Looking ahead

I suppose I shouldn’t apologise for this post being overdue. I mean, it’s March; that’s technically still within the first quarter of the year. Umm, just. I did mean for it to come sooner though. However, to be honest, I didn’t plan on the year to date being such a slog. My health has been wretched; chronic fatigue ebbs and flows but right now it’s a deluge. My mental health has just as bad; lots of little stressors have been taking their toll and even though they’re comparatively small things like job applications, doctor appointments, and being proactive about intimidating things, the sheer number of them is overwhelming when I’m already on the back foot, health-wise. In summary, chronic fatigue and anxiety are one formidable tag-team.

But anyway, without further ado or excuses: I love to overthink things – though I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face that this is ultimately a better option than not thinking at all – so naturally, I’ve been doing a lot of mulling over ways to improve my knitting in 2018. And by that I mean not only working on my technical skills and the quality of my finished objects, but also improving my relationship with the craft. After pondering and brainstorming on and off for a while, these are my knitting priorities going forward.

More selfish knitting!

2017 was not really a bad year as far as knitting goes, but as I mentioned last post, a lot of the knitting that I did was for other people. I don’t want to say that that’s a bad thing, because it isn’t. I love knitting for people, as long as the knits are appreciated and used. That said, it’s a sad state of affairs when your craft starts to feel like a chore or another pressure in your life, and unfortunately I did cross that line a few times last year. And it was always in the pursuit of knitting for others. I don’t regret every gift project, but there were a few undertakings that really never ever should have happened.

I should point out that this is not because people make unreasonable demands of me. Unlike a lot of knitters, I’m rarely beset by people asking for hand-knits. It happens, but honestly not all that often, and when it does happen it’s often requests so laughable* that even I let the asking party down gently right away. My problem is that I volunteer myself. It’s completely my own fault. I don’t even know how this happens; probably a bad combination of social anxiety and compulsive generosity. Someone mentions that their friends is having a baby and suddenly my mouth is open and I’m offering to knit something. Again, this isn’t a problem if it only happens now and then, but I am apparently a serial offender. The other problem? I always end up regretting offering in the first place, usually because my energy nowadays is so finite that knitting gifts for other people ends up turning into a chore. And that doesn’t work for anyone. The people for whom I’m knitting surely wouldn’t want that for me. I don’t want that for me.

As such, in 2018, there will be less offering to knit for others. And these projects will be limited to fun-to-knit patterns in yarn I actually like. *nods* I’ll also consider giving things away when I’m done, but no more creating obligations for myself.

* I’m sure that a lot of people wouldn’t consider an adult size pullover an unreasonable request but I’m sorry: unless you are a member of my immediate family or one of a tiny, tiny handful of friends that might as well be family, I am not knitting you a jumper. Especially not one with all-over cabling. I won’t laugh at you for asking, but I’m sure as hell not doing it either.

Treating knitting like a chore, every once in a while

Okay, so I know that in the last paragraph I said that it sucks when knitting begins to feel like a chore. Well, that’s true, it does. The thing is, however, that it’s necessary in moderation. Hear me out.

I tend to do this thing where I’ll knit furiously away on a new design (because it’s inevitably when I’m winging it without a pattern that stumbling blocks happen) until I reach the part where effort is required. “Effort” in this case meaning doing something challenging, doing something that requires thought, mathematics, research, troubleshooting, etc. You know, the things that I’m hoping/assuming everyone puts off now and then. The problem is, if you don’t tackle these things now and then, you never get anywhere interesting. Your projects get put down in favour of something shiny, new, and easy. You lose your momentum. The project gets put in the “I’ll finish it someday” pile, never to be seen again. It’s not ideal.

As such, I’m going to try to have a couple of sessions per week where, for lack of a better phrase, I treat knitting like a chore. I take the measurements. I crunch the numbers. I teach myself the proper cast-off. I sew the seams. I make the decision to rip back and do it over. And so on. The thing is, none of these things are terribly unpleasant. On the contrary; when I sit down and make myself do them, I actually find myself engrossed quite quickly. They’re not terrible tasks; they’re just ripe ground for procrastination. And this year, there’s going to be less of that.

Having an easy option

Speaking generally, if I spent a lot of 2016 coming to terms with the fact that, for better or worse, chronic fatigue is now a thing in my life, then 2017 was my year of learning to manage. This is a good thing; my health is more stable now, and frankly I’m a lot happier when I am tackling problems proactively rather than just dwelling. But it’s also meant making some pretty tedious lifestyle changes, getting better at picking my battles, and sometimes just reconciling myself to the fact that some days are a write off. That sometimes accomplishment needs to take a back seat to rest and self-care.

How does this relate to knitting? Well, while I’d love to spend all of my days churning out complicated projects and new designs, that takes brain power that I don’t always have after I’ve slogged through the day’s mandatory activities. Chronic fatigue takes it toll on mental energy just as it does physical. Sometimes the two coincide, but sometimes they don’t. Because of this, there are days when I have the physical energy to knit but not the mental energy to think too hard about it. I know that some people hate endless stocking stitch but sometimes, it’s exactly what I need, usually when I just want to be soothed by the process and feel productive at least in some small way. Too often over the last year, there were times when I wanted to just knit but didn’t have a correspondingly easy project on which to work.

It’s a terrible shame to let the desire to create go unsatisfied, so this year I’m going to try to have at least two projects going at any given time; one a little more challenging, and the other something simple that I can pick up when I just want something simple. While I can see myself applying this strategy to knitting up some of those voluminous scarves that I always seem to crave when it’s cold, right now I’m doing my best to knit through my backlog of sock yarn. This is my current favourite pattern; I’ve been churning out pairs of comfortably oversized socks to wear in bed and around the house once autumn turns into winter. For all that I don’t really wear my hand-knit socks out and about all that much, there’s nothing better for snuggling up indoors in inclement winter weather.

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In related news: am I the only one who actually really liked Kureyon Sock? I know it was a bit scratchy, but it got lovely and velvety after a few washes, and the yardage was incredibly generous. I honestly wish I’d hoarded more of it.

The above socks were churned out on my recent holiday; my work offered the contract staff some time off during a quiet period, so my brother and I managed to sneak off to my favourite haunt on the mid north coast of New South Wales for a couple of weeks. To say I appreciated the break would be a little bit of an understatement.

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My health was not the best so I didn’t manage to make it to the beach quite as often as I might have liked, but I still managed a good few swimming sessions. And for the days when I wasn’t up to it, there was lovely local wine, sock knitting, and Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Not to mention the consistently lovely sunsets.

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So there it is. My 2018 knitting goals are a lot more general than their predecessors, but sometimes a little less by way of specifics is just what you need, especially when it comes to creativity. I look forward to seeing if this approach makes any difference to what I actually produce this year. I suppose we’ll see!

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Winding up 2017

 

Hello blog – I missed you! No, for realsies, I did.

I’ve been terribly neglectful I know, and flown somewhat in the face of my resolution to update more often. At least I’ve a good excuse this time around. In July I started a new job; it was originally a two month contract, so I figured that I’d focus on work during that period and get back to blogging when I was done. It didn’t quite work out that way in practice since my contract got renewed not once, but twice; I am, in fact, still with the company, albeit currently on Christmas/New Year break.

The second half of this year has gone quite well, for the most part, though it hasn’t really been as balanced as I would have preferred. I like the work that I’ve been doing, and the company at which I’m employed has been extremely accommodating when it comes to my health issues, but the fact remains that working full-time hours while you have even comparatively mild chronic fatigue leaves precious little energy for recreational pursuits. When it comes to balancing work, your health, and recreation/socialising… it’s basically a matter of “pick two”. And that’s on the good days. Managing not just my health but also my life balance and my expectations of myself has been an interesting challenge.  Still, at least it’s nice to have more yarn money, and to have a reason to be up about early enough to enjoy the sunrise.

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All of the above grumbling about not having enough time and energy aside, I haven’t stopped knitting. My relationship with the craft is a long term and committed one – I’d throw a great many other hobbies out of the proverbial window before I put down the needles – and frankly, I rely on knitting quite a lot, even during the times when I’m too exhausted to see straight. It calms me down when I’m stressed out, it makes me feel constructive when I’m too tired to tackle more involved tasks, and it keeps me warm when it’s cold. Do not let the lack of posts (or Ravelry updates, for that matter) mislead; I have definitely been knitting. I am always knitting.

Anyway. It’s January 1st, and since I’m spending New Year with an internet connection for a change, I thought I might as well write my yearly round up post on time, instead of my usual several-months-late approach.

When it comes to my knitting related aims for 2017, I suppose I’m vaguely satisfied with how things have panned out. I said that I wanted to work more on original designs and while they haven’t constituted the majority of my knitting, I have whipped up a few things from scratch. Nothing particularly groundbreaking – mostly just some hats and toddler jumpers for friends – though I am currently part-way through a colourwork edged tunic that’s proving an interesting challenge. I also said that I’d like to expand my repertoire of techniques a little. While I’m yet to master steeking I have at least tried it, and I’ve definitely expanded my knowledge of cast-ons and bind-offs. One of my other aims was to refine my techniques a little, and work harder on finding the appropriate method for each project instead of just resorting to the methods with which I’m most practiced or comfortable. I’ve certainly done that, up to and including finding a tubular cast on method that doesn’t make me want to tear out my hair! And while a lot of my 2017 knitting was either non-wearables or gifts for other people, I also did fairly well with knitting things that I actually wear, that work well with my wardrobe.

My non-knitting goals have also fared quite well. I definitely did more sewing and drawing in 2017 than in previous years; I’m still definitely at ‘beginner’ level but you need to start somewhere. And I’ve created a multigrain/rye sourdough recipe with which I’m very happy.

Goals for the coming year to follow!

 

 

Some things that are unseasonal

Summer’s officially gone here, but in practice, not so much. It’s still been topping 30 degrees on many days over the last week, and even our rainy days are still pretty warm. I’m hoping we get some proper autumn weather soon. Melbourne’s shoulder seasons are utterly gorgeous… in the years that we actually have them. Some years you have weeks and weeks of lovely mild weather, but in others the weather changes from volcanic to chilly depressingly quickly. I’m still crossing my fingers for the former, but right now things are still pretty warm (which is still, admittedly, an improvement on searing).

As is always the case by the end of summer, I’ve got a ton of knitted projects to photograph but very little desire to layer up with wool and sweat my way through however many pictures. This wouldn’t be a problem if I picked seasonal projects like a normal person, but every year I make noises about knitting with summer-appropriate yarns through the hotter months, and pretty much every time I sit there in the 40 degree January heat stubbornly knitting away with wool. So a pile of scarves and jumpers it is. Oh well.

Given my backlog, it would probably make sense to just make a morning of it and photograph everything in one session, getting progressively pinker and sweatier in each picture. But I’m a wimp and while I have excellent intentions to blog more regularly, I do draw the line at courting heatstroke. So instead, I’m tackling a few projects at a time.

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This scarf is the Dragon Wing Cowl (knit version) pattern by Jessie Rayot. I have an unabashed love for a) voluminous scarves and b) things that are a bit angular, so I had to have it. Plus I had the perfect buttons lying around, and the pattern was free. Why fight it?

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I have to confess: I didn’t particularly enjoy knitting this all that much. It wasn’t difficult, but it was a little fiddly keeping track of the rows and increases. Or at least more fiddly than I usually prefer my garter stitch, at any rate. That said, the finishing was super fun and if you pay attention to the pattern you are rewarded with a scarf that looks pretty much exactly as promised (always a good thing). I’m pretty taken with the finished product, and can’t wait until it’s cool enough to wear it.

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This pullover – the aforementioned project that I was clutching even through the worst of the summer heat – was born of my need for something mindless to knit while I played Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (yes, yes, it’s a million years old, I know) because as per the last post, I go stir-crazy playing story-heavy RPGs unless I have something to do with my hands while the NPC tells me where the ogre/space ogre is hiding out.

The pattern is Driftwood by Isabell Kraemer. This is actually my second Driftwood, and I have to say that I like it a lot better than my first, mainly just because this time around I made better choices re: buttons and sizing. I’m really pleased with how this came out, and I’m really looking forward to wearing it once the weather starts to cool off a little.

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(stubbornly puffy mess of curls brought to you by humid weather… *sigh*)

The only modifications I made to the pattern were to opt 1) for slightly different waist shaping (decreasing under the bust, rather than going full A-line) and 2) working 1×1 ribbing and tubular bind offs at the edges of the sleeves/body. It’s not altogether obvious in the above photo – the effect is subtle even when you’re looking closely – but I also went for alternating blue and green buttons to match the dark green/blue/black of the yarn.

The only problem is, having finished the above pullover, I’m now wading about in a sea of sketches, rough ideas, swatches and false-start projects when what I really want is something simple and repetitive to knit while I finish playing Witcher 3. I could just cast on some sort of garter stitch scarf, of course, but that’s not really in keeping with my resolution to put a little more thought into my projects and focus on knitting things that I’ll actually wear; I already have plenty of garter stitch scarves.

Hopefully I’ll settle on a project soon; heaven knows I have a massive Ravelry queue, a handful of Pinterest boards, and several good old-fashioned to-knit lists to help me decide. And hey, if the ambitious projects I want to try are not suitable gaming knitting, then I’m sure my love of drapey scarves and tiny gauge will come through and save me somehow!

Back home resolutions. Or something.

Note: I’d like to start by excusing the tardiness of this post. I know, I know, most people tend to have their new year posts out of the way in January but I am a trendsetter didn’t have an internet connection for the entirety of that month. So no real way around it!

I used to claim that I never made New Year’s resolutions, possibly because I thought that this made me cool. Or something. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I don’t tend to articulate them in those terms. It’s not like I resolve to do certain things from 01 January onward. It’s more that the end of the year almost always finds me away from home, and away from home (wherever that may be) always seems an appropriate distance from which to think about ways to improve being at home. You know, Regular Life and all. So perhaps I don’t make New Year’s resolutions so much as I have a good old think about the things that I would like to do better once I get home. But that’s a much less catchy title. For all that you’d never know it from reading my writing, I am actually a fan of being concise, so perhaps we should just call them New Year’s resolutions. Or Back Home Resolutions, perhaps?

That established, I am also never sure if I should make my New Year’s resolutions public. It gives me an excuse for another blog post at the end of the year; the “did I actually live up to my good intentions” post in which I congratulate and gently eviscerate myself by turns. My posting is erratic at best, so what’s not to like about a guaranteed post? There’s also the public shaming element, too, I suppose. But I can beat myself up with great efficiency free of assistance, so it’s hardly necessary.

Plus, you never know what life has in store that’ll throw your resolutions right out the window. A bleedingly obvious example is your health; I’ll probably write more about this later, but I’ve had my share of health related surprises over the last year or so; surprises that have definitely shaped my day-to-day life in a very major way.

But, considering one of the things that I decided I would like to do is actually post on your &$*#ing blog from time to time, Anna, I thought that I’d at least post my knitting, crafting, and baking related goals. The internet at large really doesn’t need to know about my intentions re: the tidiness of my desk, after all.

In terms of knitting, I would like to work on more original designs. The embarrassing truth is that I have a sketchbook partly full of ideas, but for the most part, I haven’t gotten around to ushering any of them into reality. This is partly because I’ve spent so much of the last year or so being sick and/or low on energy. When you’re groggy and lethargic and in pain, the last thing you want to do is swatch or crunch numbers; you just want comfort knitting where you don’t need to think (like massive garter stitch blankets). At all. But the fact of the matter is that the fatigue may not be going anywhere any time soon, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my knitting career making plain raglan pullovers and garter stitch scarves. So I’m going to try harder to make the best of the times when I am able to concentrate on designing.

I’d also like to learn some new techniques; specifically, I’d like to get more comfortable with steeking, as well as maybe dip a toe into some intarsia. I’d also like to try zipper insertion, and attempt adding a fabric lining to a knitting project. Generally speaking, I’m also interested in refining my techniques a little. I’d certainly class myself as an intermediate knitter nowadays – I’m perfectly comfortable with stranded colourwork, elaborate cabling, lace, chart reading, grafting – but I’d like to work on the small things that enhance fit, finishing, etc and just generally improve the craftsmanship of a knitted piece.

I also want to have a go at more elaborate cabling, because cabling is super fun! Full disclosure: I didn’t like cables at all before I tried knitting them. Now I can’t stop. Ever.

(pictured below is my cabled version of the pick, pick, pick it up! cardigan that I promise I will finish as soon as I decide how I’m going to make it work)

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I’d also like to continue focusing on items that I will actually wear, that work well with my existing wardrobe. Like many knitters, I’m often guilty of the “oooh, I want to knit that” response to a pattern that realistically I know I will never wear, or not often enough to justify the expense of the yarn or the space the unused item will occupy in my wardrobe. I’m not saying I want to completely quash that feeling, because that would be a joyless existence! But I am thinking that I’m instead going to channel it into knitting things for friends/family who might wear the item in the cases where I know I certainly won’t.

I’m trying to get to the point where my main focus is wearability (ideally with a side helping of aesthetic interest), where my approach is to figure out gaps in my wardrobe and knit to fill them, or at the very least to identify design elements that work for me and go from there. A recent project that I really enjoyed was an improvised project where I decided that I wanted a colourwork pullover (the stranding keeps my neck/chest nice and warm, and lets me use up scraps!) that also had pockets to keep my hands warm. I used the yoke design from one cardigan pattern (the Istex Icelandic Zip Cardigan) and the pocket style from another (Astor by Norah Gaughan) and sort of sandwiched them together in pullover form. I’m really happy with the result and more to the point, the project ticked all of the boxes (warm chest, warm hands) that I’d had in mind when I started. I’d like more of my projects do that; to knit with purpose as well as creativity.

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My non-knitting crafting goals are a little less focused, but I guess that’s to be expected given that my skill level is lower. I’d really love to do more sewing to consolidate my (meagre) abilities; specifically, I’d like to focus more on wearable garments, and small projects on which I can get much needed practice. I’d also like to try my hand at sewing more stuffed toys, as many of my friends have small children on whom I love to dote, but knitting at the tight gauge required for toys with stuffing is murder on my hands and just not enjoyable.

I’d also like to do more drawing; I’ve been dipping a toe back into this lately, and really loving it, or at least loving it on the occasions that I can let go of my expectations and insecurities and just draw without worrying about whether the result looks any good.

I’m also hoping to expand my sourdough repertoire. I’m very happy with the crusty white loaves I’ve been baking the last year, but I’d love to broaden my range into ryes, multi-grains, and more creative ingredients generally.

So there you have it. I made resolutions. Now there’s only one more incoming start-of-a-new-year post through which you all have to sit before I finally reconcile myself to the fact that it’s 2017. At least I’m posting, right?