Monday, January 28, 2008

Rewiring my brain

SMI32-stained pyramidal neurons in cerebral cortex, from Wikipedia
I knit English style, and if I had a knitting belt, only the left needle would move. Even without the knitting belt, the end of my right needle is often in my lap, the tip resting in my work, with my right hand shuttling the yarn and my left hand bobbing the needle over the tip of the right needle. And yet last week I was knitting continental.

Anyone who has knit both will understand the strange feeling of fighting your muscle memory and abandoning all dexterity. Why would I do this? One of my coworkers is trying to learn to knit. She has a book, and had met with a friend, and had her knitting with her at lunch, and had supposedly forgotten everything. So I had her try--pick up her work and try--to encourage her to try to remember while I was hovering to give her guidance.

And then she picked up the yarn in her left hand! And that was all. She really didn't remember, and wanted me to show her. "Ok," I thought, "I've seen it done a million times. I've seen drawings. I can do this."

I took the needles and the yarn in my left hand. My hands didn't want to move. My brain couldn't send the right signals. And then the image of my own hands knitting English developed in my mind, as if a ghost of myself were superimposed and knitting in the same space that I occupied. And then I really felt as if my brain were rewiring itself as the ghost hands began to knit, and I shadowed them in continental style to their rhythm--the rhythm I would have if I were knitting English as usual. I saw the yarn being thrown over the needle in my mind as I picked it with the real needle in my hand, and I was off. Slowly, laboriously, as my brain rewired and sent new signals to my hands, I showed her how to knit continental, taking a turn here and there to fix a problem, until she could take over with some guidance here and there.

How does Timson knit? I have no idea. He just can't knit in public--in front of anyone, really. Perhaps it's a gnome thing, but whenever other eyes are on him, he freezes, needles motionless.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Another kind of handwork

Although Timson has his bone folder ready to go, he doesn't often help with another kind of handwork that I do--fixing books. (It's not for lack of enthusiasm--it's just that most of the broken books are at work, and Timson doesn't like commuting.)

I don't have any pictures for you of the books I'm working on because the Preservation Dept. at the University of Buffalo has a damaged material site that has fantastic photos of books just like the ones I fix--OK, I've never gotten a charred book (luckily!)--but most of the books I have to fix look just like those. I have a few that are larger, a few that are a lot larger, and some in leather, although I use only paper and cloth in the repairs. And it seems like I've been doing nothing but repairing detached spines lately...

If you want to learn more, Artemis BonaDea's manual is my favorite, with lots of step-by-step instructions and diagrams. I'll be doing a lot of p.71-98 the rest of the week! (That is, spine repairs and rebacking.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

My friend, Failure

Ever since Knitting Daily declared 2008 the year of fearless knitting, I've been thinking about failure. My favorite columnist, Jon Carroll, wrote a brilliant column about failure and why we need it in our lives. These thoughts weren't far from my mind when we went to see the Mythbusters, who were inspiring in their discussion of the value of failure.

When it comes to handwork, I consider failure before beginning. Especially with sewing; there is very little to salvage when the pieces are cut incorrectly. But with knitting, there are great opportunities to learn from failure. The garment can always be frogged and the yarn reused. Or, in the face of total despair, innumerable charities would welcome a durable, hand knit garment. There is nothing to lose, and so much to learn.

So why do I hesitate in the face of failure? What is there to fear? The uncertainty concerning my ability to learn. Before I embark on a project I have no fear of failure; I fear not understanding what I can learn from failure. I fear not learning from the mistakes I've made.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Broder Special and Aunt Martha

After years of packing and moving chaos (with a rather involved hand injury thrown in), I've picked this project up again and am making great progress. It's a more portable project than my current knitting wip, so I even work on it during the occasional lunch break.

It will be a cutwork edging on a pillow case, for me! The pattern is a classic, one of Colonial Patterns "Aunt Martha's Hot Iron Transfers," #3818, "3 Pillow Cases (1 Cut Work)." I bought it ages ago from a company that's since gone out of business, so I can't tell you my delight in discovering that these can now be ordered direct from the company! (I used to buy them at the five-and-dime that was biking distance away, next to the deli which always had piroshkis.) For this project I decided to try DMC Broder Spécial size 12, a.k.a. "Brilliant Cutwork & Embroidery Thread," a 4 ply non-divisible cotton thread, and I have to say that I prefer using three strands from six strand floss for cutwork. I'm going to finish this pillow case with this thread, though, and in the future use it for designs with smaller areas.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Introducing Wee Timson

Since Ravelry doesn't pull updates from a normal website into my profile, I've started this blog as a way of connecting with RavPals--and others.

Sinice I get a lot of questions relating to Wee Timson, who shares my love of handwork and who so kindly appears as my avatar, I'll begin with his introduction. First, yes, his name is Wee Timson. I assume this is because there is another gnome out there named Timson who is bigger or older than Wee Timson. (Informally, though, he's just "Timson," as I haven't yet met another gnome named Timson, or any variant thereof.) Since Timson doesn't talk much, I have yet to confirm this.

What is he knitting? No, it's not a sock, it's an elephant. Timson loves knitting and will pick up my projects to work on while I'm on Ravelry, blogging, etc. (His own projects are kept in his belt pouch.) We finished the elephant in time for last Christmas, a present for my neice.

How long have I known Timson? Oh, we go way back. Since gnomes are avid handworkers, if you knit, crochet, sew or embroider in your back yard (or other areas frequented by gnomes), they tend to be attracted. Since it's well known that they adore cookies, a few dishes of cookies leading to an open door or window, with, say, a knitting project left in view, will usually prompt them to risk exploring. Pretend not to notice if they pick up your project and start working on it! It will take time and patience, but if you're lucky, a friendship will develop.