This week, I experienced a revolutionary creative nudge I needed. (Creative nudge, as opposed to creative fudge where a bunch of creatives swear in frustration and eat chocolate).
I participated in the free 5 Shawls 5 Days challenge, did not complete it in window to qualify for prizes, but also did not give up. I simply tried again the next day. I learned something new from each shape, despite having made a gazillion shawls already.
Francoise of Aroha Knits has developed such an inviting and encouraging system that I’d love to participate in her design workshop at some magical point when I have expendable funds. She says she plans to offer the free shawl challenge twice more this year in addition to a few other challenges, so if you’re interested, there’s plenty of opportunity.
Here’s what’s so revolutionary that I learned from this. You don’t need a lot to be creative. I took this on during a week I did 80 hours of freelance work. I’ve been stressed about bills (my heat requires two large payments per winter) and finally made half of what I need to meet January’s. I even dropped my weekly knitting group the past few weeks, one of my few social events, in order to take on more paid work.
I constantly have design ideas bursting in my mind, some on paper, BUT here comes this little design coach saying, “You can try this for only 30 minutes a day for five days.” For free. Making one tiny exploration sample felt entirely different from following someone else’s pattern. It showed me all I need is 30 minutes to make a prototype of anything.
So late at night after all I could do was done, I worked on a shape, washed the shape, blocked and dried it. Finally, I have proven without a reasonable doubt I don’t need to listen to all those voices in my head telling me, “You don’t have enough space, time or money in your life to design anything. If you focus on this, your life will become unbalanced. Your priority has to be paid work.”
A few precious moments outside, on Parks & Rec new expanded trails. Thank you, Parks & Rec. Yay!
I nearly made Wolf Moon completion for the Hedgewitch Shawl KAL, with the only remaining bit being the i-cord bind-off edge. It’s still drying a bit after wash, so may lighten in color a tad, but I LOVE how it turned out. Maybe soon I’ll get a model other than a fireplace to show it better.
For accountability to self, here’s proof a sleeve needle has been attached on this 2017 sweater that has languished on sleeve island. This needs to go with daughter as she heads to college, so it shall be done in 2019.
Buddha Doodles Card I pulled from my deck after asking the question: “What do I most need to know before writing this blog post?”
QUESTION FOR YOU: Has knitting/making helped you find greater emotional or physical health? I would love to listen in the comments.
Knitting and handcrafting as helpful to mental health has a growing body of literature. I will list many resources in future on the topic. But for today, I want to get down the thoughts that have been swimming for a while about recently making a diagnosis for myself that caused everything in my 52 years of life to click together like little cog wheels that had been running with slight hitches suddenly sync up and run fluidly.
A 20th century definition of the word diagnosis is identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms.
Original meaning of Greek roots “dia” (apart/observe) and “gignoskein” (know, recognize)
I choose to focus on the origin of diagnosis, to know and recognize some truth, and prefer to think of it as understanding, not illness. A path to official clinical diagnosis is long, and unfortunately I do not have insurance to cover it, so I need to be content with 100% believing I fit this group of differently abled humans.
For most people who know me, I don’t believe this is an earth-shattering diagnosis and likely suspected, and for others who don’t know me, I might risk rejection of employment or other acceptance by having this be part of my public record. Heck, I’ve blabbed for seven years on a blog that reveals more than I wish I had, and no evil gremlins have dropped out of the sky to blaspheme me yet, so I am feeling brave enough in this moment to share this, because I hope it might make someone else feel less alone.
I have come to the recognition that I am on the autistic spectrum, formerly called high-functioning or Asperger’s in the 1980s as a nod to a man who described different levels of autism severity, but the name is no longer in the diagnostic manual. Even though Asperger didn’t name it after himself, recently several prominent articles have been written about his role in eugenics movement in Nazi Germany, something I prefer to distance myself from as far as possible. I do not judge anyone who uses the term though to describe themselves.
The diagnosis itself is only a few decades old in the US, so was not a descriptor of people when I was a child. Diagnosing myself has led to greater and greater compassion for my parents in this light looking back through time. High-functioning autism in women specifically is only very recently being discussed and studied. Turns out many women tend to mask their autism by social observation and blend in as “normal,” whatever that is. In men, AS is much more described, which is why large tech companies’ open secret is they primarily run on what is now being called “neurodiversity” of the mostly male mode of functioning. Engineering, coding, technical brilliance is a key feature for many males, along with poor eye contact and apparent lack of empathy.
The trouble is the way the diagnosis is viewed and the way it is handed down. I have girls write to me who have just received the diagnosis and they are told, ‘You will never be able to have a job or a relationship.’
I say, first, fire that doctor and second, it shouldn’t be a diagnosis, it should be a proclamation: ‘You will have intense focus and interests. The likelihood that you will develop incredible skills or talents is much higher.’ There’s a lot of beauty to being on the spectrum.
KEY FEATURES GLEANED FROM VARIOUS WRITINGS ON FEMALE AUTISM SPECTRUM I RECOGNIZE IN SELF
Strong ability to focus attention.
Strong connection to non-human beings, most challenged with human connection and communication. Temple Grandin has contributed incredible body of work in this vein. Even though I can’t be around horses or most fur-bearing critters without a three-alarm immune system crisis, for me, this is most reflected in an intelligence I call “ecopsychological awareness,” or a deep understanding of my place inside an ecosystem. I’ve had this innate understanding as long as I can remember, corroborated by my parents who had patience to walk 2-year-old me around a single block for an hour due to the depth of attention I paid to each living organism along my path…. Shout-out to Greta Thunberg, who lives this passion with her heart.
Strong imagination, sometimes as escape or coping mechanism for social dread. Yes, I had an imaginary dog who never barked, and drew an entire thriving social community of fleas inside my class cubby in 4th grade, a form of graffiti my teacher didn’t quite appreciate.
Happiest in solitude, in solo ventures (we typically don’t think of asking someone to join us anywhere – we just go). I enjoy doing things in groups as long as we are all working on a clear goal/project and my task is clear. As a teen, I asked an adult, “How is it that people have fun?” I see this now as a classic autistic question. I literally struggle with fitting my version of what’s fun into most social “fun.”
Many AS women seem to be poets, musicians, writers, medical professionals in greater numbers than the more mechanical gifts typically attributed to men.
Periods of mutism can be common. For a period in high school, I was so silent that a teacher remarked when he saw me at a social function years later, “I thought you were literally mute. So glad to hear you expressing yourself.”
Tend to not care about clothing, have confusion around when or how to dress up/dress down…definitely true of me. Even though I appreciate the process of making clothing, I actually wouldn’t mind wearing a potato sack.
Tend to have what is described as naivete, confusion over when being manipulated, and for this reason can seem younger and can be targeted for abuse/bullying. I won’t go into the negative side here, but all my life I’ve been told I seem younger than my chronological age and at 50 was asked by a marketing caller, “Can I speak to your parents? Oh, sorry, I thought you sounded 11.”
Strong emotional outbursts unable to articulate well (in my youth), periods of intense fatigue from managing social confusion/pressures. Deepest bows and apologies to my parents for my teen years.
Delayed sexual maturity/interest, routinely 5-10 years beyond peers.
Most fascinating and reassuring of all to me, folks who study women’s traits through the Asperger and Autism Network, as well as Tony Attwood, the Australian originator of much of the world’s work on high-functioning autism, say women on AS can make great parents. Whew!
So far, substance addiction as form of coping seems more prevalent in men than women on the spectrum.
Due to meltdowns from sensory overwhelm and exhaustion from social anxiety, women are often misdiagnosed or secondarily diagnosed with depression/anxiety, borderline personality, without autism spectrum ever considered.
An “expectation gap” between brilliance and competence displayed in some areas, while foundational things seem confounding. My biggest anxiety is around owning and buying things, for example, which does not fit into a consumer society very well.
Communication style that is talking at (monologue) rather than talking with.
Synesthesia (I have for colors and letters – check out Daniel Tammet’s books) and other “differently connected” or exaggerated sensory experience. It’s common for autistic people to walk in a room and take in all the ambient noise on top of every simultaneous conversation…recipe for overwhelm. I’ve turned this superpower into my living for 25 years, accurately transcribing conversations and background noise for media.
Many seem to leave behind a trail of partial degrees or jobs. I personally have been accepted to three graduate programs and half finished one, ironically in Special Education, dropping out when I reached complete overwhelm in the face of student teaching and managing an entire classroom.
A chameleon aspect to personality due to observing people. If I’m conversing with someone with an accent that differs from my own, I begin to sound more and more like them. With travel in my younger years, I was accepted into various cultural groups not of my origin, and each time, people thought I was culturally part of that group (part Polynesian in Hawaii, part Japanese in Japan, part African with African group, part Hispanic or Native in New Mexico).
I have read and have lived that women on spectrum can tend to have extremely sensitive sensory systems that prevent us from ingesting most addictive substances. For me, discovering Buddhist meditation 30 years ago, followed by a true allergy to alcohol after daughter’s birth, followed by a vegan diet in past decade, as well as daily knitting and nature connection practice have greatly improved my overall quality of life and led to much stronger emotional regulation than I could access in my youth.
My current coping skills and practices have led to a life that is medication-free for years, and I am forever grateful after years of off-and-on therapy, antidepressants. Knitting is one piece of that. I also have found that medication when spelled meditation works as the best anti-anxiety practice ever.
HOW THIS RELATES TO KNITTING
I have observed that many leaders in the knitting and hand-making blogging/vlogging community have identified various mental health concerns and sometimes physical health concerns that have both been alleviated with a daily knitting or making practice.
A large-scale study out of the UK has shown blood pressure drops and people report great relief of mental or even physical pain after knitting for a period of time.
For me, knitting not only allows me to feel connection with an ancestral lineage of people through time, it is a process over product endeavor, to have colors and textures running through my hands. It is calming, reassuring, repetitive, and gloriously satisfying when an object made with your own two hands is complete. Especially when I have a chance to gift what I made to someone else.
I am no expert in Ayurveda (a several thousand year old health system originating in India), but I ran across another way to view how repetitive use of both hands might help us. In this view of the human body, we have Marma points, accupressure points, in our hands that connect to our entire physical being. Fascinating stuff to consider.
One last note: I would be willing and happy to participate in any study or interview about women on autism spectrum to contribute to further understanding.
“You can’t always get what you want,
But if you try sometimes you might find
You get what you need.” ~ You Know Who
A few creative ways I’ve obtained the object of my craft other than purchasing:
Test knitting for a yarn store designer in exchange for gift certificates to that store’s fine yarns. I literally walked in after seeing the spectacular hand-dyed yarns and asked, at first was told they had enough testers, but later got a call. Always worth a try.
Being gifted generously donated yarns from a yarn-store owner to continue my ongoing project to donate handknit shawls to moms of critically ill children at the Seattle Ronald McDonald House, since I lived there for a year and these moms are close to my heart.
Turning funds from any commissioned works I make for others into more yarn.
SOURCES FOR THE GOODS
This list is by no means comprehensive, but I am sharing sources here for yarns I’ve enjoyed working with that meet my need for at least some natural fiber in the lower end of the cost range. I believe strongly in the vision of a plastic-free world and supporting shepherds(esses) and independent small businesses hand dying natural fibers. But sometimes a maker should not force themselves to forego a medical appointment, have a delinquent heating bill, or go to the food bank in order to buy yarn. Been there, done that. 2019 is a new opportunity to double down my focus on inflow and outflow and live more in harmony with my means, despite my constant urge to create and make new things.
Berroco Yarns – I’m making the Arboreal sweater I intend to gift to my daughter from Berroco Vintage DK, which is at least 40% wool and comes in 288 yard skeins. The color depth is wonderful of the yarns I’ve worked with, and I’ve had zero issues with fiber quality or breakage. Many retailers have sales making many of this company’s wool-acrylic blend yarns in sweater quantity at least under $80 range.
KnitPicks – I’ve worked with four of these yarns so far and have enough of the squishy Simply Wool Eco Wool at year-end sale to make the Appalachian Shawl in my 2019 Make Nine. I love Hawthorne Fingering 80% wool/20% polyamide for shawls because it comes in huge yardage (450+!), used in combination with other yarns for colorful pops. (Example photos)
Homage to Sheep
I loved working with a 50/50 bamboo/merino wool yarn called Galileo because of its shine and soft drape. Sadly had a breakage and ply quality issue with the Mighty Stitch line, which is 20% superwash wool, 80% acrylic I used for baby items. I ended up cutting out sections of yarn in the center of several skeins. Wool of The Andes is highly affordable but is a more rough feel than I like to work with for large-scale projects like a bed-size blanket I started to make. My hands actually hurt after working with the yarn, which does not happen with every natural wool, but maybe I need to toughen up. This is one of my unfinished projects stored. Should I ever attempt a large blanket again, I would go with a superwash or a seamed piece-work approach, since I didn’t think through the fact I had nothing other than a bathtub big enough to hand wash said blanket.
Skeinz – There are over 1,000 breeds of sheep worldwide, but Merino wool that originated with a Royal Spanish flock in the 1700s and 15 sheep on a ship to Australia, turned into a market where today 50% of the world’s Merino is sourced from Australian breeds. Drought and market changes in the 2000s have caused a decline in Australian flocks, but they still produce close to half. Skeinz is a resource for affordable New Zealand wool. I say “affordable,” because the exchange rate for a $6.50 NZ skein is $4.40 USD, but of course you do need to pay for shipping, so it depends how badly you want to work with this quality milled fiber. I have not myself, but I have met a few folks who had decades-old, incredibly well-wearing handknit garments made from New Zealand wool, and it truly feels different than anything I’ve worked with.
Cascade Yarns – For a year in my 20s, several years after the Cascade company started I visited their warehouse in Pioneer Square Seattle before I had other responsibilities than to myself, and I took a freelance gig making display garments for LYS owners who purchased a certain quantity of yarn. I’d get home to my studio apartment after a day of work as a receptionist in a health center and stay up until 2 a.m. knitting. Yes, I am now a proud knitting nerd, though at that time just a lonely one. Cascade yarn is truly a workhorse and all their lines have generous yardage for cost of many fiber blends. It’s a great source for sweater quantities, and I’ve used Cascade Heritage for solid color blocks in many shawls.
Little Knits – Another Seattle yarn source that has jaw-dropping sales for quality yarns. You just need to get on their email list to be notified of weekly deals.
Hobium Yarns – Looking into making a sweater from Kartopu alpaca/acrylic sport yarn from this source, because it’s the lowest cost I’ve seen. But I can’t speak to its quality until I try it. I have heard folks who work most of the time with acrylic like this affordable source for yarn.
Fabulous Yarns – I hesitate putting this in any “affordable” category, but I absolutely adore Madelinetosh and Malabrigo Yarns from South America. The colors, the feel! But I rarely can afford them. So the only time I’ve purchased them is in a sale through this source, because I’ve found it to be the most cost-effective I’m aware of with their overall discounts, especially when they are having a targeted sale.
There are many more big vendor online sources like Love Knitting, Webs, Jimmy Beans Wool, etc., but short of creating a phone book, I will stop here.
It’s always a joy to hand feel yarns before you purchase, so whenever possible check out your LYS, but again, note to self, if your choice is food or medicine or yarn, choose food or medicine.
My awesome sister offered a wonderfully helpful two-hour workshop I attended this weekend to assist creatives in getting clear about 2019 dreams for our work and energy. It’s the first time I’ve been able to participate in an offering (due to location and my dog allergies). I’ve always loved seeing her assemblage art creations, but now that I’ve experienced a workshop, I can personally strongly recommend her work to anyone, and not just because she’s family. She’s skilled at facilitating conversations and offering suggestions and support on anyone’s creative journey.
Here’s a quote I chose from the random fortune telling method in Sara’s workshop. Each quote people pulled from a container was based on one general practice focus for creating anything. The practice I pulled was TRUST.
When you write, speak with complete self-trust and do not timidly qualify ….Later, if you find what you wrote isn’t true, accept the new truth. Consistency is the horror of the world.
~ Brenda Ueland
I love and needed that last line very loud and clear. After a period of chaos, I’ve worked so hard to build consistency into my life that the structure is calcifying, soon to turn to stone, rather than fertile space for creativity. And I also needed this because I’ve been brewing a bravely personal blog post that I only want to write if I can make it useful to the theme of hand making. I now feel emboldened to attempt to write down these thoughts in a positive way that may speak to someone else out there who has similar experience.
After the workshop, I was able to clarify two main creative intentions for 2019, with more on back burner just in case I become Wonder Woman overnight and access some unknown superpower that allows me to accomplish more than the first two.
Set aside weekly time to explore and play with knit design concepts I have in mind, with a goal of writing and making one solid pattern by year’s end…letting go of pressure to perfect and sell but rather play with inspired design elements. I need to break through this “has to be done this way” barrier I’ve felt with protocols I see successful designers do (hire testers and tech editors) and just get my designs flowing in some form.
Host a low-key one-day fiber arts retreat in the woods, open to makers of all abilities. I love to learn about all fiber-related skills and can offer my assistance with beginning knitting. Everyone can be a teacher of what they know best, so I hope to encourage a gathering for anything portable someone wishes to focus on for a day, broken up by nature time, potluck food and conversation.
Back burner intentions.
Research cameras and lights for filming tutorials and video podcasts so that I can create high quality knitting and Nature content that engages community. At this time, I don’t have resources to invest, but I can research options.
Conduct interviews with local sheep and alpaca farmers and natural dye experts in order to learn from them and share their wisdom.
Create and collect questions to post that engage people and build community around what I love about making and knitting.
Next post will be my response to a forum led by Maria of Ninja Chickens from a maker asking where to find affordable wool/yarn to work with, especially when financially constrained. I realized after I shared my ambitious Make Nine 2019 on Instagram that I was going to need to answer that question myself. Buying a large size sweater’s quantity of yarn I’d really love to work with is in the range of $200, and that’s out of reach for many of us. Finding alternatives that still contain wool and natural fiber for under $50 is possible, you just need to know where to look.
Until I entered the social media knitting world, I never knew what an FO or a WIP was, and I certainly thought a UFO was an unidentified flying object. Today I am happy to show one FO (finished object) and one WIP (work in progress).
The Teroldego is a summertime light shawl that is the most unusual shape of any I’ve made, lending itself to creative neckline origami but just wide enough to provide upper arm/shoulder warmth.
From luxury yarn to au natural sheepy goodness, I’ve been loving the meditative work on the Hedgewitch Shawl. Comments from the knit-along from December’s full moon to the Super Blood Wolf Moon on January 21st seem to show a universal experience with the pattern. Most people, myself included had to take apart and start over the first few rows, because the pattern forces mindfulness as you work the texture design on the back side that shows on the front side. Then once you have the repetition memorized, it’s pure meditation from there.
Hedgewitch is a tribute to the ancestors and the modern wise women (and men) who venture past borders and into the wilds and beyond where all manner of beasts and beings dwell. ~ Nat Raedwulf, Wolf and Faun Knits
I tend to love brilliant color, so this is a departure for me, but I am a nature freak and nothing is better than letting nature be. The more I learn about sheep and appreciate the incredible qualities of wool, it’s been a joyful process to watch and feel the rich earthiness of a natural wool blend I believe was a limited edition of several sheep varieties from Abundant Earth Fibers picked up at their mill last year, followed by the lighter weight but darker toned local alpaca from a mystery alpaca farmer in my area. My shawl will end with a deep gray/black and red border. I am using four colors instead of two contrasting ones called for in the pattern. You know you’re a sheep and fiber arts person when you wax poetic about different “colors,” which look all the world to most folks like tan, tan and tan.
I spent much of 2018 dreaming of becoming a farmer and threw myself into work trading on farms only to decide by year’s end that might be a little too far of a stretch for me to ever own/live on a farm given my not spring chicken body, lack of funds, and allergies to nearly every animal under the sun other than sheep. I mean, most sheep owners benefit from some kind of guard dog for safety of the herd, if not shepherding. Still a dream but not a likely reality. But while I live and work on my imaginary farm, this sturdy Hedgewitch shawl will be the warm wrap I’ll wear daily in the colder months outside.
Below is a beautiful poem I found on the word I want to work with for 2019 with the intention of bringing more openness to people and opportunities, in addition to greater acceptance of all aspects of myself. I intend to plaster the word on my bathroom mirror, since it took me nearly four decades to stop tearing up every time someone would utter the phrase, “You are welcome here,” or even greet me with “Welcome,” and each time the emotion took me by surprise. So an internal and external welcoming of what is and what can be. I think I’ve finally gotten to the root of why I’ve felt so alien much of my life, but it’s very probable many of us do in a myriad of ways.
I welcome you…
The way the soil opens itself to rain,
and leaves absorb sunlight,
exchanging it for breath.
As a bird spreads its wings to
a rising current of air, sure it will be lifted,
and as the moon partners with the sun,
seeking only to reflect its brilliance.
The way a mother extends her arms to
receive her newborn,
and the stars, pulsing with delight,
receive us in the end.
As the glove receives the hand,
and the heart, though broken, love.
I welcome you.
(Rev. Peter, UU minister)
And because so much fear came up with my word choice, fear of overwhelm if I welcome everyone and everything in my path, fear of being gullible and easily manipulated (as is my nature), I love this quote to keep near:
The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.
As I start 2019 with no work available, half a usual paycheck, (typical December/ holiday season in my line of work), observing my cold settle into my lungs and trying to prevent a sixth lifetime bout of pneumonia with deep breaths and hydration, I am grieving what I intended my New Year transition to be: Answering request to help harvest/work in food bank garden, time with daughter and nephew.
It takes all manner of patience and faith to believe in a promise of future work, and that I can finally one day break the cycle of so much life energy going to make basics work and paying debt load. Or at least that I can learn to shift my approach and attitude without going into further debt for the latest “fix your relationship with money, self, people and the universe” workshop.
I own my part in debt and own my hard work to do something about it. The one space my situation is paying off is daughter’s college applications. Having nothing combined with brilliance is a winning combo. And the reason why I believe despite it all the universe has my back is that paycheck to paycheck with nothing in bank to support two people is a miraculous existence. Everything we need is provided moment to moment.
It’s just my clinging to the idea I could speed up the process of attaining any way to retire (future worry) and release from debt oppression.
But in knitting, none of these musings matter. Knitting is a place where everything flows peacefully with ease. An abundance of color, beauty, comfort I can give away or keep arises spontaneously.
Other than a few holiday sale supplies to make specific things for specific people, I’m steadfastly working through and giving away my stash to folks in need while postponing bringing new supplies into my life.
Constantly working toward a yarn stash balance and answering inner dialogue:
Q. “How can you simultaneously moan of financial strain while gathering making supplies?”
A. “Knitting is a zone of health and magic making that pays you back tenfold.”
There was a time I paid many times as much for therapy than yarn in a year, so if knitting pays off in ways therapy sometimes cannot, a little yarn goes a long way.
Here’s an oldie but goodie article that talks about health benefits of knitting. After I mail a knitted thank you to a friend for a December kindness, I’m going to make myself another cup of Gypsy Cold Care tea and knit myself back to health.