Oh yes. It’s that time again. The awards season has started and everyone I know is making bets and setting pvr’s and thinking up drinking games and acting like they don’t care (but they still comment and make sure everyone knows they don’t care) and the media hyperventilates and the gossip rags vomit all over us in the grocery store line-up. And to top that THE OLYMPICS are coming, don’t you know! Oh my! Athletes! Sports! Hockey! Curling! Skiing! Skating! Medals! We’re #1! We’re #1! Yay!!! And then two weeks after all the awards have been given out, the athletes have been feted and the stories of inspiration have been read and cried over, we will have forgotten who won and who lost. That is until someone mentions something and our brains will creak into gear and toss out a vague memory of the event.

Don’t get me wrong, I love all this stuff. I love watching the awards shows, The People’s Choice Awards, The Golden Globes, The Oscars, The Emmy’s, The Tony’s, The Grammy’s, the Canadian Screen Awards, the Junos…and, yes, the Olympics. I love watching them but have ceased to believe they mean anything. I mean they mean something to the people involved but as for me personally? Other than an evening of questionable entertainment (unless Neil Patrick Harris is hosting then it’s usually great entertainment), on a day-to-day basis these things don’t impact me at all. They don’t influence me to go see the Oscar-winning movie or play or buy the cd or download the music of whoever won the Grammy or Juno and if we win the most medals, it doesn’t make me any more proud of my country. But I will set my pvr and I will spend countless hours watching.

I haven’t seen any of the movies which will probably be nominated for Best Oscar and I probably won’t. Movies have long ago lost their magical glow for me. I think it was somewhere around the release of Lord of the Rings and the nail-in-the-coffin Inception. I would love to be able to enjoy a movie again. I would love to be transported away from all my cares for a couple of hours and just live in a different world for an afternoon. I can do this at home. I can watch Game of Thrones and be completely captivated by the compassion of Tyrion or revolted by the cruelty of Prince Geoffrey or be totally gutted by the Red Wedding. I can be totally immersed in the struggle of Maggie to regain the love of Brick in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”. I can laugh out loud at Tracy Lord, Mike Conner and C.K. Dexter the Third in “The Philadelphia Story”. I can watch “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou”, “The Princess Bride”, “Benny and Joon”, “Iris”, “Moonstruck”, “The Shipping News”, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”, “Four Weddings and a Funeral” or “Good Night and Good Luck” over and over again and enjoy them as much the twentieth time as I did the first. But I can’t sit in a movie theater any more.

I think the thing is that as I have aged I have become very picky about what I want to waste my time on. I’ve also become less inclined to submit my ears to the loudness of the theater and, being short, I find the theater seats very uncomfortable. More and more I resent spending the money on a movie where the dialogue seems to have been written in crayon. I mean, who, in real life says some of the crap the actors are paid to say? Especially the tripe in the Rom-coms. I realize that for a lot of people, they would love to hear someone they love spew that smarmy stuff but if any guy ever said half of that stuff to me I would wonder at his sanity and my own. Oh, and don’t get me started on the sex stuff in movies. I’m no prude but come on. Really?

Movies may turn me off but I do love watching the Olympics. There are certain sports I watch: figure skating, speed skating, short track speed skating, downhill skiing, aerials, bobsledding…I would say curling and I probably will watch most of it except the games I can avoid that have Canada in them. Yeah, I know, how unpatriotic but I really, really cannot stand Kevin Martin. I may watch just for David Nedohin and Brad Gushue but Kevin Martin? Nope. Don’t like that man. I have my reasons. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was the Kevin Koe did so poorly in the Olympic trials. But that’s the game. A game of inches. But all the other events in the competition? Love it and I love cheering heartily when my team wins. And even then sometimes it’s not so much that country that wins but the excitement of the competition and the closeness of the fight that gets my blood pumping.

I’m sure most of those who knit and crochet have heard of the Knitlympics. If you haven’t here is a brief sum-up: what you do is cast on for a project during the opening ceremonies, knit, or crochet or spin, like a demon for two weeks, and finish it before the flame goes out at the closing ceremonies. The only rules are that the project should be a challenge for you – a new pattern stitch, a new technique, a new type of pattern – but nothing that is going to cause you to have a nervous breakdown to get it completed. Just something fun and something you may never have tried before. A lace shawl might be a bit over-ambitious but a cardigan using fingering weight yarn might do.

Two years ago I knit this for the Knitlympics:

Whisper Cardigan

This year I’m not sure what I will knit. I’ve been looking through my books and magazines and have some things in mind but what I really want is to knit a t-shirt of some kind out of linen. I love the look and feel of linen and I can always use a cool summer shirt so I thought this might kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. Most of the patterns I’m finding that use a linen yarn are also sleeveless, a big no-no for someone whose arms flap like a pelicans so I’m looking for something with 3/4 sleeves. I’m thinking this one would do but I would have to lengthen the sleeves which doesn’t look to be a big problem for this design.

My oldest daughter gave me this yarn for Christmas:

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and so I’m thinking I might make something out of it but I think I would have to then make something else because there really is only enough for a pair of handwarmers or fingerless gloves. It will make a nice, cozy pair for sure, it’s 94 grams of Alpaca/Merino/Bamboo from my favourite alpaca farm, Meadowview. My youngest daughter owes me two skeins of yarn and I’m still trying to decide what I want. It can’t be too expensive because she doesn’t have a lot of money and she has to feed a dog but I figure I could possibly go with some nice Cascade 220 or Madeline Tosh sock yarn. I could make some hand warmers and a pair of socks over the course of the Olympics, I’m sure.

So with an awards show approx. every two weeks until the Oscars in April and the Olympics next month I figure I should be able to get some of these projects that have been hanging around far too long off the needles and on my body. And I’m actually looking forward to knitting for the Knitlympics and seeing just what I can do in two weeks. I may have to do some fast juggling if February turns out to be a busy month at work, they won’t let me have anything sharp and pointy if I’m working a dance competition so knitting at work is out. But if I decide to knit that linen t-shirt I’m pretty confident I could have it done in two weeks. Fingers crossed. Well, fingers and toes…and maybe eyes as well…and a rabbits foot or two…still on the rabbit though…Think rubbing a cat will bring me luck?

As I mentioned yesterday, I bought my daughter The Knitter’s Book Of Yarn for Christmas. Now don’t get me wrong, this is a good book and I’m enjoying reading it but there is one thing that bugs me about it. From what I’ve read so far, and from my independent research and from talking to sheepy people, Clara Parkes really knows her stuff but there is one little niggly thing that will bug me every time I pick the book up. It has no impact on the information contained inside the book but it’s there just the same. And. It. Bothers. Me.

Now before I get into this there is something I think you should know: I’m a stickler for detail. It drives the people I know crazy and no one more so than my youngest daughter. She has had to bear the brunt of my tirades against movies that were made from books that I loved but miss the mark – I will never forgive Peter Jackson for not including Tom Bombadil in the Lord of the Rings movie nor will I forgive him for casting Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn but that’s another story – and I have been known to carry on for days when I’ve heard a particularly egregious cover of a song I love – Avril Lavigne’s cover of Coldplay’s “The Scientist” is one of the worst things to happen to music since Britney Spears (although Miley Cyrus is right up there). Yeah, so I think I’ve established that I have a closed mind when it comes to certain things.

So back to the book. When you crack open the cover, Ms. Parkes has a lovely graphic illustrating the animals that wool comes from as well as the categories of yarn. It’s a very good graphic. She includes things such as corn, modell, polyester, cotton, hemp, linen, angora, silk, yak…and then, there it is, a glaring error. Staring me right in the face is a picture of a certain little critter that often comes to my bird feeder at night. It’s got a ton of sharp little teeth and a long tail and is pudgy and…white. Yes, it’s a North American opossum. She carries this error into the text by proclaiming that this opossum is from New Zealand and Australia where it roams around in large numbers and is a real pest. Well, you know she got part of it right. The fur that she is referring to does come from an introduced species in New Zealand that has become a pest but it isn’t an opossum and it certainly doesn’t resemble the picture she has in the front of her book.

Here is a picture of the critter she has referenced: North American Opossum

Now as cute as that little guy is and let me say that it could have a very nice, soft undercoat, I wouldn’t want to try to catch that thing. These guys have 50 sharp little teeth! I would rather try to take a peanut from a squirrel. Now compare this to the critter responsible for some of the loveliest, and softest, yarn I’ve ever had the good fortune to hold in my hand:

Brush-tailed possum

This is a brush-tailed possum and that cute little guy is culled regularly by the thousands in New Zealand because it has become a pest. Fortunately for us knitters, the fur is harvested and spun into an amazing yarn. Now if only I could afford some of it.

The problem with Ms. Parkes error is that someone will see it and think that they can trap that rat-like animal roaming around, and causing mayhem, their backyard. They may even put out a trap thinking they could kill the beast and get some free yarn. I am doubtful, however, since it would take a few…dozen…to get enough usable yarn but you never know, there are some strange people out there and I would hate to think that some other creature, like a feral cat, could get caught in someone’s misguided attempt to obtain some opossum fur. In any case, it is a small and insignificant error and the little bit of information she gives about the yarn is truthful but, still, it is an avoidable error. It is an error a careful editor would have caught. And I know a lot of people will shrug their shoulders and carry on, as well they should, but me? I’ll think of it every time I open the book even if I’m looking for information on Llama yarn or hand-dyed yarns. And it will drive me crazy.

This is going to be a real problem for me and my enjoyment of this book. I know that every time I turn a page I’m going to be waiting for the next trivial thing to set my brain on fire. I will be reading it with an eye kept wide open looking for typos, or grammatical errors, or questionable research. And the really sad thing is that I won’t be happy until I find another mistake. I will go through each and every pattern looking for errors, I will probably even look online for the errata for this book. I won’t rest until I’ve found them all. And why? Because when I buy a book I like to think it is perfect. Yes, I am that person. Nothing is perfect. I realize how silly this all sounds and I wish I could stop myself from obsessing over such trivial little details but it’s been like this ever since I cracked open my first book.

It’s funny, though, that this kind of obsession doesn’t translate to my knitting. Oh sure, I have been known to rip out an entire back because I didn’t like something about it or I’ve noticed a mistake that I didn’t catch earlier but generally, if the mistake is not that noticeable and doesn’t affect a pattern or cable or the fit of the garment, I leave it alone. It’s kind of like those Persian rugs that the weavers supposedly purposefully make a mistake on. It’s my way of making it my own. Oh, who am I kidding. If I make a mistake I’m not happy until I go back and fix the damn thing because I. Am. That. Person. Sad but true.

Well, I have to say it’s been a while.  Christmas, life, cat-in-hospital, blah, blah blah…all the crap that happens.  And then there is the fact that I am a professional procrastinator…I wish there was some kind of job that paid me for procrastinating.  I would be one rich lay-about.

That was some ice storm a while back, eh?  Just before Christmas Mum Nature decided that there wasn’t enough excitement and so she unleashed a few centimetres (inches for those still not using metric) of freezing rain on us.  We were lucky and were only without power for about 25 hrs.  One of our friends was hydroless for 10 days.  They were lucky, though, and had a couple of fireplaces to keep the house warm.  We have a gas fireplace and so our house was never colder than 19.5C (67.1F).  It was still chilly enough that the cats and dog wanted to cuddle and I was glad to snuggle down into my feather bed but we couldn’t see our breath so that was a plus.

I really, really missed my tea though, and the thought of knitting was not entertained although it would have been appropriate but my fingers were stiff and I just couldn’t bring myself to pick up those thin sticks and try to twiddle yarn around them.  So progress on the unfinished project is still slow.  And to be honest I’ve been engrossed with reading again.  I used to read all the time, anything and everything, but since getting married and having kids and fighting depression (and winning) and this and that, reading has been sporadic at best and only engaged in books that I’ve read previously and know I would enjoy.  But now I’m reading other stuff and enjoying it immensely.

I bought my daughter The Knitters Book of Wool and The Knitters Book of Yarn for Christmas as she is getting very interested in the various types of sheep and their yarn.  She is really interested in Angora rabbits, though.  Me?  I love those wooly little Alpaca’s.  I think they look like stuffed animals and am trying to get her to consider a career with those critters.  She has other plans.  They always do.  Although she is planning on a life in agriculture and raising fiber animals.  Can you imagine?  I would have all the wool I could ever dream of.  It’s a knitters paradise.  I would have to renounce my long-held dream to live in Micronesia.

I’m going to read these two books once I’ve finished my current book. It will be interesting learning about the different wools that I fondle every time I’m in the yarn store. I’m a very tactile person so if a yarn feels right, it is right and I worry about all the other stuff later. That’s why my stash is so big. Other people collect jewelery and baubles and shoes and purses and gaudes. Me? I collect wool. Sheepy things that feel amazing and look pretty in their tight little bundles. I never buy yarn with a project in mind, well, I rarely do, yarn seems to find me and beg me to take it home. Sooner or later I will find something to do with it. And that my friends is why I still have a bundle of yarn that’s got to be 30yrs. old still waiting to be knit into something…anything. I feel too guilty to throw it out or give it away.

Periodically I go through my stash just to see if it’s still all there and to make sure the moths haven’t been munching away. I make promises to the yarn as I go through it, knowing too well that it likely won’t be kept. I tell it that I won’t buy anymore until I’ve knit up half of it but I can’t look it in the eye when I say those words because I know that the next time I go to the yarn store I will be coming home with a bag of shame. How I will put the bag in the cupboard, away from my horde, thinking that I will look through my magazines and books for a project and get to work on it right away. A couple of months later it will end up in the half empty box at the back of my stash cupboard. The other yarns will look at it sadly.

It’s not my fault if I’m a hoarder. Tell the manufacturers to stop making such tempting yarns. I mean, how am I to resist possum yarn? Tell me that! I mean, it’s so soft, it’s like rabbit fur. And what about yak? So warm. So exotic. And muskox? Then there’s silk and sea cell and cashmere and angora and linen and bamboo…Forget diamonds, just give me some yarn and I’ll be yours forever. In fact if you give me a skein of vicuna and I’ll be your slave for eternity. But I really would rather have a skein or two or three of qiviut (muskox). I don’t know if you’ve ever held it in your hand but it is exquisite. And it was an honest mistake. I didn’t realize I still had it in my hand when I walked out of the store. I swear.

I love my job.  I love the people I work with.  I love the people I work for.  There really isn’t one thing about my job that I don’t love.  You see I work in theater.  My job is to supervise and assist our volunteers in making sure the patrons enter the theater and get to their seats quickly and safely.  I also have to address all customer complaints, seating issues, assist differently abled or disabled patrons to their seats and to make sure they have all their needs met, such as hearing assist devices, back rests or even just room for their wheelchair or scooter.  It’s a wonderful job and very rewarding.  It can also be very exhausting work.

This past weekend I was exceptionally busy and ended up pulling a 9hr. shift on Sat. and then a 4hr. shift yesterday.  These don’t seem like a lot of hours, and admittedly as far as jobs go I have it easy, but a lot of the time is spent running up and down stairs making sure that all entrances to the theater are operating properly, that the ushers have no issues and that I am available to address any customer questions or generally help in any way I can.  I describe my job as one part guidance counsellor, one part hostage negotiator and one part stand-up comedienne.  Humour is a wonderful thing for ensuring patrons enter the theater in a good mood.  It makes everyone’s lives easier.  So anyway, that is one of the reasons for my absence from this blog.

The other reason is Christmas presents.  I’ve been working on a few but mainly on one sweater.  It’s this one from The Knitter (one of my favourite magazines), issue #24.  In the magazine the smocking is highlighted by a contrasting yarn, in their case, a pink.  The version I’m knitting is in a cranberry colour and I intend to highlight the smocking with silver beading.  I’m also extending the rib above the last row of smocking to match that below.  I can deal with some things not being symmetrical but this isn’t one of them.  I’m hoping it will look alright because otherwise I’ll have to take it out and remove the ribbing detail below the smocking otherwise it will drive me crazy.  I can be a bit like Sheldon Cooper sometimes.  One other modification will be to knit the sleeves narrower to make them tighter to the arm.  I’m not a person who likes wide sleeves.  I have enough loose skin flapping around I don’t need a sweater adding to it, otherwise I might take off.

I’ve also been knitting on a cowl.  It’s in the Manos del Uruguay that I talked about here.  It’s just a simple seed stitch rectangle that I will add buttons to.  I think I like the buttoned cowl or neck warmer rather than the kind you pull over your head simply because my hair always looks untidy so I don’t think I need to help it along.  I don’t know why but no matter what I do I always end up looking like I’ve been pulled through a bush backwards, as my mother used to say.  Well, there was the time when I grew it longer but then I had to iron it everyday and that is just way too much work.  Even with smoothing creams and shampoos and relaxers my hair still seems to end up looking like thatch on a roof especially when there’s any moisture in the air.  I guess it doesn’t matter what style I knit it in since it’s not for me but I like to give people things I like but that I know they will like as well.  But I digress.

The cowl is moving along swimmingly because I’m knitting it on size 7mm needles.  I like the fabric I’m getting, it’s a little more dense than it would be if I used a larger needle but since it’s for winter wear, I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  The yarn itself is soft so it won’t be uncomfortable around the neck.  I like the way the variations of colour show up in the seed stitch, it’s almost like a little surprise and it keeps the knitting interesting.

I’ve also got three other things on the needles – one pair of socks, a sweater that I’m making out of some Pingouin Ruban which has been knocking around my stash for a few years now.  I thought I should probably do something with it otherwise it’s just going to languish there forever.  The sweater is a simple top down, buttonless, loose-fitting cardigan.  I’m hoping it will come out all drapey but it’s still too early to tell.  The other sweater still on the needles is the one I was making for a party last month.  Yes, I know but the front is done and blocked and the back is slowly progressing but since the urgency to have it done is gone, I’ve kind of put it on the back burner while I work on things that matter.  Poor thing but I promise it will get completed, when is unclear but it will get done.

So that is the story so far.  I should be able to make some good headway this week as I’m only working tomorrow night and then I’m off until Saturday.  Then I work the weekend and am off again until the following weekend.  That gives me 8-10 solid days of knitting to get it all done.  Piece of cake.  Hmm, I just may have to make one so I can eat it before I die of exhaustion.  I’ll try to get some pictures up this week now that I figured out how to do it.  Now back to the needles.

Soooooo. I know I’ve been a bit remiss in posting but I have been busy. In my defense I’ve had a few things to do, like shopping for wool for prezzies and going to the thrift store because they had women’s clothing half price and how can you resist a bargain like that especially since I found this spring coat, which is right on trend, for $3.00.

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And it looks great!  I just have to lose about 2 kilos (around 5lbs)  and it will fit perfectly.

I also found this 100% wool sweater from the GAP for $2.00.

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The picture doesn’t show the colour of the sweater but the collar and button bands are a deep plum and the body of the sweater a tweedy dark emerald.  It will be a nice warm sweater once winter really starts to blow.  I almost bought a robins egg blue 100% mohair sweater for $1.50 but it wasn’t my colour and the collar came right up under the chin.  I think that would drive me crazy and the previous owner probably would agree.

There really were some great bargains there.  My youngest daughter bought a really nice 100% wool coat for $10.00.  It’s a lovely shade of dark crimson and is double-breasted.  It looks great on her and she was looking for a good coat to wear out instead of her down jacket which is too hot to go walking around the stores in.  She also bought a GAP 100% lambswool cream-coloured sweater for $2.00 that will be really cozy on a cold day.  And, of course, we bought books.  Lots of books.  About 15 books.  But it’s hard to resist when you find interesting books from 1935.

I’ve said before how my kids will take a book as a present over just about anything else so when I told my daughter I would buy her some books as part of her Christmas present she kind of went overboard.  This is what we got:

1.  The Music Story Series – Printed in 1968 this book traces the history of hymnology and carolry from ancient Greece and Rome through to more modern times.  On the way it describes how this type of music gained in popularity and lost popularity through different eras.  It also contains sheet music and lots of examples of poetry that would have been set to music and sung on special occasions.  It’s looks to be very interesting especially to a musicologist like myself.

2.  Canadian Home Gardening – Printed in 1938 this book is exactly what it says.  I find these old gardening books interesting because they had to deal with enriching the soil and dealing with pests in an all natural way.  Also there weren’t the amount of hybrids or imported seed that we see now so it’s a good way to learn about native plants and what type are best for our climate.  Yes, our region is at least 1 degree warmer than what it was in 1935 but it should still give valuable information on the challenges of gardening in Canada.  The chapters are laid out by month so you know exactly what you should be doing and when.  Also any book that has a section called, “December, the Month Of Christmas – and the Annual Slaughter of Trees”  is a keeper.  For my green-thumbed daughter.

3.  The Good Housekeeping Needlecraft Encyclopedia – Printed in 1950 this book is an extensive look at everything to do with needlecraft.  If you can use a needle to do it, it’s in this book.  They even have a section on how to make your own fishing net.  It has everything from simple sewing to tailoring to tufting to net embroidery to rug making and weaving.  I love these old needlecraft, and homemaking, books because they often have tips and techniques that have long since lost favour but are very useful just the same.  After all, who knows when you may need to make a fishing net to catch your own cod fish?   For both my girls.  They both love needlecrafts of all kinds so should find this useful.

4.  Our Witchdoctors are too Weak – This is one I got for my daughter bought because it looks at a pair of missionaries who lived with a remote Amazonian tribe, Wilo, and learned about their language and customs as they try to teach them about God.  Now we are not Christians but it will still be interesting learning about the language and customs of people you never knew existed.  Now, I’m not one to agree with missionaries trying to convert people but there is no doubt that they do good work in any case so I try not to judge.  It looks like this book will be a fun read as the pieces I’ve already read are humourous without losing sight of the incredible difficulties these people face.

5.  Robert Service Biography – Robert Service is my favourite poet.  I love his romantic view of the high north.  I love how he paints the people who live there and I love his sense of humour.  He was also my Dads favourite poet and I still have the books he used to read.  I can still see him sitting in the kitchen chair with a cup of tea in one hand, a cigarette in an ashtray on the table and the book open in his other hand.  I can’t wait to read what motivated this man to want to live in the Yukon.

6. Phantoms in the Brain:  Probing the Mysteries of the Human Mind – Printed in 1998 so a little out of date but still useful in learning about the brain.

7.  Ideas and Opinions – This book is a collection of Albert Einstein’s most popular writings.  So it has his essays about relativity, nuclear war, religion, human rights, economics and the role of government.  I studied his philosophies a bit in university but always wanted to read more by the man.  Interesting fellow with a lot of good things to say.

8.  The Complete Woodsman – Printed in 1974 this book will give you all the information you will ever need to know about living out in the woods of Canada.  You can learn how to make a shelter, rafts, mocassins, bows and arrows, sun goggles, how to start a friction fire, how to navigate by the stars, which plants are safe to eat and which will kill you, and how to pack for travel in the forest.  Good things to know when the apocalypse comes.  Christmas present for dear daughter.

9.  The Workingman in the Nineteenth Century – Printed in 1974 this book is a collection of documents that paint a picture of the life of a workingman.  It talks about the formation of unions, working conditions, living conditions, his health, diet, recreations etc.  A good history lesson on the way ordinary people lived back in the day.  All the information is from books, newspapers and evidence supplied to the Royal Commission on the Relations of Labour and Capital of Canada, so it’s not just anecdotal evidence.  This is another Christmas present for my daughter.

10.  And here we come to a real treasure.  I bought these for my endlessly curious daughter.  This is a collection of five books from 1934, ’35, ’39, ’41, and ’45 entitled Funk and Wagnalls New Standard Year Book.  Along with these we also found and 1931 edition of Funk and Wagnalls New Standard Encyclopedia of Universal Knowledge.  The year books are exactly that.  They are books that chronicled the events and economic changes  that happened in countries around the world during that year.  These are going to be endlessly fascinating, I expect.  Can’t wait to find some time to sit down with one and just read until I pass out or something.  This is a great find for people like us that just love history and are always curious to know what went on before we were born.

These treasures aren’t the only things I bought today.  I also went to a yarn store.  *gulp*  And although I went with the intention of buying a couple of balls of Noro Silk Garden in order to make my oldest daughter a new pair of fingerless gloves to replace those she lost, I didn’t end up buying any.  Apparently she found them at the bottom of her backpack.  But I didn’t learn this until I had already crossed the river Styx and entered into Satan’s lair.  I have no excuse whatsoever for what transpired after I opened that door.  I have very little recall as to how the yarn I am now staring at found its way into the plastic bag that sits at my feet.

Just in case you are wondering, this is what followed me home:

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Three skeins of Manos del Uruguay Wool Clasica in Flame colour #115.  The picture doesn’t really show how vibrant this colour is.  I was thinking of knitting someone a cowl.  Or maybe two someones because that is a lot of yarn.  Approx. 414 yds. of a bulky weight pure wool.  It’s gorgeous.

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One skein of Cascade Heritage Silk Paints in the Vino colourway #9958. It matches the Manos pretty well so I thought I could make a pair of gloves or fingerless mitts for that someone. There is 437 yds. per skein so I might be able to eke out two pair of fingerless mitts for two someones if I’m really careful.

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Four skeins of Cascade Yarns Pastaza in #068.  It’s no longer available which is a shame since it is a nice, soft Llama/wool blend.   I was going to make a cowl for the same someone but changed my mind because I like the Manos better.  So now I have 528 yds. to make something out of.  Still could make a couple of cowls.  They never go unappreciated and in this weight are a quick knit.  And last but not least:

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Two skeins of Cascade Yarns Pastaza in #079.  This is a rich, deep forest green.  Love the colour.  This is for me although I haven’t a clue what to make of it yet.  I may go back and get the rest of this because I left about four more skeins behind.  And there were a couple of skeins in the blue and one in a mulberry colour and one in a camel colour…

Oh, yarn, you sweet siren you, calling my name until I am helpless to resist your allure.  Your bright colours, your soft texture, your endless possibilities!  I am powerless, impotent, to resist you.  Oh, yarn, I shared my hopes for the future with you, my dreams of what you could be, lofty goals of that wonder of wonders – the perfect sweater,  and, oh!, the many disappointments you have thrown at me when you refuse to live up to the swatch .  Yarn, to quote Pablo Neruda, “I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”  except I don’t love you in secret.  I love you openly, wantonly, with passion.  Oh, yarn, look at me, a woman covered in lint, with knitting needles in one hand and an empty wallet in the other.

Oh, yarn, why do you torture me so?

I’ve been doing a bad thing and instead of working on projects that I need to get done for Christmas, I’ve been searching the net. Why? Well, one reason is that I’m curious and have to see what’s going on in the world and the other is that how can I be sure that this is the sock pattern that is finally going to pull a non-knitter over to the dark side if I don’t look at every freaking pattern on the net. Lets just say that I have a passion with matching the right present to the right person instead of throwing the “anal” word around, mmmkay? I do the same with a pattern and yarn. I will knit the thing three or four times before I’m happy with the fabric I’m getting. Not the whole thing, of course, just half the back or maybe half a front or sleeve. I’ve mentioned before my total avoidance of swatching but I have to admit it would save me time. If only I could trust them.

So while I was searching for the perfect sweater pattern I found a load of other stuff that I thought I could share, and I also have a few tips for some inexpensive presents that you can still make in time for the holidays. So here we go:

1) If you have someone who has a pet, be it a dog or cat or rabbit or hamster, I would recommend looking into getting Pet Projects – The Animal Knits Bible by Sally Muir & Joanna Osborne. In this book you will find things like a knit curtain for the front of your rabbit, guinea pig or other small animal cage. This is a nice gift as it is fairly easy to make, the sample in the book has a carrot motif but I made it much larger for our dogs crate. I found a chart for a pattern of bones and knit that instead of the carrots. Turned out great. It’s a great way to give your small pet some privacy especially at night.

I’ve also made the puppy papoose for a friend who has a Chihuahua. Both she and the dog love it because it is knit from wool it keeps the dog cozy and warm. Her husband made a frame for it so that it hangs it like a hammock and the dog sleeps in it all the time. Very cute. And I’ve made a couple of the knitted animals at the back of the book as toys for my cats and the neighbours dog.

The patterns are easy to follow, the charts in the back are in colour and the things I made turned out really well and the animals they were intended for loved them. Besides, any book that includes a blanket for our equine friends is a keeper for me.

2) Another useful book(let) to have, especially if you have children to knit for, is The Knitted Farmyard by Hannelore Wernhard. I’ve made everything in this book and my kids loved them. The only one I had problems with was the pattern for the horse/donkey. I could not get that one to look like the pictures no matter how hard I tried. Everything else turned out exactly the way they look in the book. My girls especially liked the kitten, the chickens and the ducks. I also put a very small piece of velcro on the backs of the vegetables so they could pretend to plant the garden and have the vegetables “grow”. And because she uses pipe-cleaners as a stiffener for the people and some of the animals they are safe for all but the youngest children. My kids played with this for years and I think I still have some of the pieces around here. I know we definitely still have the chickens because I found some on my youngest daughters bookcase recently.

3) Any of the Jean Greenhowe’s books are a real life-saver if you need a small gift for a child. My kids loved the dinosaurs, the sheep, the food, and the topsy-turvy doll. She has some amazing books out there but a lot are hard to come by and expensive so if you find one, treasure it especially if you come across any of her folk costume books.

4) For the dog lover/owner any of the Patons dog sweater books, Dog’s Life or Another Dog’s Life are worth picking up. I’ve knit countless sweaters from these books for various dogs and all have fit well and been well received by both owner and dog alike. Don’t raise your eyebrows at the cost of them on Amazon because you can get them elsewhere cheaper.

5) I love Garn Studio (Drops) household patterns. I’ve made a few things from them and they have been well received and much used. One person asked me to knit her a few more facecloths to replace the ones I had given her because she had worn them out. I think I might make her these for her birthday next year.

Drops has so many lovely accessories for the home – blankets, baby things, crochet flowers and rugs, Christmas decorations – that you could choose anything from their selection and probably have a hit. I also love their clothing patterns and if you are looking for some cozy slippers or socks to make for someone you know who has cold feet, they have some lovely ones and I can say from experience their felted ones are like little furnaces for your tootsies. And they look good, too. Bonus!

6) If you have someone who will not make Santa’s nice list you could always stuff Grumpy in their stocking. I think this pattern is so stinkingly cute that I wanted to make a couple of dozen of them to put in the coal-scuttle I have on the hearth. I was talked out of this idea when someone pointed out to me that we have two cats. Two cats and a pail of knitted things. Yeah. Nothing wrong with that picture. But he’s still darn cute!

7) Then there’s the Christmas pickle. I really don’t know what to say about it except that I have never heard of the Christmas pickle.

8) If you are looking for something to put on a table or mantlepiece these are a cute idea. I love the look of them and the floppy hat just makes these little gnomes look that much cuter! If I have the time I might whip these up for my mantle. I think next year I could make them a lot bigger and put them in the front hall. Hmmmm….

9) If you are looking for something silly to give someone you could try a nightcap. I know exactly what my husband would say to me if I gave him that as a gift but I’m sure there are people out there who know someone with a sense of humour who would find a nightcap a charming gift. I think it’s quaint and I have to admit that I find it somewhat endearing to see a man running around in a nightshirt and cap. Maybe there is some kind of ancient gene memory floating around my subconscious but I think it’s adorably old-fashioned. I’m sure Alex Langlands or Peter Ginn from the Victorian Farm would wear it.

10) A mitten garland is a cute idea for an Advent Calendar but maybe for next year as we are already four days in and then the time it takes to knit all those mittens. Still it’s a wonderful idea for anyone with children who doesn’t want to buy one of those awful cardboard calendars with that itty-bitty piece of old chocolate behind each “door”. I have to admit that I wonder how fresh that chocolate is and besides it really isn’t as good as say…Lindt.

11) You could always knit up some Christmas balls for your tree. These ones are really nice and if you did them in red and white or gold and white would be very festive. I especially like the third one with the silver snowflakes circling the middle. A friend of mine has gone on a knitting binge and decided that next year she is going to hang 50 of these things on her tree. Yes, she is as crazy as me. Maybe a touch worse.

12) And in case you need some ideas for projects here are 23. I love the chairs and I don’t think it would be that hard to figure out. I have a couch that is desperately in need of a new cover and my dining room chairs could use a redo and I don’t think it would be that difficult…there I go again planning projects that probably will never get done. Oh how I wish there were two of me…then again maybe not…I mean, can you imagine? *shudder*

13) To charm the kids or grandkids you could knit some fairy mice decorations for the tree. Or these little knitted stockings that you could put a small candy cane treat in. Or these bonny little felted mice. Or anything from Frankie Browns Ravelry page. Her Pocket Teddy or the Daisy Chain kit are so enchanting I just want to pinch their little cheeks. Now that’s adorable because anyone who knows me knows I don’t go in for all that cutesy-cutesy nonsense.

So there you have it, my friends, thirteen alternative gifts to make for the people in your life. The books come in handy all the time when you need something quick and different. I like all these things because they don’t take much time to knit and you can probably find something in your stash to use so they are very economical. And since my mantra this Christmas is “Why buy when you can make”, these ideas are just right up my alley. I plan on making a few more posts about how to economize this season so stay tuned. Not all of the ideas will be knitting. Ooooo, I can feel the suspense even now.

I had a whole different post rankling around in my head today but then I heard something that made me a bit angry. Ok more than a bit. How about a lot. A lot angry. Oh so very angry. Sooooo mad. Someone was talking about knitting for a living. They took on projects for people and designed custom sweaters/socks/scarves/hats/mittens. When I asked how much they charged for a custom sweater she said it depended on what the customer wanted to pay. Say what?!?!? No, no, no, no, no. Not what the customer wants to pay. Please say you didn’t say that.

And that reminds me of a conversation I overheard the other day while waiting in line to pay for my groceries. It seems the checkout girl needed a skirt for an event she was going to but wasn’t going to get paid in time for her to buy one. The guy(!) doing the bagging said that he knew how to sew and he would be glad to sew one for her. She was pleased to say the least. She was very impressed that he knew how to sew and would take the time to make her something to wear. Then he said that he knit as well and could make her a nice knit skirt if she wanted. That was when it got a bit risky for me to be standing there with my keys in my hands because she sneered and said, “Who would want a hand knit skirt.” Her lip actually curled and I could see her roll her eyes. Well, not really but the implication was there.

Both of these anecdotes are examples of how hand knitting is marginalized and de-valued in our society. In the first instance she is trivializing her own hard work and in the second instance the girl is openly disdainful of the guy’s ability to knit something but impressed that he can use a sewing machine. Some people might ask what is wrong with allowing the customer to set the price for a hand knit object. Well, lets see…firstly the customer will never, ever pay what that object is worth time-wise. And secondly why would you think so little of yourself and your talent to allow anyone to take advantage of you that way? What if the amount they want to pay doesn’t even cover the cost of materials? What if all it does is cover the cost of materials? Oh no, she said she always makes sure they pay enough to cover the materials but how much more she didn’t or wouldn’t say. But considering she was allowing the customer to dictate the price, I’m sure she couldn’t have been making much per item. So for all her hard work and creative inspiration she was selling herself rather cheaply from what I could see.

I know there are some people who value the amount of work put into a handknit and they are mostly people who are creative and either knit themselves or work in the arts in some capacity. Most non-creative/crafty people have no concept of how long it can take to design, test knit, and then knit a sweater. No concept whatsoever. It’s like the time I just about fell off my chair when someone asked a friend of mine how long it took her to write her book. They offered that it must have only taken her a month or two, after all anyone can write a book. Same for musicians I know. They always get asked why anyone should buy their music when anyone who knows how to play guitar can write a song. Intellectual or creative work is really undervalued in our marketplace unless it is technology based, then, for some reason (is it because more men do it?), a lot, not all but certainly enough, of the people who do that job are paid handsomely. Very handsomely. In some cases obscenely handsomely. I know, my husband is a systems architect, although not one who is paid handsomely. More like somewhat attractively. Ok, if his paycheck were a celebrity it would be Steve Buschemi (who I adore but that’s a different post). But it’s enough for us to get by. But some of his colleagues make way too much money for what they do.

It’s different in the arts and crafts world. Artists have a hard time trying to justify the price they put on a painting. It doesn’t help when paintings like this, this, this, and this are sold for obscene amounts of money and people are left wondering why. Now I’m not saying they aren’t worth it, I am not a painter and have no idea the amount of work or what was in the painters head when inspiration struck them but most people look at them and think they could have done better themselves. And so it is for writers, 50 Shades of Grey and the Twilight saga make it harder for really good writers to sell their books. It is true that the marketplace will always cater to the lowest common denominator and if that denominator keeps getting lower and lower then it’s harder for real talent to make money unless they debase themselves as well. Anyone remember the disco era and how the Rolling Stones and David Bowie were forced by their record companies to make disco sounding records? Yeah, lowest common denominator at work. So when I hear that someone who is talented and works hard to make a quality product devalue her own work it makes me see red.

I have knit on commission. I’ve done it once or twice but learned quickly that if I wanted to make an income that would make it worth while no one would use my services. So I stopped doing it. My fee was the cost of materials plus 25%. And the one person balked at it. She said that since I was doing it on my own free time she didn’t see why she should pay for it. She was happy to pay for the materials but that was all. Eventually she did pay up but it really wasn’t worth it in the end simply because of all the grief she gave me. She figured that since she was paying for my time then I had to be chained to my chair and knitting her sweater from the minute I got home from work to the minute I went to bed. The other person paid me more than I asked and waited patiently for the sweater even though it was a birthday present for his mother and it was a complicated pattern. But he was grateful for it, his mother loved it and I was paid handsomely for my time and trouble.

So why are crafts so undervalued? Is it because it’s “women’s work”? Is it because it’s viewed as a “hobby”? Is it because many of us sell short our accomplishments? When someone marvels at our work do we pooh-pooh it and say it’s nothing when what we should be saying is yes it took a lot of work but it was worth it? Is it because it is hand-made and therefore viewed as inferior to mass-produced? In this day and age when sweatshops are making headlines and workers rights are being eroded daily, you would think that hand crafts would be looked on more favourably. After all, for every sweater that is hand crafted and sold in your home country, be it the U.S., Canada, the U.K., France, or even India that is one less that is being made in a sweatshop. That is one more dollar being paid to a countryman who will then use that money to support another small business. And economists keep harping on the fact that small business is the backbone of a healthy economy.

For us knitters, crocheters and weavers the importance of supporting a healthy yarn industry can’t be understated for each ball of yarn supports a small farmer, a spinner, or a hand dyer. Each ball of yarn also supports a home-grown mill, a small store, an on-line seller, an independent knitter, a designer, or a magazine industry. There is so much more to this knitting thing than it just being a hobby. With more and more yarn manufacturing being outsourced to Turkey, China, India, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Thailand, Peru, Romania, Brazil – all becoming their own kind of sweatshop – it is important for us to support our own. And yet we continually cut off our nose to spite our faces while we look for cheaper and cheaper yarn.

I have mentioned before that I don’t think most designers make enough off their patterns to live off of. Most designers that I know, and that includes some of the better known ones, also have a job either with a magazine, with a yarn store, teaching somewhere, touring and giving lectures or workshops…the fact is the majority seem to have a second job, whether that’s by choice or necessity. Some manage to make a good living off their efforts and in spite of the large number of free patterns available on places like Ravelry and yarn websites. I honestly don’t know how they do it but they manage. And many, many people refuse to buy something they can find for free. And that’s fine, after all for some people paying $7 for a pattern just isn’t in their budget but it’s when I hear them say, “Why should I pay for something when I can get it for free.” or “Why should I pay seven bucks for something anyone can do.” That the hackles stand up on the back of my neck. What you are doing is saying that someones hard work, creativity and inspiration are not worthy of respect but a mass-produced shirt manufactured in a sweatshop is because it’s cheaper.

It’s the same when I go to craft sales and I hear people look at a handknit and say disgustedly that it was too expensive and who in their right mind would pay $10 for a pair of handknit mittens, meanwhile they leave in their Lexus or Range Rover or a similar expensive SUV. Or they are standing looking at a beautiful handknit lace shawl and think it’s too expensive at $75 while they are carrying a Coach bag or wearing an expensive leather coat. Just because they are handknit and any fool with two hands, two pointy sticks and a bit of string could knit that if they wanted to. We have to face the fact that mass-produced knitwear and clothing have been better at promoting themselves than us hand knitters and yarn producers. We really need some good PR.

So I think it’s about time we stamped our pretty little feet and stood tall and proud and said, “I am a hand knitter and I am proud of it.” I think we need to do more visible things like the yarn bombings and the knit in public events. How about some of us Torontonians and environs knitters getting together and doing an installation for the next Illuminato or Nuit Blanche show? What if we held a fashion show or a knitwear fashion week? What if we all became pro-active knitters and every time someone says something like why are you knitting when you can just buy it we tell them that this is our way of saying “no” to sweatshops or it’s our way of saying “no” to the fashion industry. That we are doing this in protest to the obscene profits being made in the fashion industry. What if we said that instead of “because I like knitting” or “because they are warmer”. What if we said we are tired of low quality clothing that falls apart after one wash. And what if we said that we knit because we are unique individuals who are tired of the cookie cutter fashion industry that tells us what we should wear, and how we should look. Damn it, what if we just said “I am a knitter and I’m not going to take it anymore”. What then?