I steek; therefore I am.

Although I consider myself quite a seasoned knitter, I have never steeked.  (Steeken?  Stoke?  Stoken?)  Think I’ll stick to Steeked.  Encouraged by the words of the late and great Elizabeth Zimmermann who in my mind remains, even posthumously, the fountain of all sensible knitting knowledge, I thought I would have a go.

Not wishing to teach Grandma to suck eggs, Steeking is the process of cutting through your knitted fabric in order to place a sleeve, or a cardigan front….or whatever you want to insert, the point being that you can happily knit round and round on a circular needle without having to purl very much at all or turn your work at the end of every row.  So you knit a tube and cut it to shape at the end.

It occurs to me now that it mightn’t be proper to use the “grandma sucking eggs” phrase.  I no longer know.  Is it politically abusive to Grandmas, eggs, or chickens?  If it is, I despair.  No, I mean I’m sorry.

There are many things I no longer understand.  Like fashion.  I’m old, but not so old as to want the younger generations to behave as I did, or indeed dress as I did, or do.  God forbid.  But I do wonder when fashion stopped being elegant.  In the early days of Dior and Chanel, Balenciaga and Hermes wasn’t the point to present the woman (usually the woman;  men’s fashion seemed slow to develop in the 20th century, presumably in part due to 2 World Wars and uniforms and such) in the best possible light, accentuating her good bits and making her attractive all round?

I suppose I refer to the current trend in men’s trousers (or pants as they are known across the pond and in fashion circles outside of Savile Row).  There’s the waistline of course, with which we have been living for some years now, and which should really be renamed “the groinline”; I am not the first to point out that when there is an acre of underwear on view from behind with the belt tucked nicely underneath the buttocks, the only thing holding the whole thing up is…..well, the bulge in front, if you have one.  It can’t be comfortable, which I realise fashion has not been for centuries of corsetry and starched collars.  And clearly isn’t, as witnessed by the number of times said people hitch up their trousers, only to find them settling in the same spot seconds later, requiring more hitching.  It must be like having a fly buzzing around your head.

But then there’s the whole appearance.  Can anyone find it attractive to see even a young man wearing what appears to be a bag around his nether regions with two skinny little drainpipes hanging down to the floor.  It’s hardly Physique Pictorial, is it?  And how do they get them on and off?  I guess pulling them on is ok but do they need a helper to take off their trousers at the end of the day, to peel them down so that they turn inside out?  In which case, when they turn them the right side out again don’t their arms get stuck?

And as for older men in drainpipe trousers….don’t get me started.  And by older I really mean anyone over 18.

Truly, I’m not complaining or ranting.  I’m just confused.  People can and will wear what they like but I would like to understand it better.  There are so many mysteries in life.  Perhaps this is why I repeatedly turn to my knitting for solace,  trying out techniques that are new to me in the knowledge that there is a long history of success somewhere in the background.

In one of her books Mrs Zimmermann suggested that after you had cut down the middle of your knitting for the first time you might feel the need to lie down in a darkened room for a little while.  I thought this was quite amusing until today when I discovered that she was right again.  I did indeed have to lie down.

I am a seasoned sewer as well as a knitter and so there are few mysteries of the sewing machine left to discover, but even so I worked up quite a sweat knowing that if something were to go wrong there was little hope of ever unpicking several lines of tiny machine stitches in a piece of knitted fabric.  I modified the instructions which were to use a small machine stitch, two rows of on each side of the midline.  My sewing machine, even though it must be getting on for 20 years old, comes with a triple-line stretch stitch that I thought would be perfect for the job and which I imagine was probably not available to Mrs. Z. . I also used a walking foot so as to minimise the knitted fabric stretching as it was sewn, and did 2 rows each side.

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But actually taking the scissors to it really made me sweat.  It felt very destructive, even though I sort of knew what I was doing.

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As it turns out, like so many things it was all a big drama about nothing.  I have sewn, cut, picked up armhole stitches and am knitting again.  I can’t imagine ever knitting an armhole in two pieces again.  No doubt next week I’ll be saying to someone, “Oh, if I were you I would just steek it”.

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Now, perhaps I’ll take a trip to Gap and find some drainpipe stretch jeans.

Let’s begin

I have been playing around with the idea of writing a blog for far too long. My resistance has taken many forms – denial, refusal, inadequacy, defeatism, IT confusion; but in the end the idea won’t go away and so here it is. My first blog on my very own website.

I am a letter-writer, in the old-fashioned sense. I love nothing better than to fill my fountain pen with ink, changing the colour frequently, find some lovely stationery, and compose a letter to someone I love. I even like sealing the envelope (especially if you have to lick it to make it stick), placing a stamp in the exact spot in the top right hand corner – although sadly stamps no longer have to be licked – and taking it to the lovely red post boxes still in existence throughout the UK. Are they still red in Scotland and Wales? Now I have doubts. Apologies to those concerned if they are necessary. Anyway, the point is made. Neat little packages all meant for one special person.

I realise that I am rather odd. The longer this life goes on the odder I seem to be becoming. While in the USA recently for an extended period I tried very hard to find paper to write letters on. Virtually impossible, especially if you want LARGE sheets. Clearly I am destined to become an extremely eccentric older person, should I live that long. Years ago some of my children did a USA West Coast music tour with their school band and I made sure there was a letter waiting for them at each port of call, thinking……actually not thinking about it at all, just doing it because it’s what came naturally. The kids and their friends still mention it occasionally and there’s a part of me that thinks it strange that other parents didn’t do the same.

So, having used every avoidance tactic known to man – I’m still doing it….so far today I’ve cut the lawn, been to the supermarket, even defrosted the freezer for God’s sake….I am finally, FINALLY writing my first post. And the bottom line of the resistance? What have I possibly got to say that would be of any interest to anyone else? And to take that thought further, what makes me so conceited as to think I should publish anything on the internet? And yet here I am doing it – and for this I blame a very lovely friend from, alas, the other side of the pond who writes one of the most entertaining blogs I have read. Queer Joe’s Knitting Blog. He says somewhere – and these are my words taken from his general thought – that he writes his blog because he wants to write it and if anyone at all reads it that’s a bonus. Such elegant simplicity of thought makes me want to spit. So thank you Joe for your unwitting encouragement..

Joe has, for the last few years, orchestrated a Men’s Knitting Retreat in upstate New York which I have had the pleasure of attending on two occasions….or is it 3? I can’t remember how old I am so numbers escape me. Whatever. This event enabled me to “come out” as a male knitter. This may be hard for people to understand but believe me when I say that being a man and enjoying knitting is a guilty secret of the highest order. When I first walked into a room filled with men quietly knitting I thought, “This is weird”. Closely followed by, “WTF am I doing here?” By the time the first sweat of anxiety had subsided – about 7 minutes – I was part of the family and the guilty secret was out, gone, forgotten. Now I knit everywhere. On the Tyne and Wear Metro. On planes and buses and in coffee shops. Any time and anywhere I have a few minutes to wait, I knit. I was sat outside a coffee shop in town just the other day and a woman at the next table said, “It’s not often you see a man knitting.” I was unsure how to respond. I think I said, “Oh, we’re everywhere,” which she clearly didn’t understand or believe. Now of course I have composed any number of replies ranging in tone from polite acceptance to downright abrasive. The truth is – and this has been documented over and over again – there is rarely a negative response. Occasionally there is a condescending one, but even this is usually well-meant. Most people simply let you get on with it. I have already rehearsed my response to a negative comment which, in my fantasy, comes from a younger male yet to come to terms with his sexuality……but it is, and I think this comes from a story told about the late British actress Irene Handl, “I think you’re mistaking me for someone who gives a F…” Sorry if that offends – am I allowed to use rude words on a blog? Joe does.

So there I am knitting all over the place, perhaps hoping in a tiny way that perhaps one little person might see me and think, “that’s cool – I think I’ll do that”. It helps that I knit socks. Not exclusively, but frequently. They are portable and fit nicely into a man bag. (I got over the guilty secret of wanting a man bag decades ago). They’re quick and small and you don’t HAVE to knit the second one straight away. Any tendency towards adult ADD is helped by the ability to have 10 pairs on the go at any one time. By the time you get around to the second sock in a pair you’ve forgotten all about the first one and so the colours and the textures are new all over again. And sock yarn comes in lovely colours that change all by themselves as you knit!

And the joy of turning a good heel!! Those little stitches just do exactly what you want them to and the engineering is such a wonder every time I do it. The tube turns a corner and the lines of decreases mirror one another in the most satisfying way. And then you’re on the home stretch aiming for the toe which finishes in the most glorious manner with a little row of Kitchener stitch that just vanishes into your knitting like a puff of fairy dust.

OK. Breathe. See how the passion takes over?

I rarely get to keep my socks. Someone along the way expresses an enthusiasm that I cannot ignore and so they all go to good homes, but the ones I have managed to sequester into my sock drawer are quite the most comfortable socks I have owned. Sometimes I purposely begin a pair in pink because, being my favourite colour (I told you I was a bit odd, but actually I think many men look good in pink if only they can get over the feminine thing), I find it easier to resist giving them away. My need overshadows that of anyone else is what I’m really saying.

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Also on the go is a sweater that needs to be partly unpicked and re-sized, being my first realistic attempt at designing a garment from scratch:

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a new foray into fair isle attempting two-handed colour knitting….that is with one colour “thrown” from the right hand and the other held in the left hand, continental style:

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not quite on the needles but on the computer grid is an attempt at a “comedy Christmas Sweater”….more on that in another post; and also not on the needles but very much in my head, more projects than you can poke a stick at.

Oh, and I’ve just ordered another 4 books on various knitting-related things. I think I need a new bookshelf now.