I wanna hold your haaaaand…

Well, I’m not sure if I do, really, but is that what you want?

The familiar question of handholding in pattern writing came up again on Twitter this week. 

Dependency issues 

This conversation tends to provoke strong feelings, so I’m going to come out right now with my opinion. I say absolutely, definitely maybe.

No fence sitting for me. 

The thing is, I’ve actually been changing my mind about it this very afternoon, in the course of a mental conversation with myself. (Don’t judge. I have kids under 5. Most days I’m my own best company.) I’d dashed off a comment to Angela in which I started off saying, well, basically yes (and for the record, in my own patterns I certainly try for maximum clarity), but by the end of three paragraphs I was already questioning myself. And after hitting submit, I kept thinking about it, and, well…

I think knitters of the past were more “independent”. I think modern knitters do expect a lot more handholding. But I think that the handholding can actually promote more creativity, better skills and ultimately even more independence. Wow. I think I’m coming over all attachment parent-y on pattern writing.

Here’s my earlier comment:

The question about “dependent knitters” I think comes from comparing modern patterns with the kind that were published a few decades ago. The further back you go, the less detail the patterns contain (to the point of excessive mystification and frustration, if you read Franklin Habit’s columns!). But even back in the 1980s there was a LOT more expectation that knitters would basically know, or figure out, what was required. Things like “at the same time” or “repeat for other side, reversing shaping”. Those terms are still common enough, but increasingly avoided by designers because they make knitters cry.

There were probably a whole bunch of reasons for the higher level of expectation then, and reasons why pattern writers now are able (and increasingly expected) to give more instructions. Eg self-publishing designers don’t have to worry about magazine space constraints. That said, a lot of customers will complain if the pattern contains “too much” detail, making it longer and more expensive to print. Some may even be irritated by having every detail prescribed, eg which cast-on to use! (Seriously, do you expect that and BO method in every pattern? Do you actually spend time thinking about it for every project? I’m honestly curious about this because most knitters have their favoured, stand-by methods and only use something else when there’s a very specific reason, which would certainly be specified in the pattern. I wouldn’t expect a standard sweater for instance to start with “Cast on, using the cable or long-tail cast-on methods…”)

All of which is to say – there is of course a lot of benefit in providing plenty of detail. I know that I’ve learned a lot of new techniques from carefully written and detailed patterns. But it’s interesting to ponder how recently knitters were dealing with very different instructions, and must have been much more “independent” as a result. (But of course knitting was then a more common skill, *and* the techniques used were perhaps less varied…)

It’s this last bit that I’ve been chewing over. I’m not a knitting historian, but I’m pretty sure knitting techniques were far more regionally restricted in the past than they are in the glorious internet age. There’s a reason techniques are known by names like “Continental” or “English style”, for instance. I bet you can think of a few people you know who’ve been knitting for half a century or more and churned out FSM knows how many sweaters, but always use the same increase method. Whereas you can find a crowd of relative n00bs having a rollicking discussion about the relative merits of kfb, m1 and lifted increases.

People may learn new tricks because they go looking – or because they stumble upon them. If you are perfectly happy making sweaters the way you’ve always done it, and you’re used to patterns that assume you pretty much know how to do it, it probably isn’t going to occur to you to look for a different way. But if you find a pattern that says “Cast on 20sts using the Turkish cast-on”, welp, right away you’re going to be trying to figure out this particular Turkish delight. If you’re lucky, the pattern writer will have included a little tutorial. (Thank you, Ann Kingstone!) If not, hello Google. But either way, unless you read through the pattern, figure out that this is recommended because it’s a single-row provisional cast-on and you just so happen to already know a really awesome single-row provisional cast-on that will totally work instead, it’s upskilling time. 

Another point: while some nervous novices are careful to look for beginner-friendly patterns – especially when trying a new-to-them kind of project, eg socks – more cocky ambitious types are likely to try their hands at things that may be considered advanced, in the expectation that if they know their knit from their purl, they can follow instructions and get a decent result. Most times, they will. If, however, they happen to pick a lovely lace sock pattern that says at a crucial point simply “Work your favourite heel” (oh yes, I’ve seen this)… well, this is not ideal. Especially if, say, that lovely lace sock is the only knitting they’ve packed for a long train journey, with poor mobile and wifi reception. Not that I’m overthinking this.  

Since I started knitting back in the 80s, I do tend to have a bit of latent snobbery about being able to work with the more minimalist instructions. I do kind of think that everyone should be able to handle a bit of shaping on both sides of a piece at the same time, reversed from the first side, without breaking a sweat. I also think that everyone should be able to read their knitting, knit lace while watching TV, drop stitches (on purpose) and ladder them up again to fix errors 20 rows down, in cable patterns, in the dark. Ok. Maybe not that last bit. I think I have maybe got unrealistically high expectations, based on the fact that I grew up in a family that was all (Dad included) pretty handy with the sticks and string, and reading knitting patterns was considered about as basic as reading recipes. (Actually… thinking about my mother’s cooking… make that way, way, way more basic than reading recipes.)

There is perhaps a place for patterns that expect you to already have a certain framework on which to hang their specifics. But using patterns that spell it all out will actually equip knitters with a whole arsenal of frameworks. (That can’t be the right collective noun, but just go with it.) Those knitters will, soon enough, be tweaking patterns on the fly, using the techniques gleaned from all those handholding, dependence-inducing modern patterns: “Eh, no, I don’t like that method. The shadow wrap short rows are much neater and easier.” 

Think over-dependence on instruction is a bad thing? Want to breed confident, multi-skilled, independent knitters? Job done. 

On fundraising, karma and Elfbaby luck

Elfbaby has been out in the world for about a month now – after five years of gestation, a lot of growth seems to have happened in this first action-packed month. Luckily, unlike the real Elfbaby’s first month, none of this involved sleep deprivation, tears or crises of confidence. In fact, it’s been quite a confidence boost.

While we’re not talking a huge viral hit, the pattern has been well received. It’s selling, and maybe even better than that, it’s getting the thumbs-up from people who have knit it – and cast on for their second or third go-round. (It’s the multiple border options, I think. You can’t make just one.) Which was already making me incredibly happy, and then an excellent thing happened.

I donated a copy of the pattern (plus yarn) as a karmic balancing gift for the Yarn Harlot’s annual torture fest People With Aids bike rally. You know about this? It’s quite the thing. People, ordinary people, people with lives and children and completely normal legs, made of flesh rather than iron, raise funds by cycling from Toronto to Montreal, over six days. I actually tend to think that the training period is almost worse than the ride (or would be for me), because of the sheer stress of trying to fit the massive amount of training required, plus fundraising, into a normal life. But this year, those six days happened to occur slap bang in the middle of completely evil weather, so that part was definitely, unarguably worse. Anyway, I donate a little every year, because it’s an excellent cause, and because I’m in awe of the Harlot and the rest of the riders, and I admit it, because I get a HUGE kick out of knowing that the collective power of knitters (as harnessed by a really great writer and committed fundraiser) is confusing the heck out of all the other fundraisers.

Also, Stephanie distributes karmic balancing gifts (donated by readers for other readers who have supported the team), which is bunches of fun. And this year I got in on the action. On both sides, as it turns out, because I won a copy of Romi’s fantastic Oddments collection! (The gorgeous Gingerbread Mitts were already on my list.) I consider Romi an old Purlescence friend, and she contributed a square to Claudia’s beautiful baby blanket, so this is particularly special. And as I mentioned, I donated a gift also, so Elfbaby got a Harlot blog mention

The Harlot being the Harlot, that was pretty valuable publicity, and gave a solid boost to pattern sales. Which, I can’t deny, I had hoped for. Combine that with my lucky win and I was feeling irrationally guilty. My supposedly good deed is generating a lot of benefit to me, and that’s awesome, but I feel like my karma’s getting a bit out of whack. So it’s time to pay it forward. The logical thing to do would be to donate some of the proceeds to PWA – but I’m not going to. The rally’s over for this year, and while that obviously doesn’t mean they need the cash any less now than they did before, there are other causes in need too.

Jacqui writes here about the importance of supporting smaller causes. I can only agree. I also love the thought that donating even small amounts can add up to a big impact – just as in knitting, where you can’t get the big result (or any results at all) without making lots of small efforts, over and over again. A charity I love that also embraces this small-is-beautiful ethos is Action on Poverty, which aims to make solid, lasting improvements to lives in the developing world by supporting micro enterprise. It’s enormously practical stuff, grounded in the realities of Africa and Asia, and by the way? You’ll notice that it especially benefits women. For all kinds of reasons, women are often at the heart of these ventures.

Elfbaby comes with three borders, and I’m making three donations from the proceeds of the Harlot sales bump. One to the DIPG research team, as highlighted by Jacqui, who got me thinking about the power of micro donations. One to APT, which – with its small, practical, often women-oriented projects – is clearly a cause perfectly aligned with the knitting spirit. And one to a charity to be chosen by Lorna (UPDATE: she chooses Parkinson’s UK, because her dad is a sufferer), whose beautiful photos are undoubtedly a big part of the pattern’s success.

As for PWA? I have an idea for next year’s bike rally…

Introducing Elfbaby… the hat!

Five years ago I conceived a hat for my beloved Elfbaby. It would – of course – be a pixie-style hat, with a long point. It would have a garter stitch chevron border, to show off handpainted yarn and to allow plenty of stretch for growing heads. I planned to publish a pattern.

Elfbaby the first

Claudia modelling the Pumuckl border, in Cariad Newgale

I failed to do this.

I don’t really remember why. Normally it’s the photos that hold me back (I do have something of a track record with failing to publish patterns) but evidently, we had pics. All I can say is… baby. And business. I wasn’t at my most productive.

Since then, I’ve had another baby, had another go at the pattern (adding two different border options, because pretty!), and churned out a whole stinking heap of these hats – for samples, for gifts, for my kids, who love them but keep on losing them! Sometimes, tragically, before I manage to take a photo. As was the case with Max’s first Elfhat, which – in light denim-coloured Clan – was such a fine hat, a stranger stopped me  in the centre of Zurich to gush that it was a “Kunstwerk”. Oh well. I just made more; it was a great chance to test the different sizes.

Elf the second
Max modelling the Pixi border, in Lang Jawoll Magic

At this point pictures definitely were holding me up. I had a lovely sample of the Pippi border, worked in an intense purple yarn that Claudia loved, but it was impossible to photograph. And finding a chance to get my photographer and child models and myself together and in a suitable mood for a productive shoot was not so easy either. (Given that this whole group could also be described simply as “my family”, you wouldn’t think it would be so hard, but it was.)

Elf the Elder
Claudia modelling the Pippi border, in Claudia Handpainted Fingering

Enter lovely Lorna, a Twitter friend whose photos I’d particularly admired for ages. When she volunteered to test knit the pattern, I begged her to also contribute some pictures, which she generously did.

Elf the newest
Ronan modelling the Pixi border, in Regia My First Regia

Thank goodness for Lorna. With the help of her and her adorable baby – plus a few extra months in which I knit another passel of hats and had to keep giving them away, but finally managed to achieve a photographable Pippi sample – I finally have a pattern. It’s the first I’m offering for sale. It’s only five years late. I hope you like it.

PS. Enter the code ONLY5YEARS at Ravelry checkout to enjoy 50% off the price until the end of August!
ETA: Patricia pointed out in the comments that this code doesn’t work using the “buy now” button above – I’m sorry. However, if you want to buy and don’t have a Ravelry account, please email me; I’ll be happy to refund €2 on any full-price purchases while the promotion lasts.

Vive la difference?

As Max grows, there are a whole new set of comparisons to draw   against Claudia. The one giving us grey hairs right now is that, while she was a demanding infant but super-sweet, biddable, careful toddler, he’s… not. Well, sweet, yes, absolutely; he is still King of Cuddles, cheerful and affectionate and utterly delicious. But biddable? Careful? Ha. No, he’s the kid who wants what he wants, and will move heaven and earth (or at least a whole lot of furniture) to get it, without paying any heed to risks or warnings.

“Oh,” people love to comment, “he’s a BOY. Now you see the difference.”

You reckon? Hm. Okay. You may have a point. After all… he’s obsessed with anything with wheels. (Motorbikes get him particularly excited.) Also balls. Tractors! Machinery! BOY STUFF!

Then again…

He’s also way more into dolls and stuffed animals than Claudia was at this age. And less into building blocks.

He’s better at playing by himself. And while I’ve always been told boys would require a whole lot more time running around outside than girls, I simply haven’t seen any difference compared with Claudia at this age.

And the biddable thing? Well, my friend Pip has twins. E was a placid infant, while B was a shark baby, like Claudia: got to keep moving. Very demanding. Only started to enjoy life once he got mobile – like Claudia. But then became a super-sweet, eager to please toddler, whereas E would just do what E wanted to do, regardless.

They’re both boys. And for that matter, they’re twins. You can’t explain the difference away by gender, nor by first child/second child syndrome. They’re individuals, with individual personalities. It’s as simple as that. I’d really love it if people would apply that pretty obvious insight to my kids, also.

Especially because, as Terrence Real, who’s a couples’ therapist, says, when you take the whole range of human capabilities and qualities, and you say one half is masculine, and one half is feminine, and only boys can be masculine, and only girls can be feminine, then everybody loses, because you’re asking everyone to cut off and deny a part of their humanity.

(from this great interview with Judy Y Chu, who has studied boys’ behaviour in the early school years)

Renewal

I decided a while ago to let my longstanding subscriptions to Designer Knitting (as Vogue is now known in the UK) and Interweave Knits lapse. Not without pangs; Vogue in particular is very close to my heart, having been my connection to the world of Real Knitters since waaaay back in the day when I was in South Africa without access to any decent yarn shops,* knew no one outside my family who knit, and of course Ravelry and blogs just didn’t exist.

My Vogue collection goes back unbroken to 1999, plus occasional earlier issues from 1993 on. I only found Interweave later, in the UK, so that shelf starts in 2003.  I purged all my other magazines when we moved, but those two titles are untouchable. It’s not that I’ve actually knit much of anything from them, nor do I plan to. But they are inspiration made concrete – not to mention advice, education, contemplation, temptation, pleasure.

All of which – plus the vital sense of connection that drove my subscriptions for years – are now available online. In vast quantity and constantly updated; no endless waiting for the next issue to drop through my door. Oh sure, the thrill when it does drop through my door is unabated. But paying for that thrill, when inspiration and connection flow freely past my eyes every time I fire up the internet, was starting to seem a little self-indulgent. Especially with my post-move, SAHM budget being pretty darn tight. So I ignored the renewal notices; I let procrastination turn gradually into firmer purpose: I won’t renew. I don’t really need them any more. Do I?

And then today, picking up my last issue – and presumably last renewal notice –  from the postbox, the thought suddenly struck me: what if everyone allows Ravelry to replace their subscriptions? What if the magazines finally stop publishing? I’m shocked that it took me so long to think of that, especially since I actually work in publishing and have very recent, painful experience of this trend. But it genuinely only now occurred to me: that’s where we’re going. And I can’t bear to think of a knitting world without Vogue and Interweave.

Editorial standards count for something. Curated expertise counts for something. And I have no doubt there are readers who rely absolutely on the magazines… but maybe not enough of those readers to keep the mags alive. I love Ravelry so much, and the quality of many self-publishing designers is sublime. But I don’t want the whole market to go that way.

So I’m putting my money where my mouth is – and after all, it’s really not much money. Money is energy. It takes me time and energy to earn it; I want to direct that energy toward things I believe in. Just as I think one should never leave a yarn shop or a bookshop emptyhanded (even if habitual online shopping has one’s credit card number imprinted on one’s brain), I’ve decided, I need to keep supporting these magazines.

That’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.

  • That’s changed, of course! But at the time…

Week 2 in verbs/5 things

First week back at work, which was obviously not so much fun since the job is ending. But it ended on a slightly improved note, with a project to keep me busy for the rest of the month that might actually be slightly meaningful. Maybe. At least it’s a project. Meanwhile, I have been:

Reading Kate Atkinson, still. 

Knitting those handwarmers, at speed of light, and of course now Elfling wants her own matching pair. Sure, why not, I have leftover yarn and they really are speedy. Sadly I’ve also been reknitting the loop; my initial reaction to the first version was “Wow! Surprisingly awesome!” – but then a few details bugged me. Mostly, it was good enough to be worth publishing the pattern; but the pattern wouldn’t be good enough in that form. So, a rewrite/reknit. It’s irritating me. I think the result will be cool, and it’s not exactly slow, but it’s irritating and not going as fast as I’d like. Also started a pair of socks for bus knitting (not that I’ll have much bus time any more – working mostly from home till end of contract), because I’ve joined the Poshies sock challenge (7 pairs in 2014).

…You know what, I just can’t. I do kind of like recording what I’ve done through the week, but frankly that’s for a private journal. It’s so unbelievably boring. Let’s go back to last year’s favourite format. Random 5 coming up!

1. The Maximuffin is one! One year of awesomeness. Still shockingly lacking in nice photos, which is a sadness. We celebrated with Armin’s family and a rather nice (though craterrific) flourless cake. (The Dude himself has gotten over his wheat allergy, but Grosi – Swiss for grandmother – has just been diagnosed with gluten issues.) Recipe, adapted from Sophie Michell:

8 egg whites
300g ground hazelnuts and/or almonds 
(I used a mix)
300g caster sugar
Grated zest of 2-3 clementines
Handful of dried cherries (optional)
Icing sugar, some clementine segments and decorations, if required
Preheat the oven to 180C and line a deep 20cm cake tin. Mix the ground nuts and sugar thoroughly (you’ll need a BIG bowl), then stir in the fruit. Beat the egg whites till soft peaks form and fold into dry ingredients. Pour into prepared cake tin and bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown on top. Leave to cool.   
Mix some icing sugar (I have absolutely no idea how much, I just tipped some into a bowl, not too much) with clementine juice (I literally just smushed a few pieces between my fingers until I could mix the icing easily – going for a fairly thin icing but not as runny as a glaze). Spread over cake and decorate. Or let your kindergartener decorate. If you’ve followed my directions, rather than what I actually did (adding the cherries too late), you shouldn’t have my problem with the centre collapsing; but if you do, stick some icing cars around the side and pretend it’s a racing track. Worked for me.

Image

It’s good, I promise, and well worth trying for a gluten-free treat. Although not quite as good as the Queen of Sheba flourless chocolate cake, which is totes amazeballs, and no, I will not apologise for that phrase. (There seem to be a lot of recipes going by that name. The linked one is the simplest, and so good, I can’t be bothered to try any others.)

2. Christmas trees make awesome bonfires. Ever thrown a pine branch on a fire? So many sparks! 

Image

Note the actual firemen handling the burning of trees, in manly man fashion. Couldn’t have just anybody chucking trees on the fire, no sir. Mind you… they do have those groovy gloves that let them adjust the trees in the fire when needed; and the trees do have a way of suddenly going FOOOM.

Image

 

Isn’t this a much, much nicer way of disposing of trees than just leaving them out with the recycling? So much nicer. There was a sausage party, too, in the barn. (This all took place on a farm in the village; before Christmas they sold trees, after, they burned them!) Sausages and bread free, but Fr5 for potato salad. Go figure.

3. Sunday brunch is an all-day date. Did you know? Maybe it’s a Hamburg thing. Armin always waxes very nostalgic about the brunches he enjoyed with his Hamburg friends, when he did apprenticeships there back in the day. Now we’ve started brunching with our neighbours from Hamburg (conveniently, they have two very sweet kids about 6 months older than each of our two), and the only time it’s lasted less than 5-7 hours was the time we had an immoveable date that required us to cut things short after just 4 hours. So rude of us. Anyway, today three of those hours were spent learning a new-to-us board game, Kingsburg. (I’m always a bit slow at learning games; triply slow with the language barrier.) I maintain this game should be rechristened Winterfell, because winter is coming, and it brings attacks by demons or zombies or goblins…

4. On Friday I got to play by myself, almost all day. It were amazing. Bit of shopping, including a visit to Vilfil; it’s an absolutely ludicrous shop, reminiscent of those crowded secondhand bookshops where you feel in constant danger of being crushed under an avalanche of product, with the added annoyance that none of the yarn has pricetags – you have to look them up on pricesheets swinging from the shelves. Not unfriendly, and the selection is amazing (especially compared with my local shop, the charmingly named but less charmingly stocked and staffed Wulle Huusli). But not the most browsing-friendly experience.

5. Also on Friday, after shopping and coffee and knitting, all by myself (bliss!), I finally saw Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Not the most satisfying movie. Now I’m wondering whether I would have been as impressed with the first movie if I’d read the books first – but I really think this was just a bad adaptation. Too many clumsy attempts to shoehorn in details that really suffer for it; better to have left out the “people are starving in District 12″ overeating bit, for instance. Too much emotional complexity reduced to telegraphese. Annoying. But! Amazing knitwear. So that’s something.

 

Week 1 in verbs

I feel like trying a new thing. (Not a new concept in blogging, far from it, just new for me.) It may well not last, but I’m trying it. A nice, nerdy, brief list of the week’s stuff. More for me than for you, frankly, because isn’t blogging all about the narcissism?

This week I have been:

Reading Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog. A Jackson Brodie book. I love these, even though I’m not much of a crime fan. This one’s a bit of a slow burner so far (140 pages in) but enjoyable. (I recently read Life After Life, which was brilliant and miserable and compelling and unsatisfying and I’m really not quite sure how I feel about it. Hoping for a better/simpler result this time.)

Knitting Armin’s Christmas socks (not finished by Christmas, nor even by year-end, but at least by the end of the holidays) – Furlough, no pics yet – followed by a simple, boring knit for me: a loop to keep my head and neck and possibly chin warm when running. Finished last night, now making matching mitts. Pics and hopefully pattern to come.

Working on assorted personal/household organisey sort of things. I had a long list at the start of the hols, and frankly have done a bit better than expected, though obviously not nearly finished.

Visiting the zoo; Armin took some rather nice pics. None of which are of the famous penguin parade, which was cute but oversubscribed, or the very impressive rainforest (it was getting dark by then). Or the gorillas. I’m not sure why. The gorillas were great (babies playing!). We’re looking forward to going back, with more snacks next time so that Elfling doesn’t get fed up so quickly. Anyway, the zoo is awesome. Gorgeous location, gorgeous design, gorgeous animals.

Spending Christmas vouchers (the Glatt shopping centre issues them in the form of delightfully heavy gold coins in velvet bags!), on a soundplate for our TV/Bluray player (also our only source of music in the lounge). Nice!

Watching The last of Game of Thrones, Great Gatsby, Pacific Rim and the start of Breaking Bad. Which is almost more than the sum total of all the TV we’ve watched since moving to CH, and not likely to be maintained at anything like this level.

And today husky sledding! Surprise actual item of note at the end there. Just to test if you’re still awake. I set this up ages ago, for a planned article in the magazine that probably no longer exists. Went ahead and did it despite the imminent demise of said publication, because (a) might be able to sell it to another publication, and (b) some evidence exists of straws, for grasping at. Anyway. Huskies! Are awesome.

Sometimes I sits and knits, and sometimes I just sits.

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