I Love a Good Yarn

Yarns, stories, and sometimes stories about yarn


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For my Nilly

Four weeks ago yesterday I had to say goodbye to my cat Nilly. This relationship was the longest of any of my adult life – homes and boyfriends came and went, but Nilly and I were together for 14 years. I didn’t do the standard “RIP” Facebook post. I had no desire to receive the condolences of “friends” whom I haven’t seen in over 20 years and have no intention of seeing in the next 20. But in the weeks since her passing, I’ve had some guilt feelings about how quickly I’ve set about to normalizing my life with one fewer cat in it (I have two younger boy kitties, Theodore is 7 and Jasper 5). Though painful and sad, I bounced back from losing her far faster than I did when I lost my cat Sunshine to cancer when he was 12 and Theodore’s brother Liam to heart disease when he was 2. Sitting on the porch last night, enjoying a cool summer evening with a gorgeous sunset in the background, I missed Nilly. The porch was her favorite spot. So, seeing as there are many knitters, who are also cat lovers and animal lovers, I’m going to indulge my sadness and guilt a bit by eulogizing my Nilly here.

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Nilly came to me when she was 3 years old. Her previous owner was fulfilling a long-held dream of living in a tropical place and had decided to move to Hawaii. Being that Hawaii has, or at least had at that time, quarantine laws, she decided it was better to find a new home for her kitty in New York, rather than put her through the discomfort of quarantine. This particular cat owner worked with a friend of mine – a friend I’d told about my desire to get a cat, now that I’d resettled in New York and found an apartment that allowed pets. Nilly’s owner and I got in touch, I paid her a visit, met the young Miss, and agreed that I’d take her.

For the first month and a half, Nilly was my only cat. She liked to play fetch with little foam balls, and she was a bed snuggler. She was a lap cat, a hearty eater, and a nice companion. Then, I did the unthinkable and took in another cat.

The friend who had gotten me in touch with Nilly’s owner also had a cat – and a wife and brand new twin baby boys, all of whom were moving from Manhattan to Colorado. It was decided that the move would be tough enough with just the babies, so I was asked to take in their cat, Sunshine. I did, and I don’t think Nilly ever forgave me.

You want to pet the belly!

There was no reason for these two cats to not get along, but not get along they did. There weren’t constant battles, but they never chose each other’s company, they never groomed one another, they never, ever snuggled. Nilly became Sunshine’s antithesis – where he was happy, bouncy, full of personality, goofy and sweet, Nilly became the grouchy, greedy, self-involved princess – in other words, the quintessential bitchy kitty.

I don’t think Sunshine did this to her. I think she had it in her all along. When people throw out the blanket statement, “I don’t like cats,” it’s probably because they’ve only ever had contact with the Nilly type of cat. She’d purr like a motorboat on your lap one minute, but if you pet her in a way she didn’t like, she’d be swatting at you, claws out and with intent to injure, the next. And she had awful timing. I could be sitting on the couch for an hour watching TV with her nowhere in sight, but as soon as I was ready to get up to do the dishes, that’s when she’d climb onto my lap, ready to settle in. Everyone who knew her would comment on her distinctive markings and pretty face, but they’d generally give her a quick pet and step away, or not make any attempt at contact at all. Her reputation was well known.

When Sunshine died of cancer in 2010, Nilly was once again the only cat. She seemed to like it that way, but I had gotten used to having more in the way of cat company, so I decided to adopt two younger kitties. Just bringing one cat into the house and having Nilly as its only feline companion seemed like a bad move. But getting two kitties, who could be each other’s best friends when she scorned them, felt right. So, Theodore and Liam were brought into the family.

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At first, of course, Nilly would swat at them, hiss and growl at them. These little fluff balls upset her so. But then the most amazing thing happened. Liam took an inexplicable shine to her. He adored her, and he worked on her for a solid year to gain her love. And it worked. I have two videos of Nilly licking Liam’s head – a display of affection she never repeated after Liam passed.

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Because Liam loved her so much, I had concerns about how her passing one day would affect him. She was 10 years older, and, I assumed, would go first. I’d get another older female cat, I thought, once she was gone. Maybe that would fill the void that would be left in Liam’s life. But we lost Liam when he was only 2 years old from a previously undetected heart condition. Unlike with Sunshine, who’d battled diabetes for years before the cancer took him, Liam’s passing was sudden and completely unexpected. But the fallout from both was the same – I was bereft, could barely function from the grief, and was left wondering how the home could ever feel happy again. And, Theodore needed another cat. I couldn’t leave him with Nilly as his only feline companion

That’s when my little clown Jasper entered our lives, and we were again a threesome. He didn’t even know the responsibility he had, coming into a home that had lost two of the most amazing cats in the span of two years, but his sweet, open personality and innate joy lifted the pall, and we settled into the new cat constellation.

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But through all this turmoil, there was always Nilly. Nilly, who needed feeding, attention, affection. Nilly, who never had any major health issues, never made things too difficult – she was essentially a good girl, always doing her business in the litter box, not making too many messes. Nilly, who just wanted to be indulged, liked chewing on plastic bags, and who knew what she wanted and when. Nilly shared seven homes with me. She moved with me from Brooklyn to South Carolina, to the Bronx, to White Plains, back to Brooklyn, back to the Bronx, and then finally to my current home in the Hudson Valley. She complained. She never liked riding in the car. But she adjusted quickly and always found comfort in whatever new home I’d plunked her down in. She seemed especially content here. She loved being able to go outside on the porch. This picture is from the day after we moved in.

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This year I made sure she got as much time as possible out on the porch, knowing that it would be her last summer.

Her ashes now rest on a shelf in my bookcase, along with keepsakes from Sunshine and Liam, whose ashes I did not keep, letting them rest instead in pet cemeteries. They were much more social animals, so I don’t regret that they are forever mingled with the remains of other beloved pets. Nilly only ever wanted to be the only cat, but I never allowed that for any length of time. I thought it was fitting to keep her remains with me. If she could have said as much, I think that’s what she’d have wanted.

Rest well, my friend. If there’s any justice in this existence, you and Liam are now cuddled together and at peace.


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Naknicromo day 11: Listen or do anything while crafting?

Though I’m not able to watch TV while knitting (a skill I may never master!), I do often have it on in the background, usually something I’ve seen before, so it’s not important to really pay attention. I realize this is a bad habit. TV, in general, is a bad habit. It sucks me in, feeds the inertia I often feel when the day’s duties are done (and often when they’re not quite done, so they remain undone once the TV has been turned on). I’m trying now to make more use of my Netflix and Amazon Prime subscriptions, so I’ll put shows on that don’t require lots of visual connection. I can then work away and just listen to the storyline unfold.

Podcasts are often a great alternative to having the TV on while knitting. I find Freakonomics very entertaining, some of the TED Talks are good, but I’m often not convinced of the broad assertions being made by the “experts” featured there. I tend to gravitate toward PBS series, such as Modern Love, which can be sort of thought provoking, or Fresh Air. I’ve not yet found a knitting-focused podcast that’s grabbed me, so any recommendations would be welcome.

I listen to classical radio all day while I’m working, so it’s rare that I continue listening into the evening or on weekends while knitting. But on occasion, when I don’t want to have to focus on following the plot of a TV show or movie, and am not in the mood for listening to stories either, I’ll put on a CD. I’ve always been a music lover and an avid concert-goer, but lately, I’ve not been so obsessive about keeping tabs on my favorite bands or going to see live music as frequently. In a way, I kind of miss that fervor and the thrill being one of the “early adopters” of a new act, before they make it big and getting tickets to their shows becomes impossible. But that obsessiveness and fear of missing out (the kids these days call it FOMO … ‘cuz, you know, we’re no longer able to speak in full words, let alone full sentences) is a bit nerve-wracking. I like not having to keep up anymore. I like having the type of contentment in my life that I can feed with simple pleasures, like knitting and good cup of tea.


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Naknicromo day 9: When do you craft?

I subscribe to the “if I’m sittin’, I’m knittin'” philosophy. If I have enough time to sit down and have my feet up, then I have enough time to pick up a project and make some progress on it. Somehow, this week, while on vacation from work, I’ve not had as many opportunities as I thought I would to get some extended knitting time in. I’m grateful that the week has been filled with taking care of some overdue chores around the house, seeing friends and family, and getting my kitty to the vet a couple of times to deal with a situation that was causing her some discomfort, but, now that it’s Thursday and my vacation week is almost over, my fingers are itchin’ to pick up the needles.

Like probably just about every knitter, I find it hard to balance knitting with my other downtime interests. I love to read, and I make every effort to fit time in mornings before work and evenings before bed to read the New Yorker and several chapters of a novel. I’m also trying to learn the basics of French using the Mango Languages site (it’s offered as a free perk by many public libraries!), but that’s been set aside for the time being while doing my Swirl knit-along. Plus … exercise? Yeah, that’s something I need to work harder at fitting into the schedule.

So, with all this going on around the hours I work my full-time job and spend time with my family, that “if I’m sittin’, I’m knittin'” approach has become the rule. If I’m on the couch with the TV on after dinner, I’m knitting. If I can’t take another evening of watching Big Bang Theory or Simpsons reruns, then it’s the couch, knitting, and a podcast, or the local classical station, or some music from my CD collection.

And though most weekends hold the promise of extended periods of uninterrupted knitting time, I find this has become more and more of a myth, as the need for errands, cleaning, cooking and other chores supersede crafting.

Anyone else find that weekend knitting time is hard to come by?


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Our mistakes are our greatest teachers

Until three days ago, I was a die-hard tinker when it came to backing out my work to correct mistakes. Frogging terrified me, because the image I had of it was like the photo below from from the loveknitting blog:

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All those hard-won stitches hanging vicariously in the balance. My lack of skill at getting those precious stitches back on the needles kept me from ever trying frogging, even when tinking meant a considerable investment in time and patience.

But as I started tinking the 20 rows I needed to back out of my Swirl sweater due to a rather bone-headed error, I quickly saw the pattern of where to grab the stitches below the row I was pulling out. I first experimented with grabbing several stitches and then pulling out the working yarn across that part of the row. When I found how quick and easy this was, I wondered if there were a way to anchor the stitches just below where I started to go wrong with my pattern so as to rip all those rows out more quickly. That’s when I landed on the “lifeline” approach to frogging.

The image below from Knitty clearly illustrates how to set a lifeline so as to be able to rip out all that error-riddled knitting with abandon and not risk dropping any stitches in the good work:

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I’m not sure how this technique would work if your piece contains yarnovers, cables, or other stitch patterns that cause stitches to not be worked in the standard order. I have a feeling it wouldn’t be as straight-forward as with your basic stockinette or reverse stockinette, as I have on my Swirl, but it is nonetheless a really handy technique to have at the ready when it’s needed.