its freshness and colors that echo the new flowers in my garden.

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The pattern is Morning Surf Scarf by Jackie Erikson-Schweitzer. I cast on 66 stitches instead of 76, hoping to stretch my one skein of yarn into a good length scarf/wrap for myself. It’s a pretty easy knit so far, which is exactly what I need. My more complicated projects have been languishing in my knitting bags.

Yesterday I decided to challenge myself to NOT look at any knitting-related websites all day. I have fallen into the trap of doing more reading about knitting than actual knitting lately, and while that has been a pleasure, I need to get back into the practice of daily knitting. So, whenever I thought to myself “I should look that up on Ravelry” or “I wonder if Yarn Harlot has a new blog post,” I made myself pick up the scarf. And it worked: I got about 4 inches done yesterday!

My next tactic is to allow myself to only check these sites once a day, instead of twice like I usually do. And finally, I am going to try to alternate working on this drop stitch scarf and my 2 pairs of socks in progress in a way that will allow me to finish them as soon as possible. I have yet to establish this master plan, however…

How do you manage your unfinished objects?

What is your strategy for completing projects?