Friday, April 6, 2007

Things to Knit by

Not things to buy and knit, you understand. No, things to knit by. Meaning, things to do while also knitting. Now, I know some people can knit in movie theatres, and some people can watch DVDs and knit. But I am a newbie who has to actually look at what I am knitting. So although I can certainly knit while a baseball game is on tv, I find that I am either going to mess up my (simple) pattern or not really follow the plot of anything more demanding than Ugly Betty. So my mind-amusement of choice while knitting is something that is meant to be listened to rather than watched.

An obvious choice, of course, is the radio. I love npr, and it is really fun to listen to A Prairie Home Companion or This American Life while I knit. But the timing of those shows is not always conducive to my knitting life. And just when I have a couple of free hours of a weekend evening, KPCC is likely to be broadcasting some colossal bore like Michael Feldman's "Whaddya Know? Not Much," whose quirky charm entirely escapes me.

Then it dawned on me: I've been hearing the word "podcast" and had some vague idea that it was like radio only on your own schedule. Could that be the answer? But I don't own an iPod--does that leave me out of the loop? Ah, no, it does not. If I have a computer and a speaker, as I do, I can download podcasts and listen to them through my computer. And what luck--my computer speakers are right next to my comfy chair and the best light in the house!

So off I go to look for podcasts. My first stop is A Prairie Home Companion, and yes, they do allow me to subscribe to the monologue News from Lake Wobegon, but that's only 15 to 20 minutes long. Conveniently, however, that download points me to other podcasts that people like me have chosen, and I soon add Irish and Celtic music to my mix. And then! I find that there are entire hour long podcasts devoted entirely to knitting and knitters!

Cast-on ( the only such podcast that I have given a spin so far, and it will keep my mind and ears occupied for quite some time, since there are at least 46 hour-long podcasts already in the waiting list! Brenda Dayne is the mind and voice of cast-on, and she sounds to be an American woman now living and knitting in Wales. Her podcast is very professionally put together, with reviews, interviews, general conversation, and bits of appealing music in between.

A list of other likely-looking knitting podcasts can be found at

Since I found that the technical skills to acquire a podcast were well within my reach (they just arrange themselves in iTunes, in the podcast category, and iTunes was already on my computer--whether automatically or because Kristen downloaded it, I don't know.) The iTunes store has lists of music and podcasts that are either free or available for a price. It's totally simple.

Then another idea occurred to me: The Teaching Company. I get their catalogs, since I once ordered a set of VCR tapes on Calculus (which remains in like-new condition, I might add...) and a lot of their topics sounds moderately interesting. But I never got around to ordering a $49.95 set of CDs of The History of Early Britain and other captivating topics. Have they perhaps moved into the digital download stage? Indeed they have! And while many of their series cost over $50 (ie enough money to cut into one's yarn budget), there was a series of 12 half-hour lectures on the Probelm of Consciousness for $19.95 that could be ordered and downloaded in one easy step. So I did it. These located themselves on my desktop, and when I click on them, they open in the music section of iTunes, which is ok except that when each 30 minute segment is over, a random tune from Kristen's collection follows hot on its heels. It's kind of odd to move from lecture hall to Europop so seamlessly.

The lectures are also fairly dry. There is a smattering of applause at the start of each lecture, but there's no indication that these were actual lectures delivered to an actual audience. Instead, the professor simply reads his lecture, and his writing style is much more written than conversational in tone. But I paid my money and I'll get my (belated) education. And maybe I'll try a series on the story of human language in the future. But compared to free, these are a little steep.

And this leads me to the question of whether I might listen to books on tape (actually on CD). I kind of doubt it. I did listen to some books on tape back when I was commuting to grad school back in Chicago. But I prefer to read my books the old-fashioned way, I think. Radio is a different medium than reading, and the podcasts are actually more enjoyable than the philosophy lectures (duh!)

Anyhow, the upshot of all this good stuff to knit by is that I have finished the first front for my vest, and it is now drying on a thick layer of towel in the computer/knitting room! One more segment to go and my first actual adult-size garment will be complete. The front went much more smoothly than the back, because I really do understand the pattern now. And after several tries, I finally figured out that instead of trying to decrease for the shaping of the armholes, I could just bind-off. (Actually that didn't go completely smoothly, because I didn't quite grasp that one should bind off only at the start of a row and not at the end. But I got it straightened out.

So now I'm on Spring Break and willl make at least a good start on the second front piece (the first took 2 weeks)--so in 2 weeks or less, I should have the thing finished. Just in time for spring weather, which is not exactly conducive to wool sweaters. But maybe it will be a cool spring, who knows?

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