Knitting and Taking Control

Someone once commented that spikes in knitting come with stressful times.  I’d buy that.   I knit and sew more during stressful times than otherwise.  There are a lot of theories on why this might be so in general.  Part of it, I am sure, is the soothing nature of a repetitive physical motion (rocking a baby, anyone?).  But I think it’s more than that.  Sewing has a similar effect on me, and that’s not quite as repetitive as knitting.

Most crisis intervention therapies have routines to promote a sense of competence and mastery to the patients.  Basically, if you can’t feel in control of something or accomplished about something, you run out of cope real, real fast.  That’s a very normal human reaction.   While you can’t necessarily plot a curve from one point, I know the kick I get out of sewing my own wardrobe or knitting a garment for someone.  It’s a sense of accomplishment.   It’s a way to restore a sense of competence.  Knitting and sewing are relatively simple skills to learn.  Elizabeth Zimmerman, the Ur-geek of knitting, put it this way:

Really, all you need to become a good knitter are wool, needles, hands, and slightly below-average intelligence. Of course, superior intelligence, such as yours and mine, is an advantage.

You can learn to knit a garter stitch scarf relatively quickly. And at the end of the project, you have something physical, tangible, and dare I say  useful as well.  That kind of thing can do a lot to restore a sense of competence.

If it seems goofy to say, “I can’t control the economy, but by God, I can make this sweater!” don’t be too quick to sneer.  That sense of competence can and does fuel intelligent action in other areas.  Anyone who engages in a repetitive but ultimately useful and creative thing like knitting1 will tell you that in the process of creation, your mind relaxes.  You enter a meditative state and often that relaxation of the mind engages the creative centers that allows you to come up with the creative solutions you need in other areas of life.

It also has to do with how the brain works and how it encodes stressful experiences.

Psychological theory suggests that when we’re exposed to a horrifying situation, we take it in through two channels. One is the basic, primal sensory channel: the sights, sounds, sensations, and smells of the situation. The other is an intellectual channel: our brains trying to make sense of what’s going on, and putting it into words and a context that we can talk about.

The experimenters wondered what would happen if you specifically blocked one of these channels while the traumatic event is going on. And they found that if you were pre-occupied with a “visual-spatial task,” like typing a pattern on a computer, you didn’t encode the images and sounds of the traumatic experience as strongly. As a result, subjects who kept their hands busy had fewer flashbacks.


Does make for an interesting take on the old saying, “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.”

1Or woodworking (ever sanded a bookcase?), or cooking, or even scrubbing a floor (see Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett for an interesting discussion of the principle). It needs to be physical, but not too mentally demanding.

Real Free Speech

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has launched an online petition to express outrage at conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh for saying he wanted President Obama to “fail.” –

Now, I don’t have any real use for Mr. Limbaugh.   I find his critical thinking skills inadequate, I believe his primary motivation is attention and a fat bank balance, and I find his rhetorical skills gallingly under par.   I also think this is generally what you’re going to find in most political commentators you encounter if it’s their living, I really don’t care what the political view that they visibly espouse are.

But if you don’t believe in someone’s right to say something you don’t believe in, you don’t believe in free speech. Here’s the catch, when Mr. Limbaugh says something I don’t like, I’m allowed to say, “I don’t like that.”

I think the indignation on both sides illustrate to me more than ever that most people don’t get the point of freedom, nor do they really want to.

A New Hope

I’m watching Star Wars: A New Hope with my family.

I’ve told my children what an influence Star Wars was on me, but I’m pretty sure they don’t fully grok it.  How could they?  They don’ t have the perspective.

But I remember how it exploded on my brain as a child.  It was the first image I had of a strong woman in film.  I mean here was this Princess that shot bad guys and bullied fools and gave orders instead of screaming and melting into a little cotton candy mess of tears when things went wrong.

Oh sure, there was Wonder Woman, but she was too clearly meant to be eye candy (and her fight scenes never looked convincing to my untutored eye).  And there was the Bionic Woman.  But she wasn’t in charge.  Leia was the first female leader I encountered in fiction.

Certainly Star Wars is how I became a science fiction fan — that and a story by Issac Asimov in my fourth grade reading book called, “The Fun They Had”.

I have to wonder what will be the benchmark media (book, TV, movie, whatever) for my kids that exploded on their brains and made them think in a new way.

Oh, and I just gotta say:

Han Shot First!

The Knit Kit

Sometimes you find a gadget that is so well-designed and thoughtfully engineered for its purpose that you have to stare in jaw-dropping awe.  Thanks to ame_chaname_chan for this!

Now, this blog is not meant to promote products, but I’m gonna show off one:  The Knit Kit.  It’s coming out in March.  This is smart and useful design.  It contains ‘most every little accessory tool you’d need when you’re out and about knitting, and goodness knows there are many of us who knit while we travel — whether it’s commuting or if it’s a longer trip on an airplane. I’m going to be going to Florida the week after next and I wish the product were already available.  Of course I’m planning my Plane Project.  Most likely socks.  I like knitting socks on planes because it’s small and easily portable in my laptop bag.  You can often tell how much I’ve flown in a year by how many socks I’ve made!  The only redundancy I see is that there are scissors as well as a thread cutter here.  The only thing I usually need scissors for is cutting yarn anyway.

I’m working on a We Call Them Pirates hat in black and red for myself.   I have one in black and white, but it was my first attempt at stranded knitting and I really did make it too tight.  It looks okay, but it’s just too small for my bus head.  If you have a child who’d like the hat, lemme know1.  On a whim, I went through my stash and realized I had enough wool to make myself another one, so I am.  ‘Cause, well… PIRATES!  What I really need to do is make the matching mittens.

I’m also going through my stash to see what I can knit up without buying anything.  One of the great joys of the fact that I use a template and just come up with goofy stuff for a lot of my projects is that I can use up yarn when I overbuy.  I have a lot of gray, some burgundy, some black and some gold.  I could probably come up with something reasonably entertaining with that if I gave it some thought.

My son is pushing for another gold sweater.  I’m going to have to buckle down and get the nerve to try the Seamless Saddle Shouldered Sweater from Knitting Without Tears.  The design is a bit more classic than the 70s looking yoke sweaters, so translates well across the years.

1Obviously, this’ll go to the first person who asks for it.

Geek Knitting

I’m in the home stretch for a sweater for my son.   I ruined a couple of 100% wool sweaters I’d made for him and he was a bit vexed.  You see, we live in Northern New England.  Hand knit sweaters tend to be pretty warm.  So, I learned my lesson and I don’t care what the fiber geeks say, I knit using Wool-ease.  You can wash it in the washing machine.

So, this is a Seamless Yoke Sweater such as you will find in Knitting Without Tears by Elizabeth Zimmerman.  I adore knitting in the round, and making sweaters in the round is insanely easy.   The yoke will have the Autobots logo on it.

Knitting is an inherently geeky craft.  There’s a lot of math in it, as well as pattern repetition.  If you’ve any creative bent at all, it’s also an endless opportunity for creation and invention.  It’s a technology as well as an art.  You know me, I like the intersection of technology, creativity and usefulness.  That’s why my favorite knitting projects are sweaters and socks.  You always need good, warm socks and where I live, you always need comfortable, warm sweaters.

The cool bit about the way I make sweaters is that there is a basic algorithm that will work for anyone, and it’s still custom.  Check out Knit by Numbers: a simple way to make your own patterns.   It explains the concept really well.  It really works and you get a sweater that fits you properly.

No Right Click on a Snow Blower

I’m about to teach a teacher how to use a snowblower.

Now, we’re both geeks.  I told him I was going to talk him through how to use the snowblower by talking him through it just like I teach computer applications.  He got a pained look and said, “Yes, but I can’t right click on a snowblower for a help file if I forget what you said!”

Self-esteem in the Locker Room

There is nothing so good for my self esteem as the gym locker room.  It’s nice to be somewhere where you realize that there’s no such thing as the “perfect” body  short of a studio shoot and some serious Photoshop work.  I’ve gained some weight and was feeling badly about myself.  I hadn’t been exercising, so my brain was getting sluggish, too.  However, half an hour in the pool swimmin’ laps is enough to put my mind right.  ‘Course it doesn’t do my body any harm, either.

But, the reminder that there’s no such thing as perfect is a good one and it helps keep me from getting down on myself.  The gym I go to is a community gym, so you get everyone from the competitive athletes to the old ladies who swim gently to stave off the walker just one more month.

I’m kind of in between.  I do my swim and it feels good, but I’m no competitor.    I like to keep active because I have a sedentary damn job and if I don’t move, my brain stops working properly.  Since my brain is my major asset, I really can’t afford to let that get sluggish.

One of the women in the gym today commented as I was blow-drying  my hair, “I don’t see how you can have hair like that and be a swimmer.”

Apparently, she’d never heard of the Conditioner Trick:

Wet your hair really well in the shower. Work a small amount of conditioner through your hair.  Don’t use too much or your head will be too slippery and your cap will fall off while you’re swimming.  My hair is pretty thick and down to my waist and I only use about the size of a silver dollar’s worth.  Put on your swim cap. If you’re working out hard enough to get red in the face, your head is hot enough that you’re getting a great deep conditioning treatment. Don’t put the conditioner on the dry hair as you want your hair to have absorbed the water without so many chemicals in it first. The conditioner will seal out the chemicals from the pool then.  After your swim, shower and wash your hair, but if you have to use a hair dryer1, don’t dry your hair all the way.

Of course, this doesn’t stop me from looking really goofy when I put the swim cap on.  It’s  like those old Samurai topknots, getting my mane up into those little latex caps.   I guess if you’re a serious swimmer, you have to resign yourself to looking like a damn dork working out.

I need to find myself a weightlifting buddy in a couple of months, though.  I’m working back into working out more often and I want a little accountability, I think.   I want someone strong enough to spot me, though.

1It’s 10F outside today. Yes, I’m going to mostly dry it before I go outside to go home!  I’ve actually neglected this before and had my hair freeze on me.  I doubt that’s very wise for one’s health.

Home Vignettes

My cousin told me he’d gotten a DVD player that’ll take a USB drive input.

I boil with envy.

I also discussed this with my son, who ran up the stairs shouting, “Auuggghhh. Must run away from gadget-crazed Mama!”

Honestly, I didn’t think I was that bad.