Prayer, Work, Knits (and "Deep Thoughts"): Nearly Winter

November has been a “wrapping things up” and “kicking things off” month. A writing assignment I’d been offered over the summer came due in November, and the old “pressure-prompted” way of functioning that got me semi-successfully through high school, college, and seminary was a serious temptation. But now that I’m older and mature(er), I didn’t put ALL of it off ’til the last minute; I’m wiser now, so I actually paced myself and managed to finish it without needing even a single all-nighter. Which is good, because these days a “late night” for me is anything after 9:30 p.m.
I wish I could say that my newfound proactivity eliminated the anxiety that comes with the need to put words on paper. While writing four weeks of Sunday School curriculum, I learned more about myself than I did about the Bible chapters I’d been assigned. I learned about my grown-up work habits, but also about my interests and irritations, and about my desire to write vs. my desire to get paid to write. I learned that along the way when frustrations and apathy hit, I needed to find a new motivation, and I remembered the ancient monastic phrase Ora et Labora: “Prayer and Work.” It hangs now on my office/craft room door, a reminder that not only Bible study but also poems and blog posts and yarn and paper and fabric can be works of prayer.
November is also the month when these become relevant again:

Hooray! Here is the coastal South we’re dipping in and out of legit fall weather, so a sweater inventory was due. Obviously, I have enough handmades to change sweaters as often as a diva at an awards ceremony changes gowns. I tried on every one of them, and forced myself to be honest about whether I would be likely to wear them. Did they fit? Where they flattering? Were they itchy? Were there mistakes I couldn’t live with? In the end, two lovely sweaters landed in the Frog Pond (“rippit, rippit”).

DEEP THOUGHT #1: Sometimes you have to admit that things aren’t going to work, and reimagine the raw materials as something new that you will love.

This fall I got brave and pushed myself to learn a new skill, and I knitted a cardigan in pieces instead of as an all-in-one-seamless-garment. Each step along the way demanded care: each piece of the sweater had to be attended to as carefully as the others. Each piece had issues (notice the line where the upper back of the cardi is lighter than the rest) to take into account. Each piece forced me to evaluate and think ahead.

DEEP THOUGHT #2: Sometimes you can’t see the Whole; the best you can do is treat the Parts as thoughtfully as possible, and trust that it will come together. And add a hood to disguise anything less-than-perfect. 🙂

I also finished a very soft cabled pullover in a very pink colorway (though I prefer to think of it as a fabulous lipsticky magenta color; it is Miss Babs Yowza, in a color called “Smooch” 🙂 ). This is actually my second time making this pattern; the first was one of my very early sweaters, before I learned that you (or at least I) don’t want your sweater measurements and your body measurements to be exactly the same… can you say muffin top?? A little positive ease can be your friend.

DEEP THOUGHT #3: When things feel snug, give yourself a bit more space.
Making two such different sweaters back-to-back (Opulent was actually finished first) has made me reconsider my pattern-selecting inclinations. Though the Jackson Creek cardi was much more work, I love the way it turned out. It fits better and feels more stable than the in-the-round, seamless Opulent. It feels better on, which is ultimately the whole point of knitting your own sweaters. The memory of these two projects is very likely to affect my future choices.
I’ve also made a few accessories over the past month or so. My September Yarnbox aligned perfectly with an early project in Ysolda Teague’s Knitworthy releases. Delicious Yarns Sweets Sport in Red Velvet, and Frosting Sport in Cherry teamed beautifully for this cabled and garter-stitch shawl. The only danger is that I fear I’m becoming addicted to subscriptions; surprise yarn arriving monthly + and a surprise Ysolda pattern every other week = LOVE.
Another Knitworthy pattern was a stashbuster. I learned to knit colorwork at a Yarnivore class a couple of Christmases ago, and it’s one of my favorite knitting skills (along with cabling… not that you could tell that from the three projects above). Stranded colorwork shows up in traditional Scandinavian knitting, as well as in native Cowichan work (one of these days I would love to knit The Dude Sweater…). Ysolda, being from Scotland, designed this cowl using some traditional Fair Isle patterns.
The only problem (okay, it’s not a problem, just a reality) with stranded colorwork is this:

Sixty thousand yarn ends to weave in. And the more fabulous colors you use, the more tails you have to deal with. But when I flipped the cowl inside out to begin the arduous task of sewing in all those ends, the first thing that struck me was how beautiful it was–all those colors, the cascade of fiber, and even the amazing pattern of floats on the wrong side of the fabric.

DEEP THOUGHT #4: Beauty is everywhere.
Maybe it’s my Mary Poppins romanticism in effect, but this “spoonful of sugar” did seem to make the job more fun. Sewing in all those loose ends turned out to be a surprisingly satisfying task. (DEEP THOUGHT #4.5)
After Pyukkleen I got on a colorwork kick, so I went stash diving and came up with some leftover red, cream, and deep brown in the softest alpaca and llama/merino/angora. Instead of following a prescribed pattern I cast on 96 stitches in the round and began knitting patterns that caught my eye from Mary Jane Mucklestone’s book 150 Scandinavian Motifs. This short cowl is now drying and waiting to be grafted end-to-end:

I learned (and love) to knit colorwork with two hands: English style with one color in my right hand, and Continental style with one color in my left hand. I am normally an English-style knitter; I’ve tried Continental (which is supposedly faster and smoother) on its own but I’ve always struggled with it… hand cramps and terrible fabric tension. Today, though, I’m experimenting again. When I knit stranded colorwork, I knit the Continental side easily; but when I’m just knitting plain, and missing the yarn from my English-style right hand, suddenly my left hand can’t work Continentally anymore. I’m sure there is some neurological reason for this!! So I’m trying out a trick on my neuro pathways (pathologies), and wrapping a bit of scrap yarn around my English-style fingers while I knit Continental with the left hand.  This little pointless loop of yarn is allowing me to practice my Continental knitting on a very simple ribbed cowl!!
DEEP THOUGHT #5: Something about fooling the right hand out of knowing what the left hand is doing?? No… wait: Sometimes our emotional memory, just like muscle memory, needs a little encouragement (even, perhaps, a crutch) to allow us to move ahead with something new.

So November is a month of “wrapping things up” and “kicking things off.” I’ve wrapped up projects large (and very large) and small. We’ve kicked off Christmas shopping (and knitting), and a full calendar of events and parties and performances and celebrations. From now until the New Year our family life will be full-to-bursting with Things To Do. But what is kicking off for me, personally, vocationally? If I let it, knitting may yet teach me that I need to let go of some things… to attend to the pieces in front of me… to allow myself some space… to pay attention for unexpected beauties… to tie up loose ends… and to find help and encouragement to move forward.
Very soon, I think, it will be time to Cast On.

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