I plunk my red chair on the sideline, say hello to the other parents and settle in for a game. That’s when I pull out my secret time-passing sanity saver: my knitting.
It’s not that I don’t love watching my children participate in sports. I do, mostly. But who can bear all that sitting with nothing to do? Not me. So I multi-task in the stands, whipping up hats, socks, entire sweaters.
Why do I love knitting? Reams have been written about the meditative rhythm that turns yarn into fabric, about the feel of the yarn in your hands and about how knitting is the perfect creative antidote to the wired world. It’s all true. It is hugely satisfying to make something beautiful and useful with my own hands. Knitting is soothing (studies show), the yarn is gorgeous, and it’s not sewing, my nemesis.
For me, it’s also about boredom prevention. There is always something new to learn (22 different cast ons alone in “Vogue Knitting”). Plus, it gives me something to do anytime, anywhere. At a soccer tournament? I’ve got my knitting. Waiting for an appointment (or watching a movie, listening to an audiobook or standing at the dining room table)? Crank out a few rows.
Lopi was my gateway yarn. It was my senior year in college and my mother gave me several skeins of purple Lopi Icelandic yarn, thick needles and a pattern for a vest. She had taught me to knit when I was a child, but it didn’t stick. This time when she sat me down, something clicked, and I have not been without a project since.
I didn’t start with the usual scarf, and so my second project wasn’t typical either. I decided to knit an Icelandic sweater made with what else? Lopi. Remember those super-warm patterned-yoke things? I dove right in, despite the fact that I’d never knit in the round, never knit with two colors, and could not read the pattern. But no matter. When you’re a brave beginner, you have no idea what to fear.
Sitting in my little apartment, I pored over the instructions in the pattern book, ripping out and reknitting. I don’t want to think about how many tries it took to “cast on and join without twisting to work in the round.” It wasn’t perfect, my sweater – the colorwork pulled and the underarm seams unraveled – but I loved and wore it for years.
As I’ve been clicking my way through time, a whole new world of knitting has exploded (part of an entire DIY revival). Ravelry, a social networking site replete with patterns, yarn reviews, project posting, and forums, emerged from a vibrant blogosphere to give knitters a place to gather. I may be a little obsessed – I ogle their top-20 pattern list almost daily.
Those with some cash find no shortage of things to spend on: retreats and workshops, fiber festivals, skill classes, books, and, of course, yarn.
The yarn. Gone are the days of nasty acryllic and itchy wool. Yarn now is available in a staggering array of weights and fibers and colors – merino, silk, cashmere, cotton. Bluefaced leicester anyone? Go find some at one of Maine’s many local yarn stores, see the real colors, touch the yarn.
And while I almost never buy yarn online (though there are many excellent sources), the Internet is a great place to look for new projects. Online pattern sources, such as Knitty, Twist Collective, Ravelry, and any yarn company, have made finding projects both simpler and more overwhelming. Many patterns are free, but I pay for others gladly to keep those designers creating.
Sometimes I get really ambitious and try to design my own work. For help, I turn to Ann Budd’s “The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns,” and anything by Elizabeth Zimmermann. Designer (and Maine native) Amy Herzog has a book called “Fit to Flatter,” and a custom design process called CustomFit. Shirley Paden’s book, “Knitwear Design Workshop,” is another good resource. Good old “Vogue Knitting” also has this (and pretty much everything else) covered. “Finishing School: A Master Class for Knitters,” by Deborah Newton, helps you put it all together.
If you’re interested in learning to knit and your mother or grandmother is not available, go visit your local yarn store. When you’re done ogling the yarn, sign up for a learn-to-knit class. You may never want to put your knitting down. And if you’re anything like me, you won’t.
MAINE KNITTING RESOURCES
This is by no means a comprehensive list, merely a selection. Portland and Freeport are very fibery towns, but Maine has plenty of other local yarn shops if you want to go exploring.
• Halcyon Yarn, Bath, halcyonyarn.com
Halcyon carries many Maine and New England yarns in addition to other popular brands.
• Saco River Yarns, Biddeford, sacoriveryarns.com
• Casco Bay Fibers, Freeport, cascobayfibers.com
Sells beading and other crafting supplies too.
• Grace Robinson & Co, Freeport, yarnandneedlepoint.com
• Mother of Purl Yarn Shop, Freeport, motherofpurlyarn.com
There is a quilt shop next door, so this could be a two-fer.
• KnitWit, Portland, yarnonthebrain.com/blogsite
Sells many yarn lines including Quince & Co., a Portland-based yarn manufacturer, run by former Knits Magazine editor, Pam Allen and partners.
• PortFiber, Portland, portfiber.com
A center for those interested in weaving, spinning and other fiber arts.
• Tess’ Designer Yarns, Portland, tessyarns.com
Lovely hand-dyed yarns.
• Love to Knit Studio, Scarborough, 207-730-5598
• Central Yarn, South Portland, centralyarn.com
A fixture in Portland since 1949, it recently moved across the bridge.
• Yardgoods, Waterville, yardgoods.com/Yarns.html.
My hometown yarn shop. Full service, friendly, helpful. Sells fabric, too.
• Rosemary’s Gift and Yarn Shop, Windham, maine-crafts.com
• Knit One Crochet Too, Windham, knitonecrochettoo.com
Online yarns and patterns.
• The Yarn Sellar, York, yarnsellar.com
Maine also is well populated with yarn makers and hand-dyers.
This is a tiny cross-section.
• Bartlett Yarns, bartlettyarns.com
• Good Karma Farm and Spinning Co., goodkarmafarm.com
• Hope Spinnery, hopespinnery.com
• Quince & Co., quinceandco.com
• Romney Ridge Farm, romneyridgefarm.com
• Seacolors Yarns, getwool.com/seacolors-yarn
• Spunky Eclectic, spunkyeclectic.com
• String Theory, stringtheoryyarn.com/home.php
• Swans Island Co., swansislandcompany.com/catalog/yarn
Two venerable New England brands with interesting histories
• Green Mountain Spinnery, spinnery.com
• Harrisville Designs, harrisville.com
• Maine Fiber Frolic, fiberfrolic.com
Usually held the first weekend in June at the Windsor Fairgrounds.
Common Ground Fair, mofga.org/theFair. Held the third weekend in September and includes a massive amount of fiber.
A couple of online sources if you just can’t get to a yarn store
WEBS’ yarn.com has its own line of yarns called Valley Yarns, all priced affordably. Based in Northampton, Mass., it keeps your yarn buying in New England, if not in Maine. WEBS sells many other yarn brands, as well as patterns.
All things knitting
– Julia Hanauer-Milne
Valley Yarns’ Circles Yoke Pullover is an updated version of my first yoke sweater from long ago. Circles Yoke uses the same techniques, but I knit this one in superwash merino from Marden’s. I doubled the yarn so it’s usually too warm for inside, but it makes a great ski sweater. Cascade Yarn’s Flared Bottom V-Neck Cardigan (one-button version, at right) is meant to be knit in Cascade’s Venezia yarn, but I used Berroco’s Ultra Alpaca, which is 50 percent wool and 50 percent alpaca. It’s a nice, swingy sweater, which will school the knitter in sewing pieces together. I tried to leave this one on a bus, but I got it back so I finished it. This is the pattern that started it all. I gave the sweater away just a few months ago so it could be recycled into lined mittens.