On handmade items should be used

It’s officially been over a year since I changed states and took the next step in my career, a term of time I have loosely been calling “the year of change”. In that time, a new job was started, a long-term relationship was ended, my first home was purchased, new friends were made, a new car was needed… the list goes on and on. Despite all these changes, and I’d like to thing my life will continue to evolve, it feels like for the first time since moving out of my parents house I have roots. For the first time since starting the period of my life after college, I have a desire to engage with the community around me because I don’t want the community around me to be temporary. Not that I wasn’t engaged in my previous communities of course, the difference is I have more of an investment in the community that I now belong to.

During my first few weeks in this new place, actually more like the first month and a half, I stayed at an air bnb while waiting to close on my home. I cannot express my gratitude enough towards the family who took me in, as they have become some of my best friends. Perhaps it was because I spent do many nights in their little cabin, or because our personalities and values were so similar, but what started as a formal relationship quickly dissolved within the first week. Hours of card games have been played, miles of runs have been enjoyed, and thousands of conversations have taken place since the initial awkward hello.

Friendship Bracelet, originally gifted Summer 2018

I don’t remember the exact day that it happened, perhaps during my third week there, but one of the daughters made me a friendship bracelet and enthusiastically tied it to my wrist. Though the gesture was small, I didn’t realize at the time how much the bracelet would come to ground me through the changes of the last year. She didn’t mean to, but with the small handmade gift she reminded me that I was never alone and that I had people rooting for me. Due to the bracelet’s construction, it has been with me every step of the way this past year because it was not designed to be taken off. This bracelet has been hiking, running, ice fishing. This bracelet survived mountain races and a half marathon. It has been with me through tears of frustration, enthusiasm and laughter. Until the other morning, when it broke off. I sent the daughter a photo of the bracelet with a sad face and she promptly responded that it looks like it’s time for another one. At no point did she reflect on how I had ruined the gift that she made me, because she knew that I had worn it every day when I could have cut it off. She knew I had worn it out of love.

Pattern: Red is Best by Jane Richmond

Over the years, I have made hundreds of hand knit gifts. The more my knitting skills evolve the more I want to share my finished objects. I’ve made cabled sweaters for my sister and fancy socks for my mother. When my dad told me he wanted to spray his handmade hunting mits with something for hunting, I didn’t bat an eye. Despite this attitude, I still have people who are worried about ruining my hand knits. When I gave my sister’s SO a pair of convertible fingerless mitts, his first reaction was these are awesome! A feeling that quickly transformed into “I’m going to ruin these on the job”. So I told him the truth, I made these mitts for you to wear them. If they keep your hands warm on the job and your work wrecks them, then I’m happy that they kept your hands warm and I’m happy to make you another pair when you need one.

While I am flattered that people want to covet my hand made items, it makes me sad to think that the item will never be used. The point of the object was to give you something to keep you warm or to give you comfort, not to make you think I was testing you to see how long you could keep the item pristine. If you are someone who worries about people taking care of the items you make, take a moment to think about why you’d be upset if they wrecked the item.

Are you about to use cashmere on someone who is just going to through the garment into the dryer? Consider the care of your item and whether or not they’re realistic to expect the person you’re giving it to. While I have mixed feelings about superwash, superwash yarns are better than cashmere for baby blankets that need to be washed all the time.

Will the recipient of your gift appreciate the time and effort that went into their garment? The answer to this question can go either way for me. Sometimes I just want to see the person wear a complicated Octopus sweater, sometimes the sweater curse is real because in the middle of knitting said complicated sweater I realize they’re not worth it. Sometimes when the answer is no I opt to choose something else. Mostly, I think about whether or not the recipient would wear the item if they bought it from a store. In other words if someone doesn’t usually wear shawls they’re not going to start just because you made them a beautiful lace one.

Pattern: Crazy Magic (classic cowl) by Susan Ashcroft

At the end of the day, hand knits are meant to be worn. They’re a physical token of love, a magical item to remind the recipient they were in your thoughts the entire you made it. Maybe not the times where you were cursing a row for not lining up or you were focused on learning a new skill, but definitely when you were worried about making the final product look good. To this day, my favorite cowl that was gifted to me by my aunt was made out of handspun that I gifted her! It’s something I wear with pride because we both contributed to the final product, can you imagine if I tucked it away never to be seen again? So much work and thought was put into this tiny garment, it would be a shame if was never able to carry out it’s destiny of keeping me warm.

Who deserves a hand knit is probably more controversial than the idea that hand knits should be worn, but since the two go together I’ll end with this idea: those who deserve handmade items are the same people who need it, and there are so many reasons as to why someone may need it.




On enjoying the ride…er run

Big Lake Half Marathon, 2019

Just got the pictures back from my first half marathon in two years and I couldn’t help but laugh at my smiling face. Nothing about my picture is posed, I had no idea that the camera was there! Or at least, not until after I passed him (her?). I love the mental challenge that is running, the struggle to maintain a pace when people pace you early on (because let’s face it, you end up passing a lot of them later on) and the temptation to skip a water stop because it’s mile 4 and you still have a full water bottle. This is probably the first race where I feel like I did it right, correcting mistakes I made when I ran my first two without being too cocky in my abilities. After all, while I finished the race feeling great, I also finished thinking I could have gone faster.

This is the only of my now three completed half marathons where I did not wear headphones and I can’t help but feel as though not wearing them changed my entire experience. I did not, as I feared, find myself bored at any point in the race. Not wearing headphones actually made the race more enjoyable because I was able to engage in my surroundings and take in those around me. I was able to interact more positively with spectators because they knew I was paying attention to them. As an added bonus, I was less aware of the passage of time which meant I was able to stay motivated longer. At this point in my running career, I don’t really care about how fast I run the race — I just want to be surrounded by people who want to challenge themselves and have fun doing something that I love. Of course, the t-shirt and charity donation that accompanies race entry helps too.

For about a mile of the race, I ran with a woman who was running her 121st half marathon. As we spoke, I learned that she was flustered because she forgot her headphones and her running watch wasn’t charged. There I was, nothing on my wrist by a friendship bracelet and nothing in my running belt but my car keys, cheerily saying that at least she didn’t let that stop her from running. At least she could run. Despite my pointing this out, the woman continued to complain about how she had messed up her running routine and focus on all the times she had done it right. She sped up at some point a little before the next mile marker and I passed her when we hit the rolling hill portion of the course. She made a point of bragging that she hadn’t done any training specific for this race, while I had been training for months. That’s why I like running 13.1 miles though, it’s all in your head. We both knew we could do it, I just didn’t need a smart watch to tell me I was doing it correctly. 

New skill: Shirring

It’s one of the reasons I took a break from knitting over the last couple of weeks, opting to practice sewing through the creation of napkins, a pillow and a dress. Learning that my vintage machine has stitches beyond forward and backward was an exciting discovery, something that shouldn’t over shadow winding my first bobbin or successfully shirring. My approach to crafting is the same as my approach to running, it’s supposed to be fun. Sure sometimes you reach a point in the project where the steps are daunting or confusing or not fun (ie weaving in ends), but that doesn’t mean you don’t like the activity over all.

If you’re not enjoying the ride, perhaps it’s time to step back and consider why you’re feeling burnt out. Maybe you need to cast on a new project or switch to a different craft for a while. Maybe you need to go for a hike instead of a long run. There are time when you need to push through, but remember that the main point of a hobby is the enjoyment of that hobby. Bonus points if taking a break leads to a frenzy of inspiration, but hopefully the break leads to renewed enthusiasm or a new way of thinking about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it.

On Growth and Reknitting Patterns

Mud Pond
Mud Pond, Mt. Moosilauke

The more I find myself walking in the woods the more I find myself reflecting on the world around me. After a chaotic week, there’s nothing better than taking a moment to enjoy where I live and to remind myself how lucky I am to be where I am.

The interesting thing about getting older is that things don’t get easier they get different. Problems that are now easy to solve are replaced with new challenges and situations that I’ve grown comfortable dealing with are replaced with new ones that make me uncomfortable. As my values and morals continue to shape the person I am, it’s becoming easier to set boundaries. And yet, sometimes it still really hard to say no to people that I care about. Perhaps I worry about how the boundary will be perceived, will the person I’m politely declining think that I don’t care about the relationship?

My strategy to choices is often to ask my self the question “Will I look back on this in 30 years and regret not doing it?”, if the answer is no because the time spent will not be of high quality then I allow myself to set the boundary. Sometimes the answer is yes and I challenge myself to find pieces of the activity to enjoy. Sometimes the answer is so obvious that I don’t have to ask the question at all.

As I continue on my journey, I remind myself that we are all writing a our own story, and the roles we play in others take different shapes. We have little control over the actions and perceptions of others, but we do have control over our own. I challenge myself to embrace differences, but I also challenge myself to be ok with myself when I am the one in the group who is different.

I’m a better knitter than I was four years ago when I took on the Embrace Octopus Sweater for the first time. My color work has improved and I can knit short rows while following a chart. What took me several months the first time was completed in about three weeks the second. Yet just as with life it wasn’t easier, just different.

Octopus Embrace Sweater: Take two

Since I have a better understanding of how colorwork and charts work, I was less frustrated with the charting of this sweater. Then again, because I have a better understanding of colorwork and charts I found myself with different frustrations. For starters, why wasn’t the yoke chart laid out as four different charts instead of as one that I had to rotate? Better yet, why did I modify the chart myself to eliminate the problem? Additionally, not carrying my floats over large gaps meant I didn’t have to focus too much on my tension. Then again, not carrying my floats over large gaps meant that I had to weave in a lot of ends. At first I did this as I went, but this became too cumbersome when working on the yoke/short rows. In other words, after I finished the sweater I still had two hours worth of ends to weave in. Huge shout out to my SO for sitting with me and laughing when I reverted to Gollum impressions of “but we hates it”.

I once said I would never knit this one again, and yet here I am joking at work that there is an octopus in my bathtub. The once $20 pattern is still frustrating to follow and needs to be rewritten, but I find myself wondering if seeing my coworker in this one will create enough envious feelings to cast one a third — this time for myself. Either way, I think there is something to be said about reworking patterns that made you struggle or that you simply enjoyed working the first time, something I didn’t believe when I began to knit.