The joy of faire soi-même

The other day I stumbled upon a recent issue of Femme Actuelle, a French women’s magazine, that had the following tagline on its cover:


So obviously I had a look, because like everyone else I could use a lift-up now and then.

The inside:

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And a translation for your reading pleasure:

Do it yourself: a trend that lifts us up

If DIY is catching on as much as it is, it’s because it goes far beyond being just a trend. It offers to those who take it up a space for expression and self-realization that carries real reasons to feel good.

By Isabelle Gavillon

To work with one’s hands and creativity is no old-fashioned notion — enough with the old jokes about macramé sessions — DIY is a real trend. We can no longer keep track of the blogs that explain how to make your own beauty products, jams, jewelry, hand-knitted sweaters, furniture … If the shaky economic situation is forcing us to be more creative in order to spend less, we can also find a real pleasure in it. “There’s nothing depressed or pathetic about doing it yourself. DIY has a practically metaphysical dimension because it transforms us,” says Ronan Chastellier, sociologist and author of Tous en slip! Essai sur la frugalité contemporaine et le retour aux valeurs simples (editions du Moment). [Down to our skivvies! Writings on contemporary frugality and the return to simple values…. Is that not a great title?] An enticing proposition.

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A small, personal study on knitting and attention, Part II

This week the final year CCC students did their thesis defenses (CCC is where I did my masters, finished last year) and so I’ve been a bit absent from here, busy listening to all the final presentations, which were inspiring and impressive and filled me with all sorts of ideas. I decided to take along my knitting, since I’ve gotten to a point where I can knit automatically enough to not look down half the time, and I’ve discovered the zen of working with my hands while listening to someone talk about interesting things. I tried testing the effects of repetitive manual work on my attention span during a seminar a few months ago, with mixed results, so I wanted to give it a go again now that I’ve gotten a little better at knitting.

Project #2 (see #1 here) is a pouch for rolling tobacco and papers for Lucas, who smokes like a chimney and was also one of the students giving his final presentation this week. I promised him a tobacco pouch ages ago when I first started crochet, and never got around to making one because the small pouch/drawstring bag patterns for crochet on Ravelry are ridiculous. For example:


That is a drawstring bag in the form of a uterus, with Fallopian tubes as the ties. I’ve bookmarked it obviously, but not for Lucas. (And actually, looking up pouch patterns for crochet now, I see that there have been a bunch of new ones added that aren’t bad.)

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Apricot Preserves

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This was my fourth jam making session (preceded by strawberry-rhubarb, apple-rhubarb, and rosemary-rhubarb, after which we had no more rhubarb). One of our regular stops at the farmer’s market is the stand where the guy wears cherry earrings and is always good for tossing a few free things in along with whatever you pay for. The other week he started having apricots, and so two Saturdays ago we bought an entire case of them. Now he likes us a lot and gives us even more free stuff. (Five or six tomatoes last Saturday: Lesson: Make friends.)

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Tree house progress

Tree house progress

Coming along, slowly.

Dress session #1

Yesterday Mélanie and her mom and I started work on the dress I’m wearing for my grand nuptials next month. To be clear, all I did was hold down the fabric for pattern cutting and insert a few pins here and there, half of which I put in the wrong way. I’m fairly useless in this department.

I asked Mélanie to make my dress because she comes from a long line of sewers and is the sort of person who can squint at a complicated blouse and say, “I think I’ll make a copy of this in a different fabric.” You know, just eyeball it — without a pattern, without even taking apart the first blouse, and yet it comes out looking perfect. She’s also the sort of person who will show up to meet me wearing some sort of amazingly beautiful new article of clothing, and when I compliment her on it and ask where she found it, she replies that her great-grandmother made it in 1927. In short, Mélanie is a remarkable human being (one of my favorites), and even more remarkable in this, our current epoch, in which whole generations of people are growing up not knowing how to replace a button. The fact that Mélanie (age 27) can not only sew buttons, but pleats if she so desires, astounds me. She knows this because she grew up with it, in a family culture where people sew clothing.

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Scarf is done. Now what?

And I finished in the nick of time. Hannah the birthday girl’s birthday brunch was Sunday and when I woke up that morning I still had several rows to go, plus binding off (anxiety) plus weaving in loose ends. This meant that all morning I had my lap covered in wool, which was really fun in 92 degree weather. Or … 33.3 degrees. I had to go look that up. I’ve lived in metric land for eight years now and I still haven’t converted. I should start doing that.

Anyway, the scarf:

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She really liked it but I think she suffered a bit for the modeling session. Not good weather for wool.

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Root Simple audio podcast + my knitting

Happy to discover recently that one of my favorite blogs now has a podcast — their first episode discusses transplanting vs direct sowing, a review of a new bread book, and the big gluten issue… plus a really weird derive into eating rats. (You’ll just have to listen for yourself.)

I’ve always been a radio person, and since I’ve picked up knitting I’ve become a podcast person because I’ve discovered that it makes the rows speed by (not a must, since along with the knitting I’ve also mysteriously picked up patience). For the past couple of months I’ve been catching up on episodes of France Culture’s program Terre à Terre and thanks in part to it I’m nearly done with my first official project, a scarf for my friend Hannah, who’s celebrating her birthday on Sunday. Nothing like handing it in at the buzzer. Hannah already knows she’s getting a scarf, and she’s seen it at an early stage because I’m incapable of keeping presents a secret, but she hasn’t seen it since it started looking like a scarf — therefore no project update photos (she checks in on the blog from time to time when she’s not off saving the world … she’s a busy woman). It’s finally long enough to wrap around one’s neck, but the two tail ends are still a bit short. I’m almost done with yarn ball #4 and figure it’ll take maybe half of a fifth skein to finish it. Assuming I can figure out how to cast off without wrecking the whole thing, Hannah’s neck will not be cold this winter.

Some things I’ve read this past week

I. The Disquieting Delights of Salt-Rising Bread (Popular Science)

The result is a tight-grained, dense yet tender loaf with an unusual aroma that’s usually described as “cheesy.” The social historian J. C. Furnas, who learned to love salt-rising bread as a child in the early twentieth century, wrote that “the flavor was once well defined by my sister as like distant dirty feet,” but to his older and more discerning self it tasted “as if a delicately reared, unsweetened plain cake had had an affair with a Pont l’Eveque cheese.” In my experience, salt-rising breads made with milk smell like a combination of swiss and parmesan — sharp rather than stinky. Milk-free salt-rising breads tend to be pungent in their own less cheesy way, though one of them, my all-time favorite so far, came out with a wonderful washed-rind aroma.


II. Victory Gardens (and beating Monsanto ourselves) (Farm Girl School)

III. The Bouletcorp: The Saga of the Slugs

Speaking of slug battles, the other night Plantopic hosted Part I (of what will no doubt be a many-part saga) of CHASSE LIMACES (Slug Hunt). The harvest was bountiful:

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Check out what one of my garden companions built

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In Praise of Idleness

by Bertrand Russell (1932)

Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: ‘Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.’ Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment. But although my conscience has controlled my actions, my opinions have undergone a revolution. I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused by the belief that work is virtuous, and that what needs to be preached in modern industrial countries is quite different from what always has been preached. Everyone knows the story of the traveler in Naples who saw twelve beggars lying in the sun (it was before the days of Mussolini), and offered a lira to the laziest of them. Eleven of them jumped up to claim it, so he gave it to the twelfth. This traveler was on the right lines. But in countries which do not enjoy Mediterranean sunshine idleness is more difficult, and a great public propaganda will be required to inaugurate it. I hope that, after reading the following pages, the leaders of the YMCA will start a campaign to induce good young men to do nothing. If so, I shall not have lived in vain.

Before advancing my own arguments for laziness, I must dispose of one which I cannot accept. Whenever a person who already has enough to live on proposes to engage in some everyday kind of job, such as school-teaching or typing, he or she is told that such conduct takes the bread out of other people’s mouths, and is therefore wicked. If this argument were valid, it would only be necessary for us all to be idle in order that we should all have our mouths full of bread. What people who say such things forget is that what a man earns he usually spends, and in spending he gives employment. As long as a man spends his income, he puts just as much bread into people’s mouths in spending as he takes out of other people’s mouths in earning. The real villain, from this point of view, is the man who saves. If he merely puts his savings in a stocking, like the proverbial French peasant, it is obvious that they do not give employment. If he invests his savings, the matter is less obvious, and different cases arise.

One of the commonest things to do with savings is to lend them to some Government. In view of the fact that the bulk of the public expenditure of most civilized Governments consists in payment for past wars or preparation for future wars, the man who lends his money to a Government is in the same position as the bad men in Shakespeare who hire murderers. The net result of the man’s economical habits is to increase the armed forces of the State to which he lends his savings. Obviously it would be better if he spent the money, even if he spent it in drink or gambling.

But, I shall be told, the case is quite different when savings are invested in industrial enterprises. When such enterprises succeed, and produce something useful, this may be conceded. In these days, however, no one will deny that most enterprises fail. That means that a large amount of human labor, which might have been devoted to producing something that could be enjoyed, was expended on producing machines which, when produced, lay idle and did no good to anyone. The man who invests his savings in a concern that goes bankrupt is therefore injuring others as well as himself. If he spent his money, say, in giving parties for his friends, they (we may hope) would get pleasure, and so would all those upon whom he spent money, such as the butcher, the baker, and the bootlegger. But if he spends it (let us say) upon laying down rails for surface cars in some place where surface cars turn out not to be wanted, he has diverted a mass of labor into channels where it gives pleasure to no one. Nevertheless, when he becomes poor through failure of his investment he will be regarded as a victim of undeserved misfortune, whereas the gay spendthrift, who has spent his money philanthropically, will be despised as a fool and a frivolous person.

All this is only preliminary. I want to say, in all seriousness, that a great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work, and that the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.

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