New mask, new skirt, new semester

Woman wearing glasses and a striped cloth mask, holding a lacy knitting project that is still on the needles and looking pensive.
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I started knitting the Vita de Vie (my second!) that I got yarn for on my birthday (which was back in April but what is time anymore, anyway?). This sweater’s gonna match at least TWO of my Cleo Skirts: the magenta/purple/orange plaid one, and this new one, in purple/blue/pink stripes (hey, I just realized it’s kind of like a bi pride skirt!), which I finished sewing yesterday while desperately trying to distract myself from feelings of impending doom: 

New Cleo Skirt and matching mask
(Awkward pose brought to you by attempting to use the self-timer and get both mask and skirt in the frame. Sometime I’ll try to get a better photo of the skirt, but trust me, it looks like the other Cleo Skirts I’ve made from the Andover Kaleidoscope fabric, just striped instead of plaid.)

As you can see, I now have yet another skirt + matching masks set. I’ve been making modified versions of the masks using the pattern that Marcy Harriell shared on YouTube (original mask video & adding a filter-pocket video); instead of shrinking the pattern by folding height out, I made the masks with full size pieces, but added a (not especially well done, but whatever) box pleat on either side so that it hugs my face better and gives me space to talk. Here’s a video of me talking in (and about) the first one I made:

Starting tomorrow, I’ll be teaching in person in these masks. I’ve got back-to-back 75 minute classes, and am not at all sure how I’ll manage without eating or drinking during them. Don’t get me wrong, though – if I’m going to be forced to teach in person in small rooms with no windows, no distancing and no regular surveillance testing (as is true here), then I *want* us all to be masked, even though we’re also vaccinated, because my kid is too young to be vaccinated and I don’t want to bring a breakthrough infection home to her. (I still know hardly anything about what HER school situation is going to be!) I’m going to mask any time I’m indoors with other people until she’s vaccinated. 

But teaching in a mask is going to suck for me, for a bunch of reasons: I’m chronically hypoglycemic, so I typically lightly snack while I’m teaching, but I can’t do that in a mask, which means tomorrow I’ll need to make it from just before 10:25am until just after 1:05pm without eating. Add in the fact that I have auditory processing challenges that make it difficult for me to understand masked speakers – I can do it, but it’s *exhausting*. And on the exhaustion front, ever since the pneumonia of late 2019, I get very tired after talking for an extended period even without a mask, but it’s much worse in one. So…yeah. It’s going to be hard. 

This is now the 4th semester in a row where I can honestly say, “I’ve never been THIS exhausted at the start of a semester before.” First there was Spring ‘20, when I still hadn’t fully recovered from pneumonia. Then Fall ‘20, which I think we all thought was as bad as it could get. And yet Spring ‘21, coming on the heels of an exhausting Fall and an insurrection and so many other things, was actually worse. And now we’re here, and I’m just not sure how many “hardest semester evers” *in a row* I can actually take. And I know that in the grand scheme of things, I’m in an incredibly fortunate position compared to so many – I’ve been able to work remotely for the past 18 months, I don’t live in a place governed by people determined to prevent public health measures from being taken, and I’m fully vaccinated (though it’s also true that if I were to get seriously ill from a breakthrough infection, people would say, “well, she DID have cormorbidities.”). But even still, I am broken. I think most parents, at least of kids under 12, are. (This is a really good piece about that.) We’ve basically been abandoned by society.

And it would be one thing if the risk I’m being forced to take were a necessary one, if my job was one that absolutely had to be done in person. But it isn’t. Last year showed us that. I’m actually REALLY GOOD at teaching online, and I worked really hard to develop really great online classes for my students last year, and now all of that work is just being thrown away, disregarded, disrespected. Instead, I’m being required to risk my health and my kid’s health by returning to in-person teaching in the middle of a Delta surge to provide what will be a worse learning experience for my students. Not because I’m not going to try to make it good! I’m going to do the best I can, because I love my students. I’m a really good in-person teacher too, but I don’t know what kind of in-person teacher I’ll be when everyone’s in a mask, especially I’m burnt out and exhausted and worried about bringing Delta home to my kid. One of my most central pedagogical goals as a teacher is to ensure that I don’t ever snuff out the spark that students bring to the classroom, and in fact, help them get it burning brighter, but I feel like my own spark has been snuffed out (I’ll note that my use of the passive voice to obscure the identity of the snuffer-outers is deliberate). I hope I can get it burning again.

I feel like all of this stress is just making me a worse person – a worse friend, a worse parent, a worse spouse, a worse sister, a worse aunt (I completely neglected my niece’s birthday this past weekend because I was so consumed by stress, and I feel terrible about it). I feel like I don’t have anything left to give, and I’m just so angry about so many things. What’s going to be left of me on the other side of all this? Is there an “other side”?

Not the most chipper post, I know. I do love my new skirt, and Vita de Vie is gonna be great, too. Whatever’s left of me will at least have a pretty spiffy wardrobe of handmade clothing from these incredibly stressful times, I guess?

Bressay is finished!

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It’s stupendously hot and humid right now, so definitely NOT shetland wool sweater weather, but I’m just so, so delighted with how this sweater turned out!

Pattern: Bressay, by Marie Wallin, from her book “Shetland”
Yarn: Jamieson’s Shetland Spindrift, in a kit purchased from The Woolly Thistle
Needles: size 2 and size 3 circulars
Time to knit: about 3 months

Bressay is finished!

This was by far the most challenging colorwork I’ve ever done, in part due to the tiny gauge (this is also the finest-gauge sweater I’ve ever knit) and in part due to how complex the chart repeats were, and how similar some of the colors are. But it’s just so, so pretty. There’s no way I could’ve chosen a color palette that works as beautifully as this one does – Marie Wallin has an incredible eye for color.

Showing off the short-rows I added to raise the back neck.

The one thing I didn’t like about the pattern was that it had absolutely no shaping to raise the back neck. So once I finished the colorwork, I just did my own thing, adding around an inch of additional length to the back neck with short rows before a final decrease round into the ribbing. I’m really pleased with how it turned out! It sits on my shoulders perfectly.

Bressay is finished!

It’s really amazing how warm this sweater is, given how light it is. I’m going to love wearing this when it gets to be cooler. One thing I’m a little uncertain about is what I’ll wear it WITH. While these particular shorts are still relatively comfortable, I’m finding that after a rough recovery from pneumonia followed by more than a year of pandemic life, which has exacerbated some of my pre-existing issues with chronic pain…well, the rest of my jeans just aren’t comfortable at all. Some of that is weight-related (I’m just a bit thicker around the middle), and some of it is nerve pain-related, but basically, I haven’t wanted to wear anything “hard-waisted”. That’s been pretty easy to achieve when all of my social interactions are over Zoom – if I need long pants, I just wear soft-waisted yoga pants! But since I’m being forced back into the classroom in just a couple of weeks, I don’t think the yoga pant look is going to fly.

I do have all of the skirts I’ve made, though I’m pretty sure only one would look good with this sweater (the dot chambray one). And I’m noticing that the high-waist nature of those skirts is pushing me towards either more cropped sweaters or open cardigans, because if a pullover gets too long, it starts to look kinda weird with the fullness of the skirt. But this pullover has a loose enough fit, and it’s not especially long. I’ve also tried this on (before blocking) over the linen dress I made, and I think it kinda works? But pants would be really nice, if I had some with softer waists. And I do have patterns for that kind of pants – I’ve got the patterns for both the Free Range Slacks and the Arenite Pants. I’m just really intimidated by the idea of sewing pants, where it seems like fitting is going to be much more challenging than it is with a skirt or dress. And on that front, I’m hoping to sew a couple more skirts and at least one more dress before Fall semester starts, so that even if I am lacking in the soft-waisted pants department, I’ll have enough skirts and dresses to get me through teaching 5 days a week. I suppose I technically already do, since I have 4 skirts and 2 dresses, but I do like variety!

Yesterday, my university FINALLY announced that they would be requiring everyone to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status, which makes me a little less nervous about being packed into a tiny classroom with a bunch of college students during the Delta surge when my kid (whose school situation I STILL don’t know) is too young to be vaccinated. But I do need to figure out what masks are going to work for me for teaching back-to-back classes, and if what works are the cloth ones I’ve made for myself (either with a filter in the pocket, or over a surgical mask, perhaps?) then I need to make some more of them. I made a bunch more of my daughter’s preferred filter-pocket style masks yesterday so that she is well-stocked for school (assuming that she IS in person, she’s going to be masking herself no matter what policies are in place; if she’s not, then I don’t know how I keep my job). This whole not knowing thing is just killing me, and I want to strangle anyone who says that we’re in a “better place” this fall than we were last fall. Parents of kids under 12 *certainly* aren’t. But I don’t think any of us have recovered from the exhaustion and burnout of the past year.

Of course, I also need to set up all of the materials for my classes, and trying to put together a syllabus and schedule when everything feels as uncertain as it currently does is just incredibly challenging. These next couple of weeks are going to be tough, and Fall semester will be, too. I need to figure out what kinds of knitting and sewing projects will help me stay calm and regulated, and what sorts of projects are best saved for a time when the demands on me are not as intense. The hard part is that I don’t know if such a time will ever come. Will I ever be able to fix the messed-up brioche on my Water Bearer cardigan, or is that project just doomed to linger forever waiting for life to settle down enough? Maybe it would be easier if I just ripped the whole thing out and started over? Or would I just mess it up again? I do think socks are going to be a good portable project for me, but as for sweaters…¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Bressay is finished!

But anyway, I do have one more pretty sweater in my wardrobe this week than I had last week, and that’s something.

Almost.

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I’m almost finished with Bressay. Once I got to the final bit of the colorwork, I ended up needing to kind of do my own thing, because the pattern didn’t include any short rows to raise the back neck, and from experience, I know that simply won’t work. I *hate* the feeling of a neckline that’s too high in front and/or too low in back! It’s just an absolute sensory nightmare for me. (Plus, I don’t think it looks good.) So, short rows it is.

Adding short rows to Bressay.

I hope the amount of short-rows I’ve done works out; it’s just kind of hard to tell when trying on a bottom-up sweater, because the yoke tends to curl and flare out a bit whether it’s on an extra long cable or on waste yarn, but I *think* it’s going to work once I do the ribbing. I still haven’t decided whether I’m going to do a single layer of ribbing as called for in the pattern, or whether I’ll create a doubled/folded ribbed neckline. I do love those ever so much, but it might be a little “heavy” looking for a sweater as delicate as Bressay.

But even once I finish the ribbing, there’s still going to be plenty to do – there are a TON of ends!

SO MANY ENDS.

I know there are clever ways of spit splicing two colors together so that you avoid having ends to weave in when doing this kind of colorwork, but for me, those ways really interrupt the flow of the knitting, and while I’m not exactly looking forward to the marathon of end-weaving I have ahead of me, I’d rather have a smooth-flowing knitting experience and then a smooth-flowing end-weaving experience. Basically, flow is what I crave right now.

Because the other sort of “almost” that’s consuming me is that in just about 3 weeks, I’ll be back in the classroom again. I still know literally nothing about what my daughter’s school is going to be like – I don’t even know with certainty whether she’ll be back in person full time, and if she is, I don’t know when her bus will come or what days her before-school orchestra will be or any of a million other things that are actually pretty damned important for me to know if I’m going to be able to figure out how to make life work once I’m teaching in person again. And for that matter, I don’t know for my own classes whether all of my students will actually be physically on campus, or if some of them will be stuck out of the country, which makes course planning quite difficult. But I *have* to plan in this information vacuum, because once the semester starts, I’m not going to have time. I had to commit to a frankly miserable teaching schedule this year because I didn’t know, earlier this year when I had to commit to my Fall ’21 classes, whether I could actually be available in the morning, given that I didn’t know what my daughter’s school would be doing. I still don’t, though now that I know my spouse can work from home two days a week, it turns out I could’ve made mornings work. Instead, I’m teaching in the middle of the day, every single day, instead of my strongly preferred heavy teaching days alternating with empty prep days. And I just…don’t have any idea what to expect.

I don’t cope well when I don’t know what to expect. It’s hard to cope with uncertainty. This has always been true for me. And it’s true for everyone, to some degree, but it’s pretty extreme for me. And yet that’s exactly what these last 20+ months have demanded from us, nonstop, especially for those of us who are parents of younger kids. I’ve worked hard to become more flexible, more able to go with the flow and roll with the punches and so on, than I was as a kid, and I’m glad for the work Past Me did on that front because it’s been vital during this pandemic. But the problem right now is that I feel like I’ve used up whatever coping skills have been getting me through so far. It feels like I’ve been pacing myself through a marathon (I used to be a good marathoner, so this is an informed analogy!), and made it through 26.2 miles to what I thought was the finish line, and instead, everyone is saying, “haha, dumbass, this is actually a 100 miler! And you’d better not slow down!” And that’s less about the intensity of the work that’s been demanded from me (and every other person who teaches), though that’s certainly part of it, and more about the coping skills that have been required. Every day I have to function without information needed to plan exacts a price from me, that’s the only way I can describe it. And I worry a bit about what this means for me, and people wired like me (because I know these are traits common amongst the neurodivergent) as the future becomes less and less predictable. I mean, in truth, the future is always unknown and always has been, but think of how often we’ve had to use the word “unprecedented” in the last few years. These are hard times for people wired like me, so be gentle.

Knitting is definitely one of the tools I use to cope. It keeps my hands busy, which calms me, and it gives me a task that IS mostly predictable, even if projects don’t always turn out the way I’d hoped. (But of course, even knitting has in some ways been a source of pain rather than comfort during this pandemic; I’m still relearning how to be a knitter without Ravelry.) Now that I’m not going to be working from home, I need to figure out good ways of having portable knitting projects again. That was part of the impetus (along with my new boots!) for getting back into sock knitting earlier this summer. Here’s the sock I finished most recently:

Currently partnerless sock.

It might be a little hard to tell in that photo that the fit isn’t super great, but what is obvious in that photo is just how high my arches/instep are. And what I’m finding is that the garter rib pattern kind of pulls over the instep in this sock, which were knit toe-up using a “Padded Sweet Tomato Heel”:

Currently partnerless sock.

It’s not actually uncomfortable once the sock is on, but I do think that as much as I enjoy the process of creating a Padded Sweet Tomato Heel, it doesn’t work well for my foot; I need more of the added height that a standard heel flap provides, I think. It’s a little funny to realize this after knitting just one sock, because it means that unless I want to rip this sock out or have mismatched socks, I’m going to need to knit another sock that I know isn’t the best fit for my foot. But it’ll still fit me and it’ll give my hands something to do. And then the next sock can be a heel flap sock; perhaps I’ll look into how one creates a heel flap from the toe-up, but more likely, I’ll just go back to my old familiar cuff-down heel flap sock pattern. Because familiar is what I need most right now.