Q for You: What are you afraid of? (with FAFKAL news)

Q for You: What are you afraid of?

My favorite thing about #summerofbasics so far (intro here) is getting a peek into so many people’s thought processes — picking out not only what feels “basic” but also what feels like a fun challenge to take on in good company. This is the time of year when I usually start to at least hint at what the big Fringe and Friends Knitalong* for the year will be, and I realized recently — and mentioned in the East London Knit conversation — that the past several knitalongs have been about getting us all out of our comfort zones. This goes along with my post-Squam opining, but my big life lesson in the last several years has been how thrilling it is to keep pushing myself out of my own comfort zone (social and otherwise) and proving I’m fine. What happens when you do that is the boundaries get redrawn, right? The zone keeps getting bigger. (I imagine most people learn this earlier in life!) I have a pretty damn roomy comfort zone when it comes to knitting, even though I’ve only been doing it for 5.5 years, whereas my sewing comfort zone is pretty tiny, despite having learned the basics as a kid. Which was the impetus for Summer of Basics — I wanted to sew a button-down shirt and decided to drag you all into it with me!

So the next FAFKAL, as they’ve come to be nicknamed, will be another case of getting us all to try something that takes a bit of bravery. I’m not ready to share any specifics just yet, other than that it will start in January this time, rather than September. (The last two have been a different kind of challenging, as they overlapped with Slow Fashion October, and this year sandwiching it between SoB and SFO would put me over the edge.) But in the meantime, with SoB underway and FAFKAL on the horizon, I thought I’d ask: What scares you? From trying a new trick to making a whole garment to learning a whole new discipline (sewing? knitting? spinning? weaving?) or whatever it might be. And what is it about it that seems so scary, exactly?

Mine is definitely steeking (the act of cutting an opening in a piece of knitted fabric), and it’s because the one thing I’m always telling people about knitting— “It’s just yarn! You can always unravel it and it will still be yarn!” — ceases to be true. So that’s the thing I want to take on. And yes, that is a bit of foreshadowing … although the scrap of my St. Brendan that I used for this photo has nothing to do with it! Although it is relevant in the sense that cutting off the bottom of that sweater was a pretty thrilling gulp! of a moment.

*Previous annual FAFKALs being: Amanda, Cowichan, Improv top-down


PREVIOUSLY in Q for You: How do you decide what to make?


51 thoughts on “Q for You: What are you afraid of? (with FAFKAL news)

  1. Go to a thrift store and buy a wool sweater, any wool sweater, cheaper the better but be sure it hasn’t felted. Practice your steeking on that. Try it with machine stitching, try it without, try crocheting the steek. Practice picking up stitches after you have cut, and before you cut. Go to town with it. There are lots of videos to watch. My favorites are from Eunny Jang. Tech Knitter, Kate Davies, and Philosophers wool (if you can find it).

    Because i started knitting as a teen, and I was already a pretty competant seamstress, sewing and cutting a sweater (I didn’t learn the word steek until I was about 50) never fazed me. Back in the 60s, the style was to cut the sweater open and finish the edge with a length of grosgrain ribbon sewn on the outside like an exterior facing, and then add machine made button holes (my old Singer had a buttonhole attachment which made absolutely perfect buttonholes. I don’t think I would do that now), and at 15, that seemed totally do-able…but then so does everything at 15.

    Remember, whatever you attempt to do: its just yarn, not world peace, and if you can’t take a big leap when its just yarn, you may find yourselves stuck on the sidelines forever.

    • Ellen, wow. Thank you for that wonderfully accessible strategy. I love thrifting. I am going to go out and try this! Yahoo! Best, Emily.

    • Good idea on the thrift store sweaters. I’ve also practiced just by knitting up swatches and cutting those up and trying different finishes. It’s a good way to see how your yarn will react to steeking (not all of them do so well…), as well as practice different kinds of finishes!

  2. Steeking definitely requires a leap of faith, because you can’t always try it on before you cut (if it’s a round yoke cardigan, that’s one of the few exceptions, because you can try it on as a pullover, but if you’re steeking armholes or a V-neck, forget it!). The three steeked garments I’ve knit at this point are all favorites, though! You’re a good planner and you’re careful when it comes to checking gauge and measurements, so I’m sure you’ll do just fine when you finally steek a garment!

  3. I’m a little afraid of real colorwork like instarsia or fair isle. I’ve done stripes but carrying color makes me sweat. Also the though of cutting my knitting after all that hard work terrifies me as well. But I try not to let the fear consume me and just push along.

  4. My name is Bogna and I am a steekaphobe. Fear of cutting yarn after I’ve put so much work into it, even something as small as true afterthought heels makes me sweat.

  5. I’m also afraid of steeking (seems to be a common fear!) and have wanted to learn how to do colorwork (intarsia, fair isle) since I was in high school over a decade ago. I’ve never made any serious attempts at either and feel that it’s time.
    Also, I’m excited for the FAFKAL to start in January! My improv sweater (another fear) took a bit longer than planned, which put me on the struggle bus to finish Christmas and winter birthday gifts.

  6. Steeking most definitely. Let’s steek together!
    This is the year I’m determined to get back into sewing. I just hung some washed fabric on the clothesline outside to dry. I’m sewing this weekend! Let’s steek next year!

  7. Elizabeth Zimmerman, in Knitting Without Tears, offers the best counsel on steeking: after measuring, basting, machine stitching, “Cut on basting, then lie down in a darkened room for 15 minutes to recover. You will never fear to cut again.” Worked for me!

  8. New vocabulary to me: steeking! Never thought of it! Just the thought of it makes me sweat…You’re such brave ladies!!! I liked Ellen’s post very much specially when she says: “it’s just yarn not world peace…” I’ll have to learn circular knitting first and then I’ll be able to accept the steeking challenge for next year!

  9. I want to do an archer for the summer of basics but I am afraid of picking the wrong interfacing for my flannel??? I look at jen’s tutorials and her seams are v straight and I am not lol

  10. this might be kind of wimpy but…trusting my numbers. when i write a pattern and work the math to get the numbers for the measurements, i am constantly second guessing myself. I am scared i didn’t get enough yarn. i am scare i screwed my math up and it’s going to come out wonky and i will have to start over again. i am scared my numbers don’t match enough figure types for people to want the pattern. it can be exhausting and it’s hard to shut that off when you are working on the project. once i am about halfway through, i finally breathe a sigh of relief when i see it really coming together.

  11. Sort of ashamed to admit it as many of your posts discuss this at great length, but honestly? Pattern modification. Basic things like nixing waist shaping, raising hems, lengthening sleeves- all that is fine. But anything related to the shoulder or yoke is beyond me. It’s a bummer because I love set-in sleeve as well as saddle-shouldered sweaters, but the idea of modifying such patterns…shudder (and lord knows I’m too picky to accept a pattern as-is…). It probably has to do with the cumbersome task of making sure my stitch gauge *and* row gauge are properly coordinated together. Ah, what’s a knitter to do?

  12. Steek..Eeek-Me too-although lettilopi is a reasonably priced yarn to not worry-too much. Small needle knitting (size 6 and below)scares me. Haunts back to a 8th grade episode of knitting a top with size 5 needles and only making half a sleeve.

  13. Oddly enough, I am not afraid of steeking, but I am afraid of cutting fabric for sewing projects (it feels so irreversible! Nightmares of youthful sewing projects ruined by cutting errors!). I can’t explain why one and not the other, but it must have something to do with my overall vastly greater comfort with knitting.

  14. I too learned steeking from EZ when I learned how to knit fairisle. It certainly was scary but I got over it. Now I’m just finishing my first top down Improv and that was scary too but it’s going fine. What scares me now is creating a top down with cables and getting the cable placement right at the beginning. That really intimidates me…

  15. Afraid of disappointment after all the time spent creating! I just finished sewing a dress and am less than happy with how it looks – considerably different from the illustration shown on the pattern envelope. And yes – I’m terrified to steek! Purchasing a wool sweater in a consignment shop was a wonderful idea – thank you, Ellen, for that great idea! I’ll always be a work-in-progress, and will continue my love affair with needles, thread, yarn, fabric, etc. – but I also want to feel the thrill of a happy outcome!

  16. I would like to learn to spin. I don’t know if I would be ready next January, or ever, really, as I already have so much yarn to knit and crochet up. I learned to crochet a couple of years ago and would really recommend learning a new craft. It’s fun and it gives you a feeling of accomplishment.

  17. Socks…I’ve taught many people to knit and crochet, and they are very impressed but we basically get to being able to understand ribbing and knitting in the round and they either take off running on their own or give up. I’ve had a block up in front of socks for a while (although you wouldn’t know it from my stash…) and have been aiming to do some in the not too distant future, but I’m also trying to tame my WIPs and that’s also not going as I had hoped. Brioche I’m super with, little bit of color work, cables yes please, but SOCKS! EEEEKKK

  18. Steeking was the first thing that came to mind. I have accepted that I am not a steeking person. I also learned the basics of machine sewing as a child, but it was such a bad experience that I don’t feel motivated to go back there. It would also take away my knitting time. Thinking instead about exchanging requests with a dedicated seamstress who would like something hand-knit.

    • There alternatives to machine sewing the steek. Check out the videos I posted above. You can crochet, hand sew, or take a walk on the wild side, and just cut ( only do this if you have yarn with a lot of grab like shetland).

  19. When I saw the title of the post I thought it should be FOFKAL “Fear Of Failure KAL”. It’s the fear of failure that keeps me from attempting steeks.

  20. I need to jump in on the front end of a knitting (or sewing) trend, rather than wait a few years. I don’t know why I wait…
    As regards steeking, I think a lot of us have a fear of “goofing up” all of that knitting. I did see a good idea on Ravelry. Knit something small in your yarns (the example I saw as a mug warmer) and steek that. If you can do the small project, it will be less scary on your large project.

    To goodenoughcook, spinning is fun. If you are not adverse to trying a spindle first, you can make one yourself with either a CD or a wooden wheel. Turtlemade on etsy has inexpensive plastic turks (3D printed), and with fiber, it would cost under $50 to try. You can at least get the hang of drafting without a large investment.

    • Thanks for getting back to me. I have failed with drop spindles about 10 years ago so I thought I would try a supported spindle. Those 3 d printed drop spindles sure are cool, though!

  21. Most of my fears are sewing-related. I’m much less confident in my sewing skills than in my knitting ones, so new techniques and new patterns are always pretty daunting to me–which leads me to procrastinate like a boss for every step. I’m definitely afraid to tackle more advanced sewing projects–things that require buttonholes (*ahhh*) or lots of small pieces with interfacings.

  22. I’m intimidated by the contiguous set in sleeves. That said, I am swatching for a sweater knit with these right now, the swatch mid-row in front of me. I think the continuous stripes across the shoulders are rather nice and I have some small balls of naturally dyed yarn to use up. Hoping to knit Driftwood as buttonless pullover.
    The designers who make me want to try contiguous are Anna Kuduja, whose book I actually own, (http://www.ravelry.com/designers/anna-kuduja) and Isabell Kraemer (http://www.ravelry.com/designers/isabell-kraemer)

    Interestingly steeking does’t scare me (tried it on swatches) but since I prefer to try on as I go I just knit fair isle and stripes back and forth (I don’t mind colorwork on the purl side). Since I rarely follow a pattern exactly (I do buy them, just always end up changing up the gauge and numbers and sometimes design), I like to try my garment on as I knit.

  23. I think the last knitting hurdle for me left is brioche. I’ve been wanting to knit an Oshima sweater since it came out, so I’ve been putting it off for…4 years now? Maybe this will be the year.
    Oh! Also 2-color cables. They look super cool. I will need to try it at some point.

  24. Machine knitting. I want to learn to operate a knitting machine. All through high school and college, I sewed. I knitted, but only squares that I sewed together to make slippers, potholders, or afghans. When I started knitting sweaters 10 years ago, I thought of my knitting as creating pattern pieces that I could sew together to make a sweater. If I could machine knit part of the pieces, or parts of the sweater, I can enjoy the challenging bits–picking a pattern or design, selecting the yarn, and modifying the fit. Then I could machine through the simple parts and get to the fun colorwork and details.
    That’s a plan, one that would require a good bit of bravery from me.

  25. I conquered steeking last year with Ysolda Teague’s Cruden vest. It was super exciting and fun, and turned out great! I really want to do some more. My current fear is a complex intarsia sweater.. all those ends and little fiddly bits make me nervous. I’m afraid of everything getting tangled and unruly.

  26. Afraid of not being immediately good at something – perfectionism is a hard taskmaster.

    • I saw a good quote about this by Guy Frenkel from the Root Simple podcast; “If you’re letting mistakes get you down, it means your ego is in the way of the risk taking that’s essential to any creative endeavor.” I think about this a lot when I’m teaching. As adults we’re so used to being competent at things, it takes bravery to try something new, and grace to accept that there will be bumps along the way. But I know that if I can let go of any expectations, it’s also super fun for me to be a beginner in a craft and try new skills. When I learned to spin a couple of years ago it was the best experience, I just laughed when the wheel pulled the yarn out of my hands, since I knew I would figure it out in a little while. And I did!

  27. Let’s start with the fact that I thought FAFKAL meant “Fear A-Failing Knit Along.” I have a Kate Davies cardigan that’s my first steeking project on my needles right now. All I have to do is the colourwork yoke. It will be dormant over the summer, but come fall, I’m knitting that yoke and will take that leap of faith and cut. I may need a nap a la Elizabeth Zimmerman’s advice, but I like to nap so it’ll be a bonus. My other justified fear (just see a recent IG post) is running out of yarn when I’m using stash yarn, but that just seems to be a fact of knitting.

  28. Well, steeking is definitely one thing that doesn’t scare me, and I’ve taught classes in it for years. BTW, after taking classes with Alice Starmore, Anne Bourgeois, and others, I still find that EZ’s machine sewn steek takes the cake for me. I think intarsia is what terrifies me. The thought of having all those bits and bobs of colour dangling from my work, plus having to work colour patterns from the wrong side, makes me feel grumpy. Back in the 80s there was a Vogue Knitting cover sweater in floral intarsia that I lusted after. Good thing fashion moved on, and I no longer feel the desire for that particular form of intarsia.

  29. Right now I’m terrified of going back and fixing this dropped stitch in the fisherman’s rib pattern I’m knitting for my sloper in sparrow yarn. I just have not been able to figure out how to do this, and I frequently drop stitches. Each time I “repair” one, I’m left with a gaping hole in the fabric. :/

  30. The first cut into fabric when I’m sewing a garment.

    I’ve been sewing since the age of seven, when Mom introduced me to her old Singer, and 44 years later, I still inhale at that first cut.

  31. as many above, I’m scared of steeking, and also intarsia – it’s interesting, I don’t fear cables or stranded colourwork as such, but I do tend to avoid knitting them anyway – I just dislike the process.
    My grandmother knitted me a fantastic intarsia cardigan with two intertwined dragons on the back when I was, oh, about 8 – something I’d really like to do is learn to make a copy of it! (Or even an adult-sized cardigan – now that would be something!)

  32. I was afraid of knitting a sweater for the longest time, and I can’t possibly explain why! Maybe the large amount of yarn required? Now that I’ve done it, there’s not much I’m afraid of with knitting. I enjoy the process of so much that I’m totally fine ripping an entire sweater out if it doesn’t fit just right. I haven’t needed to steek yet, though, so we’ll see how scary that is when I make a pattern that requires it! I’m a fairly prolific sewer, but I still get pretty nervous cutting into really treasured fabric. And I’m a little afraid/overwhelmed at making an underwired bra…

  33. I have a few directions in which I could/would like to stretch next year – and some of them may sound a bit odd. They’re not technique-based (I’ve taught a lot of techniques over the years, so my fears don’t live there), but more emotional stretching around making.
    In January, I could choose to:
    a) Finish all my UFOs and commit to Project Monogamy (why is that so hard?);
    b) Bring more color back into my wardrobe (I have so many lovely turquoise and orange yarns, both colors I can wear, so why am I stuck on navy, chambray and linen?).
    c) Tackle some projects in my queue that require rigor in the knitting and the finishing: a Bohus sweater, or my kit from Catherine Lowe. Rigor in attention is something I tell myself I don’t have a lot of, but there’s no excuse really (especially since I stopped drinking wine!) ; )

    Thanks for provoking the thoughts… room to grow, always!

  34. After reading some of the comments I came across another new world for me: intarsia. I understand that Fair Isle is a colorwork knitting with typical Fair Isle patterns that use only two different colors in a single row. Colorwork knitting in general for me was called jacquard. Could anyone explain to me how intarsia differs from jacquard? Thank you.

    • Intarsia is what happens when you knit a motif in the middle of your work (or lots of them) that is not connected to other motifs instead of stranding your work along a long stretch of knitting. It is often something like a picture, or a geometric design, or something like the big “H” in a Harry Potter sweater. Often, but not necessarily, knit back and forth, rather than in the round.

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  36. I’m actually not scared of anything I can think of. I was scared of steeking, and then I finally steeked my Hela (lots of process photos here: http://www.ravelry.com/projects/deeni/hela-short-cardigan-with-zip) so that is behind me. I strongly suggest Lopi for a first steek.

    I am annoyed by brioche, and a bit defeated by stacked stitches a la Fox Paws, but I wouldn’t say I am scared. This is probably a factor of my ignorance rather than my bravery! :)

  37. I have never considered a pattern that required steeking! I just don’t think I’ve found the “right pattern”. My fear is still a novice one, changing the pattern I’m working with or making up my own. I know I have the basic skills to do it or google to help ;) but it’s still nerve wracking to get so far into a project just to find a mistake and not only have to fix it but figure out how to fix it.

  38. Dear Karen, I just found your blog about 8 months ago and I love it. Funny that I found it because of sewing, where you are mostly about knitting. What I love most about crafting (knitting, sewing, baking) is that nothing really is scary if you take your time and go step by step. It takes time to learn and create and I think mostly of the time we get scared because we failed and it is maybe because we rush things? I have been knitting for over a decade so nothing really is scary there and if it doesn’t work, it can be frogged. Sewing used to scare me but I decided to take it on last year and I am completely hooked. I am going to participate in your SummerBasics – still trying to decide on the projects (I know this is the wrong comment place but I might as well since I am already writing an essay here!).

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