Social Knitting…

Packing for our Thanksgiving trip to Phoenix this year was a bit of a challenge. Knitting time was sure to happen at the same time as visiting so I needed a very simple project or two, but currently only had projects in progress that required thinking every now and then. I had to come up with a couple of new projects.

I decided to bring some handspun yarn to make another simple garter stitch hat and I pulled out a linen/mohair yarn that I had gotten for a shawl project. The hat was done within a couple of days and I then started on the shawl.

It seemed simple enough. Cast on 85 stitches. No shaping. A simple eyelet pattern. It was mostly stockinette stitch with two evenly spaced lace pattern rows. It’s interesting how long it can take to get even a simple pattern like this memorized to the point where I can talk and knit, without looking like I’m paying more attention to my knitting than the person I’m talking to.

Even with a simple pattern, it can be challenging to count the stitches on the lace pattern rows and still pay full attention to your conversation. Once the pattern becomes second nature, that tends to no longer be an issue. There were a few times where I had to choose between focusing on a good conversation and counting stitches on my lace pattern row. I typically chose the conversation and let my needles rest for a bit.

The best social knitting for me is something in garter stitch or stockinette stitch, or a pattern that repeats every few rows that doesn’t require counting. Cable stitch patterns can be good projects for conversation, because you can visually see where you are in the pattern without having to count. I generally avoid patterns with shaping for social situations, unless it’s socks. Making a basic pair of socks is pretty easy to do without a hiccup, because I’ve made so many of them.

Some people might wonder why I need to knit at all while I’m visiting with people. Well, it’s a knitter-thing. Writer’s write. Knitter’s knit. That’s just the way it is. I’m going to start looking at my projects-in-progress a bit differently now and make sure that I always have a social knitting project on hand for just these situations.

When I was in Wisconsin visiting my daughter a couple of months ago, we saw a finished Reading Shawl that would be a perfect social knitting project. It was a straight-forward rectangle with a fold-over edge to create a warmer neckline and hand pockets, and was a simple block stitch – an 8 stitch repeat over four rows. I think it’s time to get that project on my needles.

-Jenne Hiigel

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Get a glass, dear, it’ll taste better…

Drinking beer out of a can, bottle, plastic cup, or styrofoam cup all reduce the flavor, aroma, and foam character of your chosen beer. Plastic sippy cups are right out. In some cases, minimizing the flavor and aroma might be a good thing, but if you’ve chosen to drink a quality beer that was well-brewed, you’re doing yourself, your beer, and the brewer a disservice if you don’t pay attention to the vessel you’re drinking out of.

When I take our dog for his morning walk around our condo complex, I’ll periodically pass a unit that is littered with beer cans and bottles of the Miller Lite, Bud Ice Light, and Corona variety. The trash is evidence of a college party where the attendees were glaringly lacking in beer drinking education.

To give these partiers a couple of points (they don’t deserve many, but I can give them a couple), if you’re going to disappoint your taste buds and waste your digestive enzyme energy on these types of beers, doing all you can to minimize the flavor and aroma would be a good thing. Just drink the beer as cold as possible (so you can’t taste it) and drink it directly out of the can or bottle (so no aroma is released and the beer has the maximum amount of CO2).

If, on the other hand, you actually LIKE beer, choose a craft-brewed beer and drink it in a manner that actually enhances the flavor, aroma, foam character and overall beauty of the beverage. Don’t disrespect all the brewer’s hard work by not appreciating the final result to its fullest.

For full flavor and aroma appreciation… don’t drink your beer too cold, pour it out of the bottle to release some of the CO2 and aroma, and select a glass that enhances the style and flavor qualities of the beer. I admit, I am a bit spoiled in the glassware department. Being married to a beer guy, we have well over 1,000 glasses available to choose from. In our kitchen cupboards, though, we only keep a few dozen… well, several dozen.

In spite of this, it boggles my mind how often I can select a beer and then go to the cupboard and not be able to find the right glass. I do have a couple of favorite default glasses that serve most beers quite well, but if I can find the correct glass my enjoyment of the beer will be taken up a notch.

To look at a book that illustrates beautifully what I’m talking about, check out Michael Jackson’s Great Beer Guide. Flipping through the pages of this book and seeing all the beautifully poured beers in their proper glass is a sight to behold! I think I’m getting thirsty…

-Jenne Hiigel

Walking & Knitting…

My walk to work is 1-1/2 miles each way. At a pace of 3 mph that’s an hour of walking each day, 5 hours per week, 21.65 hours per month, and 260 hours per year. That’s a lot of potential knitting time!

I have to subtract rainy days and days where it’s too cold for my fingers to be out of my pockets. It’s a bit hard to knit under these conditions. Fortunately that doesn’t cut out too much time, since we live on the Central Coast of California and the weather tends to be pretty mild. Then there are vacation days and sick days, where I don’t go to work. Based on my estimation, that still leaves me with roughly 200 hours of knitting time per year… which is nothing to sneeze at! (except in May)

I have completed several hats, scarves, and socks during the course of my walks, that I most likely would not have been able to complete otherwise. I have found that people tend to be more friendly to you when you’re knitting. I suppose it has something to do with the fact that people generally do not feel threatened by knitters. Also, a walking knitter is a relatively unusual sight, so it tends to make people curious. Knitting and walking does wonders to help promote the craft.

I have a few safety and sanity tips for those of you who want to take up knitting and walking. Small projects work best. It’s hard to carry an afghan while you’re walking. Stick with hats, scarves, socks, baby things, iPod covers, etc. Pick something where you can memorize the pattern easily. It’s hard to refer to a printed pattern when you’re walking, unless you want to use an around-the-neck music holder for your pattern like they use in a marching band.

Walking causes your body and hands to bounce slightly, so intricate lace patterns or tricky decreases (such as P3tog tbl) might best be avoided as a walking project. If you have a 9-5 work schedule, the end of daylight savings time causes it to be dark on the walk home. That doesn’t mean you have to stop knitting! My daughter Kathleen can shape the toe of a sock in a dark movie theater. Not me. I know my limitations. On a nighttime walk I stick to garter stitch or stockinette stitch and check my knitting at each street light.

Don’t look so intently at your knitting that you trip on cracks in the sidewalk or walk into a utility pole. It’s important to have a project where you can look up every now and then. Don’t try to pick up a dropped stitch while crossing the street. Pedestrians have to walk defensively in order to avoid getting run over by a car, so just pause your knitting until you get safely across the street. Then you can stop and track down that errant stitch.

It works best to have something to hold your supply yarn, such as a fanny pouch, a backpack, a baggy sleeve, or a big pocket. I’ve had some success with holding my supply yarn under my arm, but if I forget it’s there and raise my arm it can be several yards before I notice I dropped the ball. I have also been known to put my knitting needles under my arm while I did something else, only to have to backtrack a block or two to recover my dropped needles.

For advanced walking knitters, you can add an iPod. Be careful about doing that too soon, though! If you’re concentrating on your knitting while listening to music, all your key tools (vision, hearing, and brain function) for not getting run over or crashing into things are distracted with other activities. Ease into the iPod gradually. Start by just getting comfortable walking and knitting. Then add the iPod with the volume at a low level. Once you get on a roll, the volume can slowly be turned up.

With enough practice, you’ll soon be walking, knitting, singing along with your iPod, allowing cars to turn left in front of you, greeting your fellow walkers, and waving at the bicyclers and drivers that you see regularly! It’s a pretty fun way to get to work.

-Jenne Hiigel

Homebrewing Equipment…

Flipping through the homebrew supply catalog I just got in the mail from Northern Brewer, it’s clear I’m going to have to do some homework before making my first purchase of homebrewing equipment. I could get the basic setup for under $100, but I know I want to do all-grain brewing – so I would most likely “outgrow” that equipment after one batch.

My homebrewing brother-in-law, John Hannan, said the biggest mistake he made when getting started in homebrewing was to purchase equipment that was too basic for his long-term needs. He has spent far more money replacing pieces of equipment than he would have if he had just bought the more serious stuff up front.

The two questions that all new crafters face are… “How serious am I about this?” and “How will I know how much I’ll like it until I try it?” Clearly an investment in good equipment is only worthwhile if you plan to brew fairly regularly for several years, but I guess there’s risk involved in everything. Sometimes you have to just make your best guess and dive in.

I’m leaning towards the “Deluxe Starter Kit”, but I’ll need a brewing kettle as well. The one thing John told me not to skimp on was the brew kettle. I’ll need one that holds at least 7 or 8 gallons. There are some pretty cool ones in this catalog that have spigots and temperature gauges, which I understand would be quite useful when it comes to sparging.

I could get a really cool setup of equipment if money wasn’t an issue. But… it is. Darn reality! So decisions will have to be made. I have a few more homebrew catalogs on their way and I’ll need to make another visit to our local homebrew shop, Doc’s Cellar, before I commit to anything and start laying down the cash.

The other key question I’ve got to deal with is where to store all this gear between brewing days. Our little condo is already quite full, but I’m sure I’ll find a place to stash it… as long as it doesn’t mean getting rid of any of my yarn or fiber stash! 🙂

-Jenne Hiigel

Knitting & Beer In Action…

Last night was my first adventure with having a small group of knitters meet at the local pub. The place we chose to start with was Spike’s. Spike’s has always been a comfortable place to hang out and socialize and they have a great selection of really good beers. Our family has quite a bit of history there, so in many ways Spike’s feels like home. If you click on the link to their website and look at the first anniversary staff photo from 1981, my husband Chuck is in that picture.

There were three of us in our group and after the task of choosing our beers from the list of 40 was done, we settled into some knitting and conversation. It didn’t take long for it to be clear that knitting, conversation and good beer go very well together!

We did have to be aware of potential beer and food messes that could come in contact with our projects, but we just did our best to keep things clean and eat and drink carefully. It’s also recommended to have a “pub project” and not bring that white silk lace scarf to the bar while you’re drinking stout.

Karen was working on a toe-up slipper in a beautiful gray wool. Christina was knitting a Harry Potter scarf in shadow knitting that looked something like this. The scarf is turning out pretty darn cool. And I was working on a garter stitch hat from some wool yarn I picked up at the Farmer’s Market in Madison, WI. I just love it that they sell yarn and spinning fiber at the farmer’s market!

The three of us are dark beer fans, so we had a nice selection of beer on our table. Kostritzer Schwartzbier, Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse Dunkel, and Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout. The evening started with a Liberty Ale from Anchor Brewing Company. Great beers, good knitting, good conversation… and a great place for it all to come together.

For most of the evening we were just in our own little group, and then a Spike’s regular came in who is also a knitter. Enthusiasm over the concept of knitting with good beer escalated and we now have another person who would love to join us on our next gathering.

The more I delve into this book project, the more the niche for the book and the need for the book become very clear. More ideas were sparked during our discussion last night about concepts that need addressing in my book, which is really helpful.

In order to explore other potential knitting bars, we’re going to have to venture out to other places around our town and neighboring cities, but we will definitely be going back to Spike’s again.

-Jenne Hiigel

Killing Your Darlings…

My cousin Christine Fletcher (whose second book is due out in April 2008), agreed with my post on the Value of Ripping & Dumping – that there are valuable lessons in projects that don’t work out and that it’s important to learn to let go of your mistakes.

Then she brought up an issue that is particularly relevant to the writing profession; and that’s the concept of “killing your darlings.” What this refers to is a phrase or scene in your writing that you absolutely love, but that does not serve to move the story forward. No matter how much you love the way you wrote it, if it doesn’t help the story… it has to go.

Over the next several days this concept kept rolling around in my brain. It’s one thing to learn to rip out or dump something that didn’t turn out so great. It’s another thing to get rid of something you absolutely love. Was there any situation in knitting or brewing where “killing your darlings” would apply? Are there situations where you’re better off ripping out or dumping something regardless of how much you love it?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that “killing your darlings” doesn’t apply to the whole project. It applies to just a small part of the project. If you’re deleting a sentence or a scene from your writing, you’re not erasing the entire story. While ripping and dumping refer to getting rid of an entire project or batch that went bad, killing your darlings is more like surgery to remove one portion of the project so the rest of your work can move forward more successfully.

In this light, I can easily see how this concept can apply to both knitting and brewing. In knitting it could be a specific yarn or color that you used in part of the garment that caused the final look to be off from what you had hoped for. No matter how much you may love the the yarn itself, you know that by ripping out that portion and replacing it with something else your finished garment will work so much better.

In brewing it could be a specific flavor or aroma that you love on its own, but when worked into certain recipes it detracts from the rest of the flavors rather than enhancing them. By removing the ingredient that you love, your finished beer will taste much better.

So… the concept does apply to knitting and brewing. Lessons learned from mistakes are quite valuable, and learning to let go of something you love by not to forcing it into a situation where it doesn’t belong is just as valuable.

-Jenne Hiigel