Thursday, August 18, 2011


I have often heard people, mostly on television, talk of finding stress relief in exercise.  Sadly for me, a brisk walk or workout with weights merely leaves me sweaty, hungry, and irritable.  I searched for stress relief in meditation as well, imagining myself as Dalai Lama-like in my peaceful bearing.  Didn't happen.   I have that inner-Rahm Emanuel problem and getting interrupted by screaming children in the middle of my meditation just left my blood pressure higher.  It is possible to find stress relief in pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.  Sadly, this comes with the cost of looking like you ate a dairy cow...or two.

Doggie cross-stitch in-progress
So, what is a mother to do to clear the day's stresses from her mind, lower her shoulders from under her ears where they've been crunched all day in anger, and smooth the creases from her forehead?  Hmmmmm....I suggest a little crafting.  I've done more than my fair share of needlepoint and cross-stitch, particularly when making dog and cat themed items for the League for Animal Welfare's craft tables.  I've dabbled in latch hook rugs (a little too dull for my taste) and knitting looms (a little too limiting).  The favorite crafting meditation for me has been crocheting, which I've been doing for a good 30 years.

Yes, I learned pretty young.  I come from a crafty family, with both sister and mother outstanding in their own disciplines.  Fortunately, for gift-giving purposes, we all have different areas of expertise, and it's unlikely my sister and I will ever give my mother the same Mother's Day gift.  And my mother is the quilting queen, while my sister and I are nearly hopeless with a sewing machine.  It makes for a nice exchange of handmade goods over the years.  Even with a mother to dump my projects on (I mean give to), I found that I crocheted far more than I could possibly pass on to one poor woman, so I began making afghans for Project Linus.  There's nothing like blissing out with some yarn sliding through the fingers while watching television to melt the day's tensions like Ben & Jerry's ice cream on a summer day.

In the spring, though, I became obsessed with the idea of learning to knit, thanks mostly to the SouleMama blog.  As I read her daily postings, as well as years of archives that I'm still working through, I found myself itching to get some needles clacking.  (Besides, ever since I had my children, crochet hooks have reminded me of the big instrument they used to break my water.  Hardly a memory to relieve stress.)  The problem was, I had tried knitting before.  Granted I had been in high school, but I was already a fairly proficient crocheter at the time.  Knitting, on the other hand, just didn't seem to come naturally to me.  My mother had tried knitting around the same period and never quite got into it either.  And my sister, who has a closet overflowing with ribbons from county fairs, as well as the Ohio state fair, didn't get into knitting either.  My teenage attempts utterly failed.

Fast forward to 2011.  A year or so prior the aforementioned sister (known around here as The Inmates' Uncle Chester) took up knitting herself.  After the classic beginner's dishcloths were handed out to female relatives, she went on to knitting socks.  And they actually worked.  She made countless pairs of wool socks and one sock in particular, if left on the floor, proves irresistible to my hound dog and it has had chewed holes mended more than once.  What the heck?  If she could do it, I said with all the little sister arrogance I could muster, I could do it.

Armed with a couple sets of knitting needles, a hunk of acrylic yarn from my stash, and the book Stitch 'N Bitch by Debbie Stoller, I began.  (Given my personality, how could I not choose that book as my guide.)  My first attempt looked like something my hound dog had gotten hold of.  Somehow my stockinette stitch square had these holes in it and got narrower and narrower as it neared the top.  When I had only four stitches left on the needles, I knew I was doing something wrong.  That's when I hollered, "Thank God for YouTube!"  Countless online tutorials got me through the basics and then to some more complicated stitches, although my technique still needs a lot of work.

Is it just me or does that one on the right have nipples?
I began by making (what else?) the classic dishcloths.  I have a good eight of them now and they actually work quite nicely for scrubbing pans.  From there I graduated to blocks, making 9" x 9" squares in various stitches that could then be pieced together for a Project Linus afghan.  I tried to make a sweater for my hound dog, but, as is typical of me, I didn't bother to measure her, assuming the largest size in the pattern would fit her nicely.  It wasn't until I was halfway done that I realized it would never fit around my barrel-chested dog's body.  Unravel, unravel, unravel...  I say it like a mantra.

St. Jimmi rockin' her new sweater.
I did finally find an excruciatingly easy pattern, all in garter stitch, and thought the results weren't too bad.  In my previous attempt at the more complicated dog sweater pattern, I discovered my armholes need serious help...

I've finally gotten to the stage where knitting doesn't involve constant furrowing of brow as I hunch over instructions in my lap and constant unraveling.  I'm still slow, ungodly slow, but I've always been a slow crocheter as well.  But since I'm knitting for joy and not as part of a production line, who the hell cares?  I now have a new meditative craft!  I knit and purl and watch television in a kind of haze.  Certain types of programming work best.  Movies or shows that are intricate and have to be looked at constantly are no good, as knitting involves frequent glancing at the needles.  And I don't want the late news invading my happy meditative-space-with-yarn.  Old reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and All in the Family are good.  The Partridge Family and The Brady Bunch transport me to my happy place all by themselves, so adding a little wool just improves the space.  Pawn Stars really works as well.  Thanks, Chumlee!

I'm still lacking enough confidence to put my works out into the world.  ("Out into the world" does not include giving to my mother, who thinks anything I do is brilliant.  Yeah, she's that kinda mom, bless her.)  I'm currently working on an afghan in bright blue yarn that seems to be shaping up pretty well and could just be my first knitting effort to be passed on to Linus... 

And so, tonight, after the children have gone to the finished basement for one of the last before-school-starts sleepovers on the sofa beds, I'm gonna relax in my wooly happy place.  I got the disc of Inglorious Basterds from Netflix today.  I've already seen it once, so it falls into that doesn't-require-too-much-concentration viewing category.  What?  Quentin Tarantino doesn't sound meditative?  Okay, maybe it's not light and frothy, but there's definitely an argument to be made for the feel-good power of watching Nazis get their comeuppance.

If you're interested in making the dog sweater, the free knitting pattern can be found here (you'll need to sign up for a free Lion Brand account) and you can see my notes on Ravelry.  The blue afghan is from the Project Linus website and the free knitting pattern can be found here.

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Kathie said...

I like to read your blog for my stress relief. It makes me smile :-) .

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kathie. I'd much rather read one of your blogs than knit or crochet.

Debbi said...

Just found your blog through the BlogHer blogroll. I volunteer at a federal women's prison, so I naively thought you might be a real warden. Heh. I've enjoyed reading a few of your posts and would like to welcome you to the world of knitting. It's been a lifelong passion for me. I predict that pretty soon your stash of yarn will take over your finished basement.