Monthly Archives: February 2017

Knitting mistakes as a metaphor for life

If only our creations were as perfect as this rose!

Can grappling with mistakes in your knitting help you to understand and cope with the more important ones you’ve made/are making in real life? Perhaps they can, if you allow those lessons to swarm up from your subconscious.

From the first day you embark on a new skill, like knitting, playing an instrument, or riding a bike, you make mistakes. As you become more proficient you make fewer mistakes, but mistakes will always happen, they’re called accidents—just ask my husband, who went ass-over-teakettle on his bike and broke his collarbone a few years ago.  It wasn’t because he’s not a proficient cyclist!  As a novice knitter, the mistakes seem huge and unmanageable, disheartening.  You think, “I have to go back and do that AGAIN??”  If you can get past that point, as in most disciplines, the mistakes become easier to manage.

As a musician, I’m used to these “accidents”  (brass players call them “cacks”), but I’m not sure that has helped me as a knitter.  Except when I remember the major difference between them: when I make a mistake in my knitting you don’t notice it from a great distance away!  As you become more proficient at knitting, the act of “tinking” (or going back, stitch by stitch) or “frogging” (think of “rip-it, rip-it, rip-it”) to get back to where the mistake is doesn’t seem as daunting.  As at least one of my lovely mentors at my LYS (local yarn store) has told me, “it’s all just knitting, and we love knitting, right?”

I’m learning  to assess the mistake: can I fix it without undoing my knitting? If not, can I live with the mistake? Some mistakes are purely aesthetic, some are structural, so that’s another assessment that has to be made. For example, if you drop a stitch there’s no choice, you must fix it or your knitting will unravel. A no-brainer, except figuring out how (and for that there’s YouTube!).   However, an aesthetic mistake can cause hours or days of philosphical soul-searching to resolve.

Let’s take an example from my own recent project called “Vertices Unite” by the aforementioned Stephen West.  This is a gigantic shawl (made more so by my looser-than-desirable stitch gauge!) and I’ve already made a couple of aesthetic mistakes. The trouble with this particular project is that undoing the knitting is not as straightforward as I’m used to because the pattern calls for you to slip the first stitch of each row and pick up stitches as you go to attach sections together…anyway, not very complicated except when you’re having to tink or frog back.  Then I find it hard.  For that reason, and because the rows are so long, I’ve decided for those particular mistakes I’m going to turn a blind eye.  Or, as my Mom used to say, “a man on a galloping horse would never notice!”  Of course it’s a bummer  that it’s not perfect, but isn’t that also a metaphor for life?  Sometimes you have to look at the big picture with your eyes a little squinted, and then it looks fine!

Happy knitting!

Hands up if you can spot my mistakes!

Colour Quandary

Here I am, modelling my zickzack scarf, in colours I love!

Since taking up the needles again just before Christmas, 2013, I’ve discovered a lot about myself and how I relate to colour. Choosing colour is a surprisingly emotional issue. When you’re about to commit to a knitting project, which will take many hours of work, choosing the “right” colour(s) becomes very important. I have been watching quite a few knitting podcasts on Youtube, (yes, for the uninitiated, there is such a thing!) and recently my very own LYS (local yarn store) has started one that I really love. It’s called Espace Tricot. (The store exists just two blocks from my house, so naturally I’m there at least once a week!) This week, the hosts, (Melissa and Lisa) talked a lot about colour and choosing the colours with which to knit their store samples vs choosing colours for themselves. . They talked about how most of their samples are knit with neutral colours such as grey, beige, brown, black or cream because they find that most people can imagine their preferred colours more easily when they see a sample made out of those neutrals. It’s been my experience that they’re absolutely right.  It was lucky that when they started the store, with no previous experience, they naturally knit in the colours they liked, which tended to be neutral!

Vertices Unite Shawl by Stephen West, in the early stages.

On the other hand, there are designers who have no such compunction. Take Stephen West, for example. An amazing, gifted and flamboyant designer of knitwear, he knits in any colours he likes, and although I have no evidence for my theory, I bet he isn’t worrying about whether they have broad appeal. When I first started looking at patterns on Ravelry, I stumbled across Stephen West’s patterns almost right away because he’s crazy popular, but when I looked at them I couldn’t get past most of his colour choices. It’s only when I started looking at people’s project pages that I fell in love with some of his patterns, because I saw them in “my” colours. That’s a good lesson to learn as you’re choosing patterns; if there is something about a design that you’re attracted to but you’re not sure, start sifting through the project pages and you’ll soon have a much better idea of whether you love the pattern and whether you’d knit it with enjoyment.

It’s common for people to get completely stuck when choosing colours and not be able to make a decision for lots of reasons. As an experienced knitter, you might feel badly that you always pick the same colours; if you’re a brand new knitter you might be overwhelmed by all the choices; if you really want to branch out, you might think, but will I ever wear it?; if you love bright colours, you might tell yourself they’re impractical. If you love neutrals you might be in the best position, because you’ll enjoy knitting the piece and you’ll likely wear it, because neutrals are easy to wear on the whole. However, if I were a neutral-loving person, I might diss myself for always choosing such dull colours! (No offence!) After going through these quandaries frequently over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that life is too short to knit something in a colour you don’t love. The hardest thing is to knit something for someone else in a colour you dislike. Then it’s a slog. That doesn’t mean I’ll never do that again; I probably will because I enjoy making things for people, and if they’ve chosen the colours, then they might actually wear the item!

As a young woman I went through a process called “getting my colours done”, a fad at the time (80’s). There were people (mostly women) who made their living by going to people’s houses with a pile of swatches of different colours and assessing what “season” people were. If you were a “winter” or “summer”, you were better in the cold colours, if you were a “spring” or “fall”, you were better in the warm colours, broadly speaking. ( I just googled this and it’s still very much a thing!) The day I had my colours done, whether it was the lighting in my house or the mood I was in, I found the process very uncomfortable and embarrassing, especially since, according to the colour lady, I was totally wrong when I guessed which ones looked better on me! When she put the black up and then the brown and said, which one? I chose brown, though I had no idea—I thought I looked hideous in both. Same with white and cream. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We got off to a rough start but when she got into the actual colours I finally started to see that the brights— the purples, pinks, blues and greens—were much better on me than the oranges, yellows, reds and browns. If this seems like a bogus proceeding, I understand, but it made a firm impression on me and I’ve always chosen colours in the cold palette since then and regretted it when I didn’t. I still can’t be 100% sure whether I love the cold colours now because the colour lady said I looked better in them, or because I actually love them from my soul, but the result is the same. When I see certain colours my heart soars, others leave me unmoved. (I have the same connection to certain flowers over others, which helps when I’m at the garden store!) Here’s an anecdote to demonstrate my pre-“season”-choosing self. I got married when I was twenty-three and chose a “going-away” outfit (gosh, this sounds so dated now!) in light brown and cream, I suspect with help from my friends, but that memory is hazy now. In retrospect, the main reason I chose that suit was because the lining was in a beautiful pale pink! No surprise that I rarely wore that outfit after my wedding day.

So, choosing colours can make you very happy, but it can also cause guilt, frustration, embarrassment, buyer’s remorse, and, saddest of all, waste, since the yarn will probably sit in your stash; or you’ll knit it up without joy and never wear the article. The most important thing is to enjoy the process of creation as much as possible and the colours you pick are a huge part of the equation. Now that I’m in my fifties I find myself more able to go with my gut without worrying (as much) what other people will think of my crazy choices, which is great, but I can’t help wishing I’d had more confidence to do that during my prime. Another example of youth being wasted on the young!

Happy knitting!

My Knitting obsession

Hi, Knitters, and those of you are visiting because you’ve subscribed to the old Tranquil Garde! I hope you’ll stay!

It’s been an interesting year or so of transition.  I put this site on hiatus, partly because my commitment to gardening had become a little thin, but also out of frustration with my computer, which is extremely slow and almost impossible to use for blogging or site-maintenance purposes. I haven’t bought a new computer, but I’m trying a new thing, posting and maintaining my site with my iPad.  So far, so good. I hope to keep it up, but posting pictures and videos might be challenging. We shall see. Without the creative outlet supplied by writing posts on this site, I started getting more and more into knitting.  I’m now officially obsessed.

It’s been about three years since I took up the craft after a 25 year hiatus.  I’ve learned that this is a familiar scenario.  Lots of people learn to knit as children or adolescents and then life becomes frantically busy and knitting (among other creative pursuits) goes by the wayside.  For myself, the  abandonment of knitting coincided with a new job I started with l’Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal in 1990.  The new job brought new stresses, some physical.  So, the pain and tension that I felt in my body (shoulders especially) from playing trombone a lot more than I was used to, seemed to be aggravated by knitting. I thought it behooved me to quit knitting, since quitting trombone wasn’t an option.  I soon forgot about knitting and didn’t think about it again until three years ago, when a young colleague of mine showed me a cowl she had knitted. It being close to Christmas it occurred to me that I could do the same thing and make a few Christmas presents.  Light bulb!  The few cowls I knitted that Christmas got me hooked again and I started to branch out to shawls, hats, mitts, garments, and later to socks.  I now love it all and spend some time each day knitting. And I’ve figured out ways of managing the inevitable aches and pains caused by both my main pursuits.

My husband, Dave, has accepted my obsession calmly and without criticism or question, for which I am very grateful.  There’s a part of me that nags me with the criticism “why are you spending so much time on this? Knitting is a frivolous (and expensive) hobby!”, so if he added his voice to that, I think I’d wilt and eventually give it up.  I don’t want to do that because there’s another voice saying quite strongly, “The beauty of the yarn, the challenge of the techniques, the start and end of projects you’ve planned and executed—these are all worthy!”  I meet knitters who are content to knit the same things over and over the same way, just varying the yarn.  I would die of boredom if I did that, but all the more power to them! We all knit for different reasons. I love that in knitting there is so much to learn! So many fabulous techniques, so many people out there designing amazing projects and above all, so many people who love knitting and who form such a welcoming community.  There’s an extraordinary lack of competition in this community, too. Far more support for each other than jealousy, at least that’s what I’ve found.  Perhaps crafters in general are like that, but having been a musician all my life, I’ve seen lots of competition and jealousy. It’s an inevitable part of the life, perhaps. But this is not a site about music, but about the joys of knitting (and gardening, beauty and philosophy!) I’m not saying the occasional side-note (get it??) about music might not creep in…

P.S. If you’d like to find me on Ravelry, my handle is osmviv, and is the same on Instagram and Twitter.