The Writing Capelet, Part I

Hello! I hope your May-month is off to a beautiful and prolific start — that new ideas are slowly pushing up violets and greens from the soil like so many spring-time crocuses.

The more I craft, the more I realize that I turn to making to help me solve various kinds of practical problems. I’m learning that very good things can come from the quandaries. Let me explain how I mean this.

A Writing Problem

After my writing trickled to a near and painful stand-still last year, 2018 brought a very good and welcome change: that homecoming-feeling of slowly finding comfort and ease with words again. More than ever, I’m willing and able to regularly sit for the repeated roll-up-your-shirtsleeves sessions that will lead (hopefully) to a completed first thesis draft. The work of writing is still slow-going; first drafts are always the most painful and embarassing. But, I’m learning that self-forgiveness can soften the process, and curiosity about what’s next is enough to keep me tethered to the pages. This is a project that I have been working on, in some fashion, for several years;Β it’s refreshing to know that the renewal of curiosity is still (always) possible.

BUT. It seems, my physiology has something to say about this. Specifically, myΒ natural tendency to coldness. An hour of work in the wrong conditions can leave me feeling bone-chilly, energy-sapped, and in dire need of tea followed by a pulse-quickening run. The usual writerly haunts — the cool, air-conditioned interiors of libraries and coffee shops — are great for quick visits. But the temperature needed to preserve coffee beans, open-faced lox sandwiches, and the spines and fibers of books is getting hard to tolerate for sustained reading and writing. Just too cold.

So, what’s a writer to do?

Knit for the Writing

I decided to address this issue by knitting myself something warm to wear. It would, preferably, be snug, non-lacy, shoulder-warming, and thick enough to keep out A/C drafts. It wouldn’t need to be a full sweater, maybe just a cowl or capelet. I noticed thatΒ felt bear, bedecked in a snug and cozy poncho-thing, had the right idea. And so I took my fashion cue from, yes, a toy.

After some Ravelry-time, and some tinkering with other capelet-pattern stitch-counts, I decided to design the thing myself. Having knit clothing for dolls in the past, I could surely design something simple at my own scale, right?

Inspired by the abundant crocus beds on my school campus, I imagined a bold violet capelet with bright stripes running all around the yoke. I committed to this vision, and even saw myself wearing it, being writerly and productive and tea-drinking and all that. On April 20th, I cast on, working in the round, bottom up. After a week, I had this:

capelet that never was1.jpg

Sadly, this very inspired capelet got about 60% of the way through (a few rows shy of the yoke decreases) when I lost the nerve and verve to continue on. At first, I feared that my former writer’s block had somehow crept onto the needles, morphing into knitter’s block (oh no!). I stepped away from the work for a few days and reflected on how an inspired idea could so quickly careen into a case of the blahs. I found my reason: the colours felt static and separate, ‘trapped’ in stripes. I wanted them to move and do a little more footwork. This dance metaphor led me to discover that what I wanted was some stranded colourwork on that yoke. Light bulbs pinged.

At first, the thought of taking up stranded knitting struck a note of fear in my heart: so far, my stranded projects have been plagued by tension problems and wonkiness of all sorts. Why would I commit to wearing the wonkiness out in public? But, I also knew that a project like this would, for all of its imperfections, help me build the very skills I had so long admired in others’ stranded work. I took a note from my little Creative Block Survival Guide (i.e. last year’s lessons) and I made the decision to forgive myself, in advance, for all of the knitting wonkiness that I was about to produce: all the bad tension, all upcoming puckerings of fabric, all loose or slipped stitches, all awkward fitting, the whole gamut of potential, catastrophic-feeling errors. It was all going to happen in some form, and that was okay. “Mistakes” could be undone, re-worked. New information and skills would come from all of it (*deeeep breeaath*).

Perhaps like many makers, I struggle with true beginnings. But little gestures like this — intentionally giving imperfections a ‘space’ and wide margin before embarking — can act like myofascial release for creativity muscles, working into the knots and areas of tension to loosen up tissues and allow things to get moving again. Acceptance frees me back up to enter into the curiosity: my favourite place.

So, with some reluctance, I unraveled the purple poncho and sent it, with love, into the frogged knits afterlife. Maybe it will come back another time.

In the next post, I share what became of all those yards of frogged yarn. Until then, I hope you are enjoying this first flush of Spring!


What helps you overcome creative block? Any go-to strategies? I’d love to hear about it in the comments!

28 thoughts on “The Writing Capelet, Part I

  1. Shirley, I am right there with you: writing is hard, energy-expending, business! I’m so glad to hear that you are giving yourself time and space and understanding πŸ™‚ It will all come when you’re ready. In the meantime, I LOVE the purple you chose for the poncho–even if you ended up frogging it. It’s still a gorgeous beginning. Write on!! ~Melissa

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    1. Thanks for the kind and supportive words on writing, Melissa – it means a lot to hear, from a prolific writer and book-published author (!), that writing remains hard business! πŸ™‚ And, glad you like the purple. And write on I will (and must!). Enjoy your weekend. πŸ™‚

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  2. My half-finished WIPs usually end up in a tote or leftover grocery bag which I then push deep into the back of my craft closet. You’ve inspired me to get in there and start frogging the ones I know in my heart that I will NEVER finish. They are just taking up space and wasting good yarn. Thank you! Glad to hear your writing is going well!

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    1. I do the grocery bag, too! I’ve more recently discovered using oversized Ziploc freezer bags which, yes, get pushed to the back of the closet, too. I’m glad to have helped, if even a little bit — it can sometimes be hard to gauge whether a project will see its day, or whether the yarn ought to be freed up again (though it helps, too, that frogging can be kind of fun). Thanks for reading, Robin. I hope you enjoy your weekend! πŸ™‚

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  3. Write on, Shirley! I’m glad to hear that your thesis writing is going well… The longer days and sunnier weather does seem to help everything flow that bit better, doesn’t it? But I know what you mean about getting cold when you’re concentrating – phew! I thought that only happened to me! I think the capelet/poncho idea is great, and although it’s a while since I last did any stranded colourwork, your post reminded me of a tip I read at that time – if you’re working in the round, turn the piece inside out so the floats are on the outside of the tube. This means they’re less likely to become too tight and pucker the knitting! Good luck with your latest project – with those colours, you can do no wrong! πŸ˜€

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    1. Thanks for the kind writing and knitting words, Helen! (write on, I will!) And I’m glad to hear I’m not alone in this cold experience, but am also sorry that you, too, know the concentration chills! I have impervious friends who work in AC rooms in *t-shirts*! I wonder if getting cold has something to do with all resources and energy going into brain cells to fuel a difficult task? Or probably just the sitting still… or both! Thank you for the helpful and very timely reminder about turning the work inside out. That’s a very important tip, and I think that would do just the trick, actually! I will give it a go on the next stranded project in the round for sure! I hope you enjoy your weekend. πŸ™‚

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      1. Cheers, Shirley! I’m excited to see what capelet mark 2 looks like! Heck, I might even make one myself – especially since the floats in the back of the colourwork will add a stealthy extra layer for additional library warmth! Concentration chills, begone! πŸ˜€ Happy making!

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  4. Based your blog you writing is engaging and appears natural and effortless. Wishing you much success with your writing project (which is probably not as fun as your blog) – a little each day and it is done πŸ™‚
    Thanks for sharing your reflections on “stranded” projects. I like this term it seems even better than UFP/unfinished object. They are usually unfinished (at least for me) because they got stranded! And sometimes you just got to “unravel” and say “not now” or “not ever” on a stranded project!

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    1. Aw, thank you, Tierney. πŸ™‚ You are very right – “a little each day and it’s done.” I think I might have to type that up verbatim and pin it somewhere near the desk, thank you! It’s such a wonderful principle.
      Yes, this garment definitely got “stranded” — it was a little like starting a road trip, getting most of the way there and then having the car peter out, or taking a really wrong turn! I think this may be a “not ever” project, but we’ll see. Thank you for reading, and enjoy your weekend! πŸ™‚

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  5. Sometimes things just don’t work out. It takes humility to acknowledge, frog and move on. If you feel you won’t wear it, why bother? Glad that your writing mojo is back, writing a thesis must be a long and difficult endeavor. Kudos to you for all your hard work. You’ll get there. I’ll be happy to see what you decided to do with this colorful yarn. Take care Shirley.

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    1. Thanks for reading, AgnΓ¨s. πŸ™‚ Frogging is quite humbling. I think it’s the great leveler of knitting that we all (almost) have stories of frogged projects. I remember really enjoying one of your past posts on frogging a sweater, but I didn’t quite yet know how ambivalent it would be to do it myself. I’m all the more impressed by your resolve! For me, I kept thinking of the ‘lost time’ I spent on the project (which is gained experience from another vantage point, of course). Likewise – take care, and enjoy your weekend!

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  6. First drafts really are difficult and you’re right, self-forgiveness is part of the first draft process. I find it much easier to add to and edit things, but you can’t exactly do that with an empty page. Anyway, I hope you continue to write that first draft; future editor-you will thank present writer-you.

    Knitting is a bit like writing, as you note, but a little more difficult to edit. It can be done, but with knitting sometimes it’s best & easiest to begin, not begin again, as you did with the capelet. I can’t wait to see what that frogged yarn became!

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  7. Thanks for reading, Mandy, and for the kind writing words. πŸ™‚ Yes, I’ve always found the empty page the hardest part. It’s reassuring to hear that – your prose and poetry read so vividly and effortlessly! It’s easy for me to forget, when enjoying others’ work, all of the thought, time, and consideration that goes into constructing things. I do indeed hope that future-editor and present-writer will establish a more cordial relation with each other this time ’round! πŸ™‚ And YES, I find it much easier to begin than to begin again. The momentum of beginning helps to make up for the frogging too. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Have a great weekend!

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  8. Ohhhh, the process. I so absolutely understand. Good for you for keeping on keeping on and doing it with awareness and with gentleness toward yourself. One thing the years are teaching me is that sometimes good enough is good enough. This has become such a common, self-help sort of refrain these days, but it’s truth for me. Sending lots and lots of warm wishes and good thoughts for moving on in whatever way is good for you.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Melinda! πŸ™‚ I love that – good enough is good enough. It’s a very gentle and compassionate way to go. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, and likewise; lots of warm wishes and good thoughts your way! πŸ™‚

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  9. A capelet would be fab to keep off the chills – you reminded me that’s exactly what I used to wear before we had new windows in my office cum craft snug! Along with long armed fingerless gloves and my feet thrust onto a heater! You can’t craft/write when you are cold. Good luck with another version or solution somehow.

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    1. Thanks for reading, Tina! πŸ™‚ Ooh, that sounds like a great combo, indeed (the long gloves, capelet, and space heater). I’ve been known to keep a foot-focused heater while working, too! I’m glad you have those new windows now, though! πŸ˜€

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      1. It was warm but not a good look if I had to dash downstairs and open the door to anyone calling! I worked in the coldest room in the house, but on those occasions it might have looked like the whole house was unheated! Ooh forgot too, the time I hugged a hot water bottle on my lap for half a day!

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  10. I do the same thing, which I actually learned from my creative writing degree; before I start anything I tell myself that it’s allowed to be complete rubbish and mistakes aren’t the end of the world.
    A rubbish first draft an be fixed, but you can’t fix nothing at all!

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    1. Thanks for reading, Hannah! πŸ™‚ Isn’t that the absolute truth? (‘nothing’ can’t be fixed!). It makes such a difference to give the imperfections their time and space – they’re part of the process, too. Thank you for your thoughtful comments. How fascinating to know about your creative writing degree, too. Very cool!! πŸ™‚

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  11. Awwww I love the impetus behind this (future) garment! Beyond the practicality of needing warmth, I like the idea of having a reoccurring piece that signals you’re in writing mode. I am reminded of Jo from ‘Little Women’ and her writing hat she always donned while she was penning her novel. How much better if you’ve made it yourself! I also commend you for having the strength to unravel and start over. Now I’m off to catch up with your follow-up post!

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