A Revelation, of Sorts

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The summer days roll on by, an ice-cream swirl of open swim and lazy mornings, library books and watering the flowers, Ikea trips and riverside afternoons. It's already August, and time is about to enter super-speed. At night, I knit, and knit, and knit, listening to the sound of evening traffic and neighborhood noises through the open windows. Never has there been a more perfect summer to knit, as the weather here still continues to be entirely civilized in every respect, while the rest of the country and the world is more or less on fire. Not here. Here it is cool in the morning, hot in the afternoon, sometimes cloudy. Occasionally it even rains. It’s vacation weather, come to life.

One fine day, Amelia and I went to JoAnn's to get yarn for a new ballet sweater. I've made two in the past, and both went unworn due to "scratchiness." I didn't think they were scratchy, but she did. One got given away and one sits unused in the sweater basket. Thought I, "That's it." Off to get some very soft acrylic yarn we went. She needed black (there's a dress code) so it was not hard to find. We settled on Premier Yarns Everyday Baby. I had two 50%-off coupons, and got two skeins of yarn, totalling $4.99. I knit the sweater and — great experience. The yarn was nice. It did not annoy me at all. It says it's anti-pill. She deemed it soft enough. I was PSYCHED that it cost five dollars.

Amelia is almost seven and has no sweaters that fit her. I went zooming off to my computer to find more yarn. Everyday Baby comes in colors I don't like. I wound up ordering Stylecraft Special DK and Paintbox Simply DK and Schachenmayr Bravo. The color palettes of each were huge, and I could make a sweater for, again, about $6. This was astonishing.

I spend, in general, a lot of lazy time late at night or with coffee at 5 a.m. browsing Ravelry for patterns. For me, the browsing is a huge part of the creative process, and I love it. The new yarn came, and I started re-looking at every sweater pattern ever written for kids in DK-weight and worsted-weight yarn. I'm not kidding. I looked at hundreds and hundreds of sweaters. It was weirdly relaxing. I knew what I wanted. Naturally, I could not find a pattern for it. How is this possible. Hundreds and hundreds, literally hundreds, of sweaters. Oh, Alicia. . . .

I thought back to 1995, when I was trying (again) to learn to knit. I wrote a long blog post about that here. I still find it very moving to read, if I do say so. I think part of why it moves me is that I hadn't often done things in my life that I wasn't good at, or that didn't come naturally to me. Knitting did not come naturally to me. I tried to learn to knit several different times, many years apart. The fact that I stuck with it mystifies me; it was not my style not to quit. I must have really wanted to learn, and I don't know why I did. I didn't really know anyone who knit, it was years before there was any sort of internet community around crafting, Pinterest didn't exist so there were no pretty pictures to be inspired by, and . . . I don't really know why it was so important to me that I kept trying to do it.

If you read the post I wrote in 2010, you'll see that I took a beginner class at a knitting shop in Missoula, sometime around 1996, and it didn’t go well. In retrospect, it affected me profoundly. The teacher was super intense, and went so fast. I remember thinking at the time, "This is seriously the last person I would think would be a knitting teacher." She was like a hummingbird. She had a frantic, edgy energy. I was a frantic, edgy person. I fumbled, exasperated. Her voice was high and fast. She wasn’t trying hard. She made hats for Andie MacDowell's kids! She knew so much and I was lost. Her knowledge came flying out, making the room spin. And her first rule of knitting was only ever knit with wool. Only wool. I was so intimidated by the whole experience that I think I internalized that directive on command. Only ever wool. (Years later, when I finally learned to knit here in Portland, the first thing I made was a baby sweater for my niece out of a super fluffy mint-green acrylic novelty yarn, and I remember that there was freedom — my new teacher had told me to pick anything! — but also guilt in that choice.) I have hardly used 100% acrylic since. Not that I have always used wool, far from it. I've gone through phases. Alpaca is okay but stretches out of shape. I don't like cotton at all. Bamboo and silk are much too shiny — I hate any kind of sheen in my yarn, generally. Ease of care has never motivated me — I'm always knitting and blocking something around the house, so hand-washing stuff is not a big deal (if I wash it at all, quite frankly). I think I was used to thinking that acrylic would be 1) too shiny and 2) not have any give to it, and so not feel that nice to knit with. Also: There are microplastics produced by synthetic fiber, and that is a major downside; I never feel good about consciously choosing to consume plastic and try pretty hard otherwise to do it as little as I possibly can. Hmmmm. Not really good. 

I was never a big Elizabeth Zimmerman fan, for no other reason than it feels so hard to just access the patterns and the writings somehow. Is it just me, about that? Maybe. The format, layout-wise, is totally daunting. I keep thinking that someday I’ll relax and dive in. People love her, and with good reason, I know. I have The Opinionated Knitter and I did try to read it once, but I just got so confused by both the crowdedness of the page layout and all the references to various newsletters that were out of print (when you wanted to follow the thread on something, for instance) or other books I didn’t have. I'd missed the EZ trend and kept stumbling, trying to catch up (go back?) afterwards. It's both charmingly and frustratingly analogue, in a way. Also, I'm still not a very intuitive knitter at all. She is the thinking-person's knitting teacher, and I don't like to be a thinking person when I knit, apparently. I like to be a direction-following robot so I can continue to stay with the plot of whatever episode of Vera I am on. Ravelry says I have knit over a hundred things. I would guess that almost none of them have deviated from any pattern more than the slightest bit to accommodate whatever yarn I had or, I don't know, something else small. I can follow a knitting pattern. Now I even write (doll) knitting patterns, even though I said I'd never write knitting patterns. Going off-trail does not come easily to me.

But I ran into this sweet little sweater by Adele Louise and I just had to make it. I literally became obsessed with this sweater for Mimi. That happens sometimes. It's a heady feeling. There's desperation involved, some mild bewilderment. Whyyyyyy do I care about this? I once spent hours in the middle of the night trying to track down a pattern for a pair of gloves I'd seen on a Norwegian Instagram account, with no reference to the pattern at all. I. found. it. Silly "problems." I specialize. Adele Louise mentioned that she used the percentage system to calculate her cast-on and then all of the other counts for making a round-yoked bottom-up sweater. My eye twitched. I Googled "percentage system" and saw that it was an EZ–invented thing. And suddenly I remembered that first knitting class in Missoula, and how, for our first sweater, our teacher was having us make a sweater based on the percentage system. I didn't realize that that's what it was — the Percentage System, a thing — at the time. I was so confused and overwhelmed by it all. This is how you have to make something? She took my gauge and my measurements and did the percentages and the calculations and literally nothing was coming out right. My sweater, in my fraught, anxious, self-defeating hands came out miniature, practically felted from go. It all seemed much bigger than knitting. It was much bigger than knitting. I never finished the sweater. I have no idea why it wasn't working, or what I was doing wrong. I threw it in a bag and never looked at it again. (Also, the sweater was made from Lamb's Pride Worsted, which is wool and mohair and is what I use for my doll hair. I would literally never be able to wear a sweater made out of this yarn. It is way too scratchy for me [personally]. But it was wool I could afford.)

2019. Adele Lousia's knockoff, then: I got my gauge with the copper-colored Stylecraft (4.5 sts/in) and took Amelia's measurements. I did the calculations and wrote them in my notebook. I worked out the lace pattern from my dear Nadia's original pattern on my cast-on number. I had a plan. I kept going. I figured out how to join the sleeves to the body at the yoke and still stay in lace pattern. I kept measuring. The yoke should decrease at a specific rate, three times, and wind up a certain length (5 3/4"). I kept going. I kept going. I finished it.

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It's a weird, sort-of full-circle knitting experience (that apparently took twenty-five years), with major thanks to not only Elizabeth Z. but Adele Louise and Nadia Crétin-Léchenne, who has inspired my knitting for years and years. And even my first teacher in Missoula, whose name I have no idea of anymore. The yarn blocked out soft and drapey, with nary a shiny highlight in sight, and fits my darling child like a dream. I am so proud of this.

80 comments

Elizabeth says: August 01, 2019 at 11:53 AM

I will never be able to knit (tried)...tho' crochet is something I have enjoyed...but I just love coming here to see what you are doing!! Such a darling sweater you made!! I admire your talents!!

I so absolutely love this post . . . i can relate. i love directions and specifics. I am logical. I love to do creative things but have to use logic to get there. know that my flower pots use a thriller, a spiller, and a filler. Know that my fabric combinations use a small, medium, large scale prints and solids. I follow the damned knitting directions!

i too completed one EZ pattern. Mine was a pi baby blanket. i loved it.

i did not put all the pieces together in my mind so eloquently as you have articulated. BUT I GET YOU!!!

Hugs

You've done it... you compelled me to finally register at Ravelry. I've managed, against odds, to teach myself how to crochet, but knitting is still a slow and frustrating thing. I have just about given up, but not quite. Maybe, maybe I can learn some new tricks. Why should I believe there is a time limit on picking up new skills? And thank you for showing that good and pretty things can be made without wool. I've felt out of step with the fiber world, because wool is so pricey, and of course it's lovely, but I really appreciate seeing a skilled and artful talent showing that affordable materials can be beautiful, too.

What a beautiful sweater for your darling daughter. I enjoyed reading about your journey to learn how to knit. It has always intimated me and thus, I admire anyone who does it. Thank you for sharing this today.

Carol Kohrs says: August 01, 2019 at 12:23 PM

You should be so proud. Knitting anything more than a knit stitch scarf is beyond me, and yet, I admire the patterns so much. I enjoy reading your blog so much. Thank you for sharing.

Kelli Kennedy says: August 01, 2019 at 01:05 PM

I've knit several things, but, as much as I love the idea of knitting and have yarn to use up, it always feels too hard to follow a pattern, and I have no idea how to not do that. But your story has inspired me to take it up again, and at just the right time because I have been gearing up to get rid of all my yarn and needles. So, thank you for sharing your arduous journey here. I appreciate the honesty. Especially about your struggles and the whole only-ever-wool issue. Let's see where this encouragement takes me.

I love how hard-won knitting is for you. I, also, learned from a yarn shop class before social media and Pinterest. I took a class with my mother, who was not crafty at all, and even though we had the same teacher, she taught one of us continental and the other English. We couldn’t help each other when we got home. It was odd and confusing. I took to knitting, but my mother never did. The first project was mittens. When my mother got to the thumb gusset and placed her first markers, on the next round she removed them. I can still remember the teacher saying, “where are your markers?” And my mother answering, “I put them in my pocket.” It was so funny, but I didn’t dare laugh because by then I realized she was hating knitting. When she finished the first mitten and announced it to the class, the teacher said “great! Now cast on for the second on!” My mother erupted with, “I’m not making another mitten, and you can’t make me!” Then she burst into tears. Needless to say, that was her last class. Knitting does not come easily to all, that is for sure!

Alicia, that is beautiful!! I love the color. It is so fall looking. Amelia is so blessed to have a Mom who can make pretty things for her. I hope she has a great year at school.

I would never have guessed that you had ever struggled with knitting. You give me hope. I'm always impressed with your beautiful sweaters - the colors and intricate patterns.

I love the group of dolls you pictured in this post. Are you planning to offer a pattern for purchase? For me your Maggie Rabbit kit opened up a whole new world of hand stitching with felt. It was the catalyst for my creating many more creatures.

love, love, love the two sweaters!

I’ve followed your blog for years, but never commented (oh and I’ve never knitted a thing, but we’ve adopted and one time you had a post about not giving up waiting and I cried, but I digress:)). This is a beautiful, encouraging post. I forget so often the hard work and thinking that goes into creativity. I want creativity to be this wild, natural, and free spirit thing, but it’s not 100% like that, is it? Thanks for sharing your story! Also, I loved your perspective on the teacher. I teach a cupcake decorating class at our local community college. It’s funny thinking about what I say is absolute (this piping bag, food coloring, ...) that is truly probably not ;)

Oh, Alicia! You should be soooo proud. That sweater is absolutely beautiful. I am in awe of you (always . . . and once again).

You absolutely have reason to be proud of that sweater. It is gorgeous -- everything about it is. Looking at your photos at the beginning of the post, I paused longer for the photo of that sweater than all the others. And to think you've learned to knit so recently. I would have guessed that you were a natural at it as a child, the sweaters you make are so beautiful.

Well done you! What a stunning sweater and the blouse you've pair with it is perfect.

We all come to understand the thing we love to do by trial and error. Sometimes with the help of others, but no matter how long it takes, if we really want to learn a thing, we will and do it with a passion.

Keeping my fingers cross our weather stays as nice as it's been. But I'm dreaming of the crisp cool nights of Autumn and perhaps a blanket of snow this winter. Hope springs eternal (smile).

Alicia, you have managed to put into words what I've been feeling for years - all my life, actually - about knitting! I love to knit in front of the tv, like yourself, and cannot deal with anything other than just reading the instructions and following them to the letter. I have always felt a bit inadequate for that, for not being able to make up my own pattern, or alter anything. But, as you say, it's more a case of not really wanting to put the effort in, to just relax when I'm knitting and not have to think about maths! That said, well done and congratulations for finally cracking it - the jumper is gorgeous, as always xx

I love this story and identified with it both as a student and as a teacher. How many times have I tried to learn something outside of my natural way of thinking and been frustrated? And, worse, ashamed? Sometimes, that long circle of going away and coming back sideways and with my own curiosity drawing me in has made all the difference.

And as a teacher?
I try very hard to meet a student where she is at, to point out what is going well and to nudge new thinking about what is not. Still, the reminder that listening is just as important -- probably MORE important -- than bestowing knowledge is so valuable to me.
Thank you, Alicia, for sharing this story.

Any chance you'd also share the recipe for that delicious-looking shrimp/egg salad on toast?

I've been a knitter and crocheter for a long time and consider myself pretty much at the advanced level - but I can't do a lick outside of the directions on my own. I too like to be a robot and follow the exact instructions as shown! Couldn't redesign a thing in the pattern to customize it, other than easy things like length or width, to save my life, LOL.

I read your blog for the first time about three years ago, and immediately went to your very first post to read straight through. You’ve created such a beautiful Book of Days. I read your post today first thing in the morning after walking my dog on a misty muggy morning, with the promise of fall yet to come, and, of course, you struggling to conquer knitting fits in perfectly. Thank you so very much.

Happy anniversary!! I love the looks of the dolls. I find hard to place the hair in dolls and the face is also a bit hard but it's fun to make dolls. I will have to gather courage to learn some knitting someday.

Oh how I loved reading your blog this morning as almost every point struck home with me. I taught myself to knit about 65 years ago when there was no YouTube videos or Ravelry to consult. Later, my husband's mother was an inspiration and taught me there was no shame in ripping back if something came out wrong. Then I stopped knitting, life just was too busy. On the way to a reading conference driving from San Diego to Reno, NV about 20 years ago, my co-worker pulled out a bag and started knitting on a basketweave baby blanket. I was hooked and we stopped and bought needles and yarn and I've never stopped knitting since. I must follow a pattern! I've learned so much from watching YouTube bloggers and also from reading blogs. Mostly, I've learned that anything goes and not to judge my work by someone elses. I can't figure out the calculations based on body numbers either very intuitively. It doesn't matter to me because the pleasure I get from knitting is immeasurable. Your sweaters are beautiful by the way and I hope your daughter enjoys wearing them.

I have found that cotton yarn is good for crocheting blankets. It gives a lovely feel and a bit more weight than acrylic yarn. That said, I love Stylecraft DK yarn. I don't knit, only crochet and the Stylecraft DK is great for that. I I have used wool for crochet, but the feel is scratchy to me. For me, the lesson was don't be a yarn snob.

The sweater is adorable, and you always style your FOs so well!
I’ve been reading this blog for a long time, because I remember when you knit Audrey that sweater in cashmerino. (That was the best.)

Michaelanne Neal says: August 02, 2019 at 09:02 AM

This post ....and, actually..ALL of your posts inspire me SO much! You have such a way with words..such a perfect ability to put your thoughts into words..your photos are also exactly what your minds eye is seeing! I think that is why they are so very touching..you are SO gifted! Thank you for sharing your brilliance..I adore you and your creations!

Alicia, you are a force of nature! Not a tornado or flood or earthquake, nothing cataclysmic. But the gentle drip of rain eroding a sandstone, or the sun that coaxes wildflowers shyly into the meadow, or the breeze that moves fallen autumn leaves. This post made my heart swell in ways the observation of natural beauty does as well. Every word perfect, the graceful composition just right. Thank you for being a healing balm for my soul through your words.

Rena Guth says: August 02, 2019 at 09:52 AM

morning Alicia, I enjoyed this read this morning so much! I too am an avid crafter, sewing and knitting mostly. I have become obsessed with knitting in the last 10 years or so( Ravelry shows well over 200 projects, how did that happen?). I can relate to liking to follow patterns, I really enjoy and relax in the process when I don't have to calculate. I have been involved in alot of test knitting for designers in recent years and it has been so fun, learning to read charts and lots of interesting new stitches. I also teach people to knit and really appreciated your comments about teaching style. You are brave, I have only knit one sweater, the Carbeth, and one tee. The sweater was fast and fun but I worried about the fit the whole time( it was a gift).
I wait excitedly for the doll pattern to be available, it is just so cute! Have a blessed week.
Rena

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About Alicia Paulson

About

My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com

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Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.