A Tale of Two Finished Objects

I.

Impressionists Shawl by Helen Stewart. A fun knit to dissuade me from biting nails during time of great transition: Sending my only child off to college and moving from the house I’ve lived in 14 years within the same month. Someone asked me why I continue to knit shawls when so few folks wear them. Answer: They give me a sense of accomplishment because I can finish a shawl faster than a garment, they make a simple shaped canvas in which to play, and more to my point are about a fifth to a sixth the cost of a sweater in yarn volume.

I did find blue-faced leicester whose texture I love to work with for nearly the cost of a shawl though, and will begin a winter rainy day project the Oban sweater or Oban cardigan but think of it as a no pressure slooooow make in the field of mindfully made items.

BFL Sheep

II.

A gift from my past to my future. During process of sorting through all belongings and packing to move, I uncovered this in a long line of nearly finished sweaters I thought I had dealt with by either unraveling or finishing. Usually they are missing only one sleeve or seams. It became such a consistent habit of mine, I stopped making sweaters. I have no idea what the pattern for this was, but I know I made it likely over 30 years ago. The condition it was resting in all these years was complete except for a 6-inch seam on a sleeve. Almost unbelievable I hid it away.

The sweater fits me well now, is super soft, and perfect for whenever fall arrives. I imagine I set it aside because of my severe tendency toward perfectionism in my 20s with the noticeable blip in the lace edging. I can hardly believe how even the stockinette is, looks machine made, but no, just two hands, two sticks and some yarn. Now I happily embrace the imperfection and, in the tradition of many design concepts of the world’s cultures I’m going to say this was intentional imperfection. Yes, I meant to do that.

If I could build a yarn store inside my mind, it would be this. I was thrilled to drop in and chat with the lovely people at the Starlight Knitting Society in Portland this week. I crammed so much into 48 hours of following my bliss away from work for the first time in four years, that I imagine a part of me is still there soaking in all the vegan eateries, hiking all the parks, hugging all the trees, and dreaming of a yarn library such as this beautiful space. I did walk away with something from the sale bin which I will share when I create a piece with it, and a free but priceless badge of courage.

Although I fit the millionaire to millennials meme in not ever being able to afford to buy a house in my lifetime, I eat avocado toast or restaurant food for that matter only 3-4 times per year. So housing and luxury eating in my life appear not to be correlated. Plus, this was a transcendent moment of peppery, lemony, plant fat goodness I wouldn’t trade for a house.

PS. The lace yarn in this photo is normally the price of a house, but I got it at an annual half-off sale. I knit in the lap of luxury but always for reduced prices.

Sunburst

Satisfying to finish a project in my own time, a “Fall KAL” in Winter. The moment I saw the Drums of Autumn pattern, I envisioned a giant sunflower medallion on fall leaves.

I had no idea the twists and turns it would take me on though.

  1. First, I had trouble with achieving the lace medallion from the pinhole cast-on, so I constructed it flat and joined in round after a few inches.
  2. Then, as often happens when you set down a project for too long to remember how you started it, I created a slightly different lace for each side of the gold side sections. In the center double decrease where you wave your magic wand and turn 3 stitches into 2 (slip 2, knit 1, pass 2 over), on one half I slipped 2 knitwise, the other slipped 2 purlwise. Very different appearance (above images).
  3. As I was blocking the wrap, one of my blocking pins slightly grazed a ply of the center lace medallion enough that I woke the next morning to find a large hole had emerged in the center from one strand breaking. If left to its own devices, it would have unraveled all that lace. So it’s sewn together in the best way I could.

Moral of story: As long as you don’t look too closely, this wrap is a glorious sunburst of learning to overcome.

Yarn used:

  1. Sunset Cascade Heritage, Gold Fusion
  2. Tosh Merino Light, Rocky Mountain High

Diversity Learning Curve

There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.

Change always involves a dark night when everything falls apart.

Margaret J. Wheatley
Diversity of hats gifted to shelter in 2016

Because I am white and carry all the systemic privileges (and community isolation) of being white, I am systematically attempting to teach myself about knitters and designers who are not white, in order to break out of my bubble of awareness. Currently I am of limited purchasing power so plans are on hold, but it is my intention to broaden the scope of my future pattern and yarn choices and support folks whose work has up to now escaped my white gaze.

To this end, I want to be yet another blog to share this eye-opening dissertation by Lorna Hamilton-Brown titled, “Myth: Black People Don’t Knit”. What I especially love, along with all the visuals she compiles, is the oral history obtained from elders and colleagues suggesting people in many non-white cultures of the world have been knitting resourcefully using whatever materials available for much longer than is widely appreciated.

Lorna’s contribution to historical understanding inspires me to offer my services as a professional transcriptionist accustomed to listening to a wide range of dialects, should anyone need assistance in capturing recorded oral histories for further work on the topic of piecing (knitting) together the history of knitting from a much broader perspective than white European-American. Just hit me up if you are a historian or researcher or just plain passionate knitter interested in interviewing people, and I will happily transcribe the interviews for you.

I am grateful to Jeanette Sloan in compiling her list of POC designers and crafters. No one single person could make an exhaustive list, but her dedication to offering this to others while living a very full life inspires me.

CarpeYarn.com is a wonderful treasure trove of interviews with Craftivists and ways to support “makers, stores and people worldwide who inspire us.”

All these resources expand my view of intentional use of any craft and give me lots to incubate in contemplating how to best use my own future designs and participate in lifting others alongside myself in some way.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT WITH MY OWN FORM OF DIVERSITY

As a woman only beginning to accept my place in the neurodiverse community with self-diagnosis, I am also interested in using my craft to support organizations specifically researching how autism spectrum presents in women and breaking down barriers to informed diagnosis and support for women.

Part of my knitting obsession and skill I feel is directly related to autism, because for me, it has paralleled periods of heightened anxiety. Since shifts in America since November 2016, for example, my knitting has reached new heights because I have spent more and more time with it. While all humans have some form of self-soothing or stimming and many knitters say they knit to soothe, the need to stim is apparently more exaggerated in autistic people and absolutely essential to mental health. If I can’t move my hands, I notice tension and anxiety slowly rising. Knitting fits the bill perfectly because it allows socially acceptable stimming and even social interaction without eye contact. Food for thought.

It is still not fully clear to me whether fitting my life’s experiences into a convenient self-diagnosis based on strong “yes” on three online autism quizzes (in no way diagnostic) and lots of life review is valid to anyone but myself, but regardless, I hold vision of a day when it is safe for all people to be authentically who they are and make it in this world.

Pausing to Honor

Sharing a favorite e-book by two talented women who translated shawl patterns from the past into present day usage. I have long wanted to make “A Shawl For Aunt Harriet,” a modernized version of the shawl gifted to Harriet Tubman by Queen Victoria in 1897.

Donna Druchunas’ jaw-dropping work and the entire Stories in Stitches set can be ordered on Ravelry. When I try the link to her website it appears no longer available, but I did order my copy of Stories in Stitches in e-book form there.

If you would like to see a photo of the original shawl preserved by descendants and then donated to the museum in 2009, look here. And to see photos of a younger Ms. Tubman, here.

1/30/19 – Sunset down my street, the real deal, no filter

Over the next weeks, I will highlight on this blog patterns by designers of color whose work I admire. I will be taking a pause from my own knitting in February to preserve and ice my arms and continue as I did in January transcribing 70 hours/week in order to attempt to move in 2019 to a less restricted financial space. The next step in my knitting evolution will be obtaining coaching, software and accountability around design process, so that requires investment. But this year is also about getting by and working toward finding a place to live. Starting March, I’m excited to work regular shifts in my food bank garden to get my hands in Earth, work for glorious veggies, and have better activity counterpoint to all my sedentary work.

When the crazies get you down, just remember:

(Unknown source, thanks to Molly in knitting group)

Design Mojo

Morning fog

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.”

Triangle, experiment with made up as I went lace motif
Crescent – Made up as I went, a bit of stranded colorwork and eyelets, blocking pins created five points at edge
Asymmetrical Triangle – Learned why this shape is not best to attempt a lace motif unless at the widest edge or few-stitch repeat lace. Knit-purl textures a much better fit.
3/4 Square – Eyelet edging worked well here –
this shape gives me so many ideas
Square – Spent most time on this one, three trials to master the first few rows after pinhole cast-on – gave up DPNs. Magic loop worked for me. Now that I have this down, I intend to make the baby blanket promised to my cousin months ago this way.

A few precious moments outside, on Parks & Rec new expanded trails. Thank you, Parks & Rec. Yay!

Lunar Update

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.

Until we meet again, peace out.

Affording The Craft

“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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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)

    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.

  • Fairlight Fibers and The Woolly Thistle are two affordable ways for folks in the US to obtain wonderful European-sourced fibers, without international shipping.
  • 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.