Sunday, March 27, 2016

Going North

This project took a while to be born. After my initial disappointments I remembered Veronik Avery's pattern Nord that I bought about 2 years ago, but then decided not to make.
I went to the Ravelry to research the finished garment made after this pattern and discovered that it was a big success among French knitters. Maybe because of its French name, who knows? They were mentioning La Poule, whose modifications they followed. I got really curious and after a while found La Poule's website and the page dedicated to Nord.
If you don't know French, here is the gist: she did no sleeves' shaping on front and back, just knit straight till the end, picked up stitches for sleeves around the armholes and knit in the round incorporating decreases as she went. La Poule looks absolutely adorable in this sweater (btw, she looks adorable in everything and on all pictures on her website, check it out, she also designs clothes!).
I don't think that designers are too happy when we, knitters, make modifications to their design. They are professional, after all, and they know what they are doing. I feel their pain, but modify we must nevertheless! Don't you agree?
Here is why I needed some modifications if I wanted to finish anything from this yarn before our departure from Florida.
First - the yarn. I used Sublime Organic Cotton dk that I bought 4 (!!!!!) years ago in Edinburgh while visiting my daughter. I grabbed the bag of this yarn and started looking for more, but, alas, that was the only one.

The yarn is soft, silky, with great stitch definition - it needed to be the main attraction of a pattern. Too many pizzas and details would distract from it. Therefore, I needed something very simple. Nord is an epitome of simplicity. What can be easier than garter stitch? And it is almost only garter stitch with just one central cable on the front. Before I forget, if you decide to make this pattern, start with the front part, and only then do the back and sleeves (the pattern starts with sleeves, for some reasons).
Cotton has a tendency to stretch. Garter stitch has a tendency to stretch A LOT. So my finished garment was supposed to be a couple of sizes bigger than the size that I end up making. That is why I picked the smallest size. Plus used smaller needles. Plus my gauge was a little bit different (you guessed it - smaller). When I was putting pieces together I was a little bit worried that I made it too small after all - but after washing and blocking the size seems to be just right.
Since my row gauge was smaller I had to lengthen the part between two cable crosses, otherwise the whole thing would have been too short.

I didn't make this sweater in the round like some other ravelers. I even have seems on the sleeves. Seems give shape to garments, hold it together, and stop it from stretching. That is why I didn't make the sleeves in the round. I need my garments to have shape, don't really like shapeless things. They make me look shapeless as well. As a middle aged woman who loves food and cooking I need to accentuate all the assets that I still have in my body not to hide them.

The other thing that bothered me in the pattern was this bulging piece on the front - it seems to add volume to the exact spot on my body I would like not to add volume to. Ever. That was my other big fear.

 You can see on these pictures the result of my endeavors. More - on Ravelry. The sweater is light, airy, and rather comfortable to wear. Since wearability is my major request to a garment, I am pleased with it after all.
 I am leaving Islamorada in a couple of days. Going North to Pennsylvania. Maybe that is why, unconsciously, I picked this particular pattern - in anticipation of our trip. Bon voyage!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Let's talk about LOVE

I don’t have a finished garment to show you yet (it is drying outside now), so I decided to talk about craft and crafts-men and women in general.
Look at the amazing creations that I clumsily photographed with my phone (sorry, I am still learning!!!! Promise, next time I’ll do better!!!!!).
This complex and colorful quilt was stitched by hand, one stitch at a time.
You can see the happy face of its creator on this photo.
This intricate shawl with beads (yes, I know, you cannot see them, blame the photographer, not the maker, they definitely are there and they add elegance and splendor to the wrap) made from superfine hand-dyed yarn … I was speechless when I saw it.
Things like this we usually admire in museums, made by the craftsmen and artisans of bygone times. The artists put not only their skills into the work but also their emotions, their state of mind, their love. Yes, I do believe that to create something beautiful (or at least something pleasing and useful) one absolutely has to put a piece of him/herself in it. Creation is a process of giving. That is what we, admirers, feel, being on the receiving end, don’t you think? This spark of inspiration, the quick thought “Oh! I would love to make something like this, something beautiful!” is usually aroused by contemplating somebody’s gorgeous work.
For example, let’s take a simple dinner preparation (not in general, just my dinner preparation). If I read the recipe closely, trying to visualize mentally the future meal, and start salivating imagining it, then go to a store and carefully select the best ingredients, and, after getting back home, totally concentrate on the process of preparation: peeling carrots, onions, and garlic, washing and cutting potatoes, mushrooms, or herbs, boiling, grilling, tasting, adding spices and tasting again… It doesn’t matter what I cook, the end result will smell, taste, and look delicious.
If, on the other hand, I am in a hurry or tired, and need to whip up something hastily just to satisfy hunger, I will never come up with a mouthwatering dish.  Some professional cooks, chefs, probably, would, they can do it in their sleep, but I won’t. If I want good food I need to “make love” to it first.
Same is true for knitting. Again, I am talking about myself. I need to be in love with my project. Only then I finish it sooner rather than later and have a decent result. Sometimes, I lose my enthusiasm in the middle of working on a garment. The reasons could be different – made a mistake, picked a wrong size, yarn doesn’t work with a pattern, don’t like the look on me – but the result it always the same. I end up with something that I don’t really like.
This is what happened to me with my last project. I started one pattern, lost interest in it, and unraveled the whole thing.

Then I started another pattern that I still like, but the yarn didn’t want to become this pattern. My husband, walking by, asked me: “What is this ugly thing that you are working on?” Needless to say that I unraveled my “ugly thing” immediately.
My third try had to be my last one. You cannot torture your yarn indefinitely. It is cruel and barbarous! I believe that yarns must be loved and cherished like pets.
This is why at the end I got a “meh” garment: I don’t REALLY dislike it but I am not in love with it.
My perception might change (it does sometimes) when I am back in Florida later this year. And I might suddenly fall in love with it and wear it a lot. We’ll see.
I'll leave you with the wonderful project handwoven by Mary from my knitting group on Key Largo (again, it looks much-much-much better in real life!).

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Language barrier

-  How do you say in Russian “I’ll miss you”? - asks my ever smiling round faced Chinese doctor.

-  Буду скучать.

-  Буду скучать. – He repeats carefully, testing the sounds on his tongue and nodding appreciatively.

- It’s like Buddha but with an “U” at the end. – I try to help him.

He enjoys learning short sentences in Russian and now can say about 5 of them – the easiest ones. He thinks this is the best way to learn a foreign language – “in conversation with native speakers”. You have to hand it to him – he has a good memory and a fine ear. Not only he can repeat Russian words well, he really remembers them till my next visit.

I tried to do the same with Chinese phrases. I would repeat them after him, perfecting my pronunciation, but by my next appointment I wouldn’t remember a sound. He does. He practices constantly.

- Russian language has a lot of words with the sound “K”, - he says while sticking needles in me. These needles are the reason why I am here. He is an acupuncturist and I have a chronic pain problem.

- Actually no. You don’t have enough statistic evidence to come to this conclusion, - I don’t mind needles. Yet, the generalizations about a language based on the 5 sentences knowledge – I can’t pass it by. Oh, human nature, you need to find a pattern in everything, don’t you?

All the needles are in place and now he connects them to the electrical wires. Yes, I’ll be electrocuted – mildly – and paradoxically it helps me with pain. It is like rewiring or rebooting your body. Unfortunately, it works only for a while and then you have to rewire it again. Well, computers also get broke.

My doctor is very good with needles. And he obviously doesn’t understand statistics. If you learn 5 sentences in 2 years without any idea about grammar rules, it is not the best way of learning a foreign language. How many years it will take to learn all the sentences that you need to survive? Right, I know, it will never happen.

Yet, he is happy and thinks that he discovered a great new way of learning. He even recommended me to rent Chinese movies with English subtitles and watch them if I want to learn Chinese.

- I’ll miss you too, - I tell him at the end of my visit. In English. I am mean. I don’t want to maintain his illusion that he can speak Russian. Yet, I know that he will stay delusional nevertheless.

I have my little secret about learning a language. After all, I learned English here, when I came to this country, not before. Do you want to know it? It is pretty simple. You will learn a language quickly – and by learning it I mean speaking, listening, writing, and reading – if you are well motivated. MOTIVATION is the main and only condition to learn a language in my opinion. Because it cannot be easy.

Let me explain.

Many times I’ve heard people complaining about not knowing any foreign language for two major reasons:

1. No talent for languages.

I am sorry to disappoint, but there is no such thing as a special gift for languages (actually, over the years I’ve met a couple of people who really enjoyed learning new languages and made it their profession, but such people are rare and exotic species). We all learn at least one language because we need to communicate with other humans; therefore, we are perfectly able to learn more. The problem – it’s too much of a bother.

2. Too little too late.

So many times I’ve heard that people should start learning languages in kindergarten, with songs, poems, and games. The earlier you start, the easier it goes. Again, I am sorry to disappoint. I’ve brought up two bilingual children and I can tell you from experience that it is as hard when you are a kid as it is when you are an adult. With one difference – you grow up, you forget your struggles, and keep an extra-language in your possession.

Actually (again, I found it from the experience and literature), adults learn languages much faster than kids, which makes sense. They already know one language, right? They know how it works and all the patterns. It takes less time for them to figure out how the same notions are expressed in a new language. The only thing that adults cannot do – they cannot avoid having an accent (again, there are few who can but this IS a special skill). If you learn a language after the age of 8, your accent will stay with you forever no matter how often you use the language. Something happens to our hearing ability and we stop distinguishing all the sounds, especially the unknown ones. That is why for me words like “bitch” and “beach”, “sheet” and “shit”, or “sheep” and “ship” are a big problem and sometimes a source of embarrassment, because they sound the same to my Russian ear. But I digress.

Today I wanted to talk about MOTIVATION. Well, to learn a new language you have to be strongly motivated.

First, you need a serious natural disaster. In my case it was a blizzard. A big one. When snow is 10” deep, your dog cannot go outside and you have to dig a tunnel in the snow for it. And for several days it is dangerous to drive. And no one is driving. That sort of natural disaster, the one that regularly happens in Pennsylvania, you know, it is called “winter”.

Second, you need to rent an old house with an even older (basically, antique) heater and an insensible representative of the rental agency.

Third, at some point during the above mentioned blizzard, the heater gets broken.

Now, imagine yourself shivering in a frozen house, with two kids who almost instantly became sick (kids do it all the time, at least mine did), with a dog who complains about the walking and bathroom arrangements, with a husband who has to work somehow, and, to top it all, with unexpected house guests who came all the way from Russia for a vacation.

I’d rather not go in my futile attempts to persuade our rental agent that we needed somebody to come and fix the heater pronto. Roads were covered with snow anyway, and no one could drive. Yet, after several days of waiting a crew consisting of two tired melancholy looking men came to take care of our heater.

I spent half a day before their arrival preparing my speech. I tried to impress on them the urgency of the task pointing at my dog and mentioning my children. Soon enough they were leaving and I didn’t hear any sounds from the heater. It was as broken as before they came to look at it (because, basically, that was all what they did – just looked at it). So, naturally, I tried to stop them and get them to do the job.

“Take it easy, ma’am”, - said one of them, and they left with a smile on their tired faces.

I went to look up “take it easy” in the dictionary – will never forget that expression!

Eventually, my husband fixed the heater himself and the snow melted. And I was learning English like a woman possessed. I was memorizing irregular verbs while doing dishes, listening to the books while walking the dog, trying to speak to anyone who would listen to me (sadly, for a while, I could rely only on Jehovah Witnesses wandering in our neighborhood, nobody else would have a conversation with me). I watched TV as often as I could, especially all the commercials – trying to repeat words and imitate intonation. I drove telemarketers crazy because I would answer to them and then ask to repeat what they said 6 to 8 times.

By the next time a handyman came to our house (it was a different house with no unresponsive rental agent) I graduated from a special school for foreigners at St. Joseph University.

After I said my first sentence (something along the lines of “How are you?”) the handyman asked me if I spoke any English. “Yes”, - I said with conviction, - “I’ve got a certificate of proficiency to prove it. Do you want to see it?” He didn’t.

Many times I’ve heard from people that they would love to learn Italian/French/Japanese just for the beauty of it (“Oh, it sounds so beautiful! I wish I could speak it!”), and it is painful for me to stay quiet and not to say anything back. Without MOTIVATION (yes, a big one, all capital letters!) you absolutely cannot learn a foreign language no matter how beautiful you find it. You’ll be telling everyone that you lack this special talent – for tongues, or that you started too late and you lost your natural ability to learn a language that you certainly had as a child.

As a matter of fact you just lack motivation. It is that simple, my friends!

In the knitting news there is no news. From the yarn that I brought to Florida there are only 2 bags left.
 I picked one wishing to make a pattern from Phildar magazine. Here how it went. I don’t know why, maybe my aversion got transferred from Phildar in general onto its patterns through osmosis. Anyway, that yarn didn’t want to become this sweater.
And I unraveled everything that I had knitted and started all over with a different pattern but the same final result – I ripped it off. Currently, I am on my third and, hopefully, last try (fingers crossed!). I’ll let you know how it goes.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Gehry, or One never knows

I didn't expect much from this particular pattern. My main goal was to find something where I could use the rest of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino from my stash.

The pattern seemed to be fairly easy and straightforward. It turned out to be one of the best patterns that I've bought lately. Thank you, Ann McCauley, from now on I am your fan! It is really well written and you cannot go wrong if you just follow directions.
 Still I had to make some adjustments. First of all, the yarn. From my previous experience with Baby Cashmerino I knew that it has a tendency to grow after washing. And I am a very short person (with short arms!!!!). That is why I made the smallest size using  size 2.75 mm (US size 2) needles. The fabric was pretty thick, and at one point I was even worried that I was making it too stiff. Fortunately, after washing it became much smoother and thinner, so I got the exact effect I was aiming for.
I really like the modern look of this sweater. It can be worn with skirts and pants - big plus in my book! 
 My only disappointment was how the side edgings turned out. I wish they were more even and didn't curl at the ends. I did my best while blocking the garment, but apparently my best was not enough.
I plan to steam them with an iron. We'll see what happens... Hopefully, I win - I usually do. If not, I'll do better the second time. Yes, I am going to make it again, and I already picked the yarn for this project (shhh, don't tell anyone, it is a secret!). It is a very fast knit!
 As usual, more pictures - on Ravelry. Anyway, the sweater is very practical and can be worn even in South Florida which is an additional plus.