2020 Top 5: Goals

I didn’t set any goals at the beginning of 2020, but I did write out five intentions for myself. Five gentle encouragements to seek out and embrace the things that actually make me happy.

In that same spirit, my aspirations heading into 2021 are not lofty and my ambitions are tempered by the knowledge that we’re at least six months away from a widely available COVID-19 vaccine and even further from date nights at restaurants, old house tours, and international travel.

These are not SMART goals. I’m not interested in metrics, and I only care about milestones insofar as they spur me to do more of the things I enjoy. These are just five big ideas that I want to guide me as I try to figure out what to do next.

5. Wear real clothes.

A sewing-adjacent goal, to be sure, but an important one nonetheless. When I stopped going into an office and started working from home full-time, my daily wardrobe choices became significantly more casual. As in, I have been living in the same leggings + tunics and pajama pants + t-shirts/sweaters combinations for nine months. It’s gotten so bad that this last week I’ve rolled out of bed and gone to my desk wearing the same pajamas I slept in—three days in a row.

Ain’t nothing wrong with being casual or comfortable. I’m not here to judge anyone living in loungewear by choice or necessity. But I do actually like (most of) my other clothes, and I never hated my workwear to begin with. It’s just easier not to make the effort, even if the effort can have beneficial effects on my mood.

Inevitably the reaction to this sentiment seems to be, “Wear what you want! Put on a ballgown if it makes you happy! You’re worth it!” That’s all well and good, but I think it rather misses the point. It’s not that I feel like I can’t get dressed up; it’s that I feel like I don’t want to get dressed up. Except I do. Feelings are complicated like that.

I’m not ashamed to say that I do dress for other people, after a fashion. I dress to be perceived as a competent professional by people with more industry experience than me. I put together an outfit to go to the hairdresser that communicates the level of effort I want to invest in my appearance. I wear handmade clothes when I hang out with other creatives because I know they’ll appreciate them and that validates me as a legitimate maker.

Not seeing people has removed the impetus to make an effort, but not the desire. Because apparently I’m the kind of person who wants to look put together even when I’m sitting folded up in my desk chair writing a blog post instead of working on a PowerPoint presentation.

I’m going to break out of my rut and wear more than the same ten articles of clothing. Partly that will involve sewing more clothes I want to wear every day, like long-sleeved tops, and partly that will involve not doing laundry once a week to force myself to wear something else. Preferably with a bit of jewelry, because I got lovely pieces for both my birthday and Christmas and they do not deserve to languish in my jewelry chest until the pandemic ends.

4. Use more stash.

It pains me that I even have to write this one, because when I started sewing, I was diligent about avoiding stash accumulation. At first I only bought supplies when I had a project in mind. Then, on the rare occasion that I bought fabric on impulse, it was always because I wanted to make something right away.

I’m not a designer, so I don’t need a large supply of material to spark my creativity. I’m not a process-oriented person, so I’m unlikely to sew to practice a skill or test myself to see if I can make something. If I sit down at my machine, it’s because I want something, and I want it immediately.

Sewing is, shockingly, not an immediate hobby. (Quelle surprise.) Many of the fabrics I bought to sew up right this second languished because my desire to sew faded before I had the time, space, or energy to get started. Or they were supplanted by newer fabrics to satisfy an even more urgent desire.

While there are no doubt fabrics in my stash that I wouldn’t buy again, there are also plenty of options in colors, prints, and materials to make up the kinds of things I want to wear. It’s time to start putting a dent in that before bringing home more yardage. I’m not interested in any strict criteria here, but aiming to use two stash fabrics for every new fabric purchased seems like a reasonable goal.

3. Engage the community.

Another sewing-adjacent goal. I love blogs and loathe Facebook and Instagram. I have dozens of blogs in my feed reader, including ones that are almost certainly defunct but that I secretly hope will pop up again out of the blue. I found a new blog just today that I’m going to add.

I try to comment on all the blogs I follow, even if it’s only every third or fourth post, but I’ve definitely fallen out of the habit this year. As more and more makers seem to be abandoning the cake of blogging for the pure frosting of a curated feed and perfectly styled photos, it feels so important to tell those who haven’t given up: “I see you! I savor your writing, I appreciate your insight into the process and the product, and I’m so, so glad you’re still here!”

This year, I’m going to redouble my effort to support and encourage other bloggers, as well as leave comments on YouTube videos.

2. Make a plan.

I like having a plan, even if I don’t stick to it. I think the plans I made in the past failed because they were too ambitious, overestimating how quickly I work and underestimating how frustrated I get when things don’t work the way they should.

This year, I think I’m going to give the Make Nine approach a try. Nine garments and accessories seems reasonable given my sewing and knitting output over the past 12 months. I’m still mulling over what I’d like to make, but I already know the list will include new skills and and at least one material I haven’t worked with before.

This might sound like the opposite of a easy-going goal, but I think the key here is that I don’t think I’m going to pair specific patterns and fabrics. Instead, I think I’m going to identify nine types of projects at the outset, and then choose the specifics based on what I feel like I need in my closet or want to work on at the time.

I’m also giving myself permission to have a pretty relaxed relationship with that plan. If I only check off half the things on the list? Great! And if make nine things but they’re not the ones I envisioned? So what!

1. Just do the thing.

Seriously, just sit down at the machine and sew. Some projects will be frustrating. Some will be failures. It will suck, some of the time. But eventually, I’m told, you learn what your typical adjustments are, and you recognize when to follow the pattern instructions to the letter and when to adapt them to suit your own preferences. You get better at matching fabrics to patterns, at aligning prints and turning sharp corners, at sewing tidy rows of topstitching. You live and learn—at any rate, you live.

Sometimes you’ve got to give yourself the carrot, and sometimes you’ve got to give yourself the stick. Noelle from Costuming Drama is a genius for coining the term “compassionate deadlines,” and I fully intend to embrace that mentality. But when push comes to shove, if you want to wear the clothes, you have to do the thing.

I’m ready.

Goodbye, 2020. Hello, sewing!

2020 Top 5: Highlights & Reflections

I’m dispensing with the preamble today; I think the categories speak for themselves.


5. The Beach Trip

Taking off the first week of January so we could spend a four-day weekend at the beach with some of our friends was the only opportunity we had to travel this year, and I’m glad we took it. When I wrote about the experience I was feeling pretty low and dwelt on the more negative aspects of the trip, but on balance I think there was more good in it than bad, and a lot that I learned besides. We watched the sun rise over the ocean and walked on the beach under a full moon. We ate cake and sang a made-up birthday song. We cooked and drank and danced and talked.

I set intentions for the year, which I think ended up being more helpful and rewarding than setting goals would have been. I spent the first few days of the new year doing things I genuinely enjoyed, and I think that put me in a much better frame of mind than trudging resentfully back to work on January 2 would have. After only taking vacations with my family as a child and my husband as an adult, I realized that I might enjoy the possibility of taking trips with my family and with some friends—as long as I’m careful about matching the right people to the right kind of activities. When we can finally travel again, I look forward to planning more relaxing trips with the people I care about.

4. Finishing Our Biggest House Project Yet

I’m equal parts proud and embarrassed about this one, but most of all I’m relieved: we finally finished staining all 17 of the unfinished wood windows in our house.

When we moved in, we had the old single-pane glazed windows replaced with more energy-efficient double-pane windows. The outsides of the windows were primed (and eventually professionally painted), but the insides were raw wood. We could have had the contractor stain them, but we thought we’d save money doing it ourselves.

Which, to be fair, was the case, but we hadn’t counted on how long it would take us to do. This was due in part to the fact that we worked inside in our unfurnished guest bedroom, where we only had enough room to work on two windows at a time. Each pair of windows took us two to three days to complete, based on the need to tape, condition, stain, wait, stain, wait again, seal, and wait some more before we could put them back in the frame.

But it was due in larger part to the fact that my spouse does not share my enthusiasm for home improvement, and can tolerate about 90 minutes of such work before his game face (and, consequently, my patience) wears off. We’re learning to work within these parameters, but it was a struggle and half to get to this point.

Rain, cold, heat, humidity, illnesses, travel, natural disasters, other commitments, and constitutional deficiencies differences meant that what should have taken two months of weekends took the better part of this year to do from start to finish.

But it’s done now. We can move on to other, higher impact and more satisfying projects. We’ve reached a decision about our restorative approach to this home’s improvement, which is to say that we’ve agreed that it simply is not worth the mind-numbingly stupid amount of effort to remove the smears of paint the previous homeowners got all over the edges of our lovely original millwork, and we’re going to skip ahead and just paint the walls and ceilings the colors we want and ignore the evidence of their slapdash handiwork.

3. Taking a Hike

Justin and I enjoy walking our town’s greenways, but neither of us would consider ourselves outdoorsy. We like nature, but in measured doses, with the ability to return to our creature comforts at the end of the day. We don’t own bikes, and we haven’t been camping since we were teens because sleeping on the ground sounds a lot less enchanting when you know from experience that you’ll hardly sleep and get up feeling more tired than when you laid down.

But a good friend of ours has taken up hiking as a form of exercise, and he invited us along as a way to hang out while remaining socially distanced. As we hadn’t seen him face-to-face in six months, we jumped at the opportunity. We picked a trail at a nearby state park, a modest three-mile loop with views of a lake.

We had to take a literal rain check on the first date, and when our rescheduled date rolled around it looked like we’d be rained out again. Instead we gritted our teeth and committed to hiking in the chilly drizzle. When we arrived at the park, we couldn’t find the trailhead; despite the assurances on the park website, it turned out we couldn’t access the trail we’d chosen from the lot we’d parked in.

In a last ditch effort to save the outing, we decided to take on a six-mile hike over moderately difficult terrain. Our friend had tackled longer hikes like this one, but Justin and I hadn’t, and we were worried about giving out before the end. But we persevered, with fortification from homemade granola bars. We were physically sore for the next several days, make no mistake, but we were also psychologically refreshed.

Justin discovered that hiking may be one of the few forms of exercise he doesn’t hate, and we managed to squeeze in another (shorter) hike before the weather turned cold. I bought him a pair of waterproof boots and wool socks for Christmas, and I’m thinking of getting some insulating layering pieces so that we don’t have to wait until spring to try another trail.

2. Late Night Coffee & Bacon

I said before that October was a lost month for me. That’s mostly true, but there was one piercingly bright moment in the middle of it that I didn’t mention, because I knew I’d come back to it here.

After working two weeks of overtime, and with more overtime on the horizon, my boss took pity on me and gave me a Friday off to recover. Another friend of mine, one who works an irregular schedule, coincidentally had the day off as well, but was switching over his schedule to night shift. We decided to get together in the evening, after dinner, and hang out until I was tired.

Now, before the pandemic started, this friend and I had been getting together to cook. It was an excuse to experiment with new foods and new techniques that we wouldn’t have a reason to try otherwise. At the beginning of the shelter-in-place period we had tried cooking over a video call, but it hadn’t worked out and we didn’t try again. But we continued to potter about on our own, and despite the need to keep our distance, the impulse to bring an offering of food to this gathering was too strong.

He made coffee and ginger cookies; I made candied bacon. We sat outside in the cold and talked about work, and books, and D&D, and the plans we’d made that had been knocked askew by the pandemic. For the first time in months I felt at ease—quite the achievement for two introverts.

1. Catching Jack the Ripper

On a lighter and also much, much darker note, Justin and I enjoy playing games together, and one that has continued to delight is Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective. After playing through the first ten mysteries, we sprang for the sequel Jack the Ripper & West End Mysteries. The first four mysteries revolve around the events of the Jack the Ripper murders, which the game has re-created in its signature choose-your-own-adventure-style puzzle game.

Justin and I are most decidedly not into true crime—we both hate horror as a genre because we don’t like to be scared—but we found these mysteries riveting. Because it’s a game and the murders were never solved, the game’s creators had to make artistic choices about what evidence to emphasize and what to downplay, but they talk a little about why they made the choices they did in their notes. They clearly immersed themselves in several decades of theories as well as the facts of the case, and it makes for an intense and emotionally compelling experience.

After many, many hours of poring over the testimonies, spinning and discarding our own theories, we had the immense satisfaction of solving the case and catching Jack. It was an exhilarating experiencing and one I’m so glad we shared. I’d highly recommend the Consulting Detective games to couples who want to spend a Sunday on the couch eating snacks and working cooperatively to try to outsmart Sherlock Holmes.

Also? Doctor Llewellyn can burn in hell forever.


4. I don’t like to cook unless there’s an audience.

Between the two of us, Justin has always been the more dedicated and adventurous cook. My interest in cooking waxes and wanes, and this past year has definitely been a low point. Now that we’re both working from home, I don’t have to plan or pack a lunch for work, and I rely on Justin most nights to cook because he’s able and willing to do it. When he doesn’t feel like cooking, we’re likely to pick up food from a local food truck, since it’s one of the few ways we can get out of the house and feel a little normal, and it’s a way we can support small business owners.

One of the few things that enticed me into the kitchen was cooking or baking for our D&D group. I enjoy the performative aspects of cooking, the act of presenting food to a waiting table, being asked and answering questions about what I make, receiving everyone’s feedback on whether it was successful or not. With our in-person sessions on hold indefinitely, I’m not sure how to muster the enthusiasm to cook when it’s just fuel.

3. Cold-weather walks are more enjoyable than I thought.

I’m cold a lot. I don’t like being cold. I figured once the weather turned, my near-daily walks would cease until the season changed again. But with nowhere else to go, walking the greenway or doing two laps around the park is one of the few reasons I have to leave the house and about the only exercise I get.

I’ve started layering up to a ridiculous degree—we’re talking camisole + sweater + hoodie + down jacket and wool hat covered with two or three hoods—and it’s made these walks surprisingly not miserable. It hasn’t gotten really, properly cold here yet, but as mentioned above, I’m thinking of investing in a few lightweight but warm layers so that I can continue trekking outside every other day or so.

2. I’m introverted, but not solitary.

I’ve known for a long time that I recharge by spending time alone, but this year revealed to me that it’s equally important to me to regularly connect with my friends. I find many people and most social situations exhausting, but there are people who don’t wear me out, and I cherish them. Intensely. I want to spend more time talking to those people, because their conversation bolsters me day to day, especially when I can’t go out and have novel experiences.

I have solo hobbies—reading, sewing, knitting—but that doesn’t mean I want to be left alone all of the time. It hasn’t been easy striking a balance between my cravings for companionship and other people’s availability to provide it, but I’m learning to savor the moments where things do line up.

1. Writing is my least frequent but most gratifying pastime.

In the latter part of 2019, I spent a lot of time writing for my first D&D game. The game was on a long hiatus, but another player and I decided to keep things alive via play-by-post. It was an intensely collaborative experience, filled with tension and excitement and stimulating challenges. It’s the most creative writing I had done since college, and in my opinion some of my best writing. It is by far one of my fondest memories of that year, second only to our trip to London.

Unfortunately, that game went defunct at the beginning of this year. No other creative writing in that vein has taken its place. I’ve blogged, though not as much as I would have liked. I’ve composed a bit of magnetic poetry, but didn’t keep up the monthly habit I was striving for.

I’ve a nasty tendency to not do the thing I actually want to do, or the thing that will make me happy. I get bogged down in things I know I need to do, or things I feel like I should do.

I want to change that. I have writing ambitions that will never be realized if I don’t sit down and just write. I have ideas, I have skills, I have a circle of loving and supportive readers—and so I have no more excuses.

2020 Top 5: Hits & Misses

Whatever else can be said about this year, I’m exceedingly pleased to be able to do an actual roundup at the end of it. In the past, I felt like I simply didn’t create enough to have anything meaningful to say about what I’d done. I fully expected that to be true again this year. If there were two groups of people this year, those who got a burst of creative energy and those whose passions languished, I definitely feel like I fell into the latter camp. Which is funny, because I think I’ve sewn more this year than any previous year, and while I knit more last year, this is by no means my least prolific year. It makes me glad that I’ve recorded my work here and in Ravelry, because it’s really helping me to gain a sense of perspective about what I’ve actually accomplished.


5. Sage Colette Zinnia

A sage green below-the-knee button-front skirt with a gathered waist and patch pockets
Sage Colette Zinnia

I don’t often sew with wovens because I prefer the ease and comfort of knits, and I’ve been (and still somewhat remain) dubious of skirts that sit at my natural waist, so it’s a bit strange to put this one in my top 5. But I can’t deny that I enjoyed the methodical process of assembling this skirt. I went slowly, taking time to mark, stitch, and press carefully, and I feel like that effort was rewarded. I love the buttons, I love the pockets, I love the swish. I haven’t worn it more than two or three times, but that’s down the fact that I’ve barely changed out of pajamas in nine months.

4. Ebbtide

A teal blue circular lace shawl with crescent moon motifs

This shawl takes my love of one-skein projects and then removes the only drawback to traditional triangular and semi-circular scarves, which is ends that come untied. The yarn is a delightfully squishy and soft merino cashmere nylon blend and a treasured souvenir from our trip to London. The color, Tide, and the pattern, Luna Viridis, are a poetic match. Everything about this knit is pretty much perfect.

3. Everything Gold Must Stay

A golden-brown sweater with a central cable panel, turtleneck, and long sleeves
Everything Gold Must Stay

This pullover was born out of a desire for more relaxed fitting sweaters to wear around my chilly house when we started working from home in March. On the one hand, the dropped shoulders and central cable panel came out exactly how I pictured them. On the other other, I had hoped the body would be a little longer—closer to a tunic-length to wear with tights—and the edge of turtleneck would fan out more to cover where it’s attached to the neckline. But in the end, I’ve found myself pulling it out at least once a week because it’s comfy and looks nicer on video calls than a college sweatshirt.

2. Itch-to-Stitch Tierras

Low-rise sage green woven joggers with deep pockets
Itch to Stitch Tierras

Like the sweater above, I made these joggers to fill a specific wardrobe hole—specifically my lack of non-jean, non-trouser, non-pajama pants (although I am now also in need of pajama pants, because I’m got an irreparable hole in the seat of my favorite pair). I wanted something comfortable enough to wear while working from home, but also presentable for picking up dinner from the local food trucks. I could have made sweatpants or track pants—and still might, since my loungewear bottoms selection consists of these joggers and two pairs of identical black leggings—but I like that these look like I’m trying. The waistband hits right where I want and the pockets are huge. 10/10 would make again.

1. Lattice Topper

A top-down view of cable knit hat in off-white yarn being worn on the head
Lattice Topper

A humble hat, from a time when things were definitely not perfect but were earnest and determined and a little bit hopeful. It’s the warmest hat I own, and I’ve worn it countless times on damp autumn walks and evening takeout runs. I’ve worn it more than anything else I’ve made this year, and probably more than some older knits as well. It’s the one thing I reach for over and over again no matter what I’m doing or what kind of mood I’m in, and it provides a comfort that goes beyond keeping my ears from freezing.


None of these projects made it as far as the blog, so I don’t have any pictures to share. While I’d like to think my success rate has climbed a lot closer to my failure rate, I still had a sprinkling of misses this year.

4. Glitter Bomb

Before I decided to go the CustomFit drop-shoulder pullover route on my Everything Gold sweater, I downloaded and started knitting Ease by Alicia Plummer for a more sweatshirt-style sweater. I had a lot of trouble getting gauge, which is very important on a top-down seamless raglan, and after knitting about 50% of the sweater I realized I hated how it looked on me. I think it came down primarily to choosing a size that was too relaxed to be shapely and too close-fitting to be fashionably slouchy. I still think it’s a cute design, and I haven’t completely given up on the possibility of knitting it in a different yarn (or a different weight yarn), but I’ll definitely proceed with caution if I attempt it again.

3.Wingardium Leviosa Hat

This will be my second foray into stranded colorwork, and I just can’t seem to get the rhythm of it. I initially went up several needle sizes for fear that my floats would be too tight and strangle the project. It looked awful. I went down in needle sizes again. It looks better, but still not great. Someone online suggested it might be because the yarn is superwash, so it doesn’t fluff up and cause the stitches to grip their neighbors. At this point I think I’m going to scrap the project and make something else. Probably something striped, because I am apparently a glutton for my own punishment.

2. Plain White Camisoles

I had a pair of plain white camisoles with shelf bras from Aeropostale that I wore and washed and wore again until they were a dingy grey, stretched out, and growing holes. I thought I could knock them off by hacking the SBCC Tonic T-Shirt and using a mix of flat and foldover elastic I’d stashed. The fit was all wrong and I just could not motivate myself to tinker with it. I ended up buying camisoles online and turning the old ones into rags that I’ve used for a staining project. You win some, you lose some.

1. Eastwood Pajamas for Her

Back in November, Justin requested new pajama pants because he, too, had worn holes in his favorite pairs. While we were picking out flannel, he proposed that I make ones for me at the same time because we are the kind of insufferably cute couple to have matching pajamas. The pajama pant pattern I already owned didn’t include a large enough size to accommodate him, so I skipped on over to the Thread Theory website to check out the Eastwood Pajamas. Conveniently, their largest size just about fits Justin, and the smallest size worked for me, so I scooped them up.

I decided to sew mine first so I could practice the mock fly before moving on to the working button fly on his. I shortened the inseam for my shorter-than-average height, but opted not to shorten the crotch depth because it matched a pair of pajama pants I already owned. Unfortunately, I didn’t really account for the fact that I wear those pants slung around my hips, and the dropped crotch isn’t really a problem because they’re a thin jersey. In a thick flannel? Yeah, no. The fit looks wrong and feels wrong. I’m know I’m not going to wear them. It’s a shame, because I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to match the plaid, particularly on the back pockets.

I have more thoughts about the pattern, but I’ll save those for when I finish Justin’s pair, which will probably be some time in January.


When I look back on what I’ve actually done, including the time spent on missteps, I think I can say that I’d be happy to be about this productive every year. Would I like to stretch myself and do more than this? Sure. But if I finished a half dozen each knitting and sewing projects, I’d have enough to be proud of.

This Post Is Not About A Hat

In January, Justin and I booked a beach house with several other couples to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday and the start of a new year. It was the first time we’d taken a vacation with anyone besides each other or our families, and it was quite unlike any trip we’d taken before. Rather than scheduling out the five-day weekend, the guest of honor outlined a few activities that were important to him, and then left the rest of the time open for us to do as we pleased.

As a rather creative bunch with a tendency toward introversion, it was the perfect opportunity to read, draw, and knit, surrounded by kindred spirits, but without an obligation to be social, to be on the entire time. If you wanted to reflect and set intentions for the upcoming year, you took your journal out on one of the balconies to write in peace. If you opened up a laptop to watch a comedy special, you might be joined by others who were interested, but you didn’t worry if someone had wandered out for a walk, or was still sleeping in. We cooked for each other, we cleaned up together, we drifted in and out of each other’s orbits as our individual energy levels—our needs for various sorts of companionship—waxed and waned.

It put me in mind of the artists of the past who would spend a month at the seaside, or holed up in a little cottage in woods, puttering away at their art and taking walks and having time every afternoon to read and drink tea. When I’m feeling discouraged about my job or have a project I can’t find the time to get properly stuck into, I envy the freedom they had to structure their lives around making and doing things, to simply pack up and go somewhere else to live their lives for a while.

For my part, I brought more to do than I could have possibly accomplished if I’d spent five days alone doing nothing but my own hand-picked activities. I packed several skeins of yarn and all of my circular needles in case inspiration struck, but as it happened there was only one project I really wanted to work on: this hat.

The pattern is Tin Can Knits’ Apple Pie, and the yarn is more Malabrigo Rios in Natural, because I enjoyed using it on my mom’s hat so much that I wanted some for myself. Whereas the original hat pattern conjures the image of a pie fresh from the oven, mine is reminiscent of nothing so much as unbaked pie crust.

Knitting this hat might possibly be the first time I’ve twisted my cast-on while setting up knitting in the round. Usually the long-tail method makes it easy to avoid that particular foible, but I suppose I wasn’t giving it as much attention as I could while enjoying the opportunity to sit by the ocean in 70-degree weather in January. After not one but two false starts, I was able to complete the doubled brim portion, which is wonderfully squishy and warm and which will no doubt become a feature of future knit hats for me, before we returned home.

Looking back on that time now, I’m struck by how the less-than-idyllic moments of the trip have not been eclipsed by the current situation of a global pandemic, as one might assume, but instead seem to have foreshadowed it in peculiar ways. For instance, there were moments when we all came together to do something fun that had the effect of being intensely alienating for me. Ostensibly we were creating new memories together, but there were all these existing relationships and shared histories and in-jokes too, and though in theory I was being given access to them through this new experience, since I hadn’t been there from the beginning, I could only sort of understand the depth of the humor and revelry, and I felt I couldn’t fully participate.

These same friends and I are now experiencing a common struggle to find ways to create and socialize while limiting our physical contact. This shared experience, which by rights ought to cause us to cleave closer together, has instead left us all adrift in our own personal bubbles of loneliness and quietude. We keep reaching out, trying to connect and relate in meaningful ways, and yet can’t. It should be easier when we’ve all been served up a portion from the same plate of misery, and yet isn’t.

One of my secret desires during the trip was to have one-on-one time with a few of my friends in an effort to get to understand them on a deeper level. As a group we had several thoughtful, provocative, and at times vulnerable conversations, but I never quite found my opening for those more intimate interactions. There were only a few opportunities, but when they did present themselves, I could never quite step off the ledge. Would I ask something too personal? Would I unwittingly offend? Could we have the deeply personal conversations I craved, or would it just be awkward?

I never did find out, and I don’t know if I will. Between January and the start of lockdown in March, we spent more time together, embarked on an ever-widening array of adventures, but never quite gotten close to that place again. Even when we’ve had one-on-one time, there’s this reticence to be completely open. And the pandemic has made it worse. No one wants to admit how sad, or angry, or demoralized they are, because what would be the point? There’s not much any of us can do beyond what we’re already doing. It would just be empty complaining, right? So I don’t really know how my friend who is a nurse is coping, and whenever I ask how my friend who is (was) single is feeling, they always brush off their own negative feelings by saying they’re trying to keep an optimistic outlook and focus on solo pursuits.

I’m reminded of a passage in Ursula K. LeGuin’s The Dispossessed. The protagonist, Shevek, is leaving a regional academic institute to study at a larger, more central one, and his friends throw him a going away party. As the night wears on, only a few people stay up, and they start talking about big ideas, about science and philosophy and “…whether their childhoods had been happy. They talked about what happiness was.” Shevek asserts that suffering is a misunderstanding. That it exists, that it is real, and that we all recognize it when we experience it, but that we misunderstand its purpose. His friends think that pain is merely a warning against physical danger and harm, but serves no psychological or social purpose; Shevek disagrees.

He recounts a time when he witnessed a man who survived an explosion but was horribly burned, burned so badly that he died of his injuries a few hours later. Shevek describes sitting with the man, wanting to provide comfort but having nothing to give—no anesthetic, no doctor, not even touch, which causes the man terrible pain.

“There was no aid to give. Maybe he knew we were there, I don’t know. It didn’t do him any good. You couldn’t do anything for him. Then I saw…you see…I saw that you can’t do anything for anybody. We can’t save each other. Or ourselves.”

“What have you left, then? Isolation and despair! You’re denying brotherhood, Shevek!” the tall girl cried.

“No—no, I’m not. I’m trying to say what I think brotherhood really is. It begins—it begins in shared pain.”

Shevek wonders whether pain is not a thing to fear, but a thing that cannot be entirely avoided, and therefore a thing to get through, to go beyond. He clings to the idea that brotherhood does not exist to alleviate suffering—it can’t—but instead arises out of it.

I think about this passage a lot, particularly when I’m feeling isolated and lonely, when things are especially rough and I worry that I’m not giving my friends what they need or getting what I need in return. We’re all doing our best. Sometimes our best isn’t good enough. But that’s okay. It isn’t the end; it’s the beginning.

Work-to-Glory Ratio

In the early, sporadic days of my knitting, when I was making the transition from wistfully reading knitting blogs to actually doing some knitting myself, I had the great good fortune to stumble upon TECHknitter. Though their identity remains (to me, at least) a mystery, they are clearly a capable and inventive knitter, because their blog, which spans more than 10 years, is really an electronic book full of improved solutions to many of knitting’s everyday challenges. From them I have learned a gap-less, jog-less way to join a piece of work in the round, three ways to bind off circular knits depending on the type of project, and ten methods for weaving in ends (though I’ve only used four or five of them to date).

Much of TECHknitter’s writing deals with the mechanics of knitting, like why a stockinette edge curls (and why adding a border doesn’t really fix the problem), and how to use that knowledge to your advantage. But sprinkled throughout are bits of knitting philosophy, such as when to choose an excellent but fiddly solution and when to settle for a pretty good one. Very occasionally—only a handful of times in a decade—TECHknitter treats the reader to a pure philosophical refection on the craft.

The one that’s stuck with me, that continues to thread itself through more and more of my thinking, is the work-to-glory ratio. Originally posited by TECHknitter’s friend Carol, the work-to-glory ratio is the relationship between the amount of effort that goes into a project and the degree to which the result is impressive or satisfying. A project that appears difficult but was in fact easy to knit has a good work-to-glory ratio, whereas a project that was tedious or hard and turns out indistinguishable from something machine-made has a bad work-to-glory ratio.

As TECHknitter is quick to point out, there are of course plenty of projects that are both challenging and gratifying: some projects are rewarding precisely because of the time and effort that went into their making. A practical project in a workhorse yarn with a familiar pattern might turn out precisely as useful as the knitter intended. For TECHknitter, the work-to-glory ratio is more an observable phenomenon than a guiding principle.

The orange sweater above, a CustomFit version of Amy Herzog’s Foyle’s Pullover, has proven to have a pretty good work-to-glory ratio. The allover lace on the front is an easy-to-read and memorize six-row repeat where the wrong-side rows are all purled, and it’s a great design to practice decreasing in pattern (though no specific instructions are given for this, and the source I was going to recommend is no longer available online). Meanwhile, the back and sleeves are simple stockinette, yet these large swaths of plain stitching somehow recede into the background so as not to draw attention to the fact that two-thirds of the sweater are mindless TV knitting.

While to my eye there’s nothing really outstanding about this pullover, everyone who’s seen me wear it has been impressed by its handmade origins and convinced that it must have been quite a bit of work to produce. Oh no, I think, it wasn’t nearly as fraught re-knitting every piece of this sweater to get a mediocre fit, or as mind-meltingly tedious as dealing with the kajillion ends on this one to make it wearable. Both of those projects took far more time and mental energy, but you’d never know it by looking at them.

(In case anyone thinks I’m underwhelmed by the results here, let me assure you that I’m very happy with the outcome and feel it’s my best CustomFit sweater yet.)

The smile of someone who wears their new sweater at least once a week

The work-to-glory ratio as a framework for thinking about things that take work—even if they’re not thought of as work, as a task or a job—has slowly crept into other areas of my life. Increasingly I’ve been thinking about it in the context of friendships, and I’ve been struck by how even a healthy friendship can at times have a pretty poor work-to-glory ratio.

The daily work of being friends, of nurturing a relationship, can involve so many small acts to affirm, question, encourage, and comfort. Making time to call, remembering milestones, knowing a person’s favorite treat or pet peeves—these are all part of the skill of being a friend, a skill that must be learned and can be cultivated.

But it’s also work that can go unrewarded. A deliberate effort to ask about something a friend is working on might lead to a dead-end in conversation; a genuine desire to check up on their wellbeing might go completely unanswered or unacknowledged. Frequent small touches become shallow interactions, which can start to feel like more of a rote exercise than the practice of making a genuine human connection.

In my lowest moments, I wonder if the work isn’t worth the paltry sum of glory.

And yet TECHknitter offers another way of thinking about this too: work as product plus process. The idea that the value of a thing lies in the thing itself, and also in all of the moments that went into making the thing added up. A handknit sock is no longer just a sock: it’s an act of care, patiently created to be something functional and comfortable and beautiful that someone can use and enjoy every day. The knitter knows it, and so does the wearer, and that knowing is as much as part of the joy as the sock itself.

The time, place, and emotional space the knitter was in while they knit are also part of that sock, whether the wearer knows it or not. They become folded into the process part of the equation, bringing further dimensions to that sock’s intangible value.

But beyond even these things are the very act of making itself: the friction of yarn sliding over the tensioning finger, the clicking of needles in motion, the rhythm of forming stitches and turning the work. Watching the balance of yarn change, the unraveled cake collapsing as the yarn is raveled back into a slowly lengthening sock. Choosing to see and hear and feel the process of yarn becoming a sock when it would be far faster and simpler to buy socks at the store.

How much better to think of friendships as product plus process! To imagine each moment of connection, no matter how seemingly trivial, as another stitch in the knitting—by itself practically inconsequential, but in aggregate absolutely essential. To treat the intention behind each small act of kindness as equal to the outcome of the act in importance. The goodness of a friendship is thus measured not only in how meaningful are the conversations or how memorable the events, but also in how much love and concern motivated every effort to have those moments, even when those efforts appear to fail.

The work of friendship and the rewards of friendship are not two sides of an equation to be weighed against each other: a friendship is the sum of the work and the rewards, the product and the process added up and divided between friends.