What I Learned from Knitting

1)      Start off slow, and build on your success.  There are only two basic stitches in knitting, the knit and the purl.  Once you master those, you can move on to more complicated stitches, such as cable, mosaic, and Fair Isle.

2)     Trust the pattern.  Sometimes in a large pattern for an afghan or a sweater, it may be difficult to see how what you’re doing at that moment will translate into the pattern in the picture.  Just keep going.  It will usually turn out right.  HOWEVER…

3)      Trust your instincts.  If you’ve been knitting for a while, you get a sense when a pattern is off.  Mistakes do happen in publishing patterns.  The author may have made a typo, the publisher may have transposed some lines.  Double check, and if it’s something you can fix, make notes on the pattern.

4)      Research.  I was making a tank-top style shell when I came to a point where the number of stitches did not add up.  Fortunately, the name of the author of the pattern was listed.  I googled her name and found a website for her and e-mailed her.  She confirmed it was an error and told me how to correct it.

5)      Don’t be afraid to fix mistakes.  There are two words knitters loathe.  One is called “tink.”  That’s knit backwards, where you unknit one stitch at a time.  The other is “frog.”  That’s where you have to rip out whole rows at a time.  “Rippit, rippit, rippit.”  Get it?  You’re a frog.  If it will bug you, undo it and redo it.  You’ll spend more time fretting about the mistake than you will fixing it.  BUT…

6)      Don’t be afraid to accept mistakes.  In beautiful Persian rugs, the weavers deliberately make an error in the pattern, because to make the rug perfect would be an affront to God, since only God can be perfect.  If you are close to completing your work and you discover an error was made within the early rows, you may be okay to let it go.  If you realize you are the only one who knows what the completed piece is supposed to look like, chances are no one will notice.  I made an area rug for a friend where there was (to me) a glaring error in the first few rows.  I showed it to my husband and he didn’t see it.  I was able to cobble a few stitches over the mistake to make it look somewhat right and she loved it.

7)      Laugh at your mistakes!  I made a cover for our mixer.  I made it WAY too big.  It works, it just looks like a flopped over night cap.Kitchin Aid Mixer Cover

8)      Be willing to try something new.  There are thousands of different yarns out there and thousands of different colors.  A cap made in red laceweight yarn will look much different from a cap made with bulky weight green yarn, even if it’s the same pattern.  We learned by doing.  I used to look a pattern and say “No, don’t know how to do that stitch”  and skip over it.  Now, I don’t have that excuse.  Between Google and YouTube I can find out how to do a stitch and incorporate it into my repetoire.

9)      Working for others is great motivation.  When I am in between projects, I will try to knit little things, like coasters, just to try out new patterns.  But there will be days when I don’t pick up my needles.  But when I have a project for someone else, I will spend every night working on it, even if it’s just knitting a couple of rows.  Because it’s not for me.  It’s for someone else,

Baby Blanket…see the rocking horses?

Same blanket, only the rocking horses are all facing the same direction.

10)   Take pride in your accomplishments.  It may take months to complete a project.  But when it’s done, it’s something that didn’t exist before, that you created.  And that’s something to be proud of.

11)  When you’re knitting in front of the TV, you’re not mindlessly snacking!!

Table Mat

Coaster

Cell Phone cover. The long yarn goes through my belt loop and wraps around the yellow flower on the side.

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You Don’t Know What You’re Missing

I saw this report from Bloomberg that Folgers is America’s number one coffee.  I shook my head in disbelief. Coffee is more than just a caffeine jolt in the morning.  It can be akin to a fine wine.  So many of us are missing out on the delicate flavors of the thousands of varieties of coffee by brewing with the stale grounds from the store or getting the overflavored, heavily sweetened, latest mocha-latte-frappaccino with a double shot, soy milk no whip at the coffeeshop.  I say this as someone who has sampled a pumpkin spice latte or two in my day.  I know, however, that’s not coffee.  That’s a coffee drink.

Over the years, my husband and I have moved from buying ground coffee, then whole beans, to buying green coffee beans online and roasting them ourselves.  We do not have an automatic coffee maker.  We have both a French press and a vacuum press.  We have sampled coffee from such places as India, Peru, Colombia, and Guatemala.  We have tested the beans at different roasting heats and lengths to bring out different flavors and acidity.  In short, we are spoiled.  We know what coffee can really be.

Green Coffee Beans

Green coffee beans

Roasting the beans

Roasting the beans. We usually get ours from Sweet Maria or Green Mountain Coffee.

We normally use a French press when making our morning coffee.  It’s an infusion method, pouring almost-but-not-quite boiling water over coarse grounds and steeping for four minutes.  Master coffee tasters use French presses when “cupping,” a rather noisy and messy way of grading coffee, which involves large sniffs of the aroma as well as huge slurps to quickly spread the coffee all over the palate at once.  The coffee is not swallowed but spat into urns.

French Press

French Press

Most of the coffee you buy at the store is stale.  The green coffee beans can be stored for months.  Once roasted, you should use the beans within a week.  How long has that bag of dark roast been sitting on the shelf?  Another rule:  Do not grind the beans until just before brewing.  The pre-ground vacuum-packs are not worth your time and money.

One of the worst things you can do to your coffee is have an automatic coffeemaker with a burner element.  “But it’s to keep my coffee warm!” you wail.  No.  It destroys the delicate flavors and aromas in coffee.  Instead, use a coffee carafe, fill with boiling water to heat, then pour out the water and add in your coffee.  You will keep the coffee nicely warm without burning off the flavors.  I won’t even discuss restaurant coffee.  It’s mostly likely been sitting on the burner for hours and/or brewed with stale grounds.

For the true coffee aficianado, the vacuum press offers both a bit of showmanship to the coffee brewing process as well as allowing all the nuances of the coffee flavor to shine.  Because of the time involved, we only use our vacuum press on the weekends.

We first encountered the vacuum press in Seattle in a cafe around the corner from the first Starbucks (which had a line out the door and we didn’t want to fight the crowd.)  We were on vacation and wanted to see exactly what a $9 cup of coffee got you.  The vacuum press is two glass globes connected by a stem.  The coffee, medium ground, is put in the top half and the water is put in the bottom globe.  A spirit lamp heats the water and as the water boils it bubbles up through the stem into the top globe, where you give the coffee a quick stir and let the water steep out the flavors.  After a bit (my husband and I are still experimenting with this) pull away the heat source and and as the water cools, the coffee flows into the bottom globe, ready to be poured.Vacuum Press

As the barista handed my husband his cup (we were sharing, because, after all, $9 for a cup of coffee) he told us we should taste fruit notes with a hint of chocolate.  We took our first sip, black, no sweetener or creamer.  A look of dazed delight passed over our faces, as we could indeed taste the ripe blueberries and the hint of dark chocolate.  It was a smooth, slightly sweet brew with no bitter aftertaste.  We didn’t need to add anything to it.  It was like a fine wine, delicate flavors and with a pleasing lingering on the tongue.  If coffee is brewed correctly and with care, you shouldn’t need to add anything to it.  You don’t add anything to wine unless you’re making sangria.  Kind of makes you wonder why you have to add anything to your coffee to make it drinkable, doesn’t it?  And if you are drinking it black, why not treat your palate with coffee that has been carefully prepared with fresh beans to bring out all of its nuances?  You may be surprised at what you’ve been missing.