I started knitting my first sweater back in March, a sweater pattern whose very name indicated that it would take three hours to make, and here we are approaching mid September and it’s still not done. I can’t blame this state of affairs on the pattern’s dishonesty; I’m a pretty slow knitter to begin with, so there’s that, but more importantly I stalled on the project when it came to sewing it together. I waited until a visit to my parents in June for the blocking and stitching, but that was really just procrastination because I already know how to block things, and I could have looked up sweater sewing tutorials online, though I did prefer the idea of asking my mom to show me. On that visit I managed to get the sides sewn up, but one attempt to attach the raglan sleeves failed miserably. Good job actually that I had decided to opt for a mom tutorial rather than YouTube, because as helpful as YouTube tutorials are, they cannot actually fix your project for you when you make a massive mistake.
Mom managed to undo the wrongs I had done, and luckily because it was just about sewing on the sleeves the mistake could be removed without permanent damage to the rest of the sweater. So she did that, and then I think we watched The Daily Show, and since then (late June) I haven’t managed to summon the courage to try again.
Live blog is closed, thanks for reading! I’ll be back soon with exciting updates on my other projects.
7:56 p.m. Finished!
6:51 p.m. I am back, plate of grapes and cheese at my side, sweater in my lap, about to continue the saga of weaving in ends + Richard’s battle with Hooli over intellectual property rights.
6:04 p.m. Alvaro asked if I wanted to accompany him to the grocery store, and I’ve decided that this would be a good idea because I’ve been at this for five hours now and need a break, plus I can pick out my snacks of preference for the home stretch.
5:45 p.m. Still weaving in ends. Now watching an episode of Silicon Valley to keep me company while I weave away.
5:14 p.m. Newsflash: weaving in ends is very tedious.
4:30 p.m. Sleeve #2 done.
Commence weaving in loose ends.
3:55 p.m. Issue resolved.
3:40 p.m. Never mind about the walk. I am starting to doubt my abilities to finish this before nightfall. Just realized in pinning the front side of the second sleeve that I misaligned the pinning on the back side so now nothing’s lining up. Not sure how I managed to do that. Shall commence unpinning now and will pull out the stitching on the back side of sleeve #2.
3:29 p.m. The second sleeve is finished down to the armpit seam. Moving a little bit slowly maybe, because it’s a beautiful day outside and I have a nice view of the mountains from my desk so I keep stopping to look out the window. I’ve decided to go for a walk after I finish seaming.
2:48 p.m. Finished the first sleeve!
2:11 p.m. I have reached the first armpit with no incident of note, and the seams line up. This calls for a lunch break.
1:35 p.m. Well, I made it up to my first pin:
I think I’ll take a break now to ponder the meaning of it all.
Last Sunday I went rock climbing for the first time. It was at an indoor climbing gym, a fact which did nothing to lower the terror level in my parents when I told them about it.
I have a tendency to get a little dizzy at certain heights, but I wouldn’t say that I have a full-on fear, and I was thus completely caught off guard by the near hysteria I felt when I turned around halfway up the wall and saw how far away the ground was, how far away Alvaro was, holding the other end of the rope that was keeping me from certain death. When I would look down to check on my footing and saw that he was looking the other way for a second to relieve the strain in his neck from looking up all the time, I would bug out and yell down to him to keep his eyes on me (please!), even though I knew logically that I was not going to fall because I was roped in with a secure knot, and he could feel the tension in the cord and knew without having to look up whether he needed to pull it tighter. Plus, there were five-year-olds climbing the same wall as me. Still, I felt like I was hanging in an empty void, and had to battle with my inner voices that told me I was going to fall. It took me the entire four-hour session to even start to trust that I was not going to fall, and if I did I would be suspended by a cord, and so therefore I could reach out for a hand hold without fear. Every time I got to the top of a route I couldn’t believe it, that the voices had been wrong. The adrenaline rush for me came from this.
I’ve been going on and on about this to whoever will listen, and all listeners have nodded a bit but at some point have teased me for taking a Sunday afternoon at a rock climbing gym as such a profound personal experience. I’m telling you, though, it was. And I give you full permission to mock me for thinking that sewing up these sleeves is starting to feel like the same sort of experience.
1:17 p.m. I’m going with the following video:
I like how she’s making a sweater with the same ugly yarn that I’m using for sweater #2.
So here we go.
1:06 p.m. This video is not at all helpful. I scanned through to the end and realized that it’s just diagramming how the pieces go together, which even to me seems pretty obvious. I need stitch instruction, not diagrams lady! Also, confirmed, I should have sewed the sleeves before the sides.
1:00 p.m. I’m only 2:57 through this video and already I’m pretty sure that I went about this the wrong way from the get go (ie, sewed up the sides first). GAHHHH!
12:49 p.m. I know that I will definitely not be watching the video tutorial whose blurb reads: “So you’ve just finished your knitted sweater — now what? Now comes the fun part: You get to do the finishing!” Or maybe that’s sarcastic, in which case I like the tutorial maker’s sense of humor, so I probably will watch the video.
In late November 2013, I decided to learn how to crochet because it was cold and blustery and getting dark at 5 p.m., and I was getting bored in the evenings. One night I thought, enough is enough, and began brainstorming ways to amuse myself that wouldn’t annoy the neighbors or my living companions. You might say, well, read a damn book, but I spend most of my days reading on screen or in print, and there comes a point in the day when your eyes start to cross and your brain reaches maximum capacity, and you just need to do something with your hands. I also wanted to find an activity that I could do around other people, so as not to be anti-social, and something that entailed learning a new skill. Crochet it was.
By spring 2014 I had already switched to knitting because knitting patterns are more abundant and because knitting takes up 1/3 of the yarn that crochet does, and I do have a craft budget after all.
Now, after nearly three years of making things with yarn, mostly knitting, I’ve found myself with loads of little odds and ends from finished projects — balls of yarn too small to make much of anything, but too big to chuck into my gardening bag to use for tomato ties. I’ve been hanging on to it all with the idea of someday making a big, crazy blanket with it. Friends, that day has arrived! And I’m back to crochet for it.
My chosen pattern is the humble granny square, which is one of the few crochet patterns I like the looks of. And my grandmother made granny squares so I’m considering this an hommage to her. (I’m realizing now that I talk a lot about the grandmas on this blog. For future reference, Kay = mom’s mom, chemist and conspiracy theorist, and Roses = dad’s mom, superstar athlete and binge reader of Harlequin romances.) Grandma Kay was a granny square making machine. She made big blankets, lap blankets, baby blankets, drink coasters, and dozens of doorstops made out of bricks covered in stitched-together granny squares that are now a thing in our family, scattered throughout the homes of her children and grandchildren.
This project isn’t exactly going to be breaking new ground in design, but that’s not the point. I’m excited about it, because in addition to serving as an excuse to procrastinate on the stitching together of two nearly finished sweaters, this blanket is a refresher course for everything I forgot how to do in crochet (pretty much everything). With seven different stitches to learn/re-learn, it’s a complete package.
I picked a starburst design that looks like the one Grandma Kay always used, the tutorial for which can be found here. Warning: this video tutorial moves extremely quickly. If you’re new or just getting back to this like me, you’ll probably have to pause and go back several times while working through your first few squares. That said, it’s a great tutorial with easy-to-understand instructions and clear shots of the stitches.
Nevertheless, despite following Miss simplydaisy of YouTube’s excellent instructions, my first square turned out like this because that’s how learning works:
My fault, my stitches were messy and I was off on the counting right from the start; as a result, when I finished the circle portion and moved on to the square, nothing lined up and I wound up having to squeeze several stitches into the same loop in order for it to finish up in a square shape. In the end, wonky as it is, it’s a quadrilateral, so close enough for jazz as they say.
Square number two came out better, still has a few little mistakes, but it’s an improvement:
The blue yarn in both squares is left over from a tobacco pouch I made for my friend Lucas, and the red is from a Steve Zissou hat that I made for Alvaro last winter. I hadn’t meant for it to be a Zissou hat, that’s just how it turned out. Alvaro loved it so I pretended it was on purpose.
In addition to the crochet re-skilling and the grandma hommage, reminiscing over scraps is the third reason why I’m into this project — it’ll be a record of all the things I’ve knitted for myself and the people I love. Sort of like the college graduation quilt my mother made me, a kaleidoscope of triangles cut from my old Little League and summer job uniforms, Beatles t-shirts, high school graduation robe, the red velvet dress I wore in the role of Mrs. Claus in my first grade Christmas play Wake Up Santa!, the rainbow bed sheets I had in elementary school, the t-shirt I got at my first ever stadium concert (Diana Ross, I was ten years old, and she called me up solo to dance with her on stage, and the only dance move I knew was the Roger Rabbit so that’s what I busted out, and Ms. Ross, bless her, was just like well, okay! and started doing the Roger Rabbit right along with me)… I love this quilt because it’s a record of my childhood, and also a symbol of intense motherly love because my mother had been secretly stashing away all of the above with the idea of one day learning how to quilt so that she could make me a t-shirt quilt when I graduated from college. Pause on that for a moment, and digest it, and consider the foresight it demanded. I think Mom’s t-shirt quilt far surpasses my granny squares in nostalgic poignancy (I cried when she gave it to me), but I’m using it as a reference for this record of the hats and scarves and gloves and little bags and socks and sweaters that I’ve squinted at, sworn at, hunched over, sweated over, and finally finished and worn proudly or offered as a present to the special people in my life.
The other day I was working with Arlène, a friend from the garden, to start up a blog to document this year’s garden adventures, which will serve as an archive of photos and stories as we prepare for our eventual eviction and search for a new home. When Arlène and I talk, even when we’re supposed to be working, we have a tendency to go off on tangents, which I like. That’s my kind of talking, because tagents often lead to exciting discoveries.
During one of our little derives Arlène mentioned a website called Keepinuse, based in Switzerland (mostly in the French part though there is some action in the German regions), that works on the assumption that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. People put up posts for their unwanted things that they’d like to give away, while others post requests for certain items that they’d like to take off someone else’s hands, and somewhere along the line the giver meets the receiver and an unused object finds a loving home. I like these sorts of ideas so I created an account and, as luck would have it, the first give-away I found was a woman posting for her mother, who had some materials for dyeing wool that hadn’t been used in a while. I responded immediately, got a response back, and set up a date to go up to their house in the suburbs and pick up my goods.
On Friday I parked my bike downtown and took the bus out to a small village, where I met Béatrice, the mother. She drove us to her house and took me to the backyard, where I saw that the dyeing materials would very definitely not fit in my bike basket. I was picturing a pot and a few packages of tumeric. It was a lot more than that. Sheep not included, but pretty much everything else was. I’ve made an inventory:
1. Two 5 kilogram sacks of ground madder root to make a vibrant red dye. (Béatrice showed me some samples she’d done, still bright cherry red even after two decades in her basement.)
A new-to-me video, which I discovered thanks to Root Simple.
So though there is this loss of understanding the value of things, of the meaning of things, and in handwork, in transforming nature we also make something truly unique that we have made with our hands, stitch by stitch, that maybe we have chosen the yarn, we have even spun the yarn — even better, and that we have designed. And when I do that, I feel whole. I feel I am experiencing my inner core because it’s a meditative process. You have to find your way; you have to listen with your whole being. And that is the schooling that we all need today.
Nothing to add here… she says it all.
Now back to my knitting.
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:
DO IT YOURSELF: A TREND THAT LIFTS US UP
So obviously I had a look, because like everyone else I could use a lift-up now and then.
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.
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.)
I was at a workshop a couple of years ago with a bunch of other master’s of arts students, and in our discussion one of the attendees said something that really made my blood boil. He was from a small town in the Jura Mountains and said that a few years prior one of the guys in the village decided to organize a local art biennial. Because why should biennials only be reserved for big cities? So this inspired individual got everyone together and actually pulled it off, but in telling the story this student chuckled at the small town naivety over what qualifies as “art” — “So I went, because (ha!), I thought, this would be interesting, and it was all a bunch of craft.” Ho ho. How quaint.
In that vein, some thoughts on:
Craftivism (blog by Betsy Greer)
Functional Beauty and Handmade Political Art (Maria Alina Asavei – Art & Education)
Dark Matter: Activist Art and the Counter Public Sphere (Gregory Sholette)
Speaking of that, you ask, how’s the knitting going? Just great, thanks for asking. Here it is:
At long last, and just in time for spring!
I almost lost it with the second thumb but I stuck with it. Warning to the wearer: these mitts are infused with a whole lot of swearing.
Next stop: learn knitting. No offense to crochet, I like it, but I’ve learned that it takes up three times as much yarn as knitting does and, well, I have a budget…
My mother and I finally had post-Madrona Skype talk 1 on Sunday (we only had an hour to talk so there’s still more to tell — she and I have an otherworldly endurance for conversation) and so I’m here with some of the info she shared. Madrona is a yearly retreat in Tacoma, Washington, for people who are into knitting, crocheting, spinning, weaving, etc. She got back last week but her yarn won’t get back for a few weeks, since she bought so much that she had to ship it ground delivery. That’s my Ma.
One of her biggest finds at the retreat was the Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook, by Deborah Robson and Carol Ekarius (whose blog I can’t find, so I suppose she doesn’t have one, but Mom said she writes for Hobby Farms and Mother Earth News). The sourcebook is on the many different animals that give us their wool for yarn, and while my mother doesn’t raise animals (one neighbor in particular would have a fit, I’ll tell you that), she picked up the book because of all the information to be had in it on the provenance of the yarn she buys. I’m not about to get into animal husbandry just yet. (Read about my turbulent relationship with crochet here, here, and here, for starters. I am not ready for sheep.) Even so, I was glad for the reference because it lead me to Deborah’s blog, and the Hobby Farms website.
I don’t know anyone else in my pre-PhD program whose mother provides them with research references. +1 My Mom.
Other fibers have been on my mind since yesterday, because yesterday I started more seriously considering the question of what sort of pretty dress I’m going to wear for my wedding. (That’s the first mention of “wedding” I’ve made on this blog. Kind of lackluster, no? How about if I put a smiley in there? 🙂 )
Melanie (who hates smileys 🙂 ) said yes when I asked if she would make my dress for me, and she might be regretting her answer now. I like to think that I’m not being high maintenance about the whole thing, but I do have some preferences for how we do it. The top two priorities are that it’s something I will wear again many times, and that it has a big swingy skirt that spins out when I dance. Unfortunately these two priorities don’t fit together very well, because the sticker is that I’d also rather not use synthetic (ie petroleum-based) fabric, which is exactly the kind of fabric that spins nicely while dancing. The only natural cloth that I can think of that will spin when I dance is silk, which costs, I learned yesterday, about 60 Swiss francs per meter, and using silk will also most likely lead to me never wearing the dress again because the dress will require dry cleaning. I don’t do dry cleaning.
(In case you were wondering, yes, I’m kind of folding the making of my wedding dress into my research.)
So one of my priorities will have to go. I’m leaning toward nixing the swingy skirt, as much as it kills me to do so. I think the last time I had a swingy skirt was back when I was but a spry three-year-old dancing at my dad’s summer office party. Kate at 32.75 years old would really love a swingy skirt, but more important is that all Melanie’s hard work and the work of whoever made the materials isn’t going to get stored in a box after one day of use.
Speaking of the influence of princess dreams on grown-up desires, I saw this on Facebook this morning (posted by the page Buy Nothing New for a Year):
(One more 🙂 for Mel)
Something I read yesterday:
The survival of skills (and the skills of survival) depend on a lineage of teaching and learning which has traditionally taken place in the private sphere, in the home. … Increased specialization of skills, consumerism, and a greater division of labor have … contributed to a general loss of widely practiced everyday survival and craft skills, and a concomitant estrangement from unmediated sense experience. Under such conditions, these traditional “hand skills” are increasingly and inappropriately fetishized, and nostalgic sentiments are woven about them, which again separates them from everyday life. (Faith Wilding, “Monstrous Domesticity,” in M/E/A/N/I/N/G Nov. 1995.)
Which made me think of the Pablo Neruda poem “Ode to My Socks”:
Mara Mori brought me
a pair of socks
which she knitted herself
with her sheepherder’s hands,
two socks as soft as rabbits.
I slipped my feet into them
as if they were two cases
knitted with threads of twilight and goatskin,
my feet were two fish made of wool,
two long sharks
sea blue, shot through
by one golden thread,
two immense blackbirds,
my feet were honored in this way
by these heavenly socks.
They were so handsome for the first time
my feet seemed to me unacceptable
like two decrepit firemen,
firemen unworthy of that woven fire,
of those glowing socks.
Nevertheless, I resisted the sharp temptation
to save them somewhere as schoolboys
as learned men collect
I resisted the mad impulse to put them
in a golden cage and each day give them
birdseed and pieces of pink melon.
Like explorers in the jungle
who hand over the very rare green deer
to the spit and eat it with remorse,
I stretched out my feet and pulled on
the magnificent socks and then my shoes.
The moral of my ode is this:
beauty is twice beauty
and what is good is doubly good
when it is a matter of two socks
made of wool in winter.
(me modeling my new socks, Christmas morning 2013)