Clawless

So, about those gloves… It turns out that adding four tiny tubes to the end of fingerless mitts is actually… not that bad, Ok, it’s a little fiddly, but nowhere near the massive stumbling block I had previously assumed.

I think a lot of knitters have a similar experience with socks. I missed out on this, because my second knitting project as an adult was a pair of socks, and therefore I didn’t know they were supposed to be scary. After a bit of digging, I came across a tutorial (Silver’s Sock Class, which I still think is excellent) that soothingly told me all I needed to be able to do was cast on, knit and purl. It would teach me the rest. And it did. It took a while, but I managed turn out a perfectly usable pair of socks that I still wear to this day. I’ll probably have some kind of existential crisis when I walk them to pieces.

Anyway, the gloves. I love them! They are so cozy! As it’s me, I made a few adjustments to the pattern, because I can’t leave well enough alone, even when I’m learning something new.

This included repeatedly trying on the gloves to make sure the fingers were long enough (I have pianist’s fingers, just with none of the associated keyboard skills). I also managed to obtain some conductive thread to work into the fingertips, so I could use my phone while wearing them. In practice, this hasn’t worked so well, but never mind. I only had enough for one hand, so it became apparent I was going to need something to tell each hand apart.

I had a little think, and then decided to work a set of purl rows in the fourth finger of the non-conductive glove (I’m right-handed). It’s subtle yet effective.

It also seemed thoroughly appropriate. Because there’s been a recent acquisition that goes under the glove…

Yes, after nearly six years, the Yarn Widower decided he wanted to make things official. Shortly after he asked, he pointed out that he’d had the ring made “without a claw setting, so it wouldn’t catch on your yarn and stuff”.

I think I’m keeping this one.

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The Finger Dilemma

Good evening. *Adjusts glasses, adjusts lecture notes importantly* Today, I would like to talk to you about gloves. They’re things you wear on your hands… No, not the same as mittens, there’s an individual tube for each – no, I don’t mean fingerless mitts. You know, I really didn’t think the basic concept was going to be so challenging.

While I’m (mostly) joking, you have to admit that there aren’t that many glove patterns out there. The stumbling block seems to be the making of fingers – mitt patterns and arm warmers abound (and goodness knows, they’re useful in a chilly house during the winter), and mittens are widely regarded as an arm form. Especially when combined with thrums, mittens can be the warmest option of all, on account of how they keep your fingers all smushed together. While great for dexterity, fingerless gloves are not the cosiest, hence why I find them most useful for taking the edge off indoors. Living in the North, gloves with fingers are probably my best bet for not freezing and not having to peel them off my hands every time I want to unzip my handbag.

The Yarn Widower and I are taking a little trip to Munich at the beginning of next month. With all the exploring and trolling around Christmas markets and so on, I’ll need something to keep my hands warm. While I own a (very lovely) pair of sheepskin gloves, which are definitely coming with me, they are thick enough to throw up the aforementioned dexterity problems. And since I have weirdly long fingers, they also don’t fit terribly well.

I have lots of lovely sock yarn, I thought to myself. I bet I could whip up a pair of gloves in a couple of weeks. Sure, I could buy them, but as a knitter, that’s tantamount to heresy. Also, they probably wouldn’t fit very well, as outlined above. Visions of wearing said beautifully hand knitted gloves while sipping mulled wine instantly began to dance in my head. While seductive, I am aware that these visions are not entirely accurate, as in them I am outside in the cold with rosy cheeks, but without a freezing, streaming nose or the accompanying supply of tissues. Regardless, the idea stuck.

No! cried another part of my brain. Gloves are frightening and fiddly, and you’ve never made them before! You can’t do that!

I will allows my readers to decide whether it’s bloody-mindedness or an admirable desire to push myself, but my knee-jerk reactions to anyone telling me I can’t do something (yes, even myself) is to say, “Just watch me.”

There are all sorts of ways I could explain this impulse. Imagine where would be as a species, for instance, if no one ever did things that were new and maybe a bit scary. We would never get anything done. Innovation and adaptability are two of humanity’s greatest strengths, after all.

But this is just high-fallutin’ post-hoc justification. The real reason is this: while I’ve on.y been at it a few years, I see myself as a confident, willing-to-try-anything-once kind of knitter. I felt a trace of doubt and hesitation cross my mind at the thought of gloves, and it challenged my perception of myself as both a knitter and a person, overdramatic as it sounds. Also, I really do need a pair of gloves.

There’s really only one solution to this.

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If you’re curious, the yarn is Crazy Zauberball in Herbtsonne, and the pattern is Very Basic Dancing at Lughnasa Gloves (free on Ravelry). So far so good, but wish me luck.

A Woman, Without her Knitting, is Nothing

Recently, the Yarn Widower and I went out for the evening. This in itself isn’t terribly unusual or noteworthy, but something happened that was very revealing.

We had gone to see a band called Public Service Broadcasting at the Manchester Academy. Now, because this is quite a big venue, and Manchester in particular has had some terrible things happen at concerts recently, security was tight. Think metal detectors and bag searches.

I was prepared for this. Earlier, I had gone through my handbag and removed the hipflask half full of whisky (yes, left over from Yarndale; and no, I very rarely clear out my bag) because venues don’t normally approve of you bringing your own alcohol. I had even taken out the stabby embroidery scissors.

It hadn’t occurred to me that knitting needles would cause problems. I’ve flown with knitting in my hand luggage many times before, even when Brussels was locked down due to an ongoing terror attack.

“What’s in that little bag?” asked the security guard.

“Oh, just my knitting,” said I, blithely.

“Can I have a look?”

“Of course.”

He caught sight of my 3.25mm KnitPro Zings (circulars, of course) and sucked his teeth. Long story short, he called his supervisor, who called his supervisor, and it was determined that my knitting needles were officially deemed “offensive weapons”.

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Offensive weapon, with thumb for scale

Mutter, mutter, could do as much damage with a biro, don’t you realise I’m far more dangerous without my knitting, and all the things knitters traditionally say when faced with over-zealous airport security (knitting needles and crochet hooks are allowed as per UK government guidelines, for God’s sake). However, as I mentioned, the UK in general and Manchester in particular is currently feeling very twitchy about security, so there was no point arguing. For those of you concerned about the fate of my poor, blameless knitting, don’t worry – I was able to leave it in the security office and pick it up on my out. Just as well, as that’s about a third of a jumper on those needles.

So that in itself wasn’t overly interesting: it’s what comes next that tells. We had arrived shortly after 7pm. The support act was due to start at 8, with the main band on at 9. Because I have CFS/ME and we had standing tickets, it was decided that I would sit in the bar during the support, so as to hopefully have enough energy to stay upright during the headline set.

In other words, this meant that I had an interrupted period of sitting from about 7.30 (once we had obtained drinks and so on) to just before 9, with no knitting. Just let that sink in.

Readers, it was horrible. At first, I was compulsively checking my phone and bombarding people with texts to pass the time. If you were one of the victims of this frenzied activity, I’m sorry!

However, it then became apparent that a) I was sitting in one of the few signal blackspot in central Manchester, and b) I had brought my battery pack, but not the appropriate cable, so I would need to preserve my battery for the journey home. Therefore, my secondary distraction was now also useless.

By this point, as the Yarn Widower will attest, I was getting quite cross and fidgety. For the record, we were having a perfectly pleasant conversation and generally enjoying each other’s company. That’s not the problem. I just need something to do with my hands to keep me calm and fit for human society. Shut up, it’s not an addiction, it’s a coping mechanism.

Luckily, I had my bullet journal with me. I am aware it makes me one of those people. In my defence, it’s supremely messy and in no way Instagram or Pinterest fodder. So I set up my November pages, got a few lists up to date, and then…

That had taken ten minutes, tops, and I still had ages to wait. No I understand why normal people get so cross when they have to wait for things. It’s mind-numbingly, face-meltingly boring, rather than the gift of guilt-free knitting time.

The sweet, blessed relief of getting on the penultimate train home after I had been reunited with my knitting cannot be overstated. It’s moments like this that underscore just how important knitting has become to me. It’s also an illustration of just how much it helps me to cope with the vagaries of daily life.

It’s good for me. Not an addiction. Now, just a few rows to take the edge off.

Yarndale

Season of mist and mellow fruitfulness! Yes, autumn is drawing in, and for me, that means two things: knitwear season is upon us, and Yarndale time has arrived once again.

The festival, which takes place at the end of September in Skipton’s auction mart, wasn’t on my radar until we moved to Leeds for the Yarn Widower’s Masters. Once we had settled in, I found a knitting group that didn’t hold meetings during my working hours, and promptly proceeded to make a group of excellent friends, which is most unlike me. One of the first questions they asked me (in November) was, “Are you coming to Yarndale?”

My first response was, “What is a Yarndale?” My second response, after a quick explanation, was, “I am now!”

Since we moved, I don’t see those friends as much, but I know that I can pretty reliably bump into them at Yarndale, even if I don’t make any specific plans to do so. For me, like many knitters, Yarndale has become a major part of my social, as well as yarn-acquisition, calendar.

So, here is how it all went this year.

I looked at getting there by train, but quickly realised that this would take forever, thanks to three changes and a rail replacement bus each way. Luckily, the Yarn Widower had a gig in Leeds, so he was prevailed upon to give me a lift both ways. Ergo, more money for yarn, right?

I remembered being a little child last year, so I set off wearing now fewer than four hand-knitted items (a Featherweight Cardigan, a scarf for which I can’t remember which pattern I used, some Regency Socks, and my beloved Scalemaille Mitts). It quickly became apparent that I was going to overheat in a big way, but I couldn’t bear taking any of it off. After all, it’s not often that I get to be surrounded by so many people who really get how special hand knits really are.

On running into the Leeds contingent, it became apparent that I’d been a bit of a bad influence. Last year, I’d turned up with a hipflask full of scotch, and a few people had decided to follow suit this time (and yes, mine made a repeat appearance). Much as I enjoy the event, I find it easier to cope with densely packed people with a little bit of added mellowness. I have also now seen a friend who shall remain nameless under the influence of an ungodly mixture of whisky, energy drinks and yarn fumes, so don’t even try telling me I’m the one with a problem.

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Even amongst the chaos of knitters on a yarn excursion, it’s still a wonderful way to catch up with friends from all over. To the vendor who had to listen to my off-colour anecdotes while trying to convince a friend that she didn’t need a Starry Night/Tardis themed crochet hook (she had limited funds and can’t even crochet), I am sorry, but the joke was just too good to pass up.

So, the haul. Before I show you this, I want two things noted for the record: firstly, I donated a substantial bag to the Oxfam yarn amnesty, so I technically came home with less yarn than I set off with.

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Secondly, the Yarn Widower continued his Yarndale tradition of adding a new musical instrument to his collection (a marching baritone this year, an orchestral tuba in 2016), so even he wanted to complain about my acquisitions, he wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.

Anyway, I now have: two skeins of Aruncania Botany Lace. They discontinued a lot of shades when they were bought out by Debbie Bliss, and I absolutely love the yarn, so I tend to buy it up whenever I see nice colours, as the ends of lines are almost always discounted.

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These two lovely skeins from the Dye Ninja, which are going to be the basis of my version of Woman Must Make Her Own Arrows, when I finally get around to it.

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Two skeins of John Arbon Knit by Numbers, plus beads, for when I manage to make a Fabergé Shawl without messing it up (there are a few painful attempts in my past).

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Pretty fibre from John Arbon. No plans for this yet, but it’s always fun to spin with pretty colours.

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This gorgeous braid of Blue Faced Leicester, from a vendor that has shamefully vanished from my memory, and hasn’t included any branding on the tag…

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And finally, a Latvian mitten kit from Hobbywool. I was so glad to see these guys at Yarndale, as I tried to visit their shop in Riga when we visited last year, but didn’t realise that the summer solstice was a national holiday and therefore everywhere was shut.

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We then repaired to Leeds for restorative burritos, and I got to stand on a street corner in town for half an hour on a Saturday night waiting for my lift (“I’m literally five minutes away, honest!”). I don’t recommend this, but I did get to see a man so drunk by 9pm that he was trying to punch his own shadow in the doorway of a McDonalds. Never change, Leeds. But maybe sober up a bit?

In short, the day was overwhelming, exhausting and occasionally infuriating, and I can’t wait to do it all again next year.

Rematch

img_0726I am currently knitting the Lush Cardigan from Tin Can Knits’ Handmade in the UK, in purple Explorer Coast DK. Those of you who know me offline may be wondering if you’re experiencing a glitch in the matrix. Yes, this is identical to a project I finished two years ago. However, I proudly sewed on the buttons, and within the space of a single wear, the blasted thing went from three inches of negative ease to more like eight inches of positive ease.

The hem was rapidly approaching my knees, and my hands had disappeared under sagging cuffs (I had decided to make the sleeves full-length, but still). In short, I had accidentally knitted a front-fastening sack with a fetching lace yoke.

Given that I’d swatched properly and checked the fit throughout, I was fairly sure that I hadn’t had a tension accident. As I was a relatively new knitter and it was my first garment, it took me a little while to work it out, but I got there in the end. Explorer Coast is a lovely yarn, but it’s 55 per cent wool, 45 per cent cotton. I hadn’t considered the way that cotton tends to stretch out under its own weight, particularly when used in larger projects.

We were in the process of moving house and city at the time, so I washed and dried it again, and when that didn’t help, put it in time out for a few months, because there was no way I was emotionally equipped to deal with it while living in a sea of half-built IKEA furniture.

But I knew what needed to be done, and once the dust had settled, I finally got my nerve up, and I frogged my first-ever completed garment. Completely. All while wishing I hadn’t woven in the ends so thoroughly. Then I re-skeined and washed all of that bastard lying yarn and returned it to the stash. Specifically, the box in the attic where I corral all of the jumper project yarn so it doesn’t taunt me on a daily basis. And there it stayed, until a few weeks ago. I hadn’t been ignoring it per se, but I’m easily distracted by things that are new and shiny.

A little while ago, as part of a drive to start using up what I semi-jokingly refer to as the Deep Stash, I pulled out the reclaimed yarn and took a long hard look at it. The temptation was to go with a new pattern, but I bought this yarn and book together, goddammit, and that is how it will be used. Also, I really like Lush and still want to wear it.

Because I’m not a total glutton for punishment (shut up, am not), I am doing a few things differently this time. I’ve checked my tension again, then gone down a few needle sizes. I’ve also chosen a smaller size in the pattern – believe me, I never thought I’d knit an adult size small again either.

Despite the amount of negative ease in Lush, I’m still faced with a challenge. I am, shall we say, full in the bust. To an extent that selecting a jumper pattern based on the “to fit bust X inches/cm” measurement always results in a garment that fits neatly over my chest but hangs pretty loose everywhere else. And what’s the point of knitting your own jumper if it doesn’t look like it was, well… made for you?

Now, I know I made some adjustments last time, and based on the fact that the wretched thing was eight inches too big all over, it clearly worked. I just can’t remember what I did, and I didn’t write it down, so I’m having to do the sodding maths all over again (is anyone sensing a theme with this project?).

Thus far, I’ve settled on a sort of Frankenstein solution, which involves grading various sizes together in the relevant places, mainly by adding extra decrease rounds on top of the waist shaping. It’s hard to tell if it’s working at this point, as the whole thing is working up far too small. This isn’t worrying me too much at this point, although I’m starting to wonder if it should, as last time, it didn’t start to sag until after it was finished. How it will stretch out that much if I can’t do it up in the first place is another matter.

It’s certainly interesting from a process knitting point of view, and not just because Lush is an entertaining and well-thought-out design (which it absolutely is). No, it’s because while there are certain things I knit over and over again, such as plain ribbed socks, this is the first time I’ve ever ripped out an entire project and used the yarn to make the same pattern again. Call it a rematch, if you will. I’m undeniably older, hopefully wiser, and I’m interested to see what a few more years of knitting experience brings to this do-over.

Now, according to most of the rules of blogging, this is where I would close with some sort of defiant statement about how “this yarn/pattern isn’t going to beat me this time!”, but I’m not going to. I know that that sort of public grandstanding is a surefire way to activate the laws of irony, but I’m also acutely aware that this yarn – and let’s face it, it’s the yarn, not the pattern – has behaved so unpredictably thus far that there’s every chance I’m going to get my arse handed to me again. The only certainty is that it will be a different kind of screw-up, and therefore should at least have the potential to be interesting and/or informative.

Just one thing: when it happens, please don’t remind me that I was so annoying smug and Zen about the prospect. Past me is really irritating when she gets like that. But here in the present, I’m four inches past the armholes and feeling cautiously optimistic. Wish me luck.

In Which Crafts Combine

There’s a lot of talk in woolly circles about people being “bicraftual”. Normally, this refers to people who both knit and crochet. It’s surprisingly uncommon – most people either have a very strong preference for one over the other, or are like me. I tried crossing over to the dark side (crochet), but I just can’t get the hang of it. It’s not even as if I just need to get over the hump of being a beginner and therefore rubbish, as in the same timeframe I’ve gone from roving falling apart in my hands to being a reasonably proficient spinner. There is something about crochet that just. Does. Not. Compute. So the bicraftual label is not one I normally claim for myself.

However, I do sew. I sew pretty badly, but that’s besides the point. As it isn’t one of the “Ravelry crafts” – that’s knitting, crochet, spinning, weaving, dyeing and tatting, for the uninitiated – I tend not to consider it as part of the same crafty sphere.

I’m currently making an exception, because recently knitting and sewing have come together in a way that I didn’t really expect. To be fair, it’s mainly because I’m cheap and incompetent, but never mind.

I decided to make a pair of pyjama shorts from a recent-ish issue of BurdaStyle. Don’t ask me which one, as it is currently in disgrace. I traced off the pattern pieces, drafted on the seam allowances and set to work. And before any of you start on me in the comments, yes, I checked my measurements. Several times, because I was a little bit taken aback (OK, and also slightly offended) to find that I had a size 16 waist according to the sizing chart. But I told myself to stop being vain and silly, to trust the pattern and tape measure, and continued.

Partly because this was my first time sewing with a knitted fabric, and partly because the pattern directions were sodding confusing, I didn’t register the true size of what I was making until the time came to put the waist elastic in. I get that these are pyjamas and are meant to be loose-fitting, gathered in by the elastic. However, what I had made was HUGE. Proper ribcage to knees Victorian bloomers huge. Of course, I didn’t notice this until after I’d gone through the massive ball ache that is hemming round a corner.

So I ripped all the seams out, hacked off the seam and hem allowances, plus a few inches at the waist for good measure, and redid it all. Still massive. Rinse and repeat.

Did I mentioned that this was the third time I’d had to hem around those sodding corners? In jersey, which slips and slides and gets pulled out of shape if you look at it funny? Good. So I think you can appreciate that perhaps I didn’t do my best, neatest sewing on the final product, and thus it looks like it was sewn by a particularly uncoordinated drunk. Distressingly, I was sober the whole time so I can’t use that excuse, but I think you can see why I couldn’t face ripping it out and redoing it a fourth time.

This project also involved a scalloped lace trim around the hem. “Great!” I thought to myself on the way into the haberdashery. “I can use the lace to hide the wonky hem.”

There was technically nothing wrong with the plan. However, as I went round multiple haberdasheries, it became clear that everything that even vaguely met the requirements of the pattern and what I had in my head either: a) cost upwards of £8 a metre, so to hell with that, or b) didn’t exist. I tried the internet, but still nothing.

So I had a little think. This, my friends will tell you, never ends well. “I know!” I said to myself over a restorative ice cream, “I’ll knit a scalloped lace edging for it. I’ve got loads of Victorian knitting pamphlets, and they’re full of this kind of thing. Also, crochet cotton is way cheaper than this.”

Again, this was perfectly sound reasoning, but this time I had failed to account for the fact that none of the patterns in these periodicals seem to have been proofread, never mind test knit. An afternoon of attempting to Macgyver a few of them into submission (and cursing the name of Mlle. de Riego) followed, until I realised that Franklin Habit had already done the hard work for me over at Knitty. So I stopped frantically charting lace and starting knitting instead.img_0545

This is the result. Yes, those are 1.5mm needles. I’m knitting a lace weight ballgown, and you only just realised that I have a weakness for big projects on tiny needles?

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It’s also been quite fun having a project that will fit in a pencil case, but I digress.

Anyway, it’s taken a while, but I’ve finally managed to churn out enough edging to go around both legs, and sewn it on. I’ve even put the waist elastic in. So behold (I have ironed it, but for some reason it still photographs really creased).

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It turns out I am bicraftual, just not in the way I expected.

Top Ten Stupidest Responses to Knitting in Public

It’s World Wide Knit in Public Day today, so in addition to knitting on a train, I would like to share with you the ten most ridiculous things that people have said to me while I was knitting.

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Today’s public knitting

1. What lovely crochet!

No. Just no. I know you’re trying to relate by reaching for the first (or only) “makes things with string” word you can come up with, but this really isn’t helping. Aren’t there enough cultural depictions of knitting for you to know what it is yet? Also, as a note to all non-fibrecraft people (AKA muggles): yes, we really do care about the distinction between knitting and crochet. We will cut you if you keep mixing them up (believe me, the crocheters will do worse. A lifetime of doily-making can push a person over the edge).

2. Are those socks for me?

Surprisingly, no, because I hadn’t met you when I cast them on. This one annoys me because it’s a question designed to have no right answer. If you say yes, then there’s every chance you’ll end up with a sock-obsessed stalker. Say no, and they’ll use your response to feign outrage and try to guilt you into continuing the unwanted conversation. This technique seems to be used solely by middle-aged men who want to do weirdly paternalistic flirting, and on behalf of knitting women everywhere, please stop.

3. Can I have a go?

Unless you know what you’re doing, there’s no way I’m letting you loose on my lacy socks, and if you knew what you were doing, you wouldn’t have come out without your own knitting, would you? Warning – if this question is accompanied with grabbing at my needles, I will flinch and emit high-pitched keening noises. If your hands actually touch my knitting, this will escalate to hissing and slashing. I have an inner cat, and she hates you too.

4. I wish I had time for that!

These words are almost always uttered by someone who is sitting on public transport fiddling aimlessly with their phone. There. There’s your time. You are not as busy as you think you are. Please ignore the fact that this is my travel and unexpected waiting knitting, and that I have five other half-finished projects at home. Instead focus on my productive, stress-relieving use of what would otherwise be dead time. But seriously, this is what I do when sitting around watching TV. You have time, I promise.

5. Them: What are you doing?

Me: Knitting.

Them: No you’re not! That’s needlepoint.

If you already knew what I was doing, then why the fuck did you bother asking? That’s leaving aside the fact that needlepoint is a type of embroidery, and that you clearly think I’m too stupid to know what I’m doing, so why are we talking?

And yes, this is really a conversation I’ve had with a human adult. I think the DPNs threw them, or perhaps they think there’s some kind of conspiracy to misinform the general public about types of needlework. Who know? Who cares?

6. Pointing, staring and whispering (in any combination)

This is just rude. Knitting doesn’t render me oblivious to the world around me, and I’m not shoving the needles in my ears, so there’s no reason my hearing would be affected. But still people persist. Please stop doing this, or drastic measures (up to and including interpretive dance) may be taken.

7. Will you teach me?

Argh! New knitters are so important, and under most other circumstances, I would love to introduce you to the basics, but: this carriage is bouncing and rattling like nobody’s business, I don’t have any beginner-friendly equipment with me, and I need to get off this train in exactly eight minutes. I may be a bad emissary for knitting, but there’s a time and a place. If you really want to learn, try your friendly local yarn shop. Or maybe look it up on the internet.

8. My [insert relation here] knits too! Do you know her?

Yes, I definitely know the person you’ve only described as “my aunt”, total stranger whose name I don’t know either. We sat next to each other at the Annual Meeting of Every Knitter Ever, Anywhere in the World, and she warned me about a nephew who likes to ask stupid questions on public transport.

9. “How long is that going to take you?”, followed by shock and disbelief at the answer.

I appreciate this may seem like an occupational hazard of knitting a floor-length dress in lace weight, but I’ve been getting this one ever since I first started knitting on the bus. Whether it’s surprise that a sock was a week’s worth of commutes, or amazement that I can’t just whip up a jumper in a weekend, people always underestimate how long knitting takes, and I find it really annoying. Bonus points if the words “It can’t possibly take that long!” are uttered.

10. You need to put that away! It’s dangerous!

Believe it or not, this was on a train rather than a plane. The knitting in question involved small wooden circulars and was resting in my lap unobtrusively. I looked at the man who had requested I stop, then I looked at my knitting. I considered pointing out that one could do far more damage with the pen he was using to do his crossword, that, psychologically speaking, I pose a much greater threat without knitting to keep me calm, and that if wanted something really dangerous, I could show him the wickedly sharp and stabby embroidery scissors in my notions case. I also considered that I did not want to be thrown off the train and questioned by the British Transport Police. So I smiled very politely and kept knitting. Compromise is a beautiful thing.