My knitting mojo is on the wane. I’ve been here before and I know that the best way to handle it, for me, is to continue to knit through it.

Between all the things going on that are not knitting related and my work on two big knitting projects and seeing them through to completion without a break in between I’ve come up a bit short in the enthusiasm area.

One of the big knitting projects is the baby carrier which I have tentatively named North River Baby Carrier.

North River Baby Carrier and my ever present assistant.

North River Baby Carrier and my ever present assistant.

(An aside here. No knitting, photographing of knitting, handling of yarn, is done without the presence and assistance of Yarn Rascal. I’ve come to accept that anything to do with yarn will take me twice as long with his help.)

I have some design issues with the carrier. The issues have to do with this particular grouping of stitch patterns vs. the construction techniques. Notice I’ve literally cut the sleeve out of the armhole on the right. I didn’t like the way it fit before I sewed it in and instead of stopping, like a sane person would do, I went ahead and sewed it in then fretted about whether blocking would iron out the problem. It has been my experience that blocking solves some problems but will not correct a sleeve that simply needs refitting. But, I went ahead and wove in the sleeve ends anyway.

I have a phobia about woven in ends. The entire time I weave in an end I am 100% sure it will come undone, the whole project will unravel, the work will be for nought. Think about it: a knitted garment held together by a woven thread. How precarious. Because it seems like such an uncertain way to hold a garment together, I have done more research on weaving in knitted ends than a doctoral candidate conducts on a doctoral thesis. As of this date, I have never had an object unravel from a woven end. My phobia, although baseless, rules.

To undo a part of a garment after weaving its ends is an exquisite form of knitting torture. In this instance, I had to take scissors to the sleeve to get most of it off because I couldn’t get the ends undone. I still have about an inch (2.5 cm) yet to separate from the armhole, but that will have to be carefully removed by hand, strand by strand. And that is where I am. Sorting and picking threads one by one. My knitting mojo receding with each chopped strand I tease out.

Knit Night

A peaceful evening of knitting hasn’t been had around here for about 1 year. Hmm…1 year, ah! The arrival of Yarn Rascal. Taking up needles and yarn is Yarn Rascal’s cue to engage in destructive play, whereby he methodically tears apart his favorite toy of the moment while staring straight at me. After all, why bother doing the crime if Mother isn’t watching?

An evening of knitting means I keep one eye on Yarn Rascal and one eye on my knitting. It also means positioning yarn, project, and equipment so it can be quickly and easily put aside to make a mad dash attempt to rescue the toy before the coup d’etat. It is everything but relaxing.

I scour pet stores and online pet shops for soft toys that are specially constructed for the destructive soft toy loving dog. When I find them and if they have a shape I think he will like, I buy them. Yarn Rascal has cost me more in toys than a really good bad yarn binge.

Last night he pulled out Mr. Dragon. He loves, loves, loves, Mr. Dragon so I knew the toy had to be saved. At first, I put the knitting down buying time for Mr. Dragon’s life and me. Yarn Rascal countered by laying his chin on the toy. We stared at each other for a bit. I reminded him how much he loved Mr. Dragon and why Mr. Dragon did not deserve to be turned into a rag.

When I thought the crucial moment had passed and the crisis averted the idea of picking up needles and yarn briefly flitted through my mind. At the same moment, Yarn Rascal began wagging his tail in that way he has that means he’s up to no good and the rescue of Mr. Dragon was fully engaged.

I jumped from the chair, pulling an upper back muscle I didn’t know I had until the exquisite pain made my breath catch, and crashed to the floor, right arm extended, hand open but just missed grabbing Mr. Dragon. I stayed on the floor frozen by upper back pain. Yarn Rascal, tail madly wagging with delight, had Mr. Dragon dangling from his mouth just out of my reach.

During the time it took me to get to my knees and then stand, Yarn Rascal had commenced chewing Mr. Dragon’s wing in hopes of separating it from the body before I became mobile again. I am happy to say he failed. Another lunge by me, another stab of pain from the muscle, another successful feint by Yarn Rascal and chasing the dog through out the house to get his toy away from him was top of the agenda for the evening. The time flew by.

At the bitter end, Yarn Rascal was so tired he finally collapsed on the floor panting, dropping Mr. Dragon. I retrieved the toy, still intact, and hobbled to the antique secretary’s desk where I put Mr. Dragon inside for safe keeping.

The rest of the night I sat in the chair. Yarn Rascal was asleep at my feet, a small heating pad was on my aching back muscle, and an ice bag was on my right knee. I didn’t even flirt with the idea of yarn and needles.

Is it only me, or have other knitters been driven to the edge where sanity crosses over into insanity by Seed Stitch? There must be extant clips from diaries, journal entries, knitting notes, documenting the row by row erosion of reason that occurs when working the Seed Stitch Pattern, especially when it is broken up into separate panels one of which is divided 9″ (23 cm) into the pattern ceasing the knitting in the round and changing it to knitting flat in rows.

When prestigious knitting oeuvres describe the Seed Stitch Pattern their tone drips with condescension over its simplicity. Only a complete fool could screw it up. Two stitches: a knit and a purl make up the pattern. Whether I care or not about technical matters the knitting books drive home the point that technically this is a k1, p1 rib broken on every row. The unwritten point here: it’s the simplest of ribbings and if the knitter messes it up, then the knitter best look to finger painting as a hobby. The thing to keep in mind is all knit stitches are purled, all purled stitches are knit. Simple. Do the opposite of what the stitch is that’s on the needle.

When I have to keep straight the 108 to 144 sts on my needles, 40 to 60 of which are separated into Seed Stitch panels of 13 sts or more and the knitting is in the round and there’s a braid whose stitches, rows, and crosses need to also be kept straight and I am not following any directions I am making it up as I go and writing it down, something is going to give.

Accounting for each and every Seed Stitch on each and every row, through divisions and decreases is a little like counting grains of sand on a beach. The mind, and rightfully so, takes a hike. It comprehends the insanity inherent in the task and says, “Let me know when you come to your senses and I’ll be back.” After accounting for every seed stitch on the body of the baby carrier along with the stitches, crosses and rows on the braids, my mind said, “Adios” when I began the first sleeve.

I had 43 stitches on my double pointed needles (the sleeve is worked in the round) and I only had to work 11 rows of seed stitch. Forty-three measly stitches. After finishing the 11 rows I looked at my work, because now came the tricky part, and I realized that whatever it was that I had on my dpns was not the seed st pattern. The feeling was the exact same feeling of horror I experienced the first and last time I ever went fishing as a kid. The excitement over catching a fish quickly transformed when what I pulled up was a rather large eel, not a fish. In my panic, I threw pole and the still hooked eel right into the water and ran back to the car. Of course my father retrieved the pole and set loose the eel. But that was it for me and fishing.

They say good, soothing things about finger painting. I understand that it is used with success by mental health specialists in helping patients. Some paper, non-toxic paint pots…how simple. Only a fool could screw it up.

Say the word gauge to knitters and after a laugh and an eye roll, they will talk about stitches. Listen politely. Ask what about row gauge and after a strange look they will say, that doesn’t matter. This is the crux of the issue with my baby carrier design. If the knitter wants to duplicate my results, row gauge is paramount or the braid design will not finish off nicely at the shoulders and neck line. How does a designer get the knitter to be as cognizant of row gauge as stitch gauge in a pattern?

I could stress the importance of row gauge and provide a brief explanation supporting it in the Pattern Notes section. But really, how many of us actually pay attention to what’s written there? In the rush to start the project this section is brushed aside or skimmed over at best.

I could put a blaze orange box with the words WARNING! Know Your Row Gauge! on it. This would be novel. I haven’t seen anything like it in knit or crochet patterns to date. It would probably stop them for a second, but then they would brush this aside too.

The only way I can figure to get knitters to pay attention to row gauge in this pattern is to give the length measurements in number of rows and make centimeters and inches secondary. The written directions are row centric. Neckline decreases begin after a specific number of rows are knit. The decreases take place on specific rows. They cease on a specific row. Dividing the front opening as well as dividing for each armhole opening begins on a specific row and finishes on a specific row. In short, I am hamstringing the knitters. Saying this takes place now, this stops now.

I’ve never written a pattern in such a manner before. But it is crucial they begin and end shaping on certain rows for the braid to fit nicely at the neck and shoulders.

While the body of the piece is finished, I am knitting up one of the sleeves tonight. I still need to decided whether the sleeve will be all seed stitch–my eyes cross and twitch at the thought–or whether I will center the braid on the sleeve to break up the seed stitch. Right now I can’t quite imagine the sleeve without the braid.

Finally Spring is here. How do I know this? My allergies are in full bloom even though the land is not. My allergies and I will not part again until the first snowfall. All life is give and take.

Yesterday marked one year since we got Yarn Rascal. We celebrated by watching the video of picking him up and bringing him home. He was a true Rascal from the start. What a difference he has made in my life. I was at the point of giving up and stopping my cancer treatment when he came into my life. Today I am totally grateful for being alive. Yarn Rascal has brought joy and laughter back into my life. My radiation / cancer doctors say he saved my life. He did. I am so grateful for him. I am his rescue.

In case I didn’t think my allergies were bad enough, I spent the day hunting through my parent’s basement and in the attic for the guitar I had when I was 16. I knew it was an insane mission before I embarked on it. Once I get something in my mind, I’m a little like Yarn Rascal when he has something he shouldn’t have in his mouth: hard to deter. Even the allergy medication couldn’t save me from the itchy watery eyes, sneezing, scratchy throat, etc. The sneezing increased but I didn’t find the guitar. The fact is, I could get lost in the basement and attic. They are pretty big spaces. I hardly covered any space during the 7 hours of searching. So I will be heading back for more. But oh the things I did find! Lots of memories, lots of stories. Remembering and retelling takes time.

It’s weird like that for me. With The Skipper, he has photos galore and he goes through them to remember and retell. Photos don’t work like that for me. Objects bring it all back. I can’t get beyond the pain looking at photos. I remember my grandparents and great-grandparents through things of theirs I have and cherish. All the dogs I ever had, I’ve always saved their favorite toy. When I touch the toy and hold it, I remember and it is good. Even my late husband, his softballs and bat bring me comfort.

Today, I may search again for the guitar or I may get out my art gear and draw. I want to sketch the hellebore that survived the winter and is now in bloom. I find the structure of the flowers and plant interesting. It lends itself wonderfully to being sketched. It may be one of only a handful of perennials that will come back from winter’s onslaught. A number appear not to have survived. Others, just barely holding on.

This post has been a bit of a ramble. But then that is where I am, at the moment. A little here and a little there.

One use of baby carriers was to swaddle a baby so it couldn’t move. Literally. Keeping baby where it was placed was an important use of baby carriers in the Middle Ages and with Indigenous People. The carrier performed the duties of a baby sitter. Some were rigid enough to stand up right, others, especially in the Middle Ages were used to hang up the baby on a nearby wall or fence, while the mother attended her work duties.

edward s. curtis. the nez perce

edward s. curtis. the nez perce

The picture above is of an actual baby carrier used by the Nez Perce. At the left side, one of the two straps that would go over the mother’s shoulder is showing. When I look at this picture, the tightness of the swaddling literally takes my breath away.

While rigid swaddling was used to ensure straight, strong limbs, often it did just the opposite, causing bones to become malformed. But mostly, the baby carrier was used by the mother to keep the baby with her at all times. With a baby strapped to her back, she could travel about and perform her daily work inside and outside the home. Life, it seems, has never been easy on women.

Initially, the baby carrier I was asked to design was supposed to be tight. The baby was to fit through the hood opening. I couldn’t do it. Each time I tried, my own claustrophobia undid me and I’d walk away from the project feeling like I couldn’t breathe. After much discussion between all involved, I was relieved to get the okay to throw out the restrictive tight fit. I could think about proportion and form without feeling restricted and needing air myself. I decided to divide the front to create a center opening, add sleeves, and enlarge the width of the carrier to account for both baby, baby clothes and diapers.

My walk alongside the Hudson River was my inspiration for the stitch pattern combinations. The Hudson is a working river. Tugs, barges, battleships, schooners, tankers, sailboats, the occasional sloop, and recreational boats move up and down it at different times of the year. Ice cutters regularly traversed it this winter to keep a shipping lane open.

The play of light and dark on the water along with a large barge going up river helped me settle on what I wanted to achieve. When I thought of the ship I thought of the heavy ropes on board. I chose to interpret the ship with a braid whose movement reminded me of ropes laid along a deck. I also wanted the braid to resemble the feel of a deck that rocked up and down. To compliment the braid I chose the humble seed stitch pattern. The texture of the pattern and the way it absorbs and reflects light reminds my of the way the Hudson looked that day.

Still on the needles, this is how it looks at the moment. Excuse the lighting, I am still learning my camera.

baby carrier 2

Before I even set pencil to paper to sketch out stitch patterns I had many concerns about my latest design project. The item goes by many names, baby sleep sack, baby cocoon, baby bunting and the designs are as boundless as the names. It’s not a piece I would choose to design, nonetheless the work of designing it fell into my lap and I need to complete it.

While the item goes by many names my research revealed it easily fell into three categories.

First up: Uncomfortable. But then I’m not a newborn. And, where’s the diaper? Frankly, I wouldn’t leave a baby without a diaper any longer than it took me to change it.

Next up: How did you stuff the baby in there? And, where is the diaper?

Etsy Accents and Art

Etsy Accents and Art

The final category: Why would you do this to anyone?

At that point in my research I would have walked away from the project if it had been only my idea. But I didn’t have that choice. I am designing it for a company. I think it speaks to my resilience in the face of 21st century madness that although the research took me almost a week of looking at pictures like those above, my migraine didn’t start until the fourth day.

After 24 hours in a dark, quiet room with a cool cloth on my forehead I went back to researching. I had gotten beyond the questions that had battered my cranium up to then: Why and who are using these items? How are they using them? How do they get the baby inside them? Are they stuffing the child through the hood opening? Babies don’t like things going over their heads. Does anyone use diapers? Are there any out there designed to be used with diapers? What is art and what is child abuse?

So my inspiration for the sleep sack I am designing started out with written pages of what I would not include, examples of what I didn’t want it to look like, and examples of how I did not want it to fit. I had a ton of don’t bees and no do bees, which for me was a strange way of beginning a design. Usually the sky is the limit, everything is possible and I scale it down to the elements I really like.

When a project is in a negative explanation loop whereby I speak about the project in terms of what it is not or will not be like I am in trouble. I have to intentionally move my talk to what it is to be and what it will be like and how it’s use neatly fits the design like an egg and an egg shell. To do that I research the history of the item through the ages. How past items were constructed, what fibers, hides, cloth, etc were used. I document main use and other uses especially when it crosses cultures. If the item changes with time I track down how and why it changed.

Often I find initial design inspiration in the historical background of an item. That’s what happened here with the baby sack. More on it’s history and how I’ve grown to enjoy the making of my own baby sleep sack in my next post.

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