That Question

The other evening, some colleagues and I were having dinner with some higher-ups who’d come from back East to our office for a visit. My boss, who must have been a game show host in a former life, was doing his usual bang-up job of keeping the conversation going.

“It’s really fascinating, the things our staff members like to do in their free time,” my boss noted. Let’s everyone say something about what they like to do. Julia?” he gestured to me from across the table. “You go first.”

I knew what he expected me to say. What’s more, I knew that if I didn’t discuss knitting as my passion, he’d only goad me into it. I replied, “I’m a knitter,” trying to sound as enthusiastic as I could about being forced to share this factoid with the visiting Alpha Male.

“You’re a what?” asked Alpha Male. His expression was incredulous, as if I’d slipped into some foreign language that he couldn’t understand.

“I knit,” I replied, being careful to enunciate, without over-doing it. This conversation was going exactly where I expected it to, sadly. I was about to remark about my other hobbies — things that might actually spark Alpha Male’s interest — when my boss chimed in.

“Tell him what you’re doing this weekend!” my boss implored. Now, given Alpha Male’s reaction to the knitting thing, this was definitely not where I would have directed the conversation, if it had been left up to me. My boss knew that I was going to the regional alpaca show this weekend, and that I was super-excited about it. We know these things about each other in my office. My office is like a family — dysfunctional at times, but by and large, we celebrate each other’s interests outside of work.

I looked at Alpha Male. “I’m going to an alpaca show,” I stated matter-of-factly. I was careful to not sound apologetic about it. I decided some time ago that if others had some sort of issue with my knitting as a hobby, that problem was with them, not me. I’m neither apologetic nor defensive about it, but I tend to not go on and on about it unless I’ve found a kindred spirit.

“A what?” Alpha Male responded. This time, I could detect a slight patronizing expression on his face, which he quickly adjusted. I might as well have been speaking ancient Greek. This conversation was at a dead end. Others at the table who had been involved in side chatter, were beginning to take note.

“It’s a show put on by local alpaca ranchers featuring alpacas, and that has fibers and yarns and demonstrations and such,” I replied. Then, I changed the subject. “My family is really involved in Scouts,” I offered, hoping that this would give us something else to talk about, or that someone else might chime in with a hobby Alpha Male could relate to. “I’ve got one son who’s an Eagle Scout and another pretty close,” I continued optmistically.

At that, Alpha Male looked relieved, like I’d slipped back into English. “Oh, I understand that’s something that requires a lot of parental commitment,” he said. I agreed, and the conversation moved to other people and other hobbies.

With the attention diverted from me, I sat back, took a sip of beer, and thought about how I wished this conversation had gone, and how I directed other, similar inquiries in a somewhat different direction.

I’m asked That Question on a fairly regular basis: “So, what do you like to do in your spare time?” In my mind, though, I tend to see past the question to what the questioner really wants to know: “What sorts of things do we have in common?” I’m always searching for that common ground, too. I find that I wind up having two kinds of conversations: maker-centric and non maker-centric, depending on the interests of the other person.

Just how I answer That Question depends on the inquirer. If I think the questioner is a maker, or perhaps loves one, I’ll put knitting front and center: “Oh, my biggest passion is knitting, and I do lots of other things, too, like Scouts, gardening, and food preservation.” Typically, one of those things will trigger a good conversation with a maker or someone who values us. We find that commonality.

Before we went to dinner the other night, I’d studied up on Alpha Male, and was pretty darn sure that he wasn’t a maker. We are roughly the same age and are on (ahem) rather different career tracks. Alpha Male was at the top of his classes in undergraduate and law schools. For my part, I had respectable, if unremarkable, grades. Alpha Male has had a high-powered, consuming career. I chose a path that was interesting and fulfilling to me, but which allows ample time for me to pursue my outside interests. I get the feeling that when Alpha Male isn’t doing something high-powered and legalish, he’s exercising himself half to death. He’s a little intense.

So, chatting about knitting with Alpha Male wasn’t high on my list of get-to-know-you conversation topics. Instead, had I been posed That Question and not been goaded into discussing knitting, I’d probably have said something like, “My family loves the outdoors here, so we’ve been very involved with Scouts. I also like to Nordic walk, go to the gym, read, garden, and knit.” When I phrase my hobbies like that, it’s often a good segueway into a discussion about Scouts, hiking, or the last books we’ve read. Someone might pick up on the knitting angle, but if not, that’s fine, too. It’s about finding that commonality.

As for Alpha Male and me, we never did find that commonality. I suppose that’s going to happen, sometimes. Perhaps we’ll have another opportunity at some later date to discover that connection.

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A Hard Lesson About Row Counter Apps

Last night, I had a knitting crisis. We finished with dinner early, leaving me with a good hour-plus to work on Mom’s sweater.

I haven’t touched her sweater in over a week. My knitting has been mostly relegated to stockinette and garter stitch projects only, because much of my so-called spare time is now taken up by Nordic walking, strength training at the gym, and working with Eric on his chemistry homework. So, having an hour or so on a day when I wasn’t totally wiped out and had retained sufficient mental energy to follow a chart meant that I could make at least a little progress on the top-down cabled cardigan for Mom. I settled into my knitting chair, pulled out the chart and sweater, plugged in my iPhone, and pulled up the row counter app.

And then — nothing! The app refused to load or to do anything. I’d just updated to iOS 9, so I went to check to see if there was an update to the app that would make it play well with the new OS. Nope. I went to check the app store, and was disconcerted to find the app had been pulled from the store.

There I was, dead in the water. My hour-plus of knitting time was fast dwindling, as I was searching for some sort of fix, or at least an explanation. So, not only could I not access the app, I had no way to see the underlying data — my current row counts for the various parts of this project. I looked at my chart. I use highlighter tape to keep track of my rows, as well as the app, because the highlighter tape makes it easy to see where I am in a chart. I’d just finished the yoke, so I no longer had to keep track of sleeve and body increases, which was a good thing. If this snafu had happened during the yoke portion, I’d have a heck of a time reconstituting where I was.

At this point in the project, I’m working the fronts and back, and have a goodly number of rows to go before I have to start the gentle waist shaping. I can figure out pretty easily how many rows I have left to go before shaping. Before I did, though, I decided to check out Ravelry to see if others were having the same problem with this app.

On Ravelry, I discovered a thread on the app’s user group forum that indicated that, yes indeed, others are having the same problem, and that the developer was diligently working on a solution and plans to post an update to the software in the near future. Fine, as far as that goes. I have every expectation that in a week or so, we’ll get our update, and we can all use our spiffy app again. But will I?

I put aside Mom’s sweater, as I didn’t have the patience to reconstitute where I was in the pattern. Ay, that’s the problem, isn’t it? I never seem to have enough time to work on my projects, particularly those that require more thought that stockinette or garter stitch, so I need for things to go well when I do have the time and wherewithal to do so. I pulled out my garter-stitch shawl to knit and give this a think-through.

The reason I started using a row counter app in the first place was that I began a complicated Orenburg lace scarf some months ago. For that, I have to keep track of body repeats, border repeats, and pattern repeats within the body. I could have used my usual analog system of multiple row counters, coilless safety pins, and markings on the pattern. Instead, I bought an electronic counter which could keep track of three things at once. It made me nervous, though, because I found it too easy to erase the row counts on the counter. I sought a different solution, and tried out the app.

Eureka! I thought. The app was very customizable, stable, and it proved difficult to accidentally screw up my counts. So, when I started Mom’s sweater, it was a no-brainer to use the app for that, too.

Mom’s sweater calls for a top-down raglan construction, with five different cable charts in different parts of the pattern. An analog solution would require, at times, three row counters plus a system of coilless safety pins and pattern markings. It’s an ideal candidate for a row counter app. At least, when the row counter app is functional.

I realized that using a row counter app is a lot like entrusting your row counters to your kid or your second cousin or your next-door neighbor. The app’s functioning is controlled by at least three outside parties: the app developer, the owner of the phone’s operating software, and the app store. If those don’t play well, I have a situation not unlike leaving my row counters with the lady next door: She might be the nicest, most conscientious person in the world, but if I knock at her door to retrieve the counters and she doesn’t answer, I’m stuck. Why on Earth would I put myself in that situation?

So, tonight, I’m going to figure out where I am in the pattern. I’m pretty sure I don’t have enough row counters or safety pins in my stash room to accommodate this project, so I’ll run over to my LYS this weekend to buy more.

As for the Orenburg scarf-in-progress, I’m probably better off just waiting for the app update so that I can retrieve the data from my phone. Once I know where I am in that pattern, I’ll change over to an analog solution there, too.

The app was handy and slick and seductively easy. But this experience has taught me a hard lesson — my personal control over the row counter app is an illusion. If a developer takes it off an app store or the app no longer plays well with the latest OS, the result is just as if I’d given my row counters to my next-door neighbor for safekeeping. And what knitter in her right mind does that?


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Back to Autumn Knitting


Responsible Knitter took a deep breath and pulled Mom’s sweater out of the knitting basket, along with the long-neglected pattern. Knitter Id said nothing, but rolled her eyes.

“It’s been too long,” mourned Responsible Knitter. “We haven’t touched this since the basil went into the garden. Now, the basil is spent and the black-eyed Susans are past prime. It’s time to pull out the fall knitting.”

“Why so early?” argued Knitter Id. “We have months and months of cold weather ahead of us. Let’s make some cool mitts out of this fun sock-weight yarn!” Knitter Id lovingly fingered the skein of blue-green Mountain Colors Crazyfoot perched in the yarn bowl next to the knitting chair.

Responsible Knitter was stern. “You had your way with the project lineup all summer. You made socks and cowls and refused to listen to me about making at least a little progress on Mom’s sweater. Now, she’s expecting a sweater, and the yoke of it isn’t even finished yet! And don’t get me started about the colorwork mittens. Remember those? Once upon a time, you found them irresistible.” Responsible Knitter was rifling through the knitting basket, looking at neglected projects, which was making Knitter Id anxious.

“Oh. Right.” Knitter Id was sulking now. “The ones that will go with the forest green alpaca cowl we made. How was I to know that the thumb gusset would be so fiddly, and doesn’t everyone agree that it’s a pain to follow a colorwork chart when you’re on a summer road trip?”

“Well, we’ve managed to knit the first mitten and the cuff of the second, so we need to knuckle down and knit the second,” Responsible Knitter intoned. “Now, back to Mom’s sweater.” The sweater-in-progress consisted of a mostly-finished yoke. It had been in hibernation so long that Responsible Knitter — and certainly not the attention-span-challenged Knitter Id — had no idea what the various colored stitch markers meant. At one time, some colors reminded when to increase for body sections, some for sleeve sections, and some set off pattern motifs. But now, it was a mystery. “I’m going to have to re-read the pattern and figure out where we left off. I don’t think there’s much more to go before we can divide for the fronts and back.”

Knitter Id has no patience for parsing patterns. “Fine,” she said in a voice that would make any teenage girl who wasn’t getting her way feel proud. “You can at least let me put the thumb in the mitten we’ve been carrying around as a purse project. That’ll be easy, and then you can call the first mitten done. Won’t that make you feel accomplished and productive or whatever it is that motivates people like you?

Responsible Knitter sighed. “Deal. Tonight, I’ll re-read the pattern for Mom’s sweater. Tomorrow, we have to watch an all-day training webinar for work. We can do that at home. I’ll let you put the thumb in that mitten, and then we have to get cracking on Mom’s sweater.”

The next day, Knitter Id was happy to finish the mitten first thing in the morning.

Blooming Gale mitten 1

She even cast on the second mitten and was ribbing away, when Responsible Knitter pulled out Mom’s sweater. Responsible Knitter could hear Knitter Id grumbling under her breath. “A deal’s a deal,” said Responsible Knitter. Time to crank on Mom’s sweater.” Knitter Id gave Responsible Knitter the stinkeye and put away the mitten.

For the rest of the day, Responsible Knitter worked away on Mom’s sweater, finishing the yoke, dividing for the fronts and back, and even casting the sweater onto waste yarn to try it on for a sanity check. It checked out, and Responsible Knitter placed it back on the circular needle just in time for the webinar to end and wine-thirty to commence.


Jaylen Jacket yoke

“See?” Responsible Knitter told Knitter Id as she poured a glass of wine and took things out of the fridge to make dinner. “The worst of it is over. The rest will be pretty easy.”

“Except for the button bands,” countered Knitter Id.

“Okay,” Responsible Knitter said. “When it comes time for those, I’ll let you take a few breaks with the project of your choice.” Responsible Knitter turned to look at Knitter Id to gauge her response, but didn’t see her right away. Then, Responsible Knitter saw her in the study. Knitter Id was already on the computer, checking out yarn for a project to work on when she needed relief from the button bands.



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