Saturday, February 15, 2014

My Middlemarch

I really like reading. For most of my years, if I started a book I finished it. This strategy did me a great deal of good. One summer when I was a kid, I went to the public library every week and I picked books off the shelf at random. I read each and every one of those books from beginning to end. Some were exciting, some were stupid, some were weird. It was an interesting summer.

I held firm to my beginning-to-end approach until I picked up Middlemarch by George Eliot. This was maybe 20 years ago. This novel is supposed to be a classic. A classic bore, as far as I’m concerned. I tried four times to get past chapter one with no luck. I finally – finally – gave myself permission to not finish the book. An important turning point in my life. Really.

From then on, whenever I feel the need to surrender and accept defeat, I think of Middlemarch. Just as Napoleon had is Waterloo, I had my Middlemarch.

Now for some knitting. I have started many many knitting projects that for whatever reason I decided not to finish. I never really felt defeated by these false starts. It was usually a matter of taste or time. But over a year ago I started a pair of socks from some yarn that I was especially attracted to: black and teal, with very long color changes and nice gradation from one color to the other. The yarn, “ZauberballSock Yarn” by Schoppel Wolle, is 75% wool, 25% nylon. It is a “singles” yarn, not plied. And it is rather thinner than many sock yarns.  

My wardrobe could really use a pair of teal and black socks. I swatched. I preferred the fabric that resulted from the size 0 needles better than from the size 1 needles. I knew my aging eyes would not be happy with the black sections of the sock, so I decided on a relatively simple rib pattern for the sock. I had to wear my strongest reading glasses and work under the very best light. But it was still not easy. The black stitches were hard to see; the singles nature of the yarn made it very easy to split stitches; and dropped stitches seemed to disappear instantly. I dreaded the idea of having to unknit and reknit any section – something I expect and plan to do on nearly any knitting project.

In one of my project notebooks I wrote the following entry: “Jan 8, 2013. I started that sock on Nov 27 and finished it today. What a torment.”

At a workshop I taught later in January 2013, I was describing my less-than-enthusiastic attitude about knitting this sock. I really wanted the finished project, but I dreaded the actual knitting. How could I let a measly pair of socks defeat me??!! After all, I am an accomplished knitter. I’ve knitted dozens and dozens of pairs of socks. I love knitting socks. But I just wasn’t sure I could bring myself to knit the second sock.

Katy R., a young woman at the workshop was listening to me complain. She looked at me with her young eyes and a mildly annoyed look of disgust on her face and she said, “Oh, just do it!”

I was mortified. I decided then that I would not let a pair of socks defeat me. I would not surrender. I would just do it!

With determination, I started the second sock. I knitted the cuff. I knitted the leg. Then other fiber projects required my attention so the second sock languished. I mentioned in January 2014 that one of my fiber resolutions was to finish this sock.

But while I was flying to Alaska and knitting a different pair of socks, I had an epiphany. I simply have too many wonderful and fun fiber projects ahead of me to waste my time on a dreaded fiber project. In flight, I surrendered and accepted defeat: My Middlemarch. I planned to throw away the finished sock, the half finished second sock, and the remainder of the yarn. Just chuck it! A few days ago I told my friend Marty F. of my plan. She suggested that I give her the yarn instead of throwing it away. So, that’s what I did yesterday. Here’s a picture of what now belongs to Marty:

Oh, I finished the pair of socks that I started on my trip to Alaska. A lovely light heathered grey sock yarn, Schoeller Stahl “Fortissima Socka” yarn, 75% superwash wool, 25% nylon. I made some modifications to the pattern, “Gentleman’s Sock with Lozenge Pattern”, in Nancy Bush’s book, Knitting Vintage Socks. A fun knit and a pleasing pair of socks.

I will continue to enjoy my sock knitting. I will accept technical challenges. But I will not accept dread.


  1. Good for you! And I love the finished pair of socks ;)

    I've given myself permission to just forget about a few of those same kinds of projects as you described, and feel much better for having done that....must 2014 is the year for it!

  2. Thanks, Cary! I'm just about to start another pair of socks that I'm confident I will finish.

  3. I'm glad you gave yourself permission not to finish the Zauberball socks, but equally glad they ended up in the friendly hands of another knitter! There are so many possibilities out there to knit, why waste time on a project that just isn't grabbing the knitterly love?

  4. Why is it I take from your entry the movies and not the fiber struggles....signs n wonders. 'The Lives of Others' was Roger Ebert's favorite pick for 2006; a perfect, modern telling of what happens to the Citizens of a State that fears them.
    -Jen Foti