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

Hi Alicia, Is that a pattern of yours for the sweet dolls? I've made your rabbit softie and clothes for it and loved it. So did my granddaughter. Would love to make a doll. I can relate about knit sweaters not being soft enough. Thanks for the suggestion for soft yarn. You are an inspiration!

What a beautiful sweater, Alicia. I always love reading your posts. Knitting actually came to me very naturally -- I had always been crafty but had been intimidated by knitting and didn't try it until I was 25 and working on my (never-finished) PhD in Chicago. In some ways knitting saved me when I was drowning in grad school woes. Refocused my energies, led me to dear friends at the knit night at the coffee shop, gave me something tangible to produce when so much of my time was consumed with reading and writing that seemed to be going nowhere. The magic of knitting, the tactile nature of the craft, the circle of people drawn to it all warm my heart.

I spent some time this morning catching up here and just wanted to let you know (again) how much I adore your blog. It is truly lovely and I'm so thankful you've chosen to let us in on these little bits of your life! xoxo

I am so glad I read this today. It just makes me happy to read your knitting stories. I don't really know how to knit. I remember making some doll clothes when I was a child, but my mom was baffled by my left-handedness and couldn't teach me anything but the basic stitch (I have no idea what it was). She learned to knit during World War ll when they actually knitted socks for soldiers. I love that.

Anyway, one of these days when I am tired of paper, I will learn to knit. I want to make Christmas stockings including little tiny stockings with cute designs - probably like the Norwegian mittens you were talking about.

Thank you for transporting me to a delightful place once again.

@needle_and_quill

I'm a Vera fan, too! 💕

Connie from Toowoomba says: August 06, 2019 at 04:21 PM

What a beautiful post...and jumper.

Dearest Alicia,

...well, I am a crocheter at heart. I get frustrated and impatient knitting when I see how slowly the work on my piece gets along. I am certainly not a speed knitter. More practice would change that. Crocheting keeps me in awe, all the possibilites, lovely patterns and edging. I just can't motivate myself to knit. What I must say though, your little sweater is quite an eyecatcher and I absolutely love the warm color you chose.

I am planning crocheting a baby blanket in wafflestitch block / gingham pattern with acrylic yarn, contemplating getting paintbox chunky which should work well but am still not quite convinced. I find cotton is better for crocheted blankets (surprised to read Charlotte is the same opinion... hi Charlotte!) but in chunky weight or taken double to crochet with a larger hook might be a bit TOO heavy for a small child. So my choice is not quite 'ripe' yet.

Am patiently waiting to see the pattern for your sweet dolls... and hope to finally find out how you managed to do their hair and also what wool you used. So sweet!

Xs and Os across the big pond,
Heidi

I am a missive fan of Stylecraft Special DK for crochet, it works up like a dream, is soft to work with and use but best of all it ages so well. I've got blankets 9 years old now, used relentlessly over the years inside and out, washed and low-heat tumble dried and they look and feel amazing still. And the colours...oh my....lots of goodness to choose from. The more recent additions which are slightly more vintage in feel you will love I'm sure - powder pink, duck egg, sage, lincoln, pale rose, parma violet....I think you'll love those. Happy yarning!!xxxx

Meant to add - Wool Warehouse delivers to the US for very reasonable shipping and fast too. You can order a shade card for SSDK which is fringed not printed so will help with colour choice for future. Just sayin'!! https://www.woolwarehouse.co.uk/yarn/stylecraft-special-dk-shade-card

Judy Seymour says: August 07, 2019 at 11:04 AM

What are those beautiful purple flowers in this post? There's a picture about 4-5 down the blog that shows your daughter holding one. I'd love to get some for my garden/

Oh, that sweater is adorable. Very nice, love the color.

I too struggled with knitting and it took several tries over the years to finally feel somewhat confident and then suddenly I knit nothing but socks for about three years. Always wool.

Two years ago I crocheted an afghan with Stylecraft Special DK and it was pleasant to work with, doesn't feel too plasticy. Attic24 turned me on to that line and it does have lovely colors for things that need washing regularly. If I was knitting for kids, I'd go with acrylic too (baby stuff for my nephew was all in acrylic, had to go in the washer/dryer). But things I knit for myself and other adults, it must be mostly wool. Scratchy schmatchy. Bring it. But I do like soft too, alpaca…. Mmmmm. Just not synthetic. I still love my wools and other furry fibers and love the feel of them as much as the smell.

This fall I'm going to try my first sweater, top down, German short rows... I'm feeling intimidated but I'll be thinking of Posie beating the fear back and trudging forward.

Oh for summer days like this. I'm always in my office, no windows, stuffy, never know what it's doing out there. But through your photos I can smell the water of our local lake, feel it soft on my skin, dripping. Welcome shade, the days when it was never over 89 and that was a scorcher… Sleeping outside on the sleeping porch, late nights playing kick ball in the street before darkness descended at 10pm… Miss those days oh so much. Treasure them, they won’t last.

You so inspire me! I have had a similar on and off love affair with quilting. Ican't tell you how many projects I now have going but stalled because I ran into a snag that I can't solve. I need you to move next door so I could invite you over and help me. LOL
The new sweater is beautiful. the color is one of my favorites and the pattern so pretty. You inspire me.

Lovely post Alicia, Mimi's sweater is adorable.

Whilst I can knit, I much prefer crochet and like Lucy (Attic 24) I love Stylecraft yarns. I've never had any pill yet and it washes like a dream. Also like Lucy I'd recommend Wool Warehouse, their service is phenomenal. Admittedly I'm in the UK so deliveries for me are super fast but Teresa Kasners orders from them too I believe and she doesn't have to wait too long for her deliveries.

Also another Vera fan here.

LizT

I read both posts, and adore how you describe your odyssey in knitting. I can intuitively sew, without patterns, bake without recipes and am capable of small initiatives about which others are bewildered. But knitting? oh my... But I have one hat I made and wear it with pride. I love it. I love knitting, and I love sweaters. The teachers you described... oh what a difference it can make, someone who allows for mistakes and the person who may never get all the details right. So right about 'Heather' for a 70 year old. How sweet. Thank you for sharing. <3

You are such a wonderful writer! I have been reading your blog for years and always enjoy the way you capture your life and thoughts in words and pictures. Your description of the mysterious hold of knitting upon you reminded me of my adventures in embroidery. My mother taught me when I was in second grade and I adorned a couple of minor objects and lost interest. Years later I was in my first year of college in a very demanding program that required lots of late night work. I was sitting in the dreary basement of my sixties-era dorm building at three in the morning (my roommate was too light a sleeper to tolerate my late hours in our room, so I had to go somewhere else) bathed in harsh florescent light trying to write a paper on Thomas Aquinas. Suddenly my brain was inundated with images of a pattern of stiff tulips embroidered in variegated thread that I could hardly wait to make. I was on fire with excitement...Must Embroider!!...and as soon as day came I went out, bought thread, needles, and hoop and began to put those tulips on my pillowcase and sheet. It had to be done. Like knitting for you, embroidery would not be denied and even off-putting experiences could not keep me from doing it. Your sweater for Amelia (very pretty) is the latest product of an irresistible upwelling from within. Yay for you, Amelia and all of us who are along for the ride.

Where is this pretty little sandy lake at?

Loved this post! The pics of your summer are idyllic. I agree, this weather is MUCH better than the last 2 summers, by August we were dying from the heat and smoke from the wildfires. Here is Seattle we actually have some rain today, and I’m ok with that!

I admire your knitting skill and the fact that you fought so hard to develop it makes it all the sweeter for you! I have tried knitting several times and even finished a baby sweater for my firstborn who is now 43! I love going to yarn boutiques (hello Mendocino Yarns!). Now that I'm retired, I have the time. I love the stuffed dolls pictured on your blog. Do you sell the pattern?

This post could not have been more timely. I am a new knitter (at age 50) for many of the same reasons you cited in this blogpost. I have wanted to learn to knit for years because of the lovely garments you can create. I was swooning over the lovely Ellen cardigan you made for yourself last year and honestly, that might have been what spurned my latest determined journey into knitting (because I downloaded the pattern at that time hoping I could make it for myself someday). My friend told me to just keep telling myself, "I am a knitter." So I told myself, "I am knitter and I am going to make dish cloths until I get it." And guess what? I GOT IT. Finally. I am 5 dish cloths and 3 hats in. I have many encouraging and knowledgeable knitting friends and last week I browsed models in a real yarn store and picked a neckerchief pattern as my first REAL project. I also bought my very first skein of merino yarn and she turned it into a (zero calorie) "cake" for me and I can't wait to get started. Yay! Thank you for sharing your story (from then and now). You have given me hope! -Susan :)

I love absolutely everything about this. So happy for you!! I've only been knitting about 12 years, so I'm giving myself another 13 to be able to do that. For now, I'm a follow-the-pattern girl--that seems to require enough of my brain at this point! But you've given me hope. :)

Melissa H. says: August 15, 2019 at 11:54 AM

I love EZ but absolutely cannot follow a single bit of her instructions (method? philosophy?). I am a linear thinker, I am afraid to make mistakes (especially mistakes that require FROGGING EVERYTHING), and I need to know what I'm doing before I do it. I read recipes all the way through before I start. That kind of person. I can't crochet at all because it requires me to think in 3-D or something - what even is going on? How did anything I just did turn into a straight(ish) line??? It makes me uncomfortable. Your sweater turned out amazing. I've been thinking of getting back into knitting now that all the hats I knitted years back have stretched out - FINALLY. Thanks for the inspiration!

Oh this was wonderful, brought me back to my first knitting class. Very intimidating and confusing. I'm a timid knitter abd woukd love to do more. I'm going to pursue it harder. I have some of the same delimas you had. So now theres encouragement and hope. Thanks again for being so real and insightful.

Catherine says: August 17, 2019 at 12:41 PM

Alicia, Amelia is growing up so fast and such a beautiful girl. Happy Anniversary to you and Andy :)

Thanks for another lovely, heartwarming post. The pullover is beautiful, the shrimp/egg/avocado meal looks delicious and I can't believe how well you captured the hydrangea color and detail in picture 11. Now, can you really toast a marshmallow over a candle flame?

This sweater is SO DARLING! I feel like this is a perfect example of why and how I've learned to never say never, the older I get. "Only ever knit with wool" (an old rule I held onto for too many years as well). Acrylic yarn of my grandma's day and of today are two completely different breeds. I know exactly what you are talking about it being too shiny, and as a knitter, spinner and fiber artist and enthusiast in general, I used to cringe at the feeling of acrylic yarn, felt like styrofoam to me. The yarns now are so amazing, I am having a harder and harder time even telling what the make up of a yarn is.

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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.