“Unskilled Labor” is a scam

I am very proud of these slippers.

Would I show these on Ravelry, excited about the project and expecting congratulations on my knitting prowess?

No, I would not. The reason I am proud of these is a bit subtle.

They’re just slippers. They’re made out of leftover cheap acrylic yarn made on the spur of the moment because my husband’s old slippers had died and this was a way to get him some quickly. They’re not even interestingly awful, like something cruel, informed people would snark at a craft fair. They’re just something some old lady might make sitting irrelevantly in her rocking chair.

At least, that’s the cultural narrative.

They’re also the culmination of nearly 45 years of achieving mastery in several subjects.

You see, I didn’t open up any pattern book to make them, even though I’d never knit socks in that size or with that weight of yarn before. I didn’t even use a spreadsheet to do the calculations.

The learning process for these slippers started on a snowy day when I was a child. On snow days, because they were rare and had a holiday feel to them, my mother made cookies with my brother and I. But sometimes… Well, we’d want to make more cookies than the recipe on the back of the yellow Nestle’s bag of semi-sweet morsels. That’s when Mom taught us not only how to add, but how to add fractions.

The learning process continued as I got older and wanted to learn to write a computer program. My father didn’t let me turn a computer on. Oh, no. He handed me a pencil and paper and taught me to write out what I wanted to do with that program. That’s how I learned that thinking out the design phase of a project was important, even though I didn’t think of it that way in my grammar school mind.

On the learning process went, with math teachers explaining that fractions are really ratios and how to calculate, with my mother teaching me to sew garments and dozens of books on how to create proportional irregular shapes. It went on with me reading books on clothing and how design ease worked, and how much to create for different sorts of garments. It went on with learning how to knit, and learning from other books and other knitters various skills in creating garments and the ratios that tended to be consistent across body shapes. It went on with learning to use Excel as a tool to create garments so often that I memorized certain calculations.

On, until one day, my husband needed some slippers. I asked him to tell me how long his foot was. And then…

I just gathered up some leftover yarn, pondered for a moment about some ratios and I sat down to knit. I did it as casually as you’d drink a cup of coffee and tell your family about your day, with as little conscious thought as bringing in the mail.

People call things like manufacturing and garment work unskilled labor. I know better. I also wonder what other work is really a culmination of years of various studies that we dishonor like that.


I overbought majorly on the aran weight cream colored wool for a sweater I made back at the beginning of the year.

In pondering what to do with the leftovers, I considered making some knee-high socks. I like to wear skirts, but in winter weather, really do want something warm on the exposed parts!

The problem is, when I knit knee socks, invariably I either need a sock garter to keep them up, which brings me back to the days of being a Junior Girl Scout (yes, the uniform used to have knee socks and sock garters with an orange tag, and boy does that date me) or I have to really narrow the top of the sock so it won’t slip down my calves, which makes it a little uncomfortable.

I was feeling kind of whimsical when I was thinking about making these socks, and remembered a tea cozy I made with part of the leftover yarn (I told you I seriously overbought). The pattern called for the top of the tea cozy to have a series of holes through which you could thread a drawstring. This would enable you to take the top off the teapot with the cozy still on, and then tighten it back when the top was replaced.

I decided, what the heck, I’d try it on the tops of the socks.

Friends, this really works well. It’s a cute take on a sock garter, and has the advantage of being pretty flexible about how tight you tie it.

I was telling my husband about it and he commented with delight, “You invented something!”

Going into Lecture Mode (hey, I’m a teacher among other things) I commented, “No, honey, I unvented it.”

This is actually a fairly important concept in knitting – one I’ll turn over to the real unventing expert – Elizabeth Zimmerman:

Do you mind the word “unvented”? I like it. Invented sounds to me rather pompous and conceited. I picture myself as a knitting inventor, in a clean white coat, sitting in a workshop full of tomes of reference, with charts and graphs on the walls. Not real knitters’ charts, which are usually scribbled on odd and dog-eared pieces of squared paper, or even ordinary paper with homemade squares on it, but charts like sales charts, and graphs like the economy. I have a thoughtful expression behind my rimless glasses and hold a neatly-sharpened pencil. Who knows but that I don’t have a bevy of hand-knitters in the backroom, tirelessly toiling at the actual knit and purl of my deathless designs?


But unvented—ahh! One un-vents something; one unearths it; one digs it up, one runs it down in whatever recesses of the eternal consciousness it has gone to ground. I very much doubt if anything is really new when one works in the prehistoric medium of wool with needles. The products of science and technology may be new, and some of them are quite horrid, but knitting? In knitting there are ancient possibilities; the earth is enriched with the dust of the millions of knitters who have held wool and needles since the beginning of sheep. Seamless sweaters and one-row buttonholes; knitted hems and phoney seams—it is unthinkable that these have, in mankind’s history, remained undiscovered and unknitted. One likes to believe that there is memory in the fingers; memory undeveloped, but still alive.

Zimmermann, Elizabeth. Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Knitter’s Almanac: The Commemorative Edition (Dover Knitting, Crochet, Tatting, Lace) (p. 75). Dover Publications. Kindle Edition.

Dorm Boots, Physical Hobbies and Sedentary Hobbies

As a reward to myself for getting up at five in the damn morning to get my long-neglected swim in, I decided to blow off housework to knit, finishing these little slippers, called Dorm Boots. They seem to have originated from an old pattern in the early part of the Twentieth century, they developed and updated over the years. I’ve seen variations that were knitted flat (I freely admit I found the pattern too confusing) to the variation you see here, which was knitted in the round.

I made them out of some scrap yarn I had left over from my latest shawl. Like the shawl, these things make me absurdly happy.

They’re very easy. All you need to know is how to knit in the round, decrease left and right, purl and sew up a seam. The bottom of the slipper is actually knit open, and you sew it up at the end. If you want the pattern, click on the image. It’s free, and quite useful.

I was questioning the garter stitch at the soles, but I think I get the point. You really do want a little texture on them. I’ve walked across the tile floor in my kitchen and the texture, even with acrylic yarn, is enough to reduce the chance of slipping.

For people who want comfy house-socks that are warmer than the thin ones you wear under your shoes, but don’t really want to commit to a heavy slipper, this is a good intermediary. I would also consider them good bed shoes for people who wanted to wear socks to bed.

I made them out of acrylic, and I think I would only want to make them out of an easily washable yarn, unless I were to make the deliberate oversized to felt on purpose. I’m tempted to try that, as I have some heavy brown Fisherman’s Wool left over that would make a warm slipper, indeed.

Ah yes, getting the swim in.

I’d been neglecting working out for some time, and was spurred back into a proper routine by a couple of things. First, I threw out my back. I have never in my life had back trouble before. It’s awful and painful and if you’ve been through it, I don’t have to tell you anything. If you haven’t? It sucks. It was from sitting in a bad chair and not working out. I fixed the chair while my back healed well enough to move without much pain, then I got back in the pool. I’d always had a strong back, so that was a bit of a shocker.

The other was a comment my son made while he was visiting for Thanksgiving. My parents had sent up with him a box of memorabilia from my childhood. In it were a few swim team ribbons (I never got better than second place, and I’d been on the swim team for longer than I’d remembered!), a bunch of pictures of me on various soccer teams and several Karate (Isshin-Ryu) certificates. He commented that he did not know that I was an athlete when I was a kid.

That brought me up short.

I don’t think of myself as an athlete or even a former athlete. Yes, I know. If you train to swim two miles in open water, you’re an athlete. All I can say is that I don’t think of myself that way. I didn’t think of myself as an athlete as a child, either. I was always gently encouraged to have some physical activity to engage in most of the time and I liked swimming and dance and soccer and Karate. But I was never a star at any of them. I did it because they were fun, and stopped when they stopped being fun.

But I never really could get into exercise for the sake of exercise, even though, yes I need to move or my body breaks down! Taking a walk? Well, it’s nice as a way to socialize with someone, or while listening to a book or something, but I don’t love it for the activity itself. Running? Running is for people who can’t swim. Exercise classes? *shudder* Not unless they’re highly skill-based, and in that case, I’m into it because I’m learning the skill. Weights? Okay, ya got me. I get a kick out of lifting heavy stuff.

But while I know that I do need to make sure to move my body regularly to counteract my sedentary profession and other hobbies (knitting ain’t exactly active, is it?) I always need a physical hobby to make sure that I’m active enough. And that’s the thing. I see myself as having a physical hobby – not as an athlete.

Low-End Yarn: in which I apologize to Red Heart Super Saver

Now, I don’t generally knit with what you’d exactly call high-end yarn (Wool of the Andes, yo!) but I do usually knit with wool. I made myself a half-circle shawl recently and have been enjoying wearing it. I made it out of (cue ominous music) Red Heart Super Saver, an acrylic yarn that is really about as low-end as you can get. This is the stuff you use to make enormous afghans out of because otherwise you’d never be able to afford to make it. I have two such on my bed – one made by me some dozen years ago and is basically a four-foot granny square. The other was one my grandmother crocheted out of what I believe is a shell stitch. So, I don’t totally eschew RHSS, but it’s not something I often make garments out of. I want my sweaters to be wool, darn it. The Half Circle Shawl was an exception I made out of a combination of impatience (I was in Wal-mart when the urge to make it hit me) and self-discipline (I hit my yarn budget for the quarter already, and everything in my stash was committed to other projects). I just wanted a nice thick shawl to wear around the house.

While doing A Thing for Christmas Gifts in the kitchen, I had something of a Messy Disaster involving a dark liquid. I had been wearing my shawl ’cause it’s cold in the house and I’m too cheap to heat it much. The Messy Disaster got all over the kitchen – floor, countertops… me…

Which meant I had to wash the shawl. I threw it in the washing machine, washed it with a few other things, tossed it in the dryer and waited as impatiently as any toddler waiting for Blankie for it to come out of the dryer.

Y’all? This came out of the dryer as nice and soft as you could want. The drape has been improved and it’s completely cuddly.

So, while I wouldn’t really recommend it for a nice sweater, I’m gonna say I don’t think this yarn deserves as bad a beyond the pale reputation as all THAT.

Big Knitting Mistake


I was finishing off this shawl this morning when I noticed that dropped stitch towards the end of the shawl would cause the whole thing to unravel. Now, I’m a decent knitter and all, but this is black lace friends – a challenging knit, to say the least! I was really disappointed at the idea that all the work I’d put into the piece might go to nothing.

Then I though a bit and realized I could tie off the mistake at the end, add a tassel to the shawl (the original pattern doesn’t have it) and still salvage the work.

Still, I’m ticked, as I am not generally a tassel fan. But it seemed the best way to salvage the error.

Two Shawls, Eleven Years

twoshawls-1I got a wild hare and started wondering if a certain garment had made the cut during the Great Konmari Experiment of 2015. I dug it out. It had.

This is a shawl I made back in 2005. The yarn is actually much, much nicer than a newbie knitting project deserves, though I did not know that at the time. It’s a fairly heavy hand-spun and hand-dyed that I was given by a pushe^h^h^h co-worker who was also a knitting fanatic and wanted to encourage a budding knitter. This was an amazingly kind gift. I knew enough to know this was special wool and deserved to be used on a special project, but I was not skilled enough to figure out either what kind of project I had enough yarn for, or what kind of project the wool was appropriate for.

There are lots of errors in it (yarn badly joined, ends not woven in properly… a dozen other things), and it’s not a garment I wear out of the house much, but I do wear it at home from time to time when it’s a little chilly in the house, but I don’t want to dress heavily. The wool is quite warm on the back of my neck and my shoulders, so it’s a good in-between type of shawl.

For all the errors in it, it made that Konmari cut out of pure sentiment. I held it, and I smiled because it made me happy to think about making it and how proud of myself I was to be able to integrate knit and purl stitches in an actual pattern.


Eleven years on, this is the shawl I am working on right now. It’s a lot more complex. I’ll probably wear it to the office and other places quite a bit. It makes me happy for geeky reasons as well as because I am enjoying knitting it. The yarn is actually about as inexpensive as you can get and still be all wool, and possibly something this complex really deserves a high end yarn. The recommended yarn for this project cost upwards of $60. I spent more like $15.

I like to look at how I have progressed in activities – be it swimming or whatever. Not because I feel like I necessarily have a specific goal to reach, mind. I think people who happily knit garter stitch scarves are making as good a use of their time as I do with my knitting projects. But I do like to tack on and master skills. It’s a thing, and it’s ultimately useful, so I don’t mind running with it.

(It also took me well on to 40 years before the habit was in any way a big financial return, but that’s neither here nor there. Formal education would have been much quicker!)

But I am as proud of the first shawl I made as the one I am currently working on. I cannot bring myself to blow it off as too easy or amateurish. That first shawl made me a little nervous, was stretching my skill set and made me happy to make – just like the one I am doing now.

I just wish I could read my old writing and have that same attitude. With that, for some idiotic reason, I still wince and I shouldn’t. I was doing the same thing, right?

Not Knitworthy


I’ve been on rather a knitting kick lately, and have been reading some knitting boards. There’s been a recent discussion thread that has gotten me at first to being sympathetic, then wrinkling my nose at the snowflake nonsense that I’m seeing.

The thread is about being annoyed at not being thanked for a knitted gift.

At first blush, yeah. Not being thanked for a gift is certainly an irritant, and certainly a show of terrible manners. I won’t argue that for a second. But as the thread went along, a lot of people were using a term that I don’t really like when it comes to yarnwork gifts.

The term?


I don’t like it at all and don’t use it. Are there people I knit for and people I don’t. You bet. It has very little to do with my closeness to the person or not, though, or how much I value them. It has to do with whether or not I think the person will (and you probably need to brace yourself for this one) like what I was thinking of knitting them. You know, as in a gift?

Even if I think someone will like it, I do not (unless they do some sort of handwork, themselves) expect them to have any real idea what went into whatever I made. If you don’t knit, you probably think it takes an hour to make the average stocking cap. See that tea cozy? It’s about the size of a stocking cap with some cables, so it might have taken a bit longer to make than the average hat, right? But you can still whip it up.

Friends, I am a very fast knitter and that took me about nine hours of work.

When I give someone a present, though, I do not expect them to know this, understand it, or treat whatever I’ve given them like that. If someone turns out not to be into whatever I made for them, I don’t take it personally. Knitwear is an extremely specific taste at the best of times. Sometimes I guess right and sometimes I don’t.

Oh, sure, a polite person will say thanks for a gift. I’m not excusing poor manners. It was the indignance at people not knowing how to or being willing to care for 100% wool (it is something of a PITA unless you’re very motivated to care for it). It was annoyance at people not wearing something that was given.

Knitter, please.

Get a grip.

Knitting is not a piece of your soul that needs to be enshrined and treasured. It’s a hobby, and a fun one that some people will enjoy you sharing with them. That’s all.

Be the Boss of Your Own Knitting

bossofyourownknitting-1I am too dumb to use a knitting pattern. No, seriously.

I will read a pattern, see the gorgeous ways knitters have made it – either exactly or making adaptations and think maybe I’ll try it.

I’ll usually give up before I even cast on. For whatever reason I can almost never see how they got to the end result from the pattern and just throw my hands up.

I’m not trying to show this sweater and say, “This is an easy knit!” It is and it isn’t. The basic template? Lord love you, yes! I wouldn’t hesitate to use the basic pattern as a way to teach anyone to knit a sweater. The basic design is easy, easy, easy, and all it takes is a little math to get a perfect fit every single time. The only real problem is that you’re knitting a lot of stockingette and might die of boredom.

The cables? Yes and no. There was some design and thought that went into picking the cable patterns I wanted to use. (Barbara Walker’s A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns is an amazing stitch dictionary, and I highly recommend it.) As part of the gauge swatch process, I did practice the cables individually and together to see how they would flow, as braided cables have twenty-four rows per repeat and the lattice diamond in the middle has thirty.

I have wanted a good “fisherman’s” type sweater since forever. But every time I tried one on in the store, the damn things always made me look like a sausage. Size 8 or size 22, never mattered. I could not get a fit that flattered. I’d be constricted in something that fit my body and feeling like I was wearing a box if I got a size up.

I realized the reason after some decades of making my own clothes, getting an intuitive sense of my own tastes and style, and how the eye flows over a garment. I am and always will be, no matter how my weight fluctuates, deep-bodied. Thick design detail as the entire canvas of a sweater won’t look good on me. Framed design elements? Oh yeah, they look great. You’d have to know a lot about sweater design to know that the sweater in that picture is not, in fact, a real Aran.

If I were going to teach knitting, I’d teach it like I teach almost anything. Sure, I’d teach you the skills you need to make things, but I’d also integrate that with lessons in design. I wouldn’t teach how to follow a pattern line by line. Mostly because I don’t know how, but more because I feel like knowing how to create something you want that suits your unique tastes in color, fit, and form, is a lot of what makes knitting amazing and fun. I’d teach why certain element produce certain effects, just as I do when I’m teaching how to make a PowerPoint presentation! But I’d teach that slavishly following directions is not going to get you to a point where you will master your own knitting.

Elizabeth Zimmerman, in her Knitting Workshop intro, actually talks about this. She went through a period in her life following exact instructions when she was knitting, and found later in life that she’d rather lost her knitting mojo because instead of using patterns as ideas and guidelines, she was treating them as something iron-clad and to be followed exactly. It was only when she broke out of that and decided to figure some things out on her own that her own creativity and affinity for design exploded.

Our bodies are different. Your body is different from mine. Your coloring is different and your taste in style and design is, too. So should your knitting not also be different?

I don’t even entirely buy the whole, “It’s too hard to knit without a pattern” thing. Sure, it’s a skill, but knitting patterns as exact directions have really only been with us for a little over a hundred years. Traditional knitting really didn’t so much use patterns as it used recipes. As with the evolution in cooking, we might have access to a better and wider variety of ingredients, but we can alter anything we like to our own tastes to come up with some pretty awesome creations.

I agree with Mrs. Zimmerman. “Be the boss of your own knitting!”

Old School Knitting and Living in the Future

oldschoolknitting-1I’m hard at work on a sweater I’m knitting.

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t do patterns. Well, not well, anyway. Once I learned the Tube Theory of Garment Design (known to knitters as Elizabeth’s Percentage System) I didn’t really need them. Knit a swatch, measure your body, do a little math, decide what design elements you want to add, and you can make a sweater.

I expect, years ago, this is more or less how people knitted. You learned a template for a garment, then you played with patterns or color or whatever, and that’s where a lot of our knitting innovation came from.

Of course, the real expansion of creativity came when these ideas were shared broadly. At first it was patterns in magazines and books. Think of people who learned new techniques from Barbara Walker’s top-down techniques or how many people (to this day) keep some of her stitch dictionaries in stock. In fact, the cables I am knitting at this moment come from her work. But even television got into the act for spreading and developing the craft. Think of how many knitters learned from Elizabeth Zimmerman’s television show and books.

The Internet has been amazing for spreading ideas as well. If you learned to knit in the 21st Century (I didn’t, but that’s when I got more serious about developing it), you probably spent some time on Knitty. That’s where I first learned to knit a cable from the pattern for the Coronet hat, which I later incorporated into my Roll Your Own Braided Yoke Sweater. It’s a pattern I don’t charge for, as I shamelessly stole the basic design of the sweater from Elizabeth Zimmerman, and the braided hem concept from Alexandra Virgiel, the author of Coronet.

Which brings us to Ravelry! My word… That’s over four million knitters and crocheters who see other people’s work, design patterns (even I have one), share techniques, and get ideas for their own knitting.

So even though I’m unlikely ever to knit a sweater from an Official Pattern and probably knit more like a crofter back before the steam engine was invented would, certainly I owe a great creative debt to knitters who came before me and shared.

Selfish Knitting Year

About five years ago, I got good enough at knitting that I finally felt like I was producing something good enough to give as a present. I knitted about three sweaters for my mother, two or three for my son and one for my dad (those being the family members that like 100% wool sweaters. Between laundry habits and sensory tastes, other family members aren’t really into them, so I do other things that they are more likely to like for gifts).

I was looking at my sweater drawer and considering buying some, as the sweaters I’ve made for myself are looking a bit worn and old. These sweaters are between seven and eleven years old, and have been worn a great deal, what with me living in Northern New England and all. They were also made of Wool-Ease so I could put them in the washer and dryer. *snerk* Well, that’s what they say. I was not happy with the results over time.. Anyway, most of my sweaters are a bit ratty.

The newest sweater I have was knit about three years ago. It’s 100% wool and has been cared for properly. I love it and want it to last, but it is really my only “good” sweater. (As defined as something I’m okay with wearing to work!) Which means I am going to wear it out of I do not put some more sweaters into rotation.

So, I’ve declared 2016 the Selfish Knitting Year and I am going to knit some sweaters I’ve been meaning to for myself – sweaters that I can wear to an office.

selfishknitting-1The first one I’ve started on is going to be a modified Aran. Being deep-bodied, I’m not going as hard core on the cabling as I want to, as I don’t want to look like a gorilla or something. But I am going to make it in the traditional cream-colored wool. I’m using Lion’s Brand Fisherman’s wool, which is a pretty decent workhorse yarn.

I’ve always wanted a good Aran sweater, but them suckers is expensive if you buy the authentic deal.

The picture is the beginning of a sleeve. What I’m secretly doing is using my time with knitting the sleeve as a gauge check. I did knit a gauge swatch with the cables I intend to use, but I’m double-checking it by starting on a sleeve first. Less expensive in time if I notice an egregious error in the calculation early on! I never use a commercial pattern when I knit. Ever since I read Knitting Without Tears, I’ve kind of been ruined for them. Elizabeth Zimmerman’s seamless sweater concept is enough of a template that I can do pretty much anything I like with a sweater after I give it some thought.

That said, no, I most emphatically cannot intuit how cables work. The cable at the left is the Clustered Braid from A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns by Barbara Walker. It’s what knitters call a stitch dictionary – hundreds of stitch patterns, cables, and lace patterns that you can use to make the blank pattern of a bog-standard Seamless Raglan Sweater into a unique creation.

I’m hoping to get this done while it is still cold enough to wear it. Starting a sweater in January, especially one with cables, is a bit risky for this. But hey, what is life without a little risk?

selfishknitting-2My next sweater will be a good Norwegian one – black with white ljus and red at the collar. Since I really do want to feel free to wear it to work, I am totally waffling on whether or not do use a skulls pattern in the yoke or not. Maybe I should wear my Skulls of My Enemies socks sometime and see what the reaction is. Otherwise, it would be quite similar the sweater at the right with enough variation not to be an actual copy. I made that one for my mom some years ago, and it’s still one of the knits I am most pleased with. Still, I can’t get the idea of replacing that red and black band with skulls and doing a red moving to white motif at the upper yoke out of my head.

selfishknitting-3If I really get my knit on (and I might. I’m taking quite a long train trip in August) I want to make one more sweater for myself this year. I am not quite sure what kind, but I think I need one more sweater in a bright, flattering color. My aqua one is awesome, so something a little like that in a purple or some other color I see in my general clothing color palette. I have a book of edgings that might be cool to try for it.