frustration: the knitting/ashtanga connection

Knitting is always presented in such soothing terms. It’s meditative, creative, the repetition occupies a portion of your jumpy lizard brain allowing deep reflection.

True, true. But it can also be hell.

There’s a reason Elizabeth Zimmerman titled her famous book Knitting Without Tears. I’ve shed copious amounts of them over the years. There was a whole period a few years ago when my husband would ask “tell me again why you are putting yourself through this torture?”

Sometimes your project doesn’t work out. You make errors and fail to catch them for many rounds and then have to rip out inches of precious work. The plain knitting sections go on for an exceedingly tedious amount of time. You put everything you’ve got into a sweater and then it doesn’t fit or it looks ghastly on you. You spend way too much money and feel guilt. You make a Fair Isle hat and are faced with an ungodly amount of ends to weave in and you hate weaving in ends.

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But still, we knit. And still get on our mats.

Because Ashtanga is the same. Only in yoga practice have I felt the same love/agony/struggle/joy cocktail that I get from knitting. I’ve quit both several times over the years only to return. And each time I return the ratio of love/joy increases over the agony/struggle. Of course this is because my skill level also increases but I think patience, perseverance and non-attachment to outcome have been fostered by both practices.

I’m at an interesting place in my yoga practice. I need to alter how I go about it. My old method is no longer working for me, never mind all the whys. I can look to my knitting for guidance. I don’t struggle quite so much anymore because I’ve learned to manage expectations. I’ve loosened up quite a bit and have learned to relax and enjoy the making, the doing and worry less about the result. And naturally the results have improved.

But I have also learned what it is I like to knit: this is key! I’m not about to make a sweater in plain stockinette stitch ever again. I’ve learned to tell when the pattern I’m ogling is something I want vs something I want to make. Big big difference. Most of the time I would be perfectly happy buying the finished item and skip the making part altogether. And then there is Fair Isle, a complicated bit of knitting that I’ve found I adore. It keeps me engaged in a way plain knitting doesn’t.

In terms of my practice, this puts me squarely into the unorthodox camp of Ashtangis. There are many asanas that I simply don’t care about doing. And I am perfectly content with that. A facsimile is fine by me. I am far more interested in finding the breath, bandhas, and drishti (the yoga equivalent to Fair Isle!)—something that I generally lose touch with as I power along in my old macho way. This new-found non-attachment to asana makes practice in a shala a bit tricky because it’s unfair to the teacher, I know. But I love practicing in a shala and I think I can behave well enough to continue to be welcome in one.

It’s all about increasing that love/joy ratio in every aspect of our life, no?

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Knitters. Ashtangis. Knashtangis. You know who you are.

The two practices are so compatible that if one was to make a venn diagram of ashtangis and knitters, it would look like this:

ashtangiVenn.inddBoth practices take time and patience and dedication to learn and are famously frustrating at first. Remember being stuck learning the sun salutations, watching as everyone else cruised along through complicated practices that they made seem so easy? So it goes with knitting. I’ve taught a few people and you always have to talk them down from starting with something übercomplicated involving multiple colors and fancy bobbles and cables. Gently, gently you try to steer them away from the heavily-textured Aran sweater or fancy plaid-patterned cardigan and tenderly suggest they start with a hat. A plain hat. And they are always so disappointed! until they actually try the knitting and then they get how long it takes for the fingers to get the motion of the knit and the purl, to learn to ‘read’ the knitting as it grows, to cast on and off, decrease and increase. There is so much to learn! Same with the standing sequence. I’m still learning things seven years in.

I like to teach people to knit because I was the same: overly eager, overly ambitious. Completely lacking patience while rushing into projects without the necessary skills.

I first learned when I was 23. I cleaned houses to make money and one of my clients was an elderly lady who liked to school me in things like the proper way to make a bed. She also decided that I needed to know how to knit. This was long before the resurgence ten years ago that remade knitting into a hipster activity. Back then it was firmly stuck in old lady land. I went and got some crappy yarn and a set of straight needles from a dreary shop filled with middle-aged women in frumpy cardigans and started learning. I liked it OK but I was a distracted youth so I learned but didn’t love.

The next time I picked up needles was a few years later when I convinced myself I was ready for a sweater and made a cardigan for a boyfriend. A purple cardigan. A purple ill-fitting scratchy heavy lumpen cardigan. The fact that I finished it at all was the only positive about that experience. It still exists to shame me because I married the boyfriend and he refuses to part with it.

A little while later I found myself living in a new town with no friends and a lot of time on my hands. What to do to fill those long lonely hours? Why knit of course! I bought a book of ridiculously difficult sweaters, picked out one of the most absurdly complicated designs—yes, yes, a plaid cardigan—forked over a huge amount of cash for the dozens of colors of yarn and studiously ignoring the shopkeeper’s frowny face (she had inquired about my skill level when she saw the pattern and wasn’t pleased with my answer) embarked on the most frustrating project of my knitting life.

Because I am no quitter and drive myself quite hard (sound familiar ashtangis?) I finished that damn cardigan and it was awful. Completely unwearable. The back was too short because I knit too tightly trying to wrangle the colorwork, having zero experience with colorwork of any kind. The fronts were too long because by then I had a looser hand. The sleeves didn’t match in length. And it was hideous. Bulky and unflattering and PLAID. So very very plaid.

I stuffed it away in a bag and didn’t knit again for nearly ten years until I found myself back in that same town once again still with no friends and decided, deja vu-like, that knitting was the answer. Except this time it was. Because I took a beginner’s class, where we made a felted bag. From there I progressed steadily and slowly, increasing skills with each new project, learning everything I hadn’t learned before when I was so eager and pigheaded. There were duds of course but more and more the things I made were not only wearable but actually nice. And I made friends! Going to a  ‘knitting night’ each week for years, until it was down to just me and Nan and we decided to ditch the knitting in favor of wine and whine. Serendipitously, this is when knitting got hip and the yarns got sexier and the patterns more creative and fashionable too. At long last I was a knitter.

So it went with yoga. I started young, quit a bunch of times after being too ambitious, finally stumbling onto ashtanga when I had enough maturity to settle down and learn it step by step. Not frustration-free, that’s not possible when learning something new, but enough to stick with it.

So now I’m a knashtangi. Equally devoted. And I think there are more of you out there. Or at least there should be. I can’t teach you yoga, but I can teach you how to cast on and knit and purl.

knitting art, homemade vs handmade

A friend posted this on my Facebook timeline yesterday. It’s made from GLASS!

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All I can say is WOW.

I love knitting but sometimes struggle with the whole craft vs art aspect. It seems so solidly stuck in the craft realm. I’ve attempted to elevate it but with not much success. And perhaps that’s OK. Why should it have to be something more? Must be the art school training in me. Which is sort of where this all started. Even though I studied photography, we were encourage to push the definition. Printing on cloth and stitching it into a quilt? Yes. Taking photos of industrial sites and framing them neatly? Boring.

In actual Knitting News: I’m making progress on my Caller Herrin’ Fairisle hat—well into the decreases at the crown where it gets exciting. Weaving in the ends will be no fun, but I need to find a way to make it fun. I could use a master class on finishing in general because that is actually key to uplifting your knitted item from homemade to handmade.

Maybe that will be my excuse to visit WEBS, that mega mecca right down the road. I’m sure they have someone there who can elevate my otherwise mediocre finishing skills.

Want to see more glass knitted sculptures? Click here to read all about it.

apple tart: gluten-free, raw, vegan and yet still tastes great

I will not be denied dessert!

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It’s apple season so one must make some sort of apple pie. One must even if one is not eating gluten. The raw part is just a bonus. I sometimes like to add a thin slice of English Cheddar to this so clearly the vegan is optional.

Here’s how it’s done in my haphazard way of cooking. I mostly am jotting this down so I don’t forget.

Make Caramel Sauce. This is from a book I just finished designing and is not on sale yet. I’ll let you know when it is because it’s phenomenal.

½ cup (120 ml) maple syrup or honey
2½ tablespoons (35 g) almond butter
2 tablespoons (30 ml) melted coconut butter
1 tablespoon (15 ml) melted coconut oil
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 pinches Himalayan salt (use more for salted caramel sauce)
Whisk all the ingredients together in a bowl. Store in a sealed container in the fridge.

Yield 1 cup (240 g

Make Crust. Gluten-free people rely on nuts. If you are allergic to nuts and need to be GF, I’m so sorry.

1 cup (80 g) walnuts
2/3 cup (107 g) shredded coconut
1/3 cup (100 g) pecans
10 pitted dates, choppped
small handful dried mulberries
2 tablespoons (10 ml) water
2 pinches Himalayan salt
Grind the nuts and salt into flour in the food processor but not into paste! Be careful. Add dried fruit. Sub in whatever you have on hand. Sprinkle water and pulse until it sticks together. Press into a tart pan, pie pan whatever. Press down firmly. Set aside.

Make Apple Filling. Soft apples are best, like Cortlands. Since they are not cooked, the hard fleshed apples are nice but hard to cut into with your fork. Cortlands on the other hand cut like butter.

4-5 soft-flesh apples, peeled and cut into chunks that fit into your food processor’s chute. Set it on the thinnest setting. Or you could use a mandolin. Or hand cut into wafer-thin slices if you are very good with a knife and patient. The key here is THIN. Sprinkle lightly with a small amount of lemon juice. Add a touch of cinnamon. A dash of salt. Whatever those apples want to brighten the flavor. Or nothing. Which is also good.

Assemble. Almost done! Although oddly this tart tastes even better the next day.

Warm the caramel sauce and drizzle some onto the prepared crust. Layer on the apple slices as evenly as you can. They need to be super thin so don’t stress too much about this. Drizzle more warmed sauce on top. I have a dehydrator so I like to put it in there at about 115 degrees to warm it up. And as I mentioned, the next day it’s even better.

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