Autumn 2013

Autumn 2013

Sunday, January 27, 2013


Hello, everybody, and welcome to the Apple Basket!
Right now, an all too well-known winter holiday song comes to mind, because the weather outside is truly frightful: the snow is pelting down, the temperature is just above freezing for the first time in weeks, so everything is thawing and wet and sloshy, and our usual westerly wind is blowing in from the North Sea and causing all this havoc.
All in all, the perfect excuse to stay indoors to read, and write, and knit (after being out for a bit, of course, to enjoy the indoors all the more). This week, I will be musing on the concept of The Stash from several points of view, and of course, there is an update on my knitting.

Apple of the Week:

Around this time of year, usually in January, renowned podcaster Brenda Dayne performs her annual ‘airing of the stash’; a procedure in which she takes out all of her stash to review it. In the latest airing I heard about, she used the phrases from the Ravelry forum buttons: ‘educational’, ‘interesting’, ‘funny’, ‘agree’, ‘disagree’, and ‘love’ to categorise the various yarns and to decide what to keep and what not to keep.

Now, I do not have a ritual like that; I do look through my stash from time to time, re-evaluating and invariably getting rid of some of it. But I have been thinking about stash recently, prompted, probably, by the whole revision & renewal mindset surrounding the New Year. And by a recent thread on Ravelry, in which a knitter sought support to curb – or maybe justify – her yarn purchases. She did, it must be said, receive advice to hold off a bit and remember that next season’s colours and next year’s yarns will be at least as beautiful as the ones she is buying now; as well as encouragement to indulge and enjoy. One fellow knitter linked to her own stash, which is – huge. She has over 900 (yes, nine hundred) entries, and not just a skein of this, a skein of that; there are 20 skeins of this and 50 skeins of that. This woman has truly reached SABLE and does not seem to consider not buying yarn ever again.

SABLE is one of those acronyms that I would never have known were it not for Ravelry; S.A.B.L.E. stands for Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy, meaning that you have more yarn than you could possibly knit (or crochet) with during the rest of your expectable life span. There is, of course, a group for this on Ravelry; I joined it when I realised how many miles of yarn I had, even though I have not technically reached SABLE. With the yarn I have and the rate at which I have been knitting (though I must say, the amount I knit in 2012 was exceptional), I could use up all my stash in 5 or 6 years – and I do intend to live longer than that. That would entail, obviously, that I do not buy any yarn in that period, and that is not, shall we say, entirely realistic.

But I do intend to use the yarn I have, and I know that I can; the notion of intentionally (or maybe unintentionally) building so large a stash that you have no chance of ever getting through it seems, well, strange and somewhat disturbing. On MochimochiLand are pictures from one lady’s yarn room, which seems to be about half the size of my house. This kind of stashing is a form of hoarding, the gathering of a multitude of objects that eventually drown you out and take over your home and your life, be they skeins of yarn or old newspapers, typewriters or a car in the dining room.

Now, I would never say that every knitter with a stash is as obsessive as the Collyer brothers, maybe best known from E. L. Doctorow’s novel about them, Homer & Langley. It makes a lot of sense to have at least some yarn in the house; if you have nothing beyond what you are currently knitting with, you have to make sure to finish your project within the opening hours of your LYS or else wait, before you can start a new one. And some people do that quite happily, I know; my mother is one. But then, she doesn’t knit much. I like having the next yarn within reach (sometimes literally) when I’m about halfway through a project, and for that, a certain stash is indispensible.

I sometimes struggle with guilt over my stash: have I needlessly tied up resources in boxes under my bed, because I lacked the willpower to resist buying something pretty that I didn’t really need? Why can’t I judge the rate at which I actually knit, so that I don’t buy yarn to knit ten projects in the time that I could realistically make three or four?
This is when I implicitly accuse myself of being no better than a hoarder – and maybe even worse: hoarding is, I believe, now acknowledged as a psychiatric disorder, and so hoarders are not to be considered weak-willed, but sick. Unlike the rest of us, who should just stop buying.
But then, I think of something I want to make and realise that I have just the right yarn for it; or I hit upon something like the Tribbles, and all the kilos of bulky cotton are redeemed (lol) – and so, my stash becomes a proper stash: a resource like the nuts in a squirrel’s tree, instead of a slightly shameful burden.

But there is a whole other way to view yarn stashing. After all, who would accuse art collectors of hoarding? Some people collect paintings or sculptures, others collect beautiful and soft skeins that give at least as much pleasure. Seen in this light, a displayed yarn stash – and lots of people do this by placing their yarn on shelves or in glass-fronted cupboards – is just another way of displaying your wealth; a recognised act in most societies.
Hilary Mantel talks of the people in the times of Henry VIII ‘wearing their wealth on their backs’, furs and silk brocades, dyed with the expensive dyes of the day and embroidered with gold & silver threads, beads and pearls. Nowadays, it’s Philippe Patek watches and Chanel handbags, Armani suits and Manolo Blahniks. Same thing.
A not uncommon way for a society to display wealth has been to make offerings to the god(s); in Peru, they used to throw great quantities of gold into a lake, giving rise to the legend of El Dorado, the land of gold. Comparable to this is the custom of grave-offerings, giving the dead an amount of rich gifts to take to the next world (beyond merely personal effects, which is another matter): gold (again), horses, slaves, weapons, &c. A ship for a Viking lord.
Another form of culturally sanctioned and even encouraged money wasting is the custom of giving cut-off flowers on every occasion. Admittedly, flowers are pretty, and our fondness for them probably stems from a primordial need to be around plant life; but these flowers will invariably wilt and die in the space of few days from the cutting and giving.
Compared to this, yarn actually makes a lot of sense.

But I digress; returning to the topic of displaying wealth, we have looked at investments in beautiful objects to enjoy – and show off to visitors – at wearing your wealth, and at proving affluence by throwing away valuables. I am assuming, here, that the gods and the dead are oblivious to gifts; you may disagree, and that is entirely up to you.

Giving to the living is yet another chance to demonstrate how much you have; only a month ago, we had the great annual ritual of exchanging items, of assessing the proper value according to the recipient’s status and the relationship between giver and receiver. This, unsurprisingly, led to a host of threads on Ravelry, discussions on how to compare time spent hand-crafting and money spent buying. I will not go into that here; as you know, I made almost all my presents (which I won’t be doing again, but never mind about that now).
The value of a gift can depend primarily on either the affection felt by the giver for the recipient or the wish to show wealth; as such, gift-giving can be highly competitive and designed to oblige the recipient, if not downright humiliate him. Less aggressively, mutual gift-giving can be a bonding act.
In the Bronze Age Hellas of Homer, lords and kings travelling to far places form inheritable bonds of friendship when visiting each other. In those days, there were no inns, so everybody depended on staying at someone else’s home for the duration; and so, the rules of hospitality were clear: a stranger arriving at your door must be invited in, given a bath and a meal – and then, not before, you can ask him who he is and what he is doing there. When he leaves, you give him gifts; weapons, silverware, cloth and other valuables are frequently mentioned.
All of this ritual demonstrates your superiority over your environs: in the face of a possible threat, you open your home and feed the stranger, thus showing him both your house (including servants and guards) and your abundance of food, and the gifts are merely examples of your surplus. This serves a double purpose: if the stranger is above board, you have made an ally; if he was sussing you out, you have shown your strength and warned him off.

So, the notion of having a surplus, a stash, to act as an insurance against hard times, is important, whatever your social status may be; in The Secret River by Kate Grenville, the protagonist’s idea of wealth is having ‘a loaf in the cupboard’.

A stash of yarn can be many things: a disorganised and ever expanding mass; an insurance against lack, if some day you have no money to buy yarn (and that can happen to any of us in these times of economic uncertainty); a way to show off the riches you have accumulated; or a personal treasure trove to cherish and dive into for inspiration and joy.

The Knitting:

I have joined a story tellers’ club and went to my first meeting last Monday, bringing my knitting, of course. After introductions, a song and improvisation using story cubes, it was time for the telling of prepared stories; I snuck out my knitting, all the while making sure to pay attention to the teller (I didn’t want to be impolite, of course, but no worries: old school story tellers are familiar with the concept of crafting while listening), and got quite a bit of sleeve done. And with stocking stitch in the round, I was glad of the fairy tales to keep me entertained.
Well, my Georgia cardigan is practically finished now; all I need to do is find and sew on buttons and block it. It does need blocking, as the edges roll like they were paid to do it. So, more and better pics will be coming next week.

I have started a new pair of socks for Victor; he wears his Watson socks all the time and misses them when they need washing once in a while (he wears them over cotton socks, so they don’t have to be washed all that often). Anyway, I came across a pattern for these Riff Socks, created for the designer’s guitar playing son – perfect, no? The socks have twisted stitches travelling in X’s up along the instep and leg; so we have a discreet pattern, with some interest for the knitter, and the very appropriate name. I am calling this pair Blues Riffs, because – well, they are blue. And blues guitar is a thing.
So, I made the toe and a bit of the instep pattern and got a sneaking suspicion that it was too big; my gauge was off, anyway: 30 stitches to 10 cm instead of 34, and even though he has big feet, they are not bigger than the given XL sock size. A try-on confirmed it; and I will be starting again on 2 mm dpns instead of 2.5 mm. Luckily, I have the KnitPro cubic dpns in both 2.5 and 2 mm, courtesy of my sister :o)

With the ongoing cold weather (though the frost has lifted, it is now windy and thus still quite nippy) I have really been enjoying my flip-top mittens and the not having to take them off to do stuff. The fingers are a bit long, as they come nearly up to my fingertips, and that is a bit unpractical. Note for next time. And I may add a button and loop to keep the hood in place when it is off the fingers, so it doesn’t flap about. But all in all, they are very useful; I love tucking my fingertips inside the hood – it feels extra cosy.

But I need a new hat: a warm one that does not squash my hair. I have rather long hair, and I hate having it all flat and frizzy from wearing a woollen hat. On the other hand, I hate freezing my brains, too.
So, I shopped around on Ravelry and found a handful of hats I would like to make; I chose a quick one to start with, and voila: the Fern hat (or the beginning of one, at least). 
This is a very easy hat, top down, with 8 eyelet increases on every other round until the brim is large enough. Easy peasy. The pattern is the Eyelet Swirl Hat by Meg Myers – at least two of the hats that caught my eye in this search are by her.

In a fit of startitis I cast on for another jumper (or sweater, if you prefer the American term); this time, the driftwood by Isabell Kraemer (Rav link), a free Ravelry download. This is a top down Henley with contiguous sleeves that look like set-in sleeves; it makes for some quite interesting and at first somewhat incomprehensible increases at the shoulders. The trick is to just go with it and trust the pattern, which is very well written.
The pattern calls for worsted weight yarn and 4.5 mm needles; I have to be different, so I am using Rowanspun DK that is actually more like a sport weight, and 3.25 mm needles. Guess what: my gauge is off. So to get the pattern size XS, I am going by the numbers for size L, hoping that my calculations are right. I’ll give you an update on that next week.

I have been wanting to make a jumper with this yarn for quite a while: back in 2005, my sister and were in London and found it on sale at Liberty’s. (The colour in the yarn photo is more true to life than the wip photo.) 
We each bought a pack of 10 skeins, and I made a jumper with half of mine. I still wear this jumper nearly every day (only at home when nobody is around), even though it is rather shapeless by now and too big since I lost weight. But now, it seems, I have found a new jumper to replace the old, worn out one.

Well, this is it for this week; I hope you have a great week and come back next time!
Until then:
Happy Knitting!

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