Thursday, June 19, 2014

Knitting setup: time well spent

When I was away at university I had one of those friends who really transform you.

She knew about stuff I didn't, and she was fearless about doing stuff I wouldn't even consider, like successfully sewing her own expensive silk blouse for a fancy party with her parents' wealthy friends even though she only had the floor to cut the fabric out on and a community sewing machine that rarely worked.  She introduced me to the New Yorker, which I still read compulsively, and she once made me buy a pair of steeply discounted striped linen dress pants she had seen in a designer outlet earlier in the day and which felt were perfect for me (I was unconvinced but she was right: I wore them constantly for years.)

She also took one evening every few weeks to look after boring details, like mending or hemming or using an intensive facial mask or whatever.  The practicality of that approach - just book the time and put things in order, never mind trying to find a few minutes here or there, or while scrambling at the last minute - has really stuck with me. So I think of her whenever I do what I call...

Staging Knitting

If you like knitting and you have the materials for more than one project in your house, chances are you have a bit of a mess on your hands at least some of the time.  And if you like to have knitting with you for long car trips or doctor's office waiting rooms or to help you wind down in the evenings, you would probably benefit from starting several projects and then setting them aside so they're ready when you need them. Not only does it ensure you have a steady supply of projects, it really takes care of that mess.

Staging your knitting might involve choosing patterns and swatching with different needles to get your gauge right.  Just finding needles is often a biggie.  You might choose to cake some yarn you'll need soon, even if you don't have time (or free needles) to actually cast on yet, because this is the hour or two where you'll have time to get to your swift and ball winder.  Staging isn't just casting on, though it is the best part, if you ask me.

Here are some types of knitting you may want to have on standby:

Mindless knits: also known as 'emergency knitting' to deal with stress during an unexpected medical crisis, mindless knits don't require you to look at them much and are fantastic for watching a movie, catching up with a friend, or enjoying the scenery on a long car drive.

Gift knits: one thing that makes it especially great to be a knitter is that you can give truly one-of-a-kind labours of love to the people you care about or the people to whom you owe a lot of thanks.  Having a few giftable knits set by in advance is ideal, because you don't have to wait to mark the moment.  You can just be spontaneous.  Or, if you know you're knitting for a particular person, you can do some of the work during an event that is or might be special to that person. I often work on mindless gift knits during concerts, to build some of that beauty into the finished product.

Lately my perpetual 'gift knits' are scarves, woven on my loom at home.  I try to make sure I get a new one set up as soon as possible after I've finished the old one, just in case I have a few minutes here or there for weaving.

Comfort knits: this is the kind of project that makes you feel better.  It might be the softness of the fabric that soothes you, or it might be the way the colours blend, or it might be the motion of your hands as you work the particular stitches the pattern requires.  Regardless, comfort knits are an important resource for any knitter and you never know when you will need one.

Challenging knits: sometimes what you really need is to sink your teeth into a project, or you want something you can show off at big yarny gatherings.  Maybe it's time to push your limits and see what you can do with two sticks and a ball of string.  That's when you'll turn to a project that's challenging to you - cables, lace, colourwork, a new technique, whatever.

Travel knits: this is the one thing I always have to have ready - a compact project to throw into your bag so you're always equipped with ways to pass the time, no matter what the day throws at you.  One week I might not touch my travel knit, another I might work on it so much it's practically done.   And at that point, I've got to have another barely-started project to take its place, fast.

Obviously, some of these categories will overlap for different knitters.  And there are probably lots more categories to consider when setting up some knitting for later.  Is there a particular kind of knitting on your Must Have list?

(the purple cuffs are tops of a pair of gift socks I'm knitting in Twisted Fiber Art's 'Boreal' colourway from an old club collection, with the complementary purple for the cuff, heel and toe.  I've put them into play now so you'll be seeing a lot of them here - I hope you like the colours as much as I do!)

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