Archive for the ‘Craft’ Category


March 13, 2011

I want to thank regular readers of this blog for their patience in my off topic rant on a disturbing subject. Welcome to new readers – there are apparently a good few of you, as said off topic rant was my most read blog post to date. Most of the content around here is not of such a serious nature…primarily knitting posts, punctuated with the occasional feminist rant, usually related in some way to knitting. I’m going to stick with politics and feminism for another day, though, before we get back to your regularly scheduled knitting content, so bear with me.

First, an update: The New York Times has now issued a statement (web only) that their rape piece “lacked balance”. It’s not an apology, but it’s a pretty big success that the feedback of readers of the Times’ original piece led to an acknowledgment of the validity of our position. The response notes that the Times is working on a follow up story. I hope it has more “balance” than the original piece.

Secondly, for those who were following along on the Heather Ross discussion, there are two more blog posts I’d like to call to your attention. Pam at Flint Knits has posted a follow up to the original guest post, and Huan-Hua at Feather and Fan has posted her take on the matter. I hope it is taken as I intend it to be when I say that while both posts are in disagreement with each other, I found much to agree with in both.

As to my own take, reading Huan-Hua’s post made me go back and reread my own contribution to this discussion. I found that I still feel the same now as I did then, and there is nothing I wish to change about my original post, but I did think about my own reactions in a different light. In some ways, as a person who has grown up with white privilege, I am a new convert to awareness of racial inequality that is more subtle and subversive than overt. And, as anyone who has been around someone newly aware of his or her identity knows, the new convert is often going to be a lot more zealous about his or her cause or identity than someone who has grown up with that identity. In that way, I may be more inclined to go after niggling and perhaps inconsequential instances of racial subtext than someone who has grown up with that reality. I don’t want to save my fire for the overt, because most of what I have experienced has not been overt.

I’d also like to direct your attention this comment in response to Pam’s post. Huan-Hua singled it out as well, for good reason – it is really freaking interesting and provides yet another instance of perspective taking that I think is much needed.

Lastly, for the moment, I wanted to thank readers of this blog for their respectful take on things. I know how the internet can go, and I’m of the opinion that news media outlets really need to stop allowing comments on their stories at all, but even the responses I’ve gotten here that disagree with me are respectful and thoughtful. I have not responded directly to most comments disagreeing with me – I assume the folks who post them have read what I wrote and that they know my position, and the back and forth seems unnecessary and possibly counter productive – but know that if you disagree with me, I’ll read what you have to say and will consider it. Many of my readers have considerably more formal education than I do, and so many of you bring new ideas to the table that I hadn’t even considered. Knitting Kninja not a big widely read blog, but I like things the way they stand, because I feel like the small readership tends to keep things a little kinder than they might otherwise be. Anyway, if you disagree with me on something, keep telling me! I feel like I’ve learned a lot from the back and forth over the years.

An ongoing discussion

January 17, 2011

Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday seems as good a day as any to talk about the conversation taking place at Flint Knits about privilege and representation. I am going to sum it up briefly, but I highly recommend reading the entirety of what is written there, and many of the comments as well, because there’s a lot to think about. This will be long, so be warned!

It all starts with Heather Ross, she of the unspeakably adorable fabrics. I am a lousy seamstress thus far, but I’ve been coveting her fabrics for years, and hoping to become good enough to make a project worthy of her patterns. I got a Heather R0ss book for Christmas, and I look forward to using it. Despite working in another end of the fiber arts, I’m a pretty big Heather Ross fan, so I was surprised when I basically walked in on a big Heather Ross controversy.

The new line of fabrics from Ms. Ross includes one with little girls in cowboy hats playing with toy horses. The little girls in question are small girls with pale skin and light hair, and this is where the controversy emerges. A number of commenters wrote to ask that Heather Ross fabrics include more portrayals of children with different skin colors and ethnicities. This comment from ‘Andrea in Vermont’ seems representative.

I agree that the spirit of the design is wonderful. And yet… just as horses come in a wide range of colors, so too do little girls (and boys, for that matter) who love them. As a mother of children of color, and a person who simply seeks more representation of *all kinds of people* in the materials I purchase to craft with, I wish… I wish for beautiful Black and Latina and Asian kids to be portrayed by your talented hands. Let us see the world’s rainbow of children represented (in skin tone, not costume) ~ it will make the designs ever so much more beautiful, and ever so much more meaningful to many more children. *Thank you* for considering this appeal.

This request struck a chord with me, because my family is underrepresented as well. White mom, brown dad, tan kids. I’m going to take a moment to say that in the construct of race, my kids can pass as white, and that’s probably how they are perceived by most people, but their self identity is as kids who have a brown dad and a pale mom, and what shocked me when they were tiny was how quickly they noticed that they were not being represented. I noticed, but then I was a new mom, hypersensitive to the fact that the baby magazines I was reading weren’t showing my family, that babies who made the cover had blue eyes, even when they had dark skin, that I hadn’t even known babies could be born with brown eyes because all of the babies I’d ever seen portrayed in magazines or on TV had blue eyes. I’d even been told that all babies are born with blue eyes, which made it very interesting when I later gave birth to two different children who were born with brown eyes.

OK, so, the fact that our family wasn’t really represented started showing up for me again when I’d shop for toys. Families for doll houses are sold in sets, and I would have had to buy three to cover all the skin colors in our family. (The different lighting in the photos above does sort of obscure the fact that I’m pretty much milk colored, and the kids, when their photos aren’t shot in dark woods, are sort of olivey tan.) Dolls tended to come in black or white with no in between. I think this has improved since I had the first child, and I do want to acknowledge that. But at the time, I found myself really frustrated at being unable to find toys that looked like my baby, and toys that looked like my family. I started noticing that families like ours weren’t often portrayed, and when they were, it was not usually as normal people, but with race or ethnicity as the subject. And I dealt with odd comments from people who didn’t really understand they were being offensive. Some examples include being told by other white women that they’d never date someone outside their race because it’s too hard on children not to belong to a culture, hearing from a white friend that she didn’t want her daughter to have to be a minority at school, and being asked, when out with my children, “What are they?”

I somehow didn’t think the kids were noticing all this, even though the kids learned the color brown first, when they each had a tiny epiphany that brown was the color of Daddy. The first time I really understood how they hungered for images of themselves was when someone sent me a link to a website that sold dolls for mixed race families. Both my then-toddler boys were across the room playing when I clicked on the link, and neither seemed to be paying attention to me. However, once I clicked the link, they were right there with me at the computer, exclaiming in excited voices, “He looks like me!

They also commented on how the doll had a brown daddy and a pink mommy, just like they did, and they were literally jumping up and down and squealing. They didn’t even really want the doll. They were just excited that he looked like they did and that he had a family like theirs. (Real Kidz dolls, like the one shown above, are no longer produced.)

My kids are not the only kids who are underrepresented, of course. Most minority children (and I would include children of mixed race couples in that designation, since mixed race couples make up only 8% of married couples in the U.S.) do not get to be the default. When someone refers to a little girl in fiction, it is assumed that she is white unless otherwise specified. When physically describing white people, many of us tend to skip skin color altogether because it is assumed, while people of color are often described by their color or ethnicity first. If I were to explore this idea in any detail, it would take a book.

Looping back to where I started, the post on Flint Knits, guest blogged by Ashley Shannon, is highly critical of Heather Ross’s response to these requests that she be more inclusive. The response is quoted in full in that post, and Heather Ross herself later responds in the comments to this criticism, but I wish to quote only a portion here.

I guess I never think about my drawings of children being representative of every child, if I did I would certainly give the importance of diversity in every aspect of fine art more thought. On the other hand, I’ve developed a certain amount of defensiveness about choosing my own subject matter.

OK. Let me start by saying that in terms of inclusiveness, Heather Ross is by no means the only or the worst offender. The fact that she has little girls in cowboy hats playing with horses is actually a big thing, since so many portrayals of little girls aren’t just of white little girls; they are of white little girls in limited roles, like princesses, or girls playing with dolls or cooking materials, or picking flowers, all of which are great in moderation, but terrifying when they are nearly the only representations of young femininity. And I have a certain understanding as an artist of where Ms. Ross is coming from. When I draw people from my head, I draw myself. I think most artists have a default human who lives in their heads, and that default human is based on our self image. If I draw without referring to a model, all of my pictures look a little like me. Most artists I went to art school with had a similar default human they’d draw, and expanding outside that person who lives in our head takes a little work. I am also sympathetic to the idea that we like to draw what we know and care about. I don’t really have a desire to make a sweater that wouldn’t look good on me. And I understand as well what it is like to make very little money on your work, and I can fully believe that, beautiful and popular as Heather Ross fabrics may be, Heather Ross herself is not paying the bills with them.

However, and this is a big however, while I don’t go as far as Ms. Shannon in my frustration with Heather Ross’s response, I do feel frustrated with the quote above, not because she has an obligation to draw Every Child (it’s all in me!) but because the above response shows a certain amount of naivete about how her work is received. Of course it is representative. All of the positive responses to her work in which people say that they love the new fabric because it reminds them of their own childhood shows that it is always going to be representative. Putting your work into the public sphere means sacrificing a little of that control you had over your own vision, and the moment any iconic image is released into the world, it becomes representative not just of the things you intended, but of all the things that other people read when they bring their own experiences and values to bear on it. And while Heather Ross alone will not save the world or change the fact that many little girls and boys are underrepresented and portrayed, by not including those images, she is still part of the monolithic default representation of idealized childhood as white, whether she meant to be or not. I am willing to bet that Ms. Ross is a lovely person, and that if I met her, she’s someone I’d like to sit down with and enjoy a cup of tea and a chat. Her talky, fun book of patterns makes me think I’d like her a lot, so this isn’t a huge criticism of her as a person. No one likes to be told that they’re excluding others, or that their work reinforces blind spots, and a certain amount of defensiveness is natural. I am also not excluding myself from any of this, either the reinforcement of white privilege (which can end up being quite specific and personal in my life, since my white privilege doesn’t extend to my husband) or defensiveness at criticism. In my ideal world, though, Ms. Ross would have responded to the suggestion to be more inclusive with an acknowledgment that inclusion is badly needed, firstly, and with the explanation she essentially gave, that she is working from her childhood memories and that she drew on herself for those things, and lastly with the idea that in the future, she will consider inclusiveness in her work, whether it directly translates into little Asian and black and Hispanic kids showing up or not.

I saw in the comments at Flint Knits the suggestion that if Ms. Ross’s representations are not inclusive, then neither are the representations exclusively of children of color by artists of color. This may be a controversial position, but I think these remarks misunderstand the nature of white privilege. The white voice is present by default in our history, our art, our literature, and the underrepresented are the people of color. Exclusive representations by artists of color are a drop in the ocean in which published writers and successful artists (jobs that depend often on a steady income from elsewhere) are usually white and middle class. Ms. Ross notes in her response to the Flint Knits blog post that she did not grow up middle class, so her voice is not coming from that type of economic privilege in her background. She further notes that she’s making very little money from fabric design ($9000 a year at best), so calls that suggest she’d make more money by representing more people are probably not going to get too far, since more money is relative when one’s income is small.

I want to go on and on about this, but I feel that at over 2000 words, I’ve likely tried my readers’ patience already.  Instead, let me direct you all to a documentary that was on PBS some years back called Race. It is by far the most comprehensive treatment of the subject I’ve seen on film, and it covers a lot of these smaller, more insidious issues like representation and economic privilege through historical measures that wouldn’t seem to matter today, but do. You can’t rent these videos, sadly, but a number of people have serialized them on Youtube and Google video, and searching “Race: the power of an illusion” finds them pretty easily. It’s such a good series that I wish it was easier to access. I saw it as part of an African American history class.

I’m sorry this is so long and discombobulated, but I hope it adds to the discussion. I firmly believe that this is a discussion that needs to be had as often as possible, as difficult as it is, and I am glad of the opportunity. Returning to something I said earlier, maybe it would be a good idea as a designer to make a sweater that wouldn’t look good on me, if it would look good on someone else who might not have a lot of sweaters designed for him or her.

Indulge me

August 23, 2010

Or, Why We’re Both Wrong

I’m one of those people who get hung up on grammatical errors and punctuation misuse.  I’ll be reading along quite happily when my brain will suddenly experience a jerking sensation as I hit a place in the writing where a comma has made an inappropriate appearance or a rogue apostrophe has attached itself to a plural form of a word. I’m fully sympathetic to the plights of other curmudgeons, who, like me, grumble to themselves about the stupid living status of the English language.

I am, of course, a hypocrite. I write in a colloquial style and make typos and errors at a fairly normal rate. I adore slang and use it with glee, especially dried up outmoded slang that strikes me as delightfully anachronistic. (It probably strikes others as weird, twee, foolish, or self indulgent, all of which are valid criticisms, since my word choice cannot be said to contribute to clear communication in those instances.)

The self styled Grammar Nazis would tell you that language is terribly, terribly important, that it is about communication, that clear communication depends on rules. The internet as a whole would tell you that language is joyfully alive, that word choice matters little, that communication is about being understood, not what’s being said. They’re both right and they’re both wrong and I’m somehow going to bring this around to feminism and knitting in the next few paragraphs. You begin to see why I asked you to indulge me.

This morning, a number of folks on my Twitter feed were discussing threads on Ravelry in which women mention their husbands allowing them to knit or to buy yarn. Then there was mention of a tee shirt apparently on display at Rhinebeck that reads “Your husband called, he said buy anything you want.” Oy.

These words are often jokey and joking, and I have a number of lovely friends who’d make jokes of this sort and not really mean much by it. The words sort of sat in my head, today, though, and I haven’t been able to get them out. They’re unwelcome house guests who can only be evicted when I write this down and show them out of my head and into the ether.

Feminism has long been about words and word choice. I can argue till the cows come home that in English, the words man and he are both gender specific and gender neutral, but the fact is, specific trumps neutral in anyone’s mind. You is a word with similar issues; it is both specific and collective, but we tend to assume the specific first. If I tell you (specific you) to picture any important man in history, while I could  be intending the word to have its neutral meaning, chances are that you are currently picturing an important historical figure who had a penis.

Even before feminism, canny women saw the use of language in the cause of their sex. Chivalry is today seen as outdated and often sexist, but a look at Eleanor of Acquitaine and her court of love suggests that chivalry once offered women(of a certain class) a new role in society that gave them greater freedom and importance. Eleanor used her money and power to support poets and troubadours who wrote of gentle love and the elevation of women. She did not invent chivalry, but her money helped codify it and to make it fashionable.

Language is symbolic in its very nature, even its most basic and straightforward form. If I tell you that I saw a cat yesterday, even though you did not see the cat, you are still picturing a cat right now. The cat you are picturing is probably either a cat you know or an archetypal cat that you’ve imagined, because your experience allows you to take my abstract word, “cat,” and create for yourself an image of a real animal.

But most language is not as straightforward as, “I saw a cat.” Most of the time there are nuances, even in writing, that provide clues and hints of something more than mere communication. Language is used for obfuscation as well as communication. If I tell you, “I saw a cat, and I shuddered,” taken in the strict light of literal interpretation, these could be separate facts. I saw a cat. I shuddered. Taken in the same sentence, we tend to assume that they are related, and we use our experience and intuition to bridge the gap between those two statements. Most anyone reading that sentence would be able to extrapolate that I have a fear or dislike of cats. (I don’t, for the record. I just like to use a lot of examples when I write.)

So when we, as craftspeople, make joking reference to our significant others and their influence on our craft, there’s more to it than a joke and less to it than a dissection of the words might offer. Partnership is a give and take and it’s considerate to consider how our choices affect our loved ones.  When women begin to talk of asking permission, though, or to promote the stereotype that women love to spend money LOL and men are in charge of the pursestrings LOL, it isn’t just a comment on one marriage or one relationship. There’s a whole history of experience that gets attached to those words. It’s a necessary, but also lazy form of communication that depends on the understanding of others of stereotype, and it exists in a broader context of hard fought feminist ideals. Adults willingly giving up their rights to make choices for themselves is threatening because it was a default (and still is a default for many people) for so long.

I have talked on this blog many a time about why I knit and how it has actually helped my health. Of course I have to balance my knitting with the demands of family and finance, but I think that if I began using the word “allow” or “permission” in regards to my husband’s view of my hobby, business, and creative endeavors, it would signal the wrong ideas about its importance to me and my significance as an adult and an individual. Asking one another for permission is very different than checking to make sure we can afford something, or checking to see if my knitting is encroaching on time we’d normally spend as a couple. It’s not that different in practice, but the sentiment conveyed by the words is the difference between consideration and subjection.

The language purists and the casual users are both right and both wrong. Language has power, importance, nuance, and meaning that go beyond mere words or jokes. But literal meaning and proper usage are not only fluid, they are often not part of true communication, which depends less on the strictness of rules and more on collective stereotypes, in jokes, memories, and experience.

Not much of a tempest

May 1, 2010

It’s been a long and busy week, so I no longer remember who linked me to the Jezebel article The New Decornographers (boy is that an unwieldy title) but I’m very grateful, mystery friend!  The article, written by Sadie Stein, discusses the effect of the spate of craft, domestic, and fashion blogs on women.  Actually, more specifically, it discusses their effect on Ms. Stein, but there are larger implications woven into the article.

I’m both a writer and a consumer of craft blogs, so this topic interests me greatly.  You may remember the storms that arose in 2007 when the blogger Jane Brocket released her book The Gentle Art of Domesticity, inspiring backlash and anger from feminists in Britain.  (On a wholly egotistical note, that storm inspired what I consider to be my best blog entry to date.)  There’s no violence in this squall.  Ms. Stein isn’t really condemning the blogs in which the domestic is writ large so much as expressing her own bemused fascination and frustration with the domestic blogs.  (I’m lumping all the various craft, food, fashion, and lifestyle blogs under the header of “domestic”, which may or may not be fair, but it’s at least simpler!)

The point of the article is that so many people are Martha Stewart these days.  While I think it would be inaccurate to say that Martha was the only model of active domestic femininity that the pre-internet generation had to worry about, never has it been so easy for a wannabe domestic goddess to promote her lifestyle to an audience.  All it takes is a hobby, a camera, some photo editing software, and you too can be a queen of the internet.

This sort of blog depends largely on photos.  Cropped, artful photos, color edited for mood.  We get a little story from these pictures.  It is of course an intentionally partial view, usually quite literally (these are most often cropped close-ups) and with artful blurring to heighten the sense of depth.  If I sound critical, I’m not wholly so.  As I discussed in a recent previous post, I try for this sort of artful photograph myself, and while I’m not nearly as skilled in photography as the best of the domestic bloggers, I think sometimes my pictures look pretty swanky.  I like swanky pictures.  But it is important to remember that the camera does indeed lie, and quite ingeniously at that.  Close cropped photos are intentionally not showing you everything that there is to see.

You can't see the dying leaves with spots, because I cropped them!

The article goes on to discuss the ways in which blogs of this sort make the author, and others, feel bad even as they hold a certain allure.  This is where I have mixed feelings.  On the one hand, some blogs do seem to be an intentionally rosy picture of life that has an inherent smugness attached to it.  Others, while not smug, do seem effortless in a way that is unlikely at best, and entirely false at worst.  However, the self flagellating reader is not choosing to read these blogs at random.  There are plenty of blogs out there by every day schmoes with regular lives and crappy cameras and a perfectly decent writing style.  The very reason that the guilt-inducing blogs are sought is their perfection.

The artichokes look pretty because I framed them so that the overgrown weeds don't show. My backyard is seriously messy.

At the time I’m writing this, there are so many blogs on the internet that while the exact number is not known, it IS known to be upwards of 100 million.  In the time it takes me to write this entry, hundreds, possibly thousands more blogs have started.  Your choice in blog reading is almost literally innumerable, and when the numbers get to be so great, it’s a very small number that stand out.  Those that stand out often do so because of photographs.

Let’s face it.  You can look at the mess on your own desk whenever you like.  Domestic blogs are entertainment and escapism.  Sure, they may offer a cupcake recipe, a knitting pattern, or a fashion tip that you’ll use, but generally speaking, we don’t read blogs looking to adopt a new lifestyle.  While the self consciously perfect person is yet more insufferable when she insists, “I’m just like you, really!” I don’t think bloggers are under any obligation to show sides they don’t wish to display.  If you keep a fashion blog, I don’t need to see a flash lit picture of you in your ratty pajamas at noon for every keen photo in which you display dashing sartorial sense.

We took about a hundred photos. Only a handful looked good.

One of the things that this article did was cause me to go back through my archives and look at my blog.  Honestly, I can’t see it well.  I don’t think any of us can see ourselves well.  I have no idea how people see me.  I can’t get rid of the context I have that tells me that I spend a lot of the week in a big ugly mess, that I lose my temper with my kids more often than I’d like, that there are whole days in which I get very little done.  I’m not taking pictures of my messy desk or my ratty pajamas or the times when, instead of doing a cool craft project, I snap at the kids and they behave like little monsters.  But I know all that’s there, whether it shows or not, and it makes it impossible for me to gauge whether I am, myself, presenting an intimidating front.  I don’t think I am.  But I’m also here with my posed and edited photos, leaving out huge chunks of my life and presenting the parts that look good.

I believe strongly that the personal is political.  I believe that women hurt each other when we pretend to be OK all of the time, when we pretend that having it all is something we can all do.  I believe that making choices and sharing those choices helps keep us whole.  But I don’t share every choice, every flaw, and truth be told, I have no intention to do so.  This isn’t the place where I do that.  This is primarily the space where I write about my knitting, and where I occasionally write something like this, but it’s mostly just the place where I write about knitting.   I don’t even share all of that.  Sometimes, when a project is so discouraging or has failed so hard, I am too depressed to turn it into a funny story or a useful lesson or a tale of woe.

Women and men both have it tough these days.  Women and men have always had it tough, and the toughness changes over the years.  Right now, we’re in a transition and no one knows quite what’s expected of them. Rigid gender roles aren’t gone, but they’re softening, and that’s freeing, but it’s also scary.  Some of us retreat to more hardened gender roles to feel safe, and some of us push against any expectations we perceive and most of us try to make a path that feels sort of comfortable.  Sometimes, the very things we seek out for comfort or ideas or for entertainment are the things that make us feel most lacking.  But the truth is, none of the perfect cupcake ladies is really perfect.  Some of these bloggers are writing from a place of privilege.  They can afford to stay home and bake lovely cakes for fun.  Some of these bloggers are writing their blogs after a long day slogging at a job that they hate and baking perfect cupcakes is how they relax.  Some bloggers are baking perfect cupcakes in between changing dirty diapers and running around the house desperately trying to keep ahead of the mess, and those perfect cupcakes are the one thing that is under control.

The point is, how we react to these blogs is far more about us than about the blogs.  Some of these blogs aren’t very good, really.  Some aren’t really good for us, anymore than indulging in perfect cupcakes would be good if it was an every day occurrence.  But we can click on that little X in the corner, close the browser window, and step back into our imperfect lives, lives we sometimes make a little more perfect with a camera lens and a story.

Good things

February 15, 2010

I think I forgot to mention it here, which is sad, but I extended my Help for Haiti pledge through the 14th of February.  Today I totaled it up and donated my second amount to Save the Children.  It was $399.75, so I tossed in the extra twenty five cents to bring it up to a satisfyingly round $400.  This puts the total for Knitting Kninja donations at $1238.25.  Thank you so much for your purchases that made this possible!  I’d never have been able to donate so much on my own.

I was going to wait until I was further along to show you anything to do with this project, but this yarn is so gorgeous, I have to share right now.  This very minute.

    This is superwash Bluefaced Leister yarn, dyed by Karin, the genius behind Orangeflower.  I wrote her some months back to ask if she could make me a custom color for a design I’m working on, and we’ve been writing back and forth ever since, trying to get this just right.  And holy cats, she did it!  This is some of the most beautiful yarn I’ve ever seen.  Depending on the angle and the light, the color shifts, showing more red or blue.  The BFL is soft against the skin, but stronger than merino and with a sheen like silk.  I am dying to start knitting with this, but there are a few things I have to finish up first.  The first sample for this project is on the needles, though, and I hope I’ll be able to show you something nifty before too long.

    Valentine’s Day was yesterday, and we had a quiet day at home.  Two out of three kids have been very, very sick with matching lung infections, so the biggest relief is that everyone is very much on the mend.  It wasn’t the most exciting Valentine’s Day, as a result, but it was a really pleasant one.  I stopped by Joann’s Fabrics and got supplies to make little felt kitties with the kids.

    We used instructions from an old issue of Craft.  From left to right, you see Beatrice, Rondi, and the unnamed ninja cat, made by Eleanor, Liam, and Gabriel respectively.  (With the occasional assist from Mom.  Threading needles is hard for small fingers.)  The best part of all this is that the eldest and the youngest discovered that they really, really enjoy sewing.  Nora spent the rest of the day cutting out more felt and sewing a little bed for her cat, Beatrice.  (Beatrice is apparently the daughter of Fleesa, who was introduced in this blog on Eleanor’s last birthday.)

    Ravelympics coincided with the fact that I really need to get cracking on my sister’s birthday present, so that’s on the needles, flying along.  I’m going to go ahead and post a picture on the assumption that my sister isn’t going to read this blog before her birthday, and that you can’t really tell what the present is anyway unless you’re familiar with the pattern.  The yarn is Luscious Single Silk from Bluemoon, and I’ll want to do a post on the yarn later, because it’s been a very interesting knit.

    Erin’s birthday is on the 23rd, and I think I’ll be finished with plenty of time.  I have some other projects on the go, but they’re rather more secret than the birthday knit, I’m afraid!  You’ll hear about them soon enough.

    I hope you had a wonderful weekend!


    January 17, 2010

    First things first: Ravelry added a tag for designers to pledge donations to relief in Haiti.  You can search Help for Haiti patterns here to shop, and you can narrow the search by your favorites or queued items.  I’ve added all Knitting Kninja sale patterns to the pledge.  Retroactively, 50% of the profits from all patterns sold from the date of the earthquake until the end of this month will be donated to Save the Children.  Only tangentially related, there’s an excellent book about Haiti that I read some years back called The Rainy Season by Amy Willentz.  It is not a current book – it is about Haiti in the 1980s – but it is very very well written and it has a lot about Haiti’s history and politics that could be helpful to someone wanting to know more about the country.  I’ve gotten my copy out again since the disaster to try to gain a little context and perspective.  I know it’s not recent, but I feel a little more connected when I can understand just a little about the country.

    In my last post, I mentioned that I’d dropped mysterious other projects to work on my Liesl.  The main mysterious other in question is a new shawl pattern I’m working on, Arabella.  I’m still knitting up the second sample, but I must tell you how excited I am about this project.  As with Clothilde, it’s been through a lot of changes throughout the design process.  I think a lot of what has made Clothilde appealing is the ease with which it is knit.  Arabella started out really complicated, and as I worked on it, it hit me that while it was pretty, I wasn’t enjoying knitting it.  So I simplified and simplified and came up with something that I think is a lot more fun to knit, and still looks very pretty.  I’m making a number of mix and match options for Arabella, including two different choices of edging, and two choices of length for edge points.

    I made a grand total of one firm New Year’s resolution this year, and last night I got a start on it.  I am determined to learn to sew.  I have made several attempts in the past, but I’m just not that good at it, and I’m often flustered by the way that half of sewing is actually ironing.  I skip crucial ironing steps and then wonder why my project turned out all lumpy and wrong.  One of the Christmas presents I received this year was Handmade Home, a book of simple sewing projects from Amanda Blake Soule (whose blog is wonderful – you must read it) and I thought that simple sounded like something I could sink my teeth into.  After several false starts, last night I made this little pleated tote:

    It’s far, far from perfect, but it’s sewn, and for once, it’s mostly sewn right!  I had terrible trouble with tension, and could not seem to figure out why, until I looked online and found that I’d put my bobbin in upside down.  Oh yeah.  I’m good.  The best part, really, is that the whole project is recycled.  The fabric came from free boxes left on a street corner.  (Berkeley has so many of these boxes.  I think when people are done with stuff in Berkeley, they just put it in a box labeled FREE and stick it on a street corner.  We regularly find cool stuff on walks.)  The ribbon is from gift wrap.  And together they made a little tote that Nora can carry about.  With ladybugs on.  Because that part’s essential.

    Returning to that whole ironing thing, Mrs. Meyer’s Ironing Spray is the best thing in the world for when you have to iron a bunch of stuff.  My fabric ironed out better when I sprayed it, but better still, when I placed the iron on the wet fabric, clouds of lavender scented steam blew into the air, making the apartment, and the fabric, smell wonderful.  (The basil scent is also awesome.)  Mrs. Meyer’s products are just plain wonderful in general, and if I haven’t gone all fangirl about them before, I’m doing it now.  Go, buy them.  Enjoy the good smells and the fact that they’re free of toxins, biodegradable, and they work really, really well.  I hate cleaning my house, but I think using something that smells good and comes in pretty retro packaging makes it just slightly more fun.

    Um, yeah.  I went off on a bit of a tangent there.  Anyway, while the learning to sew was my only firm resolution, I do have some knitting related goals for 2010. I joined the 10 in 2010 group at Ravelry, committing to ten projects in ten different yarns, of which Liesl, in the Sundara ASM, was my first.  I’d like to come out with a minimum of four new original patterns.  I want to finish a pair of socks knit in sock weight yarn.  (This is the goal I’m most doubtful of, but I think it’s certainly possible.  I just need to follow through!)

    So here we go!  Into the future.

    Introspective and perspective

    January 28, 2009

    I’ve been reading other people’s blogs lately and this being the time of year when people assess their goals from last year and make new goals for this year, it’s gotten me thinking a lot about my own plans and hopes.  I suppose this could be considered a State of the Craft or something of the sort.

    I had a fairly productive knitting year in 2008, though not a terribly organized one.  All told, there were between forty and fifty finished objects, and a plethora of unfinished or frogged objects.  At the end of 2008, however, I had a real break through in terms of designing.  I discovered some sense of order, which, for a naturally scatterbrained person, is quite a victory, and I got a better sense of what I want from myself in terms of design.

    2009, thus far, has been a combination of tying up loose ends and getting started in earnest on some new designs.  I’ve been sketching a lot and swatching a lot and drawing new cables and imagining new lace, and it’s all felt very good.  I feel like I’m coming in to my own style and learning what that is as well as studying the styles of other people with great interest.

    I haven’t had much in the way of a higher purpose, though, that I have actually sat down and assessed.  Not that one needs a higher purpose in order to knit well and love it, but it’s nice to think about the whys and wherefores every so often and to understand ourselves better.  Kate at Needled set out, in 2008, to get through a year without buying clothes, and her writing on the goal itself, as well as what she learned from the success, set me thinking about my own goals and journey with the sticks and the string.

    Part of my original reason for knitting was to make clothing for my family.  It was a naive goal, not because of any impossibility, but because it was founded on the mistaken belief that making clothing would save money.  Now, in a sense, making clothing does save money – on comparable clothing.  Were I buying handmade couture clothing, then yes, the money spent on materials and time would be a savings.  However, the materials alone are usually more money that I would grant to a store-bought item.  So, clearly, my intent of saving money by creating clothing from scratch was very far off base.

    But, as Kate pointed out in her thoughtful essay, making clothes makes you appreciate the true value of clothes and realize that the cheap, disposable clothing we usually deal with is not, in fact, a good deal.  I had some small experience with this before I turned to hand crafting.  When my first baby was born, I found all these cute little boy clothes at Target.  They were very, very inexpensive, and they looked adorable.  I was not particularly well endowed with cash, so they seemed ideal for my purpose.  But the clothing I bought at Target wore out almost instantly.  Trips through the washing machine pilled and destroyed the fabric.  The material stained, no matter how fast I washed it after a spill or spit up.  The money I had saved was no longer a savings when I realized that I had to buy new clothing almost the moment after I bought the first set.  Our culture has not taken a great deal of time to assess the difference between cost and value.

    Value is something I’ve learned from my knitting and from my small attempts at sewing.  I’m most certainly not saving money when I knit myself a sweater.  However, in the end, I have something with far greater value than the store-bought item.  I have something in the color and material I want, in the style I want, with the fit I want, something that will last, because I have an investment in it.  When one of my handknits tears, I take the time to mend it.  I have mended store-bought clothing, but never with great will, and I don’t put the same care into it as when I mend something that I made myself.  The end result is that the handknits, better made, better loved, better cared for, live longer lives than the comparable store-bought items.

    So value is something I’m trying to consciously consider in my new designs.  You won’t save money in making a hat or a sweater or a scarf, but I think there are a good many yarns out there that offer good value for your money.  Not everyone can spend to get the fanciest materials, but there are many excellent yarns available that are not exorbitant.

    I’ve also been thinking a lot about style.  I was a bit of a tomboy when I was a child, and even now, I’m a low maintenance kind of person.  I don’t like to spend a lot of time dressing or applying make up or doing my hair.  I have, however, acquired a very feminine sensibility when it comes to clothes.  I like puffed sleeves, the occasional ruffle, lace, figure flattering garments…basically, I’m a great big girl.  I want something I can pull on easily that will make me feel pretty and well dressed, and that is suitable to a variety of situations and occasions.  I like classic styles that don’t ever go out of fashion, even if they’re never wholly in, either.

    So style is something else I’m trying to examine and think about.  A garment is inherently practical, in that it is something designed for use, but it’s also decorative, and finding the balance between utility and aesthetic is the challenge of design.  While not every garment I make is designed specifically for me, I don’t want to design something that I wouldn’t wear.  Perhaps, if I had known how much of myself I was going to commit to this enterprise, I might not have picked the name Knitting Kninja so blithely when I was setting out, as it doesn’t really fit with the aesthetic I’ve described.  But perhaps that contrast is what best describes my personality.  I mean, I still get a kick out of the very idea of ninjas – dude, NINJAS!

    The last component of design that’s been occupying me lately is the idea of a unique garment.  Now, truly, no garment is unique.  All of them are variants on the theme of clothing the human body, and as human bodies share a basic blueprint, most clothing has some sort of commonality.  But the variations on the theme can be endlessly nuanced, and when one takes the time to make a garment by hand, it hardly seems worthwhile to make something that doesn’t reflect some little unique aspect of taste or personality.  The most wearable garments are the most basic, but even basic can offer opportunity for self expression, whether in color, detail, or construction.

    This year is about design for me.  I don’t know how much time I’ll really have, but I want to learn to use whatever time I have more efficiently, to become more capable, and to offer a wider, more professional range of patterns.  I think we’re going to have fun, too!


    December 10, 2007

    So, I’m minding my own business, working on a few last minute gifts, listening to the radio on iTunes, and a song comes on that annoys the bejeebus out of me. I set down my size 1 needles and my project on the couch, walk over to the computer, change the station, and in the five or so seconds that I’m up, Eleanor runs by the couch, trips, falls over, and lands smack on my needles. She’s not hurt at all thanks to the fact that toddlers are made up of at least 63% Rubbermaid®, but I look down and see one of the needles lying in two pieces.

    I’d like to think I’m a calm and sensible person, but in actuality, I turn a funny shade of blotchy pale and start sputtering incoherently. Then I say something well thought out like, “Argh!” or “Blerg!” Then I storm to my bedroom to cool down for a minute, and while I’m in there muttering about how everything always happens to me and wondering why toddlers can’t try to fall in more convenient places, it hits me that my needles are made of bamboo.

    I’ve got some sadly broken and bent metal needles that will never be restored. I’ve snapped the entire bamboo segment off of a pair of Addi Natura circulars. But a small segment off of a bamboo straight needle is thoroughly manageable. I sternly remind myself that Elizabeth Zimmerman had occasion to sharpen needles on flipping rocks in the middle of nowhere, and what is a broken bamboo needle to your only pair of knitting needles on a fishing expedition, anyway?

    Luckily, I have tools in the bathroom. With the help of a nail file and buffer, I soon have a working pair of needles again. They’re of entirely different lengths, but so what? I feel like MacGyver.

    I organized my stash this weekend. Compared to many knitters, I believe my stash is relatively modest, but I’ve still accumulated a fair amount of yarn. The stash organization was a two hour undertaking, but well worth it. I laid out all the yarn I have and separated the yarn that already has a purpose. Then I recorded the amount and purpose of those yarns in a little notebook. I also rewound a lot of skeins that were taking up too much space or getting messy. The nice part of this was realizing that most of the yarn I have that does not have a specific purpose is leftover yarn. I’m not just acquiring for the sake of acquiring. The bad part of this is that I now have a list of projects that I have yarn for, a prioritized list, and no excuse to buy more yarn until I’ve made a nice dent in the list.

    The largest segment of stash without a specific project in mind is my collection of fingering weight wools. I love these yarns, and have acquired them whenever I’ve had opportunity, but they’re a very motley collection of colors. Actually, the colors are a lot like motley. Since I was organizing, I tried a swatch of several of these colors together and found that while I love the colors I have, I do not love them together. I have several options, but I think that I will eventually need to acquire more fignering weight wool (oh, the hardship) if I want to use the wools for Fair Isle. Anyway, judge for yourself – here’s a swatch based on the Enid cardigan from last winter’s Interweave Knits. And my apologies – I was unable to get a good shot of the true colors, but I think the weird combos are obvious enough.

    The background color is Rowanspun 4 ply in Jade, the greyish color is Rowan Yorkshire Tweed 4 ply in Sheer, the purple is Rowanspun 4 ply in Turkish, the grassy green is Jamieson Spindrift, the bright red is Rowanspun 4 ply dyed with various shades of red Kool Aid, and the dark red is Rowanspun 4 ply in Blood. I have seven skeins of Blood, ten of Jade, three of Turkish, two of Sheer, and one each of the Kool Aid and grass yarns. Basically, a lot of lovely yarns, but not so lovely together. I suppose I could also try doubling the Jade to make the Tangled Yoke cardigan or something, but I’m not really sure what to do. If anyone has ideas, either of additional colors or projects, I’d be more than happy to hear them.

    One final picture, yet another in the handknits in action series. I wore Maude Louise this weekend, and one of the things I like most about this cardigan is that there are so many ways to wear it. I’ve never really shown this in any of my previous pictures. I tend to leave some portion unbuttoned, but no matter how you wear it, it’s really quite flattering. So here’s Maude, prim and buttoned up on top.

    I hope you’re having a fairly stress free holiday season thus far! Take care.

    Arts and crafts

    December 6, 2007

    Very, very occasionally, a book will grab me so that I can’t stop thinking about it. I go through my day living and thinking and breathing the issues that the book brings up for me. Usually it’s a book about history or theology, or some other deep issue that I want to look at in new ways. KnitKnit is the first knitting book I’ve read that’s grabbed me by the guts in this way.

    I went off to art school in 1997, all bright eyed and bushy tailed and full of romantic ideals about Art-with-a-capital-A. In retrospect it’s kind of funny that I’d hung my hat on Art in this way, because I always planned on being an illustration major, and illustration is not usually given a place alongside the Fine Arts that make up Art-with-a-capital-A. I am, by nature, a narrative person, though, and the narrative aspects of illustration really captured me and combined with my love of wielding a brush and making images. I wanted to tell stories with pictures, to play with medium, to create and learn and make huge messy mistakes.

    That’s not what art school is like, of course. I went in after choosing art over my other great loves of history and writing and found myself bereft without their company. Many artists are extraordinarily talented but uninterested in much more than honing their craft, and it became very difficult to go on viewing their (beautiful, remarkable) work with an unjaundiced eye when I came to know the personal limitations of some of the most talented people. It changed my ideas of art and life and craft, and when I dropped out in 1999, I left a pretty frustrated person who no longer felt sure she wanted much to do with the art world.

    I took up craft when I found oil painting to be a difficult art to maintain with small children about. I’ve never thought of my work with sticks and string as art. It’s craft, something I do because I am compelled to make things, and because it fills a particular void. I’m occasionally thought of taking up the sticks to make something that combines art and craft, but I’ve not done so yet.

    Enter KnitKnit. Sabrina Gschwandtner has found knitters who are already doing just that – perfecting their craft to create art. Not just any art, either. The art in this book reminds me of what drew me to art in the first place: an opportunity to play and learn and say something in a way that is tangible and touchable and visceral even without words. It’s art that doesn’t worry about whether it’s Art-with-a-capital-A.

    I don’t think art and craft have to sit at opposite ends of the room, of course. Almost every great artist must first perfect her craft, and craft is the basis of art. But the two can be separate and often are. Art is one of those words that it’s nearly impossible to define, but I’ll do the best I can and say that to me, art is something that means more than what it is. In other words, no matter how lovely the sweater, if the meaning of the sweater is to be a sweater, then it is not art. A sweater that has a poem about domesticity knit into it might be a sweater, but it’s also art.

    KnitKnit covers many knitters who happen to be artists and many artists who happen to be knitters. There’s work I wouldn’t call art, but it’s all innovative and interesting. One of the things it brought up for me is the memory of setting out to create without a specific end in mind. Art as exploration; exploration as art. Somewhere along the way, I lost my sense of direction, and I don’t often sit down these days to play when I create. I’d forgotten that art can be fun. I’d come to see the scene and not the joy of creation that drove me to art in the first place.

    It’s not often I owe a book a debt of gratitude. But right now, I owe something to KnitKnit. I think the best way to repay it is to play.

    For an actual review of KnitKnit, as opposed to my meandering thoughts, check out Needled.

    Tempest in a teapot

    October 26, 2007

    All of this uproar is convincing me that I need to go out and read a copy of Jane Brocket’s new book, The Gentle Art of Domesticity.

    I’d never read Jane Brocket’s blog, Yarnstorm, until the storm surrounding it caught me up, so I’m approaching this as an entire outsider. The first I heard of the book was in the bitter, intense Daily Telegraph review, and then, through this interesting post on Feather and Fan, I found the Woman’s Hour furor over the same book. Basically, from those sources, I could glean only that a woman named Jane Brocket had written a book in praise of domesticity and that a certain brand of feminist had found it terribly threatening. Then there’s the dismissive, intentional language on both Woman’s Hour and in the Telegraph article, suggesting that we refer to all such attempts at passing off the uber domestic as normal as porn, and that’s what sparked Ravelry’s most controversial thread to date. And finally, when I stopped by Needled to see what was new, I found that there’s another fabulous book review up, this time of the controversial Gentle Art. I’ve got a great overview now without a glimpse of the source. It’s like peering through a fogged up window.

    However, even without reading the book, it’s set my brain atwitter, and you, dear reader*, must bear the brunt, I’m afraid.

    In the end, the stakes on this particular book are not terribly high. Whether Ms. Brocket makes money selling it or not, it will not single handedly turn the tide toward a world of women in aprons preparing perfect meals served on hand glazed plates and hand knit placemats. It is not the gentle art of domesticity that is truly on trial here, but two distinct visions of womanhood. And to be honest, whether Ms. Brocket’s book truly endorses a particular vision of womanhood from her own perspective, it will still be representative of one.

    I was born in 1979, so I’ve grown up as a beneficiary of the women’s movement. The 1980’s, when I was forming my own views of womanhood, were a fertile time for the myth of the Superwoman, she who could bring home the bacon as well as frying it up in the pan. The Superwoman wasn’t just a working mother – she Had It All. She was a high powered executive who could slip into something more comfortable after work and make a fabulous home cooked meal before seducing the husband and going to sleep in the bed she’d made so perfectly that morning. Having It All, though, proved to be very tiring, and many women found they couldn’t live up to the myth. Traces of Having It All remain, but mostly, that’s a myth that’s been put to rest. It’s perfectly possible to be a working mother who also has innate domestic skills, but the harm of the myth was that the woman was required to be the one doing it all and it was something she did without effort, because she was superwoman.

    Back in the day, the now completely inane shopping and shoes comic Cathy was actually an incisive critique of the Superwoman myth. (Truly! It used to deal with issues like sexual harassment and single parenthood and the feelings of being left behind when everyone else seems to Have It All.) But Superwoman did not die with the idea that a woman could (and should) be everything at once.

    Today we seem to have a dichotomy between the Superwoman who works outside the home and the Superwoman who stays at home. These twin deities, so often portrayed as enemies in the major media outlets, are no more the norm for most women than the Superwoman of the eighties. But if they are to be Superwomen, if the myth is to persist, they must be Very Different as well as being Super. The working woman, therefore, is career driven and successful, a perfectly coiffed Madonna in a power suit, while the stay at home mother of myth not only raises fabulous, interested, stimulated children – she does so while keeping a perfect home, and she does so in a post feminist world, a world where she can knowingly wink at the camera while polishing the silverware.

    It’s this world into which the recent spate of domestic soliloquys has burst upon the stage, alarming those who fall on one side of the divide or the other. Most of us, I believe, reside somewhere in the middle – women who might work and raise children, sometimes make the bed, sometimes leave the cereal bowls on the table till dinner time, sometimes make a perfect home cooked meal, sometimes decide that a block of cheese will tide everyone over. That they are soliloquys is evidenced by the fact that these are largely personality driven views of domesticity. We do not watch a show on the Food Network or HGTV to see our own domesticity writ large, but to see the domesticity of Martha Stewart, Nigella Lawson, or Rachael Ray.

    This means that criticism of the domesticity on display cannot avoid the personal. We reject the brand of Martha Stewart, and in so doing, we look a little closer at Stewart herself. I cannot tell you who Calvin Klein is or what he looks like, but Martha Stewart’s invitation to take her sheets as a model for my own makes it so that just by knowing the name Martha Stewart, I also feel like I know a little about her. And, this, I believe, is why the response to Jane Brocket’s book has been so venomous. The reviewers who dislike Jane’s own domesticity see her as a representative of the form of womanhood that is not just about enjoying a craft, but is about being a domestic creature in the entirety.

    I personally feel stifled by both views. I’m a stay at home mother and I consider myself to be a feminist. I love to knit and cook. I have a frilly apron with teapots on it. I feel unspeakably adorable when I wear that apron. I find it practical, as well, in that it has actually protected my clothes from spills and splashes in the kitchen. I’m also a terrible housekeeper. I do not like to clean. It is as much as I can do to force myself to pick up some of the most obvious messes many days. Today I have not cleared the breakfast table. It is 10:25 AM. The boys are at school, and their cereal bowls sit discarded on the table and I do not think I will clear them until I feel like it.

    The important part of all of this is that I do not feel like any of this is a reflection of me as a woman. It is a reflection of me as a person – what I do, what my interests are, what choices I’ve made, how I relax, where I succeed and fail. But my husband is just as likely as me to be the one serving the meal, leaving out the bowls, picking them up, washing them, as I am. My husband is going to come home and he will not expect me to have cleaned the house. He will be happier with me if I can show him a drawing I did today than if I can show him the laundry I did.

    This is where I think the tempest starts and ends. We are still seeing the art domesticity as part and parcel of the art of being womanly. Perhaps if we looked upon it as one hobby in a sea of hobbies, one that is not truly about what is domestic, but the hobby of being domestic, we could watch the tempest settle down into a well mannered pot of tea, to be served, of course, to oneself, lounging about in a teapot bedecked apron while the breakfast dishes lie fallow on the table.