A Yarn About Yarn

This is the story of why we’ve disappeared on the Blog for so long… at a time when a lot of people think that we’re deep in the dark cold days of an Alaskan winter with nothing to do.  The truth is that the days are getting longer very quickly, and it’s not really all that cold.  In fact, many people on the island would really like to get more snow – it’s fun to play in!  We’ve been in a typical southeast Alaskan pattern of moderate temps (low 40s by day), overcast and rainy.

The weeks since the holidays have flown by, with a constant stream of events and activities around town.  I confess that I didn’t bring a camera with me to document all the fun, because if I take photos then I need to find time to edit them and I’m still far behind with all the photos from the fall.  We’ve been volunteering, going to concerts, Coast Guard Appreciation, lectures at the Library, plays and fundraisers and dinners – there’s no time to slow down!  In addition to that, my excuse is that I decided to take on the challenge of knitting a Norwegian sweater.  This project has consumed every uncommitted moment for the past 7 weeks, and I just finished it a few days ago (at 3 a.m.).  It was a lot of work, and I’m sure I’ll make some more… later.  Eventually.  Probably.

Those of you who come here to see and read about nature and adventures might be losing interest quickly, but this is about more than just some sticks and string.  Knitting can be very simple and basic, or it is a means to challenge yourself, learn new things, and solve problems.  A big, complex project like a first Norwegian sweater is a journey, and a different kind of adventure.  When you knit you produce something useful, but no matter how much work you put into it your creation is impermanent – it will pill, snag, and wear out.  I always admire chefs and florists who create beautiful things that have such a very brief existence.  You can buy socks in packs of 10 at Target for a few dollars, or you can hand-knit one pair and it takes about 34,000 stitches.  Do you prefer a TV dinner or a chef’s creation?

There’s no better feeling than the sense of accomplishment when you take on something that’s hard, no matter what it is.  Socks used to be so hard for me to make and now they’re easy-peasy.  I know ladies in town who can whip up a Norwegian sweater in their sleep, but for me it was a 7 week climb of Mt. Everest.  The next one will be easier, and so on.NansenIt’s good to get out of your comfort zone, and it’s not long after the accomplishment that I’m hungry for another challenge.  The timing of finishing this project was important – I was going to the Madrona Fiber Arts Retreat – a knitting and spinning “convention”, and I wanted to wear the finished sweater in an environment surrounded by people who understand about taking on new challenges.

Besides handling 2 colors of yarn at the same time (and sometimes 3), the construction of a Norwegian sweater is something that sets it apart.  Instead of knitting holes for the sleeves, you just knit the body as one big tube.  Then you measure the width of the sleeve top, sew some reinforcing stitches around that area on the body tube, and YOU TAKE SHARP SCISSORS AND CUT YOUR SWEATER to make the armholes.  Crazy Norwegians.  If you want a cardigan you do the same, and cut the whole thing open.  It’s called a steek.  The Scottish do a similar thing with Shetland sweaters too.  One wrong cut and 6 weeks of hard work would be trashed.20160208 0060 nansen cutting rWhatever kind of challenge you take on, you get through it by pushing yourself, and by getting support and encouragement from your friends.  Friends celebrate the accomplishments (however small), and they commiserate when things get tough.  They offer helpful suggestions and shoulders to cry on.  You can cut your sweater because no matter what happens, you know your friends are there for you.  You can do anything.

color theoryIt was truly wonderful to spend a few days at the Madrona Retreat with all those other knitters – kind, generous, friendly, supportive people.  There were spinners and weavers too – people who can dye and spin their own yarn, and then knit or weave it into beautiful complex creations in short order – humble people who can do amazing things.  Add excellent teachers and classes to all that creativity, and you have the best kind of energizing environment.  Cutting sweaters open – ha!  Let’s do something that’s actually hard!!madrona market20160212 0078 madrona spinners r

Eyes forward – on to the next challenge.  I can do this (because I’m not alone).

“Adventures” is all about doing things that are a little scary and uncomfortable.  What was once hard becomes routine, so we look for more – whether it’s cruising in remote places, getting closer to bears, or taking scissors to a sweater.  Now if I can just keep Jim from stealing my sweater…

5 thoughts on “A Yarn About Yarn

  1. My mother was a voracious knitter. Sweaters, socks, mittens, scarves, toques, tea cozies – you name it and she likely knit it at some time. My overwhelming memory of her is knitting while reading the book open in her lap and often with the book resting on her sleeping cat. She appeared to rarely even look at the knitting although I’m sure she must have. She could fire off a sock in an evening and it still amazes me how she could go round the heel without looking at every stitch. You probably know this already but the Siwash Indians on Vancouver Island are famous for their heavy knitted sweaters.

  2. Robin, you are amazing! What a beautiful sweater. You had better start one for Jim, he looks like he isn’t going to give it up. I hope to see it (them) in October!

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