Thursday, May 3, 2018

ZEALOUS for New ZEALAND

The letter “Z” is always a tough one in the A to Z Blogging Challenge line-up. I thought I had found an easy solution to it in my knitting theme of the same by simply looking for a brand or kind of yarn that began with that letter and see what I could come up with from there. I figured the post would at least be mercifully short, a plus for readers and writers alike this late in the challenge. Instead, what I discovered surprised me so much that when I finally got around to writing the last post a full year later, I was still as amazed by the discovery as I was the day it first popped up on my web browser.

“Zealana” was the only entry to pop up for the last letter of the alphabet when I did my google search. Intrigued, I looked it up and found to my amazement that it is a brand of yarn made in New Zealand that is blended from possum hair.

Possom hair?! I was sure I couldn't have read it right, or had somehow misunderstood. How could a beautiful knitting yarn be made from the ugly nighttime scavenger that we see running across our lawns at nightfall, or more usually lying dead along the roadside? The thought boggled my mind.

Common Brushtail Possum
I read on and discovered that the Common Brushtail Possum in New Zealand looks somewhat different from the Virginia Possum that we see across the United States. It is a non-native species that was introduced into New Zealand in 1837 and quickly multiplied due to a lack of natural predators and a congenial climate. Soon the population became so great that it began to have a negative impact on the native vegetation and animal species. At some point it was discovered that possum fibre had exceptional qualities that made it a desirable component in knitting yarn – it is lightweight, warm, soft, and durable. The Zealana brand offers three different series, each of which offers something unique to a particular knitting project, aside from the animal from which it comes. The selection of a possum fibre yarn therefore not only benefits the knitting project, but the ecosystem of a beautiful land, as well. Who knew?!

I couldn't help but smile at the surprising turn of events in the writing of this post, and marvel at how similar things happen in our spiritual lives all the time. So often we head in one direction with a particular purpose in mind, and find something completely unexpected in our travels. At some point we realize that it was not our agenda that moved us in that direction, but rather God, who had something He particularly wanted us to discover, and knew that the path we were taking was the one that would lead us to it eventually. Usually the issue at hand is something more important than the use of possum hair in knitting yarn, but the end result is often just as unexpected and new. And perhaps I needed the reminder that the inner beauty of an item is often not showcased in its outward appearance; we need to look deeper than what is seen with the human eye. I'm thankful somebody at Zealana did that and developed a yarn that is not just pretty to look at, but soft to the touch and durable enough to offer lasting joy.

while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen...”
(II Corinthians 4:18 NKJV)

Sunday, April 29, 2018

YEARNING For More YARN

Perhaps the main contributor to my knitting addiction is the abundance of beautiful yarn that is available today. A good pattern can be a draw, and sometimes it is the purpose for knitting a project that pulls me in, such as to knit a donation for a particular charitable cause or an item to give as a gift. I've even been so taken with a pair of beautiful multi-colored wooden needles before that I found any excuse I could to put them into action. But most often it's the sight of a skein of incredibly beautiful yarn that makes my heart race and my fingers ache to pick up my needles and knit.

Some people are inspired by viewing paintings in art museums to pick up a pallet and brush and create. Others wander through flower showrooms in nurseries and envision gardens overflowing with blooms, their hands itching to get in the dirt to dig and plant. For knitters, a stroll through a yarn shop has the same effect. Row upon row of dazzling colors hanging in hanks of yarn on racks, or bundled in balls in cubbyholes along a wall...even the finished projects hung tantalizing about the store tempt one to search the yarn it was knit with and recreate the item on your own.

More and more I find I'm attracted to the multi-colored hand-dyed yarns that have burst on the market of late. Such dazzling mixtures of colors and sparkles decorate store walls anymore that if I dare to enter my local yarn shop I am unable to leave without the tell-tale purple bag hanging from my hand as I leave. One time I walked in just to pick up a ball of yarn I needed to finish a project. I marched in with mental blinders on, refusing to look to the right or the left as I headed straight to the bin where I knew the yarn was located...to the point that the knitting club seated and working away in the back of the room mentioned that I looked like a woman on a mission! I confessed that if I lifted my eyes off the floorboards for any amount of time I would be sucked in to the temptation lining the walls, and I simply had no time or money to spare on that particular day for such a delightful occupation. You can't imagine the accomplishment I felt upon leaving with just that one ball of yarn in my bag!

Equally important in the yarn selection process are the names given to each particular color combination. For example, how could anybody walk by a gorgeous purple and teal product called “Unicorn Tears”? I was totally sucked in. I knit a heart coaster for the start of baseball season simply because I passed a ball called “Cincinnati Red”. The coaster turned out better than the team's season so far, but that's neither here nor there. The color names on other skeins have often caused me to toss them into my shopping cart simply because they reminded me in some way of a particular person or event. I have a weakness for the emotions invoked by word combinations alone; a salesman's dream.

The one drawback to the beauty of the hand-dyed yarns lining store walls are the high prices attached to the skeins. The same has caused some yarn-enthusiasts to embark on dying their own. My daughter-in-law was so intrigued by the idea that she eventually gave it a try...an experiment she found so successful and satisfying that it has sucked her up into a whirlwind of new ideas, procedures, products and even business opportunities! So taken is she with yarn production now that she declares she rarely has time anymore to knit! While I know I'm too lazy to follow her in that pursuit, I'm grateful that somebody has a passion to so create, and I declare myself not just willing but waiting to sit and knit a bit with anything she happens to produce!

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
(Ephesians 3:20-21 NKJV)

Friday, May 19, 2017

"X" Marks the Spot on a Knitting Chart

In days gone by it seemed that most patterns consisted just of row-by-row instructions that you followed along from top to bottom on the page as your knitting grew below your needles, usually from the bottom of a project up. Nowadays it is common for a chart to be included that helps the knitter visualize how the pattern will look when the work is completed. I normally use them for reference only, but some people find it easier to follow a chart when overwhelmed by the complexity of detail given in row-by-row directions. One the rare occasions that I've designed my own patterns, I've drawn them out on graph paper, making an easy-to-follow chart in the process.

When looking for a chart to include with this post, of course I couldn't find one that used an actual “x” for any of the stitches! Any symbol works to indicate a kind of stitch or knitting process; charts are filled with dashes and dots, circles and filled squares, arrows and other symbols, all of which are explained in the associated “key” somewhere on the pattern page.

There are a couple of rules to remember when following a chart in your knitting progress. One is that you are working from the bottom of the chart up, rather than reading from the top down. It's helpful to have the row numbers marked to the right of each row to help you follow along. In addition to that I've taken to putting a “<” or “>” symbol in front of the row, to remind me whether I'm working from right to left across the pattern (the “right side” of the project) or left to right (the “wrong side” of the work). I've learned the hard way that the finished product won't look anything like the design on the page if you're not careful to remember this important point. And even though the rows are numbered, it is sometimes easy to lose yourself in the mass of symbols on the page before you, so I place a ruler under the line I'm working on to help prevent mistakes, sliding it up a row at a time as I go along.

It's okay to lose yourself in your knitting; just don't do so on your chart!

Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.”
(Isaiah 30:21)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Always Worried About my WEIGHT

When I started knitting so many years ago, there seemed to be just two choices when it came to yarn weights; worsted or fingering yarn, thick or thin. Since then the yarn world has seemingly exploded with yarns of varying thicknesses, and it can be hard to determine which to use for a project at hand.
A safe bet is to simply use the yarn recommended in the pattern, but if you have a closet full of accumulated leftover skeins, it's helpful to know if you can substitute something you already have for the yarn in question, and still have the knitted piece end up the right size.

One simple way to determine this is to check the WPI (wraps per inch) of both types of yarn. Simply wind the yarn around an object such as a pencil or a ruler, and count how many wraps occur in a one-inch space. If the numbers match, the yarns are the same weight.

Another easy way is to simply count the stitches and rows in a four-inch square knitted with the yarn in question and compare it to the gauge listed in the pattern or on the label of the yarn to be swapped out. If it is bigger or smaller than needed you can sometimes substitute smaller or larger needle sizes to correct the sizing. While most of us want to just jump into the project, it is wise to take the time to check the gauge if there is any doubt at all about a suitable yarn weight.

Each of us carries a different weight in the spiritual realm, as well, influenced by the length of our walk with God and the experiences we have had with Him. The Bible says we each have a measure of faith, but that initial amount can be expanded as we learn to trust God more and more each day. It is not a good idea to compare oneself with others in this arena, however, as we are likely to become either puffed up or pushed down in our Biblical self-esteem as a result, both of which can lead to problems on down the road. It is best to simply concentrate on making our own spiritual experience the very best it can be, that our lives turn out to be exactly what God intended them to be.

Therefore, my beloved...work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
(Philippians 2:12-13 NKJV)

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Versed in the VOCABULARY

Like so many other hobbies, knitting has a vocabulary of its own. Words that are common in other interests often have a somewhat different meaning when used in connection with the craft. A cable is normally a strong cord or wire made out of rope or wire. In knitting it's used in reference to a certain type of twisted stitch pattern. A ladder is a tool for climbing up or down and consists of two sidebars connected by metal or wood rungs hung at regular intervals between them, but in knitting it's the gap in a knitted piece left by a stitch that has dropped several rows down into the work. Garter is a type of stitch, not something worn around a leg.

Abbreviations for certain actions often only add to the confusion, and are often unique to the pattern itself. Sk2p, wyif, m1p, and pfb are not typos that somehow slipped through the spellcheck on my computer but common knitting techniques or yarn positions used in many patterns.

When I first started knitting, such uncommon words and strange abbreviations intimidated me to the point that I wisely would not even attempt a pattern if I couldn't decipher the directions. Today there are so many internet helps and videos that trying something new is much easier, fun and educational.

Communication with others about one's current passion is difficult if they aren't versed in the vocabulary that goes with the territory. It's especially common among Christians who try to talk to unbelievers about their faith. Terms such as born again, slain in the spirit, anointed, and speaking in tongues rather than with tongues can be confusing and may cause the listener to abandon the subject completely rather than struggle to understand. Communication involves more than merely talking; it's connecting with another in a way that gets an idea across rather than sounding like so much gibberish.

If then I do not grasp the meaning of what someone is saying, I am a foreigner to the speaker, and he is a foreigner to me. So it is with you. Since you are eager to have spiritual gifts, try to excel in gifts that build up the church.”
(1 Corinthians 14:11-12 NIV)

Hidden UNDERNEATH

I used to think that the back of a knitted piece was unimportant; it was only the front that the world could see that mattered. Surely I didn't care if the other side of was a mess of crisscrossed yarn, ends woven in without thought to color blends and the like. I was more interested in having fun with a project than making sure both sides of the work were picture perfect.

Then my sister started entering stitchery projects into her local county fairs, and visiting the needlework barn became a part of my regular summertime fair experience. It is one thing to put a finished item on display; it is another thing completely to have someone judge the work, to actually pick it up and examine it closely, and yes, to look underneath to see what lies behind the front that is on display. Even though I haven't yet entered the local competition and have no plans to do so, our discussions on what the judges might be looking for remains in the back of my mind and impacts the care with which I knit and finish a project.

Some of us live our lives the way I used to go about my knitting; making sure everything looked fine on the outside and thinking that what lay underneath the front I presented to the world was unimportant. Then someone mentioned to me the concept of a Judge Who looks behind the visible facade and sees the contents of the heart inside. Thoughts I would never have voiced are audible to His ears; sins hidden from others, He sees. Intentions, motivations, cut corners...nothing escapes His eye, His ear, His heart. And while He loves us, forgives us, and works with us to change, there will be a day on which the the way we've lived our lives is exposed for all to see and judged. It will not matter then whether we have believed and intentionally subjected our life's work to His scrutiny; our first breath was our enrollment and early withdrawals are not an option nor exempt from consideration.

This revelation is not to inspire fear, as surely if we have accepted God's offer of salvation, the future for us holds no fear. But rather it should inspire us to live the very best life we can, to live carefully and remember that even the smallest details matter to God. When we hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant...”, we will know a joy that no blue ribbon on earth can provide.

Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
(1 Timothy 6:18-19 NIV)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

THUMBING Through Reasons to Knit

There it is in the photo to the left – the reason I picked up my knitting needles again after laying them down forty years or so ago. Do you see it?

It's not the multitude of beautiful yarn available, the abundance of fun patterns to work up, or even the joy of passing on a beloved hobby to a new generation of needleworkers...wonderful though all those things are.

Nope...it's the phone lying face down on the table, ignored for the moment in the midst of colorful skeins of wool, attention focused on something other than Facebook, fingers and thumbs busy with with actions other than tapping, texting, scrolling and sending for a minute or two.

Don't get me wrong; I love my phone. It's my constant companion, the answer to my many questions, my entertainment when I'm bored... my connection to the rest of the world. But it was becoming my world, and I didn't like the way I reached for it every time I sat down, woke up, or a commercial break interrupted the program I was watching on TV. I needed to make a change.

And suddenly I got the urge to knit. I remembered the comfort of relaxing with the latest project, the satisfaction in seeing the work grow underneath the clicking needles...the freedom to let my mind wander while my hands remained happily employed with knit and purl stitch counts. Now I problem solve, I dream; my mind is free to set its own agenda instead of constantly searching other people's posts for something new to think about.

But what to knit? Pairing purpose with the pleasure I found in creating items added excitement to this venture; couldn't I make things other people could use? The ideas started flooding in. Of course, there were the obvious; little gifts for Christmas, seasonal items to decorate the home, baby items to give as shower gifts or donate to needy mothers. My sister mentioned a group of knitters in her area of the country who were making scarves and gloves to hang on park fences for homeless people to find and use; soon I found a local group I could contribute to who were doing the same. Now I find I can't knit fast enough to finish all the things I want to make before one season ends and another arrives with a whole slew of new ideas of its own.

It turned out I had it partially right. There was a human purpose to pursuing a passion...but what if there was a divine connection, as well? For no apparent reason I selected a snuggie as my first project, one of those little baby sacks or “cocoons” in which to cuddle a newborn, and did it up in blue, even though nobody I knew at that moment had a pregnancy nearing its due date. As my knitting grew, so did a friendship with a coworker who was new in town and who soon found out she was pregnant...with a little boy. It eventually became obvious to me who the snuggie was to be given to, especially since the project on my needles and the baby in her belly were “done” at the same time. But it was as I was writing a note to go with the gift, that I felt a nudge from God to write a few words from His heart, as well as my own. It wasn't anything mystical or deep, just a few lines of light and love spoken into the life of a young woman at a special time in her life. And suddenly it hit me that that was why I had picked up my my hobby again after such a long period of time...to deliver that very message at this particular time. The pleasure I found in the action was beside the point.

A light bulb turned on in my head. What I thought was my need to knit again was actually God's need for me to do so, that He might deliver a message of love to a daughter I “happened” to be connected with. What if God had me learn to knit forty years ago just so that He could call that skill into play decades later and use it to bless a girl who wasn't even born at the time I began? Could it be that many of the details of our lives that we thought originated from our own thoughts and desires are really planted inside of us by God to bud and bear fruit in the time of His choosing, in ways we couldn't have imagined originally?

Looking back, I realize now how many other passions in my life have come and then seemingly gone, only to be resurrected and given new life at a later point in time. How good of God to replace the sadness when a particular season ends with an eager hope that it may roll back around again on down the road! And, oh, how the joy we find in them is multiplied when those interests are used for God's purposes rather than just our own!

And my social media addiction? I still use my electronic devices plenty...now mostly to find patterns on Pinterest or check in on the picture posts of my knitting buddies' current projects. The internet lists a host of physical and emotional benefits that come from picking up a pair of knitting needles; for me the best was the spiritual blessing that came with the excuse to put the phone down.

...make it your ambition to live quietly and peacefully, and to mind your own affairs and work with your hands...”
(1 Thessalonians 4:11 NIV)
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