LESSONS FROM KNITTING DISH CLOTHES

How the lowly knitted dish cloth revitalized my knitting.

I don’t normally consider myself a ‘knitting blog’, but here I am with two articles about knitting…. You can teach an old dog a new trick!

So my ‘trick’ today is another lesson learned in hospice.

I have a friend who’s what I consider a talented knitter. She’s constantly challenging herself with new techniques. (Lace! Entrelac! I can’t even spell entrelac…)

She always has a knitting project going. Not like me, with one project half-finished in one grocery bag, and already off to a bad start with another. Nope, she starts a project and she finishes it.

She is disciplined, too. She buys enough yarn for her current project and maybe her next project. Not for all the projects she might knit in her next five lifetimes (like I do.)

So one day I found her knitting dish cloths.

I couldn’t believe it. Why…would anyone knit a dish cloth??

But I found out when I found a stash of them in my current client’s knitting bag. She told me why, and I believe her.

1. They’re quick. I can do an entire dishcloth in an hour or two. The feeling of accomplishment is almost overwhelming.

2. They’re easy. Yes, there are complex lacy patterns. But there are also tons of simple patterns that look just as nice.

3. They’re cheap inexpensive to make. For someone like me who tends to buy a ton of exotic yarn and even then finding out I don’t have the right weight/amount/color, it’s sweet to run into the yarn store and buy one $2 ball of Sugar ‘n’ Cream cotton yarn to make one dish cloth. And because you only need one ball of yarn…..

4. It’s a very portable project. I don’t even need to carry the pattern for some designs, they’re that straight-forward to knit. So instead of my usual giant bag full of books, needles, etc., I can manage with a teensy tiny purse or basket.

5. They’re a great way to try out new patterns. Rather than investing hundreds of hours with a new pattern (only to decide I hate it), I can test a new stitch or technique in one little dish cloth.

But best of all, knitting such an accessible little project….

6. Jump-starts my knitting process. I’m one of those people that has to look at tons of patterns, consider tons of yarn candidates, think about oodles of color combinations, stress about lots of new stitches and techniques and swatches and gauge and even needle lengths. I agonize about doing things just right. I think way, way too much, and then rarely start.

That is, I tend to let a lot of things get in between me, and me actually knitting.

But a little dish cloth is so simple, so mindless, and yet accessible, it’s almost effortless for me to get started on one. Which is great because….

7. Everybody wants one. I had no idea how desirable these things were! But apparently, they make very popular little gifts, because….

8. They are the perfect dish cloth. They work really, really well.

So…beauty; accessibility; challenge; utility; and makes you the most popular person in the room at parties. There’s just no downside.

I eat my words. I take it all back.

It is pretty wonderful to knit a dish cloth!

I even thought of a way to make the decreased edges look more like the increased edges! (These are knit on the diagonal, my first time!)

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT: Knitting Needle Trick

On a lighter note today, I just have to share something I tried today.

A few months ago, I snagged a pair of wooden knitting needles–CHEAP!–at an antique shop.

I was thrilled–until I picked a pair to work with a few days ago, and discovered one needle had a chunk missing on its tip. The split-off piece was almost an inch long–yikes!

I wish I’d taken a picture of it, because I had a brainstorm today.

I reshaped the tip–with my electric pencil sharpener!

It worked like a dream. Of course, the tip came out needle-sharp. Fortunately, I have lots of sandpaper on hand, in lots of grits. (I do a lot of sanding with my polymer clay work.) I managed to smooth off the re-cut, and round off the tip nicely. To keep everything even, I did the same to the other needle.

I’ll probably apply a very light coat of tung oil to seal the wood, too.

Haven’t tried them yet, but no reason why this shouldn’t work, right?

I’ll let you know!

P.S. I don’t know if this would work (ha ha! a pun!) with bamboo needles, but if you have a pair that’s already unusable, maybe it’s worth a try.

Refurbished knitting needles, a la electric pencil sharpener!

MY ART IS WHO I AM: Another Lesson From Hospice

Every hospice experience teaches me something. And my latest hospice client has already taught me something big.

The first client visit can be tricky. Each situation is very different, and I never know what to expect. So I come prepared for almost anything.

My visiting bag usually holds several books. One is something for me to read if the client is sleeping or not conscious. Another is a book of poetry, or a prayer book, or perhaps a favorite story to read aloud. (One of my favorite memories is reading Dodie Smith’s bittersweet “I Capture the Castle” to an elderly gentleman, who was as enthralled by the story as I was.)

I also carry a good supply of crossword puzzles, a notebook or journal to write in, and sometimes, my latest knitting project.

On my first visit with this client, she spied my knitting needles and asked me about my project. I pulled it out and soon we were talking about knitting. Turns out she was an avid–and extremely talented–knitter. And though her yarn stash does not rival mine, it’s still impressive.

Sadly, she’s losing the ability to knit. “But we can still look!” I said cheerfully. So we spend our time looking at knitting magazines, exclaiming over the pretty pictures of sweaters, hats and scarves, commenting on the yarns and the patterns. Last week, she turned to me and said in a fierce whisper, “I just LOVE looking at knitting patterns!” “So do I!” I whispered back.

Today she spoke sadly (and metaphorically, which is common at this stage) about not being able to knit anymore, and about “an event” that’s coming, something that cannot be stopped, something that comes for everyone.

It’s hard to talk about, she said. And people sometimes pretend it’s not coming, but it is. “It is hard,” I tell her. “People don’t know what to say. So they say nothing.” She nods fiercely.

I ask her how she feels about it. She thinks for a moment.

There are things that have defined her, all her life, that are now slipping away softly but surely, into a growing gray mist. “I can’t remember what it is, but it’s all going away,” she says sadly.

My heart goes out to her. It reminded me of my very first day in hospice training.

One of the hospice chaplains ran the exercise. It sounds laughably simple.

But it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

She gave each of us ten little slips of paper. We were each told to write down ten things that were important to us.

They could be people (family, friends), they could be experiences (marriage, traveling, work), skills (arts, gardening, dancing, martial arts), character traits (intelligence, humor).

We spent quite a bit of time getting our lists just right.

Then the chaplain said, “I’m going to come around and take one of your slips. Decide which one you can give up.” It was hard, but it went quickly.

Then she said, “Now I’m going to take three things. Here I come!” Those three things were much harder to choose. We all breathed a sigh of relief when she was done.

Then she said, “Hold up your remaining slips. This time, I get to choose!” I guess I thought she would read each ‘hand’ and make a decision. Nope. She strode purposely around our circle, grabbing randomly at the slips in our hands.

It was really really hard.

What we lost was hard.

What was even harder, was knowing it was coming.

And not knowing what we would lose.

Some people tried to fight it. They held on tightly, refusing to let go. (But they had to, in the end..)

Some people–okay, all of us!–cried out in dismay when a precious slip was taken.

Many of us just cried. I did.

It wasn’t fair! Some people got to keep a few precious slips. Others lost all of them.

I cannot describe how it felt. Anger, fear, resentment, sorrow…. None of us were unscathed.

The power of those little slips of paper was palpable. Losing them was devastating.

“This is what it’s like,” said the chaplain softly. “This is what it’s like, at the end. Everything–everything–is lost.”

Such a simple exercise. Such a powerful lesson.

I looked at this amazing little woman, who was looking at me, wordlessly asking me….something.

I couldn’t remember the rest of that training day. I couldn’t remember what the chaplain said next.

I could only remember a little story this woman’s daughter had told me an hour earlier.

“Remember the sweater you made for your daughter?” I said. “How beautiful it was, and how beautiful it made her feel?”

She nodded.

“That is what will never go away. You did that. You made something beautiful. It made her feel beautiful. It made her feel loved. That is what will last.”

She nodded fiercely again.

I think I saw a little smile on her face.

My friend Kerin Rose once tried to tell me this, a few years ago when I was in a bad place. I felt apart from my art for awhile, and was frightened of who I would–or wouldn’t be–without it.

“You would still be you,” she insisted. I wasn’t sure….

But now I understand.

Yes, my art is who I am.

Not because of what I can or can’t do. Nor because of what I could do.

But because of what I’ve already done.

Because of what it’s already meant to me.

And because of what it’s already meant to others.

And that is what will last.

Dishclothes

HAT DISASTER UPDATE

Robin has insisted I change that word to “underwear” and I have.

And she made me put in that we did that when she was a baby, which is true.

And she says she loves the H.D. and wants to try it on when it’s dry (presumably to see how far down her nose it comes.

And the second hat (periwinkle!) is looking good, though far too warm (wool) for Seattle.

And today I’m going yarn-shopping with another friend at Webs, an incredible yarn store/warehouse in Northampton, MA.

So yarn will be found. Purple yarn. Not wool.

HAT DISASTER

It started out innocently enough.

I just wanted to knit a few hats for a friend. And maybe a baby sweater for another friend expecting his first child.

“I’ll surprise her with a hat!” I thought. Then I read in a forum that this can be a bad idea.

I emailed her to ask her if 1) she wanted a hat; 2) if so, please choose from an assortment of online patters I’d found; and 3) what colors she would like.

She emailed back with not only her color and style choices, but she ran out to actually buy a few balls of yarn and sent them to me.

And now the sad tale begins.

I have tons of yarn. I have a barn attic full of yarn. Not only do I have a lot of yarn (did I mention I have a LOT of yarn?), in my search for the appropriate yarns, I found another huge stash of yarn in another attic that’s been there since we moved into this house eight years ago. (I forgot all about it. Hey, that’s where all my brown yarn and mohair yarns went!)

Turns out the best yarns for really comfortable hats are not wool. I have mostly wool yarns. Not only mostly wool yarns, I have very few yarns suitable for soft hats and baby sweaters. In fact–none.

And, although if you’d asked me three months ago what colors of yarn I have, I would have happily exclaimed, “Every color under the sun!”, it turns out I actually have only a warm palette of yarn.

Lots of rust. Tons of turquoise. Many, many soft greens. Gold, pumpkin, orange. Periwinkle blue. Even red. Even a teensy bit of black.

No fuchias. No purples. No bright clear blues or corals.

I’ve also rediscovered why I don’t actually knit that much.

Although I am a competent knitter, and read about knitting voraciously, although I know four different ways to increase stitches, although I conscientiously knit gauge swatch after gauge swatch, although I broke down and bought tons of new knitting needles because I have lost my entire stash in my attic (I hate my attic! It’s too good for storing stuff), although I picked the easiest pattern (a beret–I have knit many berets before) and experimented with dozens of yarns to find the perfect ones….

I actually have a rather profound and pronounced inability to follow directions.

I found all this out this weekend when I spent three straight days knitting what I desperately wanted to be the perfect hat.

And ended up with a giant, floppy, heavy, heather gray-purple hat that is completely unwearable even by me.

And because it’s mostly silk/angora, it won’t even felt down into shape.

And I can’t add elastic to the the cuff/brim (which is way, way too big and loose) because that would be too harsh on tender skin.

Maybe I can make a bag out of it. Or give it to my darlin’ daughter, who looks marvelous in anything she puts on her head. I swear you could give her a pair of underpants underwear to put on her head, and she could pull it off. In fact, I think we tried this once, and she did indeed look good with underwear on her head.

Back to the drawing board.

p.s. Hey! Maybe I could make a bag out of it!