Knitting Company

Here’s a confession: I love to be alone. Just love it! When I am on my own, I do what I feel like, I knit, I sit down with my notepad and make sketches, I look at pictures of pretty things on the internet. Sometimes I play the piano or my guitar and sing, as loudly and as out of tune as I please. No one is there to criticize me or to suggest I should rather be cleaning the house or working on something. No one is fighting with his little sister, wants something to eat or my general attention. Solitude is really my favorite state of being – at least for a couple of hours a day, especially when I have time to knit. After that I will enjoy company and be ready for talking and discussions and entertainment. But a couple of hours without other human beings around me are essential for my happiness – and progress on my knitting.

I would dare to say that the more complex of my shawlettes would never have been completed if I had not been able to knit on them in solitude. It’s not really helpful when you are knitting on something that requires counting stitches when someone goes “Twenty-eight! Forty-seven! Seventy-nine!” in a loud, amused voice while you are desperately trying to find out how many stitches you are currently having on your needles. And what comes out of my mouth when I realize I forgot two yarn overs and a k2tog in the previous row is not really for the ears of my family members. Ever tried to read a lace chart while your husband wants to discuss next week’s dinner plan and the kids are throwing stuffed animals at each other? Doesn’t work that well, trust me.

Sometimes you need a little support when knitting a lace shawl…

On the other hand, it will work just fine with a knitting friend (preferably a lace fanatic) sitting beside me and a big mug of coffee in front of me. Sometimes the secret to a successful knitting project is not absolute silence but encouragement and help when something went wrong. And a second pair of eyes on the chart, because frankly, I sometimes do not see what is right in front of me. If we are joined by a couple of more lovely ladies, and conversation topics move from ssk and twisted stitches to blocking wires, spinning wheels, knitting podcasts and the general situation of the planet, my lace knitting time is usually over. Because I find my knitting friends and their topics are very often more entertaining than a lace chart. The only things I can successfully knit while chatting are garter-stitch shawlettes and simple children’s socks – and they have gone wrong many times too when I knit on them on knit night. But that’s fine, more than fine, because that’s the reason I go to knit night: I want to meet great, interesting people, totally diverse but miraculously unified by their love of fiber and related crafts.

By the way: My lace knitting is totally okay with being crammed into its bag on such occasions. Because the two of us will have a date tomorrow. Just us.

No more diets, please

These skeins are probably overweight

Every now and then I browse the forums on Ravelry, and in almost every group one topic emerges every few weeks like the full moon over our village: the stash diet. Knitters all around the globe seem to suffer from the perception that they own too much wool, and that this is a bad thing, and that they should own less. On Ravelry, they tend to make promises to each other to only knit from their stash in order to make it smaller, and not order any new yarn until they have knit up at least six kilos or so from their current stash. May it be industrially dyed superwash-acrylic in a hideous color or some art yarn that someone gave to them but they never really liked. Those poor souls knit with this because they feel they must, because they feel they ought to purge and suffer as they have previously sinned by buying too much yarn that is taking up too much space in the house.

Well. I am no friend of dieting, neither in the nutritional nor in the knitterly way, I think its entirely unnecessary suffering, and it does not do any good. In food, my credo is: Eat when you are hungry, and stop when you feel full. A big choice of good fresh food in my fridge, my husband’s cooking and eating what my appetite tells me are essential for this. I would never eat something because it’s there or because I spent money on it if it does not taste good. In my view, it’s absolutely okay to throw out food if it is bad and nobody likes it. For example, if my kids come back from a birthday party with a bag full of artificially colored, chemically flavored sweets, I make sure they find their way to the garbage bin. Eating that stuff is not healthy, and contrary to popular belief, throwing it out does not increase hunger on this planet. Is it okay to buy some nuts and chocolate (which I love!) on the next day? I would say: yes.

Yarn cakes won’t make you fat…

Food is here to make us function, and to make us happy. Almost the same goes for a knitters stash: There are the staples, like sock yarn. Knitting a sock whenever we feel like it is just like having bread or potatoes in the house. It’s essential, it’s good, it’s necessary and never wrong. There are the silk and lace skeins, maybe some cashmere or yak, which are like exotic fruit and make things sweet and interesting. And just like you have a big turkey or a whole roast beef in your freezer, there are sweater quantities of yarn in the stash closet. Would you ever say: “I need to cook that turkey before I am allowed to buy more apples”? Of course not. A well-rounded stash is a knitter’s source of creativity, something she can rely on to bring her through good and bad times. Having a big stash is like a promise that you will spend time knitting with it, spending time on yourself.

Sometimes people say that their stash is taking up too much space, that husbands and children complain, and that they need to cut back. This might be a valid point in some cases, but I feel that women tend to be very shy about claiming space for themselves and the things they love. How much space does everyone else’s hobby take up? His motorcycle in the garage? The cage for the guinea pigs? The guitar collection? It’s okay to take up space. It’s okay to have things we like. It’s good to be present and to show who we are in our own homes.

What I do understand though is when a knitter feels overwhelmed by her stash and has herself (without nagging by others!) come to the conclusion that some wool has to go. Then, by all means: Reduce your stash. Get rid of the acrylics and the colors that do not suit you, let go of the lace and the silk if you do not like to knit with it, give away the woolen-spun bulky yarn that you find scratchy. But don’t knit with it. Don’t force yourself to knit with yarn you do not like. There are lots of things you can do with unwanted yarn: Give to kindergartens and schools for crafty projects, give to old people’s homes, give to your niece who has just learned to crochet or to your mother-in-law who does not care what yarn she uses anyway. Sell things to fellow knitters, or wrap up some skeins as gifts. But do not force yourself to knit with yarn that does not speak to you anymore.

Knitting is here to make you happy, and to be enjoyed. Knit what your appetite tells you. Stop when you feel you are done. Buy what you love, put it in your stash and knit with it when the time comes.

Puerto Montt

Striking and intense, dramatic color and contrast, and fascinating geometric shapes are what you can see if you board a ship in Puerto Montt in the very South of Chile and travel a few nautic miles to the Laguna San Rafael, where a bright teal-colored glacier lies between dark rocks, and if you are lucky you can see chunks of the ice break off and fall spectacularly into the water.

My husband and I spent a year in Chile, and we took our baby son on a cruise to this place, because I insisted that the only thing I really, really needed to see in Chile was the teal-blue glacier. When this yarn arrived, I was im- mediately reminded of the strange beauty of that place – and created an unusually shaped shawl which is simple, but dramatically shaped and can be worn in various flattering ways.

It also turns out that this shawl construction looks fabulous in a gradient or self-striping yarn! Here’s our version in Schoppel Crazy Zauberball, colorway “Blasser Schimmer”. I’m in Love!

Now as a download and printed version in Strickmich! Shop (we also carry the Zauberball yarn!) and on Ravelry.

Knitterly Infidelity

Knitting many things at once is the way to go!

I cannot imagine a better moment in a knitter’s life than the one when that huge shawl is finally bound off, the last seam is sewn and the last end is woven in. Now our piece only has to be washed and blocked, and soon, very soon we will take it out to knit night (which is, as we all know, our equivalent to New York Fashion Week). But as soon as the last pin is set and the shawl lays there in all its beauty, there is this tiny feeling creeping up: What now? I will have to take my son to Judo practice later on – and I will have nothing to knit while I sit there! Should I stare at the screen of my smartphone just like all the other parents? No way! I will have to come up with a new project, and fast. Okay, there are the obvious candidates: I could finish that sock that has been lingering in the back of my yarn shelf for quite some time. Well. Couldn’t hurt to finish some projects that are just gathering dust. On the other hand, we should not forget that most of the time I had good reasons to abandon them: That purple sock is obviously too tight, that pretty pink cotton yarn is hurting my fingers, that chart is just too complex for a comfort-seeking knitter like me, or the color really does not speak to me. Very good reasons to rather start something new (and to frog all those unfinished socks and things). And yes, of course I always have a pair of children’s socks on the needles, because my son refuses to wear other socks than the ones his mom knit – I might have spoiled him a little, I admit. But a simple sock will not do the trick when I have finished something truly beautiful and am looking for a replacement.

Sock knitting is just not the same as working on a brilliantly pretty new shawl…

So my guess is that I am like most knitters on this planet who tend to have multiple projects going on. But there is always only one I am totally in love with. One shawl or cardigan or hat that I really, really want to finish because I cannot wait to wear it. The one I am looking forward to knitting all day, the one I want to lovingly stare at during our date at night. And when it leaves me (because after binding off we really did not know what to talk about anymore), I feel sad and lonely. I need another project to fall in love with, and I need it fast. Luckily, as in the world of human relations, online dating is very common in the knitting world as well: We can admire yarns and patterns on our computer screens until we finally invite them to our homes. And we can use the internet to find a new love while there is still a beautiful striped shawlette waiting for us on the sofa. And that’s my resolution for my knitting: I will become the Don Draper of knitters. I will be unfaithful and look around for new knitting projects. No matter how attractive the one is that’s sitting on my needles right now – I need to think of the future. I will force myself to begin a little knitting affair with something else, so I will not have to be lonely when it comes to binding off. I am sure my shawlette will understand.

About Blocking

Knitters often ask me about blocking knitted items: Do I steam, wash or dampen? Which method is best? And what tools do I actually need?
Well, blocking is a big topic! I am no expert for every method, but I have found a way that works for me, and I will gladly share it here with you. First thing you need is equipment: Lots of pins (I use the ones with colored glass heads, but there are special blocking pins out there that are sturdier and longer). If you have knit something with straight edges or a circular shapes, blocking wires are probably very handy. I do not own any as they are hard to come by here in Germany and I always help myself by using lots and lots of pins – which is a lot of work, but the result is also fine. Also you will need a surface you can pin them into that is big enough to accommodate your knitted piece. I use some thin insulation board made of styrofoam that I found at the hardware store, but you can also use puzzle mats that you can find in a toy store or special blocking mats.

Now I let the knitted object soak in lukewarm water. Ideally you leave it there for 15-20 minutes. I usually do not have that much patience and just make sure every part of the shawl has soaked up some water. Then I carefully take it out, squeeze it gently, roll it up in a towel and step on the rolled towel for a minute or so. After that, I place the shawl on the blocking surface, making sure it fits. If it doesn’t, I add another piece of insulation board. Then I carefully arrange the piece such that straight edges are straight and the shape is the way it’s supposed to be. If the piece is not lace, that’s often all it takes. I might add a couple of pins to make corners more pronounced (like I did with “Heaven and Space”). If you have a complicated piece of lace (like the “Aeolian Shawl”, see pic below), it will only open up and look the way you want it if you stretch it. You will be surprised how much it stretches! It’s a good idea to have a look at the pattern or the pattern website to see how the designer has planned it and you can pin it accordingly. If there are any rectangular shapes, lines or circles on the inside of your shawl, it’s a good idea to block those first and work your way out to the edges. If you are blocking pieces of a garment that are supposed to be sewn together, look at the schematic and lay down and pin your pieces such that the measurements line up. This will make seaming a lot easier.

I cannot say much about other methods like steaming or dampening, mainly because the only steaming apparatus I own is my iron, and I have a lot of respect for it. But I also think that wool will better hold its shape if it has been thoroughly wet, not only damp. By the way: You will have to block your shawls afresh after each washing if you want them to look beautiful.

Blocking in my experience is never fast: simple things take at least 30 minutes, and a big complicated shawl might take up to an hour. And then you will have to wait until it is really dry. You should not remove the pins before that, otherwise it will not keep its shape. However, when it’s time and you can remove them, the whole beauty of your work will show. Enjoy!

Strickmich! Club Cast-on Event No. 1

Here is the video for the first virtual Cast-on-Event of Strickmich! Club 2017. Enjoy!