The House of Tatterdemalion


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What I learned from knitting. . .(and it isn't what you think it is)

August 9th, 2008 by tatterdemalion

[ed. note: ‘Tis easier to write than to mess with pictures, and ’tis better to post without pictures than to not post at all. My promised post on design is still in the works, but you get this while you wait.]

You may recall that my elderly neighbor (old enough to be my grandmother) taught me how to knit. I don’t remember what all I said on that subject; I don’t think I mentioned that I had been trying to get her (back) into sewing. I like sewing. She thinks sewing is too fussy, too time consuming. So she wouldn’t jump at my bait to sew, but I jumped at her bait to knit. I think I did mention that I opened her knitting world up by introducing her to knitting books, knitting magazines, mail order yarn, and free patterns on the internet.

She tries to pretend she’s an old coot. She claims she can’t understand all this fuss about knitting with lace, and I get out books like Lace Style so she can see what people are doing. She complains that all the sweaters aren’t designed raglan sleeved, top-down, the only way she believes in making sweaters. In Lace Style, there is this truly ethereal garment—it is diaphanous, floaty, it plays with the sunlight. It is also, of course, meant only for effect. It’s insubstantial as a garment; it is meant as an accessory, to bring it’s unique appearance. I sit there and marvel at the huge effect that has been captured by a simple garter stitch in plain white yarn. She fusses, because what kind of a garment is that? And kids these days. . .!

But it’s all just a charade.

‘Cause a couple weeks later, she’s telling me about, and the “naughty” tab, and generally giggling like a teenager. My mind struggles to grasp this—I can look at a garment I would never wear, yet still cataloge and be captivated the various elements I could take and use as see fit. She can look at the same garment and deride it as utterly useless, not being able to harvest anything from it. Yet a few days later, she can be getting her chuckles from the same sorts of things she derided in the garments, now in a more blatant form. She is still a kid; she’s just still stuck in the time period she was a “kid” in. The problem for her is never really that anything strikes her as too sassy, sultry, attention drawing, etc. (My google-ads are going to be just awful as result of this post. . .) The problem is that it seems to her to be strange, foreign, unfamiliar. They are speaking in a language she can’t understand.

I get out Elizabeth Zimmerman’s A Knitters Almanac, and enjoy it thouroughly. She looks at it, and say “I don’t have time for that!!” and instead reads Things I Learned from Knitting, by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee, self-described as “The Yarn Harlot.” In this book, my silver-haired neighbor discovers that she is “addicted to knitting”, and she gets thrills from this. She isn’t in the least bit disturbed that she has this compulsion to knit, knit, knit, KNIT!!

Whoa. Get a grip, lady.

And then I think, is this how it seems to people I am about sewing? I hope not. Sewing isn’t my addiction; sewing isn’t my religion. I don’t really come across that fanatical about sewing, do I?

Here I am learning the wonders of knitting—don’t worry about being exact; it’ll stretch. And here she is, counting every single stitch, repeatedly checking her gauge on the project she’s working on, and still being in a snit because one sock turned out 1/4″ longer than the other. Here I am learning about how life isn’t that big of a deal; if you mess up, no one is going to count every single stitch you made and deride you for the place you made a mistake or two. And here she is, ripping and re-knitting and re-ripping again.

And from this I see that, (1) In my sewing, I have much more the attitude she has about knitting. Which is ironic, because she doesn’t want to become involved in sewing for that very reason. And (2) I would much rather my attitude toward sewing be more like my attitude toward knitting.

It really isn’t that important. Chill out, dude.

Not that I don’t value excellent work; I do, and I strive for it. But it becomes paralyzing. Is this pattern perfect? I can’t cut this fabric unless this pattern is perfect. No, don’t be silly. You’ll wear it anyway, perfect or not. You’ll learn where you went wrong and do better next time. For now—cut. People give you funny looks when they find out how much work you put into an everyday, ordinary garment, and with good reason. It’s just a regular old, ordinary thing—and you’re obsessed over it? You do realize, don’t you, it’s just a piece of clothing? It will serve it’s purpose and wear out. It’s a temporal, fleeting thing. Ride the waves and get on with life.

I am reminded of this every time I hear her obessively counting stitches, which I know is a futile thing because her gauge will change from moment to moment depending her mood. She is worrying futily, and it opens my eyes to the futility of my worry.

I am also reminded that human nature has never really changed from the beginning of time. The scandal of one generation at another generation is largely just a scandal of the differing ways of expressing the same basic humaness.

And age bears no realtion to fuddy-duddiness. She, being many years my senior, would be considered less fuddy-duddy than me, the one who has no interest whatsoever in clicking on the “naughty” tab on

And that time will march on; if you won’t make the effort to keep up, you will be left behind. You sometimes don’t realize how true this is, until you have become accustomed to watching late-middle aged people struggle with new technoloy, and then—having been thouroughly inoculated to the whole old-people-don’t-get-it—seeing a most definitely 100% of the way senior citizen whip out a digital camera and use it without hesitation. Suddenly you forcefully realize that the process of being confused by the world starts very early. If you are not prepared to look the future in the eyes and grab it by the horns, you will become confused. Perhaps it won’t be noticable until you are middle aged, or until you are firmly in the senior citizens territory. But if you don’t hang on now, it will be too late to grasp out for handholds later on. You won’t be able to grasp making sweaters any other way than raglan sleeved, from the top down. It becomes nearly as much a law as gravity itself; it is insurmountable. Meanwhile, “kids these days” will be doing some incomprehensible thing that seems utterly pointless and bizarre.

People don’t really change. But if you loose your ability to communicate with them and interact with them, it seems like humanity totally reinvents itself on a regular basis. And if you are from Humanity 1.08, how can you understand Humanity 1.5?

It seems as though the best way understand the world around you is to have one hand in the past, one hand in the future, and your head firmly in the present. If you don’t understand at least some of the past, you can’t understand the present you are in. And if you don’t keep an eye on where the future is heading, your time in the present is very limited; shortly you will be living in the past.

It sounds very endlessly difficult. But generally speaking, we’re going to either die young or grow old. And if you’re planning on growing old, you should start figuring out how to do it sooner rather than later. The course you set now will be the one you will be walking on when you’re older, because once you are old, you haven’t the strength to change the course.

Posted in Contemplations, Knitting | 1 Comment »

A Tale of Two Socks

October 28th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

half of the one and half of the other

I had planned on writing something witty and profound this weekend. Somehow it had something to do with this picture, or I wouldn’t have taken it. But I have managed to completely forget what it was I had intended to write, so you all will have to make do with second rate material. Please excuse me while I drege the recesses of my mind to come up with appropriate text. . .

. . .socks. . .socks. . .socks. . .

Here’s a bit of pointless text—the bucket my feet are resting on (I was supposed to be cleaning my room when I took this picture)? That is not a bunch of junk. That is my “You Never Know” bucket. Technical type people would label it “Assorted Trims”, but that’s really not as accurate as “You Never Know”. You never really know what’s in there, and you never really know when you’ll need it. When I sorted through it to move the contents from a hard-to-get-at drawer to this container, I found all sorts of things I’d forgot I had. I’d tell you what they were, but I’ve forgotten again already. But I know enough to look there when I need something to finish off a project.

Now, back to thinking about relevant text. . .

Oh, you may have noticed I’m knitting two totally different socks. They aren’t meant to be worn together, but one pair is really, really complicated, and the other is really, really straight foward. When I get bored of the plain one, I work on the complicated one, and when my mind gets tied in knots with the complicated one, I work on the boring one.

The green one is your basic top-down sock.

The Green Sock

It’s made from DK weight super-wash wool that I got from I’m using 2.5 mm needles and 60 stitches. It’s a mind-numbingly boring sock, but it’s a good sock to work on when I’m at my grandparents, because I can drop it instantly whenever Grandpa needs help going the bathroom or some other such thing. And when I come back to it, I still know exactly what I need to do: knit. No purls, no counting, no yarn overs, just knit until it’s long enough to fit my foot.

The white one is with the leftover yarn from my kool-aid dying experiment. It’s fingering weight merino wool, undyed. It’s a cross between this pattern for the lace design and this pattern for it’s instructions on how to knit socks toe-up.

the white sock

the knitting pattern

See, I don’t really know how much of this yarn I have left, and I know I want to use it all up. So if I suddenly run out, I want to just have short socks—not toe-less socks. And if I have a lot more yarn than I thought, I want to keep going until I have knee socks. And I didn’t want to mess around with dying the rest of this yarn, so I wanted a pattern that looked good in white—and it had better be a pattern, because I didn’t want to knit plain, white socks.

I chose to pay attention only to the part of the description where it says “These socks use a 12-row lace pattern that looks complicated but really is not!” and some how missed the fact that it also says “Difficulty level: Advanced.” This is only the third pair of socks I’ve ever knit after all. I figured that since I could read the instructions (it’s only simple yarn-overs and decreases and normal knit stitches), it really couldn’t be that hard.

And it isn’t really that hard. Except that I decided to do it toe-up, as well, and I’ve never done toe-up socks before, and my knitting teacher, Bub, has also never done toe-up socks.

This is where it gets funny.

So Bub has been knitting since before I was born. In fact, she’s probably been knitting since before my mother was born. She is very thrifty, so I was really surprised that she’d never knitted toe-up before, since it’s such a great way to use up every last bit of yarn. The thing is, since she is old enough to be my grandmother, she doesn’t get these “new ways”. If you wanted to learn something, you found a living human being to get you started. If you wanted to buy something, you walked down main street in town, and bought it.

Old arts and crafts pretty much dyed out—she teaches people at the senior citizens center how to knit, and there basically isn’t a lot of people around who do knit. So she basically can’t learn from the people around her (she’s teaching them) and so what ever more learning she wants to do as far as knitting is concerned she only finds out by buying books from the brick-and-motar Barnes & Nobel. Yarn shops fizzled up and died (along with most other stores in the this area, which is now quite depressed, but still has a Wal-Mart if you drive out 40 minutes). Thus she knitted with arcylic for many years because “that was all you could buy!”

Enter me, the tech-savvy (ha, ha, ha) youngster who does new-fangled things on the internet. I find free patterns online at places like and MagKnits, I find mail-order yarn stores that sell NOT-ACRYLIC yarn, and subscribe to VogueKnitting in which I find extensive yarn-directories and discover there actually is a place, kinda sorta locally, where one can buy real yarn. I look up all the hot new knitting books, and inter-library loan them, just to see what can be done.

And I decide to knit toe-up socks.

So she thinks this is perfectly brilliant idea, and asks for the instructions, because I don’t have time to get started on them at the moment. So I print the instructions out for her. Next time I see her, she is griping that she couldn’t make any sense out of them at all, and that it’s all too complicated for her.

Undeterred, I finally get some time, and cast on the toe of my sock.

So then she gets all excited, because it all makes sense now, and can I please leave her with the instructions for casting on (again). I leave her the instructions.

Shortly, she is asking how one goes about doing the heel gusset. I tell her I don’t know, because I haven’t even gotten started on the lace part of my sock, but I will be glad to print out gusset directions for her.

Next time I see her, she has ripped out all of her work, because those instructions “didn’t make any sense at all” and she can’t see any way of it working the way they described. She sounds uncannily like my brother when he’s insisting his math book doesn’t make any sense at all, because there is no way that will work.

Months pass, but I finally get to the point I am beginning to work on the heel gusset. The instructions seem rather straight foward to me. She sees me working on it, and gets excited all over again, because now it all makes sense.

So, she promptly re-casts, and re-knits up to the gusset (without telling me), and the next time I see her, she says she’s going to need my help with turning the heel (because the instructions just don’t make any sense at all and she can’t tell what it is they’re trying to get her to do). This statement of needing my help produces an awkward pause.

“. . .or haven’t you gotten there yet?”

No, I haven’t gotten there yet. In the time it took her to once again re-cast on, knit up to the gusset, and knit the gusset, I have yet to finish knitting the few inch that compose the gusset. But since she is trying to make these socks for her grandson before she goes down to visit him shortly, I say I’ll make every effort to finish the gusset, and turn the heel that evening.

So she calls my bluff, literally, and calls me that evening, saying “Okay, now what?”. A friend had called, and I had spent quite some time talking, so, um, I haven’t looked at the heel yet. I’ll take a look at it and call you back.

After about 45 minutes of meticulous charting on grafting paper, I’m pretty sure it’s easy to do and that directions make sense. I call her back, but of course it can’t be explained over the phone, so she promises to stop by the next day.

Needless to say, I spend quite some time the next day actually turning my heel, just on the off-chance I don’t have it all understood and when she actually does what I tell her to do it doesn’t work. Besides, I have to have it figured out well enough to scale it down, because the pattern was written for a woman’s foot, and she’s making a sock for a 6 year old.

It takes hours to explain it to her. Hours and hours. She just can’t wrap her mind around it. Oh, she can understand what I’m telling her to do, but she can’t understand how it will work. She keeps thinking it can’t work when it can, and I know it can because I’ve just turned my heel. Half-way though, as she stares off in an effort of concentration, she notices a piece of high class art-work that one of my brothers has drawn, which she says accurately describes how she feels. Me, too.


She finally does come to terms with it. And she goes home.

Next time I see her, I have realized that I turned my heel too early, and I really need a bigger gusset, and will have to take out my heel and continue working the gusset. She has finished a sock and half—she’s in the middle of turning the heel on the second sock.

Being the modest type (tongue firmly in cheek), I have to say that yes, I am clever and creative and determined to work on whatever I want to work on, despite all the red warning flags srcreaming “Trouble! Hard! Difficult! In over your silly little head!!” But I am slow. Veerrrry slow.

And I’m still not done cleaning my sewing room.

Posted in Knitting | 1 Comment »

A Story without a Moral.

April 29th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

Abby's feet

What’s this a picture of? My friend Abby’s feet. In the socks that I knit her for her birthday. The second project I’ve knitted, and the second pair of socks I’ve knitted.

When I’m not posting, you can be pretty sure I’m sick or busy. Usually busy. I spent the last month frantically knitting these socks. Based upon the expectations I had from my previous (and first) pair of socks, I had assumed that I could knit these socks in two weeks, if needed. Well, it was needed, but it took me twice as long as I expected.

It wasn’t because I decided to dye all the yarn with Kool-Aid.

kool-aid color

It wasn’t because I knitted tulips into the heels.


It wasn’t even because she had feet longer than the pattern, and so I had to rip out one of the already-completed white toes, and add two more color stripes to the pattern.

from the side

No, the problem was that the pink socks were knit out of a relatively thick yarn, and the striped socks were knit out of a relatively thin yarn. So I had to cast on 32 stitches for the pink socks, and 64 stitches for the striped socks. In other words, the striped socks had twice as many stitches as the pink socks, so of course they took twice as long!

Because of this minor miscalculation, the birthday present was about two weeks late, even knitting in every spare moment I had. I use the phrase “spare moment” rather loosely, because I wasn’t ruling out things like eating, or breathing, or making a chocolate-mocha cheesecake as her birthday cake. But I did have to stay up to 11 o’clock the night before I went to her house, still trying to finish the toe to the last sock. Which I didn’t. So I had to finish it up the next morning, right up to the minute I walked out the door. And I was an hour or so late. And I hadn’t really finished them, because after her excitement wore off a little, I had to weave in a few loose ends. And there were tension-holes at the heel I never did fix, which is kind of embarrassing. You can see them if you know where to look, and if you don’t know where to look, I’m not going to tell you.

sock pair

You may be thinking that you see a moral to this story, but you would be wrong. Because there. is. no. moral. I’m sure of it. I know it. I’m positive. No moral at all.

Except “Chocolate-mocha cheesecakes cover a multitude of sins, including late birthday presents.” That might be a moral.

Anyone want the recipe?

Posted in Knitting | 3 Comments »

A Story with a Moral

April 18th, 2007 by tatterdemalion

pink socks

What’s this a picture of? My feet. In my socks.

I knit those socks out of yarn my great-grandmother gave me, and it’s 100% wool. It’s also an almost pepto-bismol pink, but it was free, and I didn’t want to use something expensive for my first pair of socks. And my first knitting project, unless you count the scarf I made for my father when I was nine—a mile wide and two miles long, and more dropped stitches than I can count. That was a long time ago, though.

I did improve my skills from one sock to the other, which pleased me.

sock cuff

My casting on got better. The top one is my first sock, the bottom one is my second try. With the second one, I cast on in knit two, purl two, which really makes your head hurt the first time you do it.

sock toes

And here are the toes. They’re a little bit fuzzy, because I’ve been walking around in sock-feet, but you can see how the top one (first try) is kind of mangled, and on the second sock I’ve managed to graft the toe together invisibly.

But I didn’t teach myself; I had lots of help. (And here comes the moral.) My quilting buddy is old enough to be my grandmother. Sometimes, when she doesn’t feel like quilting, she knits instead. The first time I saw her working with 4 double-pointed needles like it was a tamed hedgehog, I knew I wanted to learn someday. And I said as much. And she assured me it was really very easy, and she’d be glad to teach me.

Actually, over the course of severeal months, I said “someday I want to learn how to knit socks” several times. She kept offering to teach me. I did mean it, all of it, especially the “someday” part. But finally she put down her knitting, looked me in the eye, and said, “Well, T., how long do you expect me to live?

I started learning to knit sock the very next week.

Posted in Contemplations, Knitting | 2 Comments »