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I am a mother, a grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge was published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Sunday, August 2, 2020

Knitting during a pandemic

I don't want to labour a discussion of the times. We have had a pretty easy time of it here in Nova Scotia and let's hope it stays that way.

However this affects everyone and we are all staying close to home more than usual and there is a sort of anxiety running in the background. I now only check the news once a day and told my husband that if he is going to listen to things more often than that would he please put on headphones - some voices I don't need to hear in this house.

I am trying not to add to anyone's angst myself and to focus on things that are more enduring than this moment in time. Nature, children, dogs, cooking, ordering fabric.

And I have returned to knitting in the evenings.

Now I am a garment sewist through and through and I put a lot of effort into my sewing. I am particularly interested in construction details and techniques.

To me knitting is about none of that. I realize how innovative and technical knitting has become but that's not why I knit. I knit like a sort of repetitive meditation. Round and round without a lot of thinking. Like those Buddhist monks in Japan who spent their lifetimes raking gravel into patterns as sort of a religious practice. When I first talked to someone who had gone on a Buddhist retreat and did just this for a couple of months I have to tell you it didn't make a lot of sense to me. My cultural background is big on the useful activity and sitting down or any activity without a meaningful output was just not on the books.

However these days when there is too much incoming to handle all at once the idea of stopping a raking the gravel, or knitting the same stitches for hours if not days at a time, is starting to make sense to me. It's like you jump off the train for a bit onto the platform to catch your breath and let a few of those trains just pass you by.

So committed to non-demanding knitting in my evenings has meant some basic circular knitting with easy patterns. I just don't need to be doing anything right now that requires me to stop and watch a YouTube video to figure it out. 

You get what I mean?

Any of you learning a new language at the moment?

See what I mean.

As a result I have been knitting a lot of socks and a few sweaters. The first of these, appropriately, was the "Homebody" pattern by Heidi Kirrmaier. I had some Eco wool in a bin and knit this up for my daughter. I left it at her house and she sent me back this picture with the message "It fits perfectly."

The fit around the shoulders and neckline in particular is outstanding and due to the placement of the raglan lines. Since this is a seamless top down pattern (I love hand sewing but completely hate sewing sweater pieces together) it is hard to get a nice fit without a lot of shaping but I think this one does it. I think I will knit myself one too once I have figured out a decent online yarn source. I know where to order fabric but not yarn and I am not feeling like hitting the stores at the moment.

As far as patterns go it was pretty cryptic. Heidi is an excellent designer but has a technical professional background and her instructions were very efficient but all charts and numbers. Being numerically challenged, and highly text based,  in a few places I wrote the instructions out in words to I would stay on track, but you wouldn't probably need to do that. I intend to knit more of Heidi's patterns and maybe won't even need to do that myself again now I have a better understanding of the logic of her patterns.

The second sweater I knit was for myself from Ann Budd's really interesting Book of Sweater Patterns. This is a great resource for folks like me who only want to knit something simple and hate fooling around with gauge. Basically you knit a swatch first with a needle size and yarn you like, measure the number of stitches per inch and then match the gauge you already have to the numbers you need to cast on etc. according to the size you want.

Did I explain that correctly?

Anyway it's a pretty relaxed approach to low key sweater knitting and that suits me just fine at the moment. Here I am in a basic dropped shoulder, knit in the round with no seams to sew, V neck. I am wearing my favourite poplin antique pull on shorts and some pretty weird glasses.

The moral of the story with the glasses is if you go into the optometrist's and announce "I need something bright and cheerful" and you only try on the glasses with a mask on over your whole face when you go back to pick up these glasses they might be pretty bright turquoise. The six-year-old thought they were outstanding, my daughter, his mother thought they would be just fine for wearing around the house. 

There is of course a real possibility too that at this stage of the game I worry more about cheerful than looking like a maniac.

Now tell me what you are doing? What are your own current self soothing activities? Any of you knitting too? Reviving lost activities? (I have also considered hauling out some 30 year old cross stitch patterns).

How are you mediating? How do you manage to actually do that? What is your mediation equivalent?

Seems to me ideas on this are worth sharing.


Jacq C said...

Even knitting simple things is beyond me at the moment! I pulled out some cross stitch and am making some simple cards, all very soothing. Sending love and best wishes from the UK x

Noile said...

The six-year-old knows what he's about! I've got a back-up pair that color I stuffed in a drawer, but they may be just what these times call for. Inthink I'll dig them out.

Learning a language here. Five months of sometimes only ten minutes a day, and simple exercises to boot, but it's something to cling to. And simple sewing. We're getting by, except for that background anxiety tsunami, but there's not much bandwith for greater challenges.

Sarah Wale said...

As usual, you've nailed it! I envy your ability to knit as everything I try and make turns out like a holey dish rag ... no patience, I guess. I have been doing cross-stitch embroidery and now have a lovely Parade of Penguins, made from a set of charts my lovely husband gave me for Christmas. In normal times it would probably have taken me until next Christmas to get them all done!
I agree with the 6 year old - you rock those glasses and don't let anyone tell you otherwise!
Stay busy, stay happy and above all, stay well!

Amy Bailes said... - they will become your “local yarn shop.” I know that within the US they offer free shipping after a certain dollar amount and I believe it’s the same internationally but I’m not positive. Anyway, check them out. They are awesome.

Amy Bailes said...

As for what I’m doing to get through each day? I’m spending a lot of time swimming. I barely sew, I haven’t knit in an entire month which is unheard for me.

It’s go to work, church and home. I run into the grocery store only when my kids start getting really upset by the bare snack shelf.

Fashionista said...

Love the glasses! I once choose "unobtrusive" glasses, but I'm over that now so the brighter the better. And they never fail to get compliments.

My knitting skills are rudimentary so I admire your lovely sweaters. I crochet for the same soothing, repetitive, meditative reason. As I am a numbers person I find all the counting so relaxing.

In Melbourne (Australia) we have now been put into hard lockdown so there will be a lot of crochet getting done.

Thank you for your blog and a peek into your life :)

Eileensews said...

Those are VERY nice sweaters !!

Ccmel said...

I have also found knitting to be helpful in the new normal. Though I have kept it very basic and have been doing squares for blankets to donate. Have nearly finished my second blanket. Thinking of moving on to beanies next also to donate. I have also started sewing masks as they are being encouraged more here now. I find I can't take on anything to mentally taxing.

Kay said...

Actually, I love the glasses. I bought purple progressives before the lockdown, but they're a dark purple, not bright and cheery. My reading glasses just broke, and I spent hours and hours online choosing new tortoiseshell frames, then kicking myself for not ordering the pretty, bright red frames. I celebrated my 70th a week ago. I may decide I'm not getting any younger and just order the red ones.

My reading glasses broke because I'm walking on my treadmill and reading books for hours a day - 2 to 4 books a week, sometimes more. My father told me once that when he was growing up on the farm, reading was his escape from the poverty and hard work. I guess it's my escape from the current situation, although my cage is gilded.

BarbaraShowell said...

My life hasn’t really changed. As a home health night shift nurse, I was already socially isolated. Still working the same amount at the same places,and not going anywhere but Walmart and work. I try not to be jealous of all the folks on endless vacation, or working from home without pants and bras! Mostly I’m grateful my clients have stayed healthy and my income has stayed steady I’m very aware not everyone has it so good.

Patricia said...

I love your blue specs too - keep wearing them, they are great. As is your knitting. I was interested to read that Nova Scotia has remained Covid-free. Here in Brisbane (Queensland, Australia) we have been free for many weeks, and were beginning to relax and go out a bit more - only to have some infected persons illegally cross the border and introduce it into an area very close to us. It has definitely upset my serenity! We are watching the media for test results of thousands of people this week. Meantime, I have been sewing for months, currently making a linen dress for a friend, old Vogue pattern from the 80s. She loved the calico toile so much I am finishing it off and giving her that too - she will use it as a beach dress. About to start a big new baby quilt, due to the fact we are going to be grandparents to twins, some time soon :)) Be safe, and love your blog.

Kathie said...

Good morning! Always delighted to see a new post from you The sweaters are inspiring. I turned to crochet and have made a couple dozen sweet little cozies for my drinking glasses in several gorgeous colors. I even use some of them. My best meditative activity right now is weeding in the very early morning hours. It is exceptionally hot and humid here in upstate New York, so I need to garden early. Gardening has been the activity that saved me from despair, starting in mid March, and I look forward to autumn to be able to spend long hours gardening again.

Cindy Toy said...

Webs (

Sharon C said...

I have been doing lots of knitting, reading, long walks. Love the glasses. When I shop for glasses, I tell them immediately that I don’t want “old lady glasses”, although I am almost 80. The last ones are great, with some red, and colors, if you have to wear them, you may as well fell good in them!
The yarn shops on line have been very fast with their shipping, thank goodness.

Kamchick said...

Hi Barbara...favourite yarn sources are: Georgian Bay Fibre Co and Lichen and Lace Hand Dyed Yarns.....enjoy your knitting. Georgian Bay's Carla dyes her yarn blends in the most gorgeous colours I've ever seen!

barkcloth said...

Hi Barbara,
The lockdown inspired me to pick up a very oldfashioned, typically Dutch kind of embroidery: Beiers Bont. Check it out here:
I make tablecloths and napkins, for myself and also for friends. But only special friends, because it takes months and months to finish a piece. My grandmother made these embroidered tablecloths already. It’s easy, because you use a special kind of cloth with loops. Only available in the Netherlands, I’m afraid.
Later on I will start knitting again. Too warm for sweaters now......

Lucille said...

I couldn't figure out what my meditation might be, until I found myself weeding the gravel paths in my garden. I'm a weeder! It used to bother me that weeding seemed to be a pointless and never ending task. Now that you have shown its hidden purpose I feel much better. Merci!

Alison G said...

Crochet is my meditation. It really calms me physically as well as mentally. I also find it difficult to do 'nothing' and to get a pair of socks out of it is a double bonus. But the lockdown has been memorable for making usable garments out of antique cloth and garments, which needs more thought than there is usually time for. My glasses are purple and I'll get a red hat soon.....

beckster said...

It is so nice to see a blog post from you, Barbara. The voice of sanity! I have been having trouble concentrating since this began, so I have been working off extra energy working on my to-do chores list, which is quite long. I am going to try sitting down and knitting again. You have inspired me! Thanks for the recommendation on Ann Budd's book. I have looked at it a lot, but never purchased. And, if you know, what yarn did you use to make those socks?! I love them. Stay safe and well.

Marishka said...

For beautiful color, if you’re not already aware of her, check Lucy Neatby Designs at Her designs are elaborate, but their purpose is to showcase color, which makes the whole site a treat for the eyes. Local sources for yarns are provided. She lives in summer on Tancook Island, so local means Halifax. (Of course I mean her partner yarn dyers’ yarns can be put to any use you prefer. But just viewing all that color is n experience.)
Much of her income is from teaching; I have found her to be the best video teacher I’ve ever encountered.

Marishka said...

By the way the method from Ann B you describe, reversing the order of: pattern/you swatch to get there to: you swatch/we give pattern that uses that, is Brilliant!! And your resulting sweater is great, congratulations on usual, lol.

LinB said...

If I'm sittin', I'm knittin'.

Well, if I am not at work (part time receptionist at a church office that has been closed for four months and counting ... but somebody has to check the mail each day).

And have cut out at least 20 sewing projects and pinned some together. Hard to sit and sew after marathon mask-making, early in the pandemic.

We'll be wearing them for years, though, so I had best get back to the machine.

Judith Newman said...

I've knit in the evening (that's to justify wasting time in front of the TV) - been doin' it for years. Always have a pair of socks on the go - as soon as my needles are empty I cast on stitches for a new pair. I'm somewhere over 400 pairs of socks since 2003 - approximately 26 pairs a year. I have a drawer full but most have been given away. They're for sale for $50/pair - that's because the yarn costs me close to $25, it takes me 25 hours to knit a pair of socks, and I WON'T work for less than $1.00/hour!

Enjoy your knitting.

Yarnfreek said...

Lately I've been crocheting market bags for Christmas gifts. Can't believe I'm ahead of the game. Usually I'm a knitter and I'm starting to miss it. I'm like you about sewing side seams together. I have an entire sweater already knit, but there it sits in pieces. I'm a big reader and that's my main problem. Once I stick my nose in a book I'm deaf to the siren call of my sewing machine. I really enjoy your blog and I'm hoping it's going to inspire me to get busy. For online yarn I love Knit Picks and Webs.
Take care and stay safe.


AlaskaBerninaGirl said...

ordering fabric. ordering yarn.

Check out Jimmy Beans, Mad Tosh, @jarbontextiles and Etsy for yarn. Then look at @yama_fibre_art & @wishboneyarn (love, love, love) and @barnyardknits for her $20 monthly special yarn. Oh my goodness, the beauty of their yarn is so soothing - all of them. Plus, just for fun try to 'win' some yarn when any of these wonderous dyers & spinners have a shop update! I am pretty sure I am following over a thousand yarn dyers and pattern writers on my insta. Many offer test knitting opportunities where you get a free pattern to knit one of the first sweaters or socks or whatever they need tested. I have also been doing some test sewing for new patterns lately which is interesting and makes me feel like I am helping someone out doing something that is near & dear to my heart. I have also joined in on some sewing & quilting swaps, so fun & fulfilling.

Take good care and knit on or sew on, whichever the case may be!

Anonymous said...

The sweaters look fabulous - you and your daughter are so photogenic. I too love the glasses; in a moment of insanity last year I bought reading glasses that are almost the same dark plum as my regular trifocal summer glasses and its both dull and confusing. Not a good time to glasses shop, either, so I'm stuck with them for a while. Yours are much better.

Knitting is a winter TV watching activity for me, and I haven't had the focus or energy lately for TV. I have been making baby quilts, and almost always have one on the go, plus a couple "utility" garments (nightgown, robe) that are uninspiring in the extreme, but its an activity.

AND no news watching, very little radio listening other than the BBC News Hour some days - the accents are a bit of a challenge sometimes but at least it is less US-partisan.

Great questions, observations, please keep up your good work!


mariestitches said...

Thank you Barbara for your posts. Just reading them makes me happy. I have, after a year and a half of it sitting on my desk, finally used my coverstitch. This is a lesson in not letting others' experiences affect your own courage. I tried to use it once and it was a fiasco. Sent it for servicing and, read online posts of ongoing frustration with the machine, waited another 12 months and finally used it. It worked just fine. So, yes, working at home, looking after an 84-year-old with a recent brain injury as well as my own family has been stressful. Moments in my sewing room are bliss. Not frequent enough, but small triumphs are all I need. Thank you for your wisdom and your kindness in sharing it.

Quilt til you wilt said...

I may need to pull out the needles. Hard to do when it’s in the high 90s! Heard your interview on Behind the Seams which I loved. Thought I’d mosey by your blog. Agree with you in the news. Once a day is enough.

Anonymous said...

A great place in Canada to order yarn from is Stix and Stones in North Bay. Rae Brenne is the owner and extremely helpful in yarn choices..

/anne... said...

It could take a while for the yarn to arrive, but are an excellent source for quality well-priced basic yarn in a range of sizes, and almost all are natural fibres. 200g balls also mean fewer joins.

They also sell cheap undyed sock yarn skeins if you want to try dyeing, It's easy and fun - if you use food dye or the powdered dye used to colour finger paint, it's kid-safe too. Their colour cards are free.

I only wear glasses to read, but last year I bought two pair - one tasteful pair to wear at work if I have to read a paper document (they also have a tint so I can use a tablet or phone at night and still sleep), and a lairy colourful tortoiseshell pair with the focal length set for sewing. They live in my sewing room, and they make me smile whenever I look at them :-)