Tuesday, March 27, 2018

From scratch

Knitting leaves a lot of headspace for rumination.  I like to chew on a problem, which is sometimes a bad thing—worrying, as your granny surely told you, doesn’t help anything—but is also sometimes a good thing, because it can help me get to the bottom of things.  My life is a very quiet one these days, with my littles no longer little and the house mostly empty and still.  I walk through the orchard to the pond, and the only thing I hear is my own footsteps, crunching on the frozen ground.  I spend a lot of time beside the fire, alongside the ever-snoring catdog, and there are very few distractions.  She stretches and yawns, shifts.  I shift, too, maybe turn the page, maybe turn to work a wrong-side row.  The wind hurtles across the open fields and between the bare fruit trees, and whistles through the windows of our old house, lonely and spooky, and cozy, too.  
I’m still chewing on the question of Making vs. Stuff.  This has been one of my inner monologues for a few years, and I don’t know whether I’m getting closer to solving it or not, but it is a tough piece of gristle and I’m still gnawing.  I am driven—yes, DRIVEN—to make things, but at the same time, I am also compelled to keep a lid on the amount of things I carry around with me in this life.  I have made so many quilts and blankets and bags and pillow covers and lampshades and various bits of household ornamentation that I simply do not need to do that anymore.  Making things results in having things, and really, I truly do not need—nor do I actually want—to have more things.  I am not at all sure that anybody else really wants the things I’ve made, either.  If you could see how I have overloaded my family with handknits, good grief.  I actually feel some guilt about it.   Do you guys want any of these?  I say, when they visit.  How can they say no?  How are they even supposed to choose just one and leave the rest, as maybe some kind of sad signal that my work and effort has little value?  I hope they don’t feel like they have to keep it all until I’m dead—guys, if you’re reading this, you don’t have to keep all those hats and blankets!  Donate, recycle, make a cat bed out of them!  Leave them on the train.  I mean it.  None of it is precious.  Sigh.  How did crocheting a blanket become such a fraught endeavor?  Many is the project that has ground to a halt lately as the question arises:  what am I going to do with that when it’s done?  
I knit sweaters now, because I can still find a home for those that no longer have a place in my wardrobe, and because yarn is reusable, and because I live in a cold climate where for most of the year the weather is not that great.  There is still a need for sweaters in my life.  When the shelf gets too full, I pass some of them along, and because they are just clothes, they don’t need to feel impossibly precious to my descendants.  They keep the wind off me, they help me figure out how I want the world to see me.  They fill my creative space.  There is an abundance of them in my life; possibly I own a ridiculous amount of handknit sweaters.  An honest tally of my works-in-progress reveals five half-knit sweaters on the needles right now, and so many more still waiting to be started.  I add to my yarn stash on the regular.  I make things, and right now, this is what I am making.  
My dad would have prefaced all that by saying, “More than you wanted to know...”  but I really do want to know.  So as a maker of handknit garments at the moment, I have made another something to add to the pile:  this is a little jacket/cardigan knit with no pattern, using my remnants of fingering weight yarns, held double in hopes of a blended effect, much inspired by this project knit by Clare Shaw, and also with some elements inspired by the Golden Wheat cardigan by Veera Valimaki (which I am also knitting at the moment, and which is almost finished now, too.)  The buttons came from the stash, too, and were probably thrifted.  As I was sewing in the [many jillions of] ends, Doc said, “Sometimes it amazes me how you can take nothing and turn it into something.”   I made this with castoffs and leftovers.  That feels pretty good.          

58 comments:

  1. This sweater is so stunning! I can relate to the lack of inspiration caused by a stockpile of items. That being said, I think your work is so lovely and will be cherished wherever it finds a home.

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    1. Thank you, my dear. I may or may not get to the bottom of how I feel about this weird conundrum, but I will continue to think about it. :)

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  2. Wow, it's gorgeous! I know what you mean about having too many hand knit items. I have started knitting and donating knitted knockers to the breast cancer patients. It feels rewarding to knit something that is so useful.

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    1. That's such a lovely idea. :)

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    2. You might try and see who's most overlooked in your community--is it the elderly? Foster kids? Who could most use a little more warmth and beauty?

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  3. Wow, that really looks good!

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  4. Surely making things of beauty and warmth can't be a bad thing. Passing them on shares that beauty and warmth with the world.

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    1. Yes, up to a point. I am stuck somewhere between Enough and Too Much. xoxo

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  5. Kristen, I can really relate to your words and thoughts. I make things constantly and sometimes wonder what I am doing, things that take hours and hours of effort to make but seem to have little value in the world we live in. I have just finished my fourth crochet blanket in the last year and am giving it to my eldest daughter but I have no idea whether she will really want it, whether the colours I have chosen will suit her style, taste. I have also made countless crochet hats and have just managed to start selling them in a local farm shop but this is a labour of love as this is definitely not a cost-effective exercise when the time to make and cost o is taken into consideration. I do wonder what place knitting and crochet have in a world of machine, mass produced textiles. Maybe the answer lies, in these fast paced times, more in the creating rather than the creation. In that we need the slowing down, therapeutic effect of the process more than we need the end result. In a product driven, materialistic society this is hard to get my head around but brings to mind the Buddhist monks who spend hours making mandalas just to destroy them and start again as a lesson in non-attachment. At least with our pursuits we do end up with something even if the purpose is not always obviously worthwhile.

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    1. Jane, this is it, exactly. Yes. I absolutely don't know how to resolve this, but I think about it all the time. In the meantime, we must keep making. We must! :)

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  6. You took nothing and turned it into something really beautiful. Make it, love it, use it/wear it, pass it on. Wherever it ends up someone will surely be appreciative - and lucky!

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  7. You could make things specifically to donate.

    I've segued from making 'more' shawls, wraps, hats, mittens, etc. for myself (how many shawls do I need?) and now make things (well, not shawls so much) for others.

    The local pregnancy center puts together layettes. The schools collect hats and mittens to have on hand for kids who arrive without them, and/or who lose them on a regular basis. The emergency services and hospitals distribute 'comfort' blankets to patients. Linus blankets. The men's/women's/homeless shelter. Our church distributes food three times a month, which includes non-food items as well. Farther afield, people are knitting (and quilting, and...) for Appalachia and Syria and Africa. Rav has groups to facilitate such donations.

    There are plenty of places for knitting to go, when it's the process--the planning and execution of projects--that matters more than 'having' the finished items.

    Understand, I'm not saying you ought to, or that you must. I'm only saying you might donate purpose-made things, as one of perhaps several combined solutions for fulfilling the need to create without the resultant piling up of created things. It's all good.

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    1. I have thought about this a lot. I'm always stopped by this story: a few years ago, a family in our town lost their home to a fire, and the community lovingly rallied to their aid by donating...things...so many things that they did not choose, did not ask for. A lot of it was clearly castoffs. And they were homeless, too, so where was it all to go? It was all so well-meant, but it only added to their problem. It's something I think about.

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  8. As I read your concerns I pondered that question and I'd like to suggest something. Material things are just material. There is no inherit value in them, but what makes them different I feel is two different things. One is if crocheting, or knitting, etc. has therapeutic value to us, thus aiding in our healing or help. The other would be for love of others and a way of blessing someone elses life. If their is love in it then their is purpose and value in it.(Maria)

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    1. I totally agree. There is an enormous amount of value for me in making things. There is love and purpose in making things. Once they are finished, though, there must be a use. If I (or someone else) can wear it, WANTS to wear it, that is value. If not, then it becomes a burden.

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  9. Your output, and your skill with the needles, eye for colour, always amazes me. I love your blog, love seeing what you knit, all the while knowing I would never knit something like that for myself - I no longer have the body shape and weight to look good in handknits, more like a badly upholstered armchair. That doesn't stop me sighing, and wishing..... for slimmer days, healthier days, and your creative skills. I too, know I should stop crocheting blankets, knitting scarves and so on, because who needs this amount of either? But what else to knit when you have nobody else to knit for, other than a husband, and men's knitting bores me.

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    1. It's something I think about all the time. I refuse to stop knitting and making, and I think you should not stop doing it either. We'll figure this out, right? :)

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  10. I thought it was a good idea to let you know that your musings are something I look forward to and I am really pleased when you write and post something.
    Thank you for showing us a little snippet of your life.
    I love to make things for myself and have reached saturation point with easy projects so I have branched out to making more complicated knitting patterns so I can learn new techniques.
    I also plan to sew some clothes this summer which I haven't done since my teenage years.......

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    1. Kate, thank you so much! This is lovely to hear. xoxo

      I'm planning to do this, too; more intricate projects that will be satisfying in the same way, but will take longer, and learning new techniques. This is the way forward, I think. Good luck with your sewing! :)

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  11. I thought it interesting that this morning while reading my blogs I read yours and it struck a chord because last night I cast my eye on a chair in my bedroom piled with knitwear and literally sighed. I feel like knitting is a lifeline for me and these things just keep piling up. Sometimes I rip out designs that I don't enjoy wearing and reuse the wool. I don't enjoy charity knitting or giving my knitwear away to family who thank me politely but NEVER wear it. I don't know what the answer is but when you find it please let us know, meanwhile here in sunny California I continue to knit wool socks, shawls and a few random sweaters!

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    1. Totallyyyyy! Knitting feels so essential; I can't possibly not knit, and what you say about knitting for others is so true for me as well. There is so much to think about here, and we'll get there. :)

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  12. I worry about those issues too, but the difference is I really don't need to because I would still need those things for practical and or decorative purposes and my fears are highly theoretical. I don't get to make much as I can't afford to, as well as being so prevaricating. Most of my time is given to thinking what I could/would make rather than doing it.

    I guess you can just give them away to others outside of family. I can't imagine why people wouldn't want it, use it or wear it and love to do so - only if it isn't nice (and admittedly lots of people do make lots of stuff they don't seem to see isn't nice, in fact rather ugly but that isn't you. They want recognition for stuff which people have no regard for because it is ugly, well they won't get that.) then it becomes a liability. Nice things are always wanted, because of their attractiveness and handmade craftiness, not even in spite of it. Beauty is beauty.

    I dream of making all the things but that is destined not to be my reality.

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    1. I think a lot, too, about the expense involved with my knitting habit. I really want to feel good about where hard-earned dollars go, and sometimes it stops me cold. I think making a shift from "production-style" knitting (looking for a fast, satisfying project, reaching for that sense of accomplishment, etc.) to something more process-oriented; learning or mastering a new skill, making something that will last me a long time, to let the resources stretch out a little. Thank you for your thoughts on this, it's given me some insight. :)

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  13. The sweater is absolutely beautiful! Everything I have seen pictured on your blog is exquisite. You are so talented. I am not a knitter but I am a quilter and I have those same thoughts. I have given away so many quilts to family, friends, charities, organizations, etc. I think I have reached the saturation point with some. Also, so many people no longer want quilts. Different tastes. I understand that and don't get my feelings hurt. I love my sewing machine and fabric and sewing are therapy for me. I know I could make clothes (did that 40 years ago when I made most of my and my daughter's clothes. Have no desire to make clothing again. I also don't want to mend or alter. I just want to do what I enjoy but then, like you stated, what do you do with all of it? I haven't found an answer but enjoy opinions of other makers. In the meantime, I just enjoy whatever I am creating and see where it takes me.

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    1. I think that's just where I am, too. Gonna just keep going and see what happens. :)

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  14. Well......it seems that so many of us have had the same thoughts! I am still making quilts, quilts and more quilts. Baby quilts, throws, bed quilts, miniature quilts. Occasionally someone wants to purchase one, and that's nice. Sometimes I give one to someone I admire, or who's having a tough time, or just because. My children all have several, and seem to love them, but how many do they really want....need? And yet...I CAN'T STOP!!!! I love every part of the process (except basting!) And so, I'll keep making quilts. Someone will love them. And it all makes me SO happy!!!
    Mona

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    1. Yes, totally true! I don't ever want to stop making things. I know there's an answer here, and we'll find it. :)

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  15. This sweater is yummy.....and you are a magician!!

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  16. I cannot even begin to explain how I like what you do. You make and you inspire. And your making is part of your generosity to us, your readers. Am I being too far fetched if I say your sweaters are your novels? And, us aside, you can unravel and remake or you can donate. Plus there's keeping Catdog entertained :)

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  17. Forget that feeling. You are such an inspiration to so many. You do not see us, tired, weary, spirits yearning to break free, and then we get your email, see your beautiful, hand crafted creations and we breathe, we smile, we carry on with a poem lilting about in our heart. These hand crafting arts are dying. The younger generations increasingly want minimalism, digital, throw-away articles, desired for a moment, then discarded when they show the slightest sign of ceasing to satisfy and or when something else upgraded with new technology bumps them from their place, and such a mind-set transitions over into how they treat people. Our hand crafting links to the love labors of ancient hands, it allows us to hold hands with a myriad of ancient hands in the past. Your work is beautiful, inspirational and carries a life in its threads. We who are made in the image of The Creator were made to create. It is a dark voice that discourages or discounts that. You are an inspiration to a wide sisterhood who appreciates the feel of fine wool against our fingers, who are energized by hand-dyed colors magically intertwined, who feel joy in the softness and bounce of a finished sweater. We are not wrong. We are the guardians of the gate. Stand. Proclaim. Knit. Lead a revolution. We women, enemies of idleness, have done that in the past. Our hands are the heritage keepers, and to remind myself of that right now, makes something click to ON in my universe and leaves me smiling here. Thank-you and carry on.

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    1. Beautifully put, NorasGrandaughter.

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    2. Yes, this is wonderfully said! "links to the love labors of ancient hands." That's beautiful. I've been watching as Ann Weaver (do you know her work?) creates elaborate artwork cross stitch pieces, some of which are in black thread, on black fabric. All those stitches, almost hidden. It's so much about the doing of the work, along with the hidden-ness, and crafting and silence and so many other things. She stitches away, probably hardly able to see it as she goes, black-on-black. It's a cross stitch revolution. I am so inspired by that. (I think she's stopped blogging, but you can see what she's up to on Instagram.) I keep thinking, too, about Georgia O'Keeffe's handmade wardrobe, and the value of lasting things, made well. I will be making, always, and looking for ways to keep it relevant in my life is one of my most pondered ponders right now. xoxo

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    3. Also Tasha Tudor. I love her whole life!
      https://www.tashatudorandfamily.com/tasha-tudor/the-woman

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    4. Oh my goodness, yes! Tasha is such an inspiration. xoxo

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  18. I really enjoyed this post. I share your desire to be conscious about how much "stuff" there is in the world, and the conundrum of creating more as we indulge our passion for hand-making. But I think there is a big difference between things that are carefully crafted slowly, by hand, with conscious intention and the cheaply made, mass-produced, disposable crap that fills most stores and eventually the land-fill. There is immense value in hand-crafting, for yourself, for others, and for the environment. It very much depends on your intention and what you do with it. The sweater you have created above is gorgeous! And you have created it using left-over bits and bobs of yarn and buttons. I see no need to feel guilty about this! I say, Knit on...You are in inspiration! xo

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    1. Yes, I agree completely--things made carefully and with intention. Yes. I think I sometimes fall into a zeal to keep the machine cranking, and forget this. xoxo

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  19. Kristen, I have followed your blog for years and am always amazed at how quickly you are able to produce a knitted item once you set your mind to it. I try to knit at the end of every day, and also during long car rides, as it is my much-needed therapy. I like to knit for myself and others and have found that there is always a home for something handmade. My 81-year old Mom volunteers in the ER of her local hospital and wears the handknit socks I've made her during our cold New England winters. The nurses have complimented her on her socks and now want to buy them from me! I don't want money for this - I am glad to donate them to these wonderful nurses. I also gave a pair to a dear friend 'just because' and now I am knitting socks for her daughters.
    I have also found charities online where I am able to donate 2,3,4, or more items and that is such a good feeling. Maybe reaching outside your comfort zone/general area may bring some warmth to your creativity as others have mentioned? Thank you for your blog-I love to check in to see what you have been up to - and that's a lot more knitting than I am able to do! It is ongoing therapy after all!!

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    1. It certainly is ongoing therapy, isn't it? I know that's a big part of why I stitch. I have some complicated feelings about "giving" my work, and I might dive into that subject someday, though I fear it will be prickly. I'm so glad you've found a happy outlet for your warm socks. :)

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  20. I adore this sweater - one of my favorite things is shades of colors next to each other, not contrasting too much. Oh! How I love this sweater! I can knit socks, but I have never thought I could do a sweater. I might be inspired here. . .

    I'm a very pragmatic person, so if I can't see a purpose for a handmade thing, I pause until I find the purpose and then carry on. I'm practical to a fault, I guess. I must always have handwork, so I have this niggling fear that I will run out of of practical handwork. One of the landlords near us gave me a hand-knitted baby blanket when we had our third baby - I don't know her really at all, and now I see that she is a maker who saw a way to justify a handmade blanket (and we do love it and use it). And often I see handmade afghans and hats and whatnot at the thrift store and that is painful to me.

    I'm not adding anything useful to the discussion here, I'm afraid, but just musing aloud about the complicated relationship that you brought up between making and things.

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    1. Yes, this is just how I feel, too. There are so many handmade blankets (and other things) in the secondhand stores, marked at $3.99, and it makes my heart break a little for the dear people who lovingly crafted them (or compulsively made them, like me.) But, as you said, I too must always have handwork.

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  21. All of your work is stunning, but that sweater is show-stopping. It's so subtle that it just screams for attention.

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    1. Beckie, thank you so much! I enjoyed the process so much, all the way through. :)

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  22. That sweater is a thing of beauty and the world is a better place for its existence. My heart let out a little gasp when I saw it. It not only pleases you to create it, but your readers in living vicariously through its creation. I'll dream of creating one like it myself some day. Speaking of which, can you put this on Ravelry so it can be put in my favorites to delight and inspire me as needed?

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    1. Angie, thank you so much! I'm afraid I can't add projects to Ravelry--I work almost exclusively with an iPad, and for some reason that prevents me from uploading photos. Sob. I do thank you, very much. xoxo

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    2. I figured out a solution. I followed the link to the sweater that inspired you and favorited that one and put a link in the favorite comment to this one so I can enjoy both versions. Yeah!

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    3. Perfect! All of Clare's projects inspire me, actually. I could pretty much just make them all in replica and be happy. :D

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  23. It is a conundrum to be sure. Being a process knitter, I don't worry too much about what will happen to the items when I'm done with them. (Ditto for quilts and needlework pieces.) I'm very selfish in this respect. I do these things for my well-being and for a way of keeping my mother, grandmother, and great grandmother alive in my mind. Luckily I have a SIL who is a pastor in Ohio. She is very happy to receive a box of shawls, scarves, cowls, etc., to share. I used to worry whether someone would like what I was making until one day I realized how counterproductive that was: I was turning my stress-relieving activities into something stressful. I hope in time you can resolve this dilemma for yourself. In the meantime, I will happily watch you knit, ravel, and knit something else.

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    1. Yes, I worry, too, that I'm turning the activity that reduces stress into something that creates its own. I think I need to start choosing patterns that don't leave me with so much space to think! Something a little more challenging. :)

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  24. I like your cardy, it's lovely. You knit/crochet, patchwork because it soothes your soul and that is a good thing . Kristen have a lovely Easter and hope it's not too cold your part of the world. Here in N.Z. it is perfect at the moment, not too hot but not cold either. Blue skies, birds chirping and singing and the sun is shining. I'm knitting today, Easter Sunday and about to have heated hot cross buns oozing with butter:))

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    1. Your lovely country sounds like paradise to me! It is still mightily cold here, and windy. I watched a bird trying to fly this morning, and getting nowhere. :D

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  25. I am so in awe of the number of items you are able to complete and rather curious about how you are able to do it. Please tell us just a little bit more about your process. Are you a very fast knitter? Are you one of those very fortunate people who does not require 8 or 7 or even 6 hours of sleep each night? I really enjoy knitting and crochet and quilting and sewing but I turn out far, far fewer items and wish that I could be faster. I have a backlog of quilting projects. Each grandchild gets a crib quilt, a "big bed" quilt, and then a high-school graduation quilt -- not necessarily when he or she is born, moves to a regular bed, or graduates from high school. Our two children managed to produce 7 children and/or step-children between them, so I am way, way behind. How do you do it??

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    1. Hi Anita,

      Yes, I am a fast knitter, and I am able to knit stockinette without looking at it, which helps me multitask, and also I usually choose simple projects without a lot of patterning to deal with, so I'm able to get up a good head of steam on things. Mostly, though, I think it comes down to the fact that I am just deeply interested in it. Really, I believe that's the biggest factor. Your lucky family, each one getting beautiful handmade quilts! I'm sure it's well worth however long they have to wait. :)

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  26. admire your work a lot, I follow your blog because I like the knitting and I wanted to expand my English vocabulary (actually I speak Spanish). I like every sweater you make and show us, and tried to knit some similar ones ... I would like to be around so you can give me one of yours (Blanca from Perú)

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    1. Thank you so much, Blanca! I'd like that, too. :)

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