Tips & Tricks: Join the Resistance!

Some of you may have noticed that I did not upload a post last Sunday, despite my stated efforts that I would be publishing every Sunday. I’m hoping you will all understand, and forgive me, but last weekend was just too hard. I was completely overwhelmed by the Inauguration, the protests, and the emotional roller coaster that ensued. I imagine that many of you felt the same. While last Friday was devastating, and Saturday elating, by Sunday I was left with the rug-pulled-out-from-under-you feeling of what comes next?

I have spent a good amount of the past week mulling over this question. After all, how much change can I, one person with basically zero government power, fight back against a deeply entrenched government administration? Obviously, it isn’t easy, but there are ways to resist. I’ve compiled some suggestions into this post, maybe some of them you’ve already heard/thought of, maybe some are new to you. Hopefully, this will help to remind us that, even as citizens, there are powerful ways for us to resist.

  • Call your representatives!
    • Okay, this is kind of a gimme, but its important to put it out there. Keep calling, keep writing, keep making your voice heard. If you’re uncomfortable calling because you don’t know what to say, visit this website for a series of scripts to help you out.
    • Yes, the White House comment line is down, but there has been a movement of folks calling Trump hotels and businesses. Call those places, make them lose business. Just remember to be polite, and respectful. Those people on the other end are just folks trying to earn a living.
  • Stay educated!
    • Maybe another gimme? But stay on top of what’s going on. Read reputable news sources. My personal favorite is The New York Times, but I also follow Dan Rather on Facebook, as well as his new news outlet News and Guts. Keep track of what’s happening, remember that its not normal.
    • Along that same line, look to history. Remind yourself of what is considered normal for an administration to do. Remind yourself what has typically been considered the powers of the President. Familiarize yourself with the system.
    • If you haven’t looked at it for a while, reread the Constitution. Take the time to really think about what its saying, and what powers it affords the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Understand how this country is supposed to work.
  • Donate!
    • You probably already know about the importance of donating to Planned Parenthood, and the ACLU but there are plenty of other causes that are going to need our help:
    • Those are just a few big ones! I would also suggest looking into upcoming elections in your area, and considering donating to upcoming campaigns as well, especially if you’re not happy with your Congressperson or Senator.
    • You may also want to look into local groups to donate to. Do your research, and look into local groups that are working to combat homelessness, climate change, or other important local issues.
    • Donations can come in forms other than money. Did you just knit a pussy hat for the Women’s March? That’s awesome! Now knit a hat or two and take them to your local homeless shelter. While you’re at it, bring something from this list  of what shelters wish you would bring or even make a call before hand and find out what your local shelter needs.
  • Get involved!
    • From the top to the bottom, get involved in politics. Go to local precinct meetings, run for local government (or at least become more knowledgeable about local races). Visit SwingLeft.org to learn about your closest swing district, and how you can help it swing to the left.
    • Go to more protests. Did you go to the Women’s March? Great! But don’t stop there. Find out when the next Black Lives Matter march is, when the next Standing Rock march is, when the Scientists March is, and then go to them!
  • Become more informed!
    • Maybe after the Woman’s March, you heard a lot of critiques about the movement. Maybe you heard that the march was too white, or that it was transphobic, or that it wasn’t accessible for disabled people. Listen to the people saying those things! Really put more time and effort into addressing your own privileges, and unlearning the various “-isms” that culture has taught you.
    • If its new to you, learn about intersectional feminism. Learn about white feminism and its many pitfalls.
    • Follow activists like Shaun King, and Janet Mock. Follow people who have had different experiences than those that you have had, and really listen to what they have to say.
    • And, most importantly, LISTEN. Listen when people correct you, listen when people talk about their struggles, listen to when its not about you. And remember, if someone is taking the time to correct your behavior, they’re doing it because they trust that you will listen.
    • If this is all new to you, I really suggest reading this article. Its a great primer, particularly for white folks.
  • Fight climate change at home!
    • Listen, for the next few years at least, it looks like we’re gonna be pretty much on our own when it comes to climate change. While we as citizens don’t have a ton of control over policy, there are things we can do at home to help cut carbon emissions from our life:
      • If you can, plant a garden. Grow your own greens, herbs, gourds, and veggies. Do some research and figure out what type of flowers your local bees like best. Go out and put things in the ground.
      • Eat locally. A great way to reduce your carbon footprint is to try to source your foods as locally as possible. Check out local farmers markets, CSAs, and food co-ops. Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” is a great conversation about how much oil is actually in our diets, and offers a lot of great suggestions getting it out.
      • Reduce the amount of plastic in your life. I know that personally, I have pledged to stop buying plastic water bottles, and am working towards purchasing as many foods as I can in bulk. I have been collecting containers to bring to the store myself in order to cut down on packaging. For more tips and tricks to reduce trash in your life, check out the Zero Waste Family.
      • And of course, the three oldies but goodies, mind your water usage, your electricity usage, and your car usage. Take shorter showers, and shut off the faucet when you wash dishes. Turn down (or off!) the thermostat, and if you aren’t in a room, make sure the lights are off. Take public transport, bike, or walk where and when you can.
      • Lastly, stay informed! Follow all those rogue twitter accounts that are posting facts about climate change. Support scientists and reporters that are trying to get the word out. Stay up to date on the facts and figures. The more you know, the more powerful you are.

Whew! Okay, it seems like a lot, and I know I only barely scratched the surface. But for a jumping off point, look how much there is! There is a lot we can do, and we can all do it together. Together we are many.

If there is anything that you feel is missing from this list, please share in the comments.

Tips & Tricks: Break the Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater

I have discovered many wonderful things in the knitting community. I have discovered a love for the art of handcrafting, a respect for taking things slow, an understanding that starting over from the very beginning isn’t a bad thing, a willingness to answer any question no matter how small. All this, and so much more, are things that I love dearly about this community of ours. However, there is one thing in the knitting world that I would very much like to see put to death: The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater.

We’ve all heard it. The warning that follows every knitter (whether she has any inclination towards having a boyfriend or not), that as soon as she knits a sweater for her man, she has signed her fate, and he will inevitably leave her. I’m unsure whether this applies to other relationships that a knitter may have, or if non-female knitters are similarly afflicted, but I do know that I have been warned since I started knitting at the tender age of 12 that I should never knit my boyfriend a sweater lest I wish to doom our relationship. What a rotten curse!

Do I really have to detail why I think this myth needs to be put to rest? How many of us view making knitwear for our loved ones as a sacred task? I can’t imagine any better way to express my love to someone than to spend hours creating them a mindful garment stitch by stitch. A knitter making a sweater for someone they love, whether its a boyfriend, girlfriend, best friend, or spouse, is something that should be celebrated. Those knitters who set out to express their love for someone by creating for them a personalized garment should be encourage, not warned away with cautionary tales of ruined love.

I have been knitting a sweater for my own boyfriend for close to three years. It is the longest it has ever taken me to finish a single project. The road to completion has been hampered by just about every knitting mistake in the book. Wrong sizes, wonky gauge, ill-fitting armholes, too-short sleeves, you name it, and I’ve probably done it with this sweater. I’ve changed the yarn once, and the pattern at least three times trying to get it right. I’ve learned a lot about knitting with this sweater, and I’ve learned a lot about love. I’ve come to reevaluate what knitting for someone other than myself can mean. I’ve started to understand more about what clothing can mean to us, how a handmade sweater can carry so much more than just the materials it took to make it.

If, when all is said and done, this sweater spells the end of my relationship, then so be it. If my relationship isn’t strong enough to withstand my knitting a sweater, then it probably wasn’t a very good relationship to begin with. But I highly doubt that will happen. I think this sweater will bring my man and I closer together. In fact, I know that it already has.

So what do you say, fellow knitters? Can you join me in the promise to kill the Boyfriend Sweater Curse? Instead of warning new knitters that a handmade sweater will cause their relationship to die, I plan on telling them that I have found hand knits to be one of the most powerful ways of sharing tradition, nourishment, and joy with those that I love. I hope you will do the same.

Adjusting Your Pattern to Your Gauge

We have all head it before – “Be sure to check your gauge before starting your sweater!”, “Don’t forget to work up a gauge swatch!”, “It doesn’t fit? Did you check your gauge?”

Any which way you turn in the knitting community, it seems that there is always something – a blog post, a paragraph in a book – educating us on the importance of gauge. Which is wonderful. It’s lovely to have that information so readily available. However, many of these pieces discuss the importance of gauge, how to check it, and how to adjust your needles to achieve correct gauge, but don’t necessarily explain how to change your pattern to suit your gauge. I can’t tell you how many knitters I have had come into the knit shop where I work, pull out their gauge swatch and ask “what next?”.

The truth of the matter is, sometimes we want to make a garment with a different gauge than the pattern suggests. Whether it’s because we have our hearts set on a yarn that won’t quite get gauge or we love the shape of the garment, but desire a different fabric, it sometimes just isn’t possible to knit a pattern to the suggested gauge. However, just because your gauge is off, doesn’t mean you can’t still make it work.

To adjust your pattern to your gauge, all you really need is some basic math. Say you’re knitting a sweater, and the given gauge is 6 stitches to the inch, but the fabric that you like is 5 stitches to the inch. All you need to do is go through the pattern and convert the number of stitches you’re supposed to have on your needle at any given time to match your 5 stitches gauge. Sound complicated? Don’t worry, it’s much simpler than it seems!

Say that the pattern you’re working on is for a top-down set-in-sleeve pullover, the first thing you would need to cast on for is the back neck. In the pattern’s schematic, you can check to see how many inches you’re supposed to cast on for the back neck in your size. If its 8″, all you have to do is multiply your inch gauge – in this case, 5 stitches per inch – by 8, and you’ll come up with your cast on number. You can also check this number against what the pattern says. If the pattern is having you cast on 48 stitches, you can divide the cast on amount by the number of stitches per inch that the pattern calls for. If the initial cast on is 48 stitches, and the pattern gauge is 6 stitches per inch, you can divide 48 by 6 to come up with how many inches to cast on. From there, you can multiply the number of inches by your own gauge to come up with how much to cast on.

The same holds true for differing row gauges. If the pattern you’re knitting calls for 10 rows per inch, but you’re knitting at 8 rows per inch, you can reference the schematic to see how many rows you should be knitting or check the row count in the pattern to figure out how many inches long the piece will be. For instance, if you’re knitting the back piece of a top-down set-in-sleeve sweater, it may be 7″ from the cast on for the back neck to the armhole. In that case, you would want to multiply your row gauge by 7 to determine how many rows you need to knit. Likewise, you can count out how many rows the pattern is asking you to knit, divide by the given row gauge, and multiply the resulting number by your own row gauge to determine how many rows to knit.

A combo of those two techniques can be used to adjust increases and decreases to suit your gauge as well. If you have to decrease the width of a garment by 4″ over 5″ of length in order to shape a waist, all that you need to do is plug your gauge in to know how many rows you need to knit, and how often you need to decrease. The row question is easy, just multiply your row gauge by the amount of inches given for the decrease section. To figure out your decreases, you can multiply your gauge by how much you will be decreasing to determine how many stitches you need to decrease. If you’re knitting a sweater, and have to decrease from a 36″ bust to a 32″ waist, then you would subtract the waist measurement from the bust measurement, and multiply that number by your stitches per inch gauge. In this cause, it would be 4″ of difference multiplied by 5 stitches to the inch, so you would need to decrease 20 stitches. If you have 5″ to do this, and you’re getting 8 rows per inch, then you have 40 rows in which you need to work your decreases. From there, you can decide how many decreases you want to do per decrease row, and how staggered you want the decreasing to be. A standard decrease row will have you decreasing 4 stitches each row, so if you need to decrease a total of 20 stitches, you would want to do 5 decrease rows. If you need to do 5 decrease rows over a total of 40 rows, and wanted evenly spaced decreases, then you would want to decrease every 8th row.

Increases can be adjusted for gauge in exactly the same way as decreasing, except you’ll be adding stitches back in, instead of taking them out.

The bottom line is, gauge is important, but not getting the expected gauges doesn’t mean you can’t make the pattern you want with the yarn of your choice. I have had so many customers come in discouraged because they couldn’t get gauge in the yarn that they really wanted to use. You are the boss of you’re knitting, and you can make it work for you.

Top-Down Raglan vs. Top-Down Set-in-Sleeve

In the knitting world, one doesn’t need to travel far in order to stumble upon the virtues of top-down sweaters. They are quick to knit, can be done all in one piece, and are relatively easy to troubleshoot. Since top-down sweaters are knit from the top down, you can try it on as you go, and make any adjustments to fit, shaping, and length as needed. Though it can become cumbersome to carry around a top-down sweater towards the end of the work, the fact that it is knit in one piece eliminates the seaming process. Sweaters with a top-down construction are excellent for knitters who are just starting out on sweater making and want to knit something easy, and for more advanced sweater knitters who want to knit something quick, with lots of fit control. However, after deciding to knit a top-down sweater, the question then becomes will you knit a top-down raglan or a top-down set-in-sleeve? In my experience, both methods of construction have some pluses and minuses that are good to be aware of.

set-in-sleeve (left), raglan (right)

For the most part, top-down sweaters are made with a raglan construction. It is easy to see why, when you consider that they are simple to knit, require little shaping, and figuring out how to set one up is easy enough to calculate at home. Because of these benefits, I typically turn to raglan construction when I need to churn out a sweater fast or if I’m making a sweater for someone else and I’m not going to be getting super precise fit. That is where the minuses come in. Though there are so people who look fantastic in raglan construction, there are those, like myself, who don’t find it as flattering. I have a large chest, and if I want to knit a more fitted sweater, raglan construction just won’t do. Since a raglan sleeve is a straight line, it has a harder time conforming to the natural curvature of the body. Therefore, when I try to make a fitted raglan, I find that the raglan line tends to pull and stretch out of place. While raglan sweaters are easy to set up, they don’t always fit well on every body.

Set-in-sleeve top-down sweaters tend to fit much better than raglans. Because a set-in-sleeve follows a curved line, they can be easily adjusted to fit the particular sculpture of the intended wearer. For this reason, I have started knitting almost all my top-down sweaters with set-in-sleeves. They just happen to fit better on my shoulders without tugging at my breasts. However, they simply are not as simple to put together as raglans. I have yet to find a “plug-and-chug” method for top-down set-in-sleeve construction. Though I have found multiple raglan methods where all you have to do is plug in your gauge and measurements into an easy equation in order to figure out how many stitches to cast on, and which stitches will be your front, back, and sleeves. Set-in-sleeve construction is just not (as least at the moment!) quite so approachable. It also happens to require casting the back on first, shaping the shoulders, and then placing the back on hold until the front is constructed and ready to be joined with the back at the underarms. In contrast, a raglan can be cast on and knit straight through from top to bottom.

What about you all? Any preferences when it comes to raglan vs. set-in-sleeve? Anyone found a great set-in-sleeve “plug-and-chug” that they’d like to share? Let me know in the comments!

For anyone looking to try out either a top-down raglan, I highly recommend checking out Hannah Fettig’s Lesley or looking at Karen Templer’s series on Fringe Association about how to improvise a top-down raglan.

And for anyone interested in trying out some top-down set-in-sleeves, I suggest checking out Elizabeth Doherty’s Clarendon (really her whole book on the method), and Andi Satterlund’s Plain Jane.