For the Love of Texture: An Origin Story

My mom in her natural habitat, surrounded by texture

My mom in her natural habitat, surrounded by texture

There was a span of about three years when my mom used to say, “I come from a long line of chiefs,” a quote from the movie, Whale Rider. I don’t really know why she said this all the time but I assume it was just one of those things that got stuck in her head and wouldn’t remove itself from the surface of her brain. The point is that I think of her saying this whenever I think of the women in my family who have proven their crafting prowess through the generations. I come from a long line of crafters and that is almost as important as coming from a long line of chiefs. The women in my family have passed on their crafts to the next generation for as long as that new group would listen.

My great-grandmother, Monelle Huckaba, was a prolific and multi-faceted craftswoman who, when she had an idea for something to sew, would, “throw some newspaper down on the floor and trace exactly what she wanted and come up with a working pattern to make her idea from,” as reported by my mom. She embroidered, sewed, hand quilted, and cross-stitched well into her not so great years of life.

My grandmother, LaVerne Huckaba, had three girls, my mom and her two sisters, all extremely close in age that she had to dress for cheap. She made a lot of their clothes and a lot of those clothes matched. From a spectrum of pastel Easter dresses to totally rad 70’s ponchos, my grandma slaved over the sewing machine in order to master the art of dressing three opinionated girls.

Mom is a tactile person. She spent a lot of her childhood in the depths of her grandmother’s and mother’s fabric stashes and that influence took her through college where she studied Textiles and Design. She taught me how to shop and appreciate clothing and the best way to do these things is to reach out and touch whatever thing you might be walking by. As a picky teen I’d grab items off the racks and coo over how cute they were and my mom would reach out and swish it between her fingers, “Yeah, but it’s scratchy you don’t want to wear that.” The best and probably worst parts about knowing how to make your own clothes is that you become excessively picky about their look and texture.

Amazing aesthetic, terrible texture

Amazing aesthetic, terrible texture

Texture is transformative. The most heinous piece of clothing is still salvageable as long as it feels great on the skin. Texture controls a lot of our behavior whether we realize it or not. For example, babies love the silky tag on their blankets, children love the fuzzy fur of their stuffed animals, adults gravitate towards plush furniture or smooth leather. Texture makes something more than its function. The most inane object becomes sensually interesting once you discover its texture beneath the pads of ridged fingertips.

My first memorable experience with texture came when I was about five years old. My mom sewed a lot when I was young and I usually found myself around her as she hunched under the light of her trusty sewing machine and maneuvered the seams of quilts and dresses. I must have been bothering her while she was trying to work because she passed me a booklet of silk swatches in every color my mind could have imagined and told me to play with them.

That little book of a hundred colors kept me entertained for hours while my mom worked beside me. I remember laying the small rectangles out on the floor playing with the color combinations all while swishing a couple of silky pieces together between my fingers. The slick fabric sliding across itself was soothing and the colors were mesmerizing. Mom handed me a needle and thread so I could practice sewing the pieces together.

I found some of these pieces many years later while I was looking through my fabric boxes and was embarrassed by the inch long stitches all around the little pieces. A set of rectangles, one light blue and the other navy, were sewn together with crooked stitches and stuffed with polyfill to make a pincushion.  I threw those pieces away in disgust at the lack of ability they showed but now I really wish I had kept them to remember that first experience by. I have yet to find a fabric that felt the way those little rectangles did and doubt that I ever will.

Mom taught me how to crochet when I was eight. We sat together in our ratty brown, gold, and green armchair with her feet propped on the matching stool, mine barely passing the crevasse between the chair and the stool. She demonstrated the looping motion of grabbing the yarn with the hook and it slid through the motions so quickly, so easily that I had no idea there was even a possibility of someone being incapable of performing the motion. She handed me the hook and yarn, wove the yarn around my fingers in just the right way so I could attempt the motion.

My wrists and fingers couldn’t perfect the synchronized motions of the rolling and tugging the hook needed to make a stitch. I let the blue aluminum hook fall to my lap in defeat. Mom left me, the chair, and the hook to our misery. After hiding the hook and yarn from my sight and spending some time in anger at my lack of skill, we tried again a few weeks later and the stitches came easily. Crafts are gained through muscle memory. If you try it once, it is easier to pick up the next time around. Creating that muscle memory makes your body hunger for more, making the repetition and furthering of creativity a necessity.

Recent crochet swatches

Recent crochet swatches

From knitting to quilting to embroidery to weaving, as I grew I tried it all. Some of it stuck. Some of it didn’t. What did stick was a love for the knowledge of these crafts, as well as the love for the tools these crafts necessitated. My shelves are filled with how-to books accumulated from years of Christmas gifts and inherited from familial generations who either gave up their skills for store bought items or couldn’t hold a needle between their arthritic fingers anymore. I gained tools the same way and am left with more knitting needles than I could ever have projects for and crochet hooks from the circumference of a sewing needle to a hefty man’s thumb.

Once I began college, I found myself gravitating towards textile crafts again for two reasons: I had a lot of extra time freshman year because I’m not so great at meeting people and my roommate was interested in the modest stash of yarn I had brought along with me to school. I busted that yarn out and started crocheting again. The rhythm of the stitches returned to me in a rush and I was hooked.

I threw myself into yarn and learned more about crochet and knitting in the three months of the first semester than I did about whatever my classes were focused on. I channeled all the distress I felt about being away from home and my high school sweetheart into yarn things in an attempt to stay positive. For the most part it worked out pretty well. I gained some skills and filled the time that I would have spent being lethargic and moody.

I’ve continued to foster my textile obsession at every chance I get. In my art history courses I’ve studied Indian saris and ancient Chinese silken burial shrouds. In my English courses, I’ve found ways to make my creative project about needlework. I am continually hungry for more information on textiles and am pretty damn grateful that my institution has afforded me so many opportunities to incorporate my interests into my degree in some unconventional ways.

Besides my intense curiosity about the history of crafting and collection of skills I keep coming back to textiles because the act of creating is grounding and pure. These crafts are ancient, with spinning being nearly as old as humanity itself and knitting and crochet being a bit younger but still as pivotal to our clothing histories. Being a part of this greater narrative of creativity is rewarding and fulfilling. It is so easy now to be totally disconnected from the world while being intensely connected to an artificial existence. Craft has kept me on Earth, the real Earth, and has made me more conscious of my decisions on consumption.

Crafting keeps me close with the women in my family who have passed down these skills to each other. The passing of skills bond the teacher and pupil in a way that connects them for life because they now have something interesting and ever-changing to discuss and gush about whenever they are together.

IMG_20140426_174054Though I never really got to meet my great-grandmother, the master seamstress, I feel connected to her in a different way. I use her embroidery needles and snoop through her quilting books to gain inspiration. I am connected to her, my grandma, my mom, and sister through these skills. I am even connected in some small way to all other individuals who hold these skills.

I hope to perpetuate and heighten the prevalence of craft in modern life because I think it is so important to happiness to be doing something tangibly productive with our hands. That tangible item can foster relationships, make you happy, and even keep your head warm, what more could you ask for?

A Personal Homage to “Our Tools, Ourselves”

My absolute favorite thing to read blog-wise are Karen Templer’s posts from her blog, Fringe Association with the title “Our Tools, Ourselves.” It is such a great idea and a perfect look into a creator’s world. My favorite thing about crafts and making is all of the specialized tools. Tools are both visually enticing and of course functional.

Because I love “Our Tools, Ourselves” I wanted to lay out all of my main tools. They are simple and spare but I love them just the same.

I’d have to say my favorite tools out of everything would have to be my collection of aluminum straight knitting needles. They were passed down to me from a great aunt who was a frequent knitter and my great grandmother who was apparently a crafting genius.

What are your favorite tools? I’d love to see them!

Buying Materials Responsibly

Sourcing materials for my upcoming projects has become somewhat of a hobby on its own. As I continue to study knitting, crocheting, and spinning I realize that the materials my item is crafted from is more important than the item itself. Using quality materials when crafting is a challenge for two reasons: the market for high end materials is very small so items cannot be purchased at regular chain stores and better materials are much more expensive than something you can pick up at a super store. For both of these reasons I have been looking to independent producers to fill my needs.

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I do not own this photo, no copyright infringement intended.

Independent producers are accommodating when it comes to getting their product to you and they are carrying on handmade traditions far before it gets to their customers. The extra price that comes along with this is worth it when you think about what you would be fueling if you had spent that money elsewhere on ten skeins of economy produced acrylic yarn rather than two skeins of hand processed wool yarn.

The key to buying from independent producers is knowing what you are looking for. Knowing what you want and how you want it can make all the difference when shopping from an independent. It is also a great idea to feel as close to your materials as possible as a creator. Knowing what wool came from what sheep, where it was grown, what its name was will make whatever you are making that much more timeless.

lh_logo_330x58To find the right materials from the right people I use Etsy and have found tons of incredible producers and creators from around the world using this site. I have also begun to use Local Harvest after watching the Know Your Wool course on Craftsy. This site allows you to buy whatever you need directly from the farm. The selection is delightfully limited to 100% homegrown products. This is as close to your materials as you can get without having your own farm.

I still buy from commercial websites as well but not without doing a little research into thelogo individual products I am buying first. I have found that Paradise Fibers offers plenty of commercially processed items without them being completely homogenized by big business. Webs of course is another great place to look for variety.

As I continue to search for sustainable and productive ways to source my materials I will always keep in mind the need to support small businesses who are doing the right thing for the economy and planet.

Where do you prefer to source your materials from? If Etsy, let me know which stores I’d love to find new places that are doing great things!

A Few Updates

I have successfully created a skein of hand spun yarn! It is about 55 yards of thick and thin (unintentionally thick and thin) ranging from dk to bulky weight. Since I was just testing things out I spun until my spindle was full and split that single into two separate balls. One ball was an incredibly even dk weight. The other ball was the stuff I had spun first so it was much more wonky. The two combined for a really interesting texture, though. I plied the singles on my drop spindle.

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Remember that cabled teal cardigan I was working on like six weeks ago? Well, I frogged it. I was a bit leery of the pattern to begin with because all of the pieces were worked separate and flat. I hate that. I also tried to make too many alterations to the pattern so the sizes of the pieces just didn’t match up. I’m using the yarn to make a mitered square crochet afghan instead. It is much less time consuming and I know it will fit.

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The scrap busting granny square afghan is well on its way also. I finished the 154 squares and have pieced together four of the eleven rows. I am using a granny stitch join to avoid the ridges of a single crochet join. This is going to be the largest project I have ever completed! My calculations suggest it is going to be about the size of a double bed. (I hope.)

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I’ve also had this tremendous urge to sew and buy fabric. Now that I am back at school and reunited with all of my sewing tools I can’t wait to get cracking on some quilt tops. I picked up all of these little half yards and yards for a buck a piece!2013-05-29 02.38.22

The Downsides of Being a Prolific Creator

I spend a lot of my time immersed in yarn-related projects. A ridiculous amount of time actually. That time is spent designing, sketching, choosing color schemes, finding inspiration via Pinterest and Ravelry, and then actually knitting and crocheting my pieces. All of this time spent has paid off in terms of full notebooks and overflowing storage tubs full of completed articles. Currently I am sitting on a collection of four afghans, three pairs of mittens, one earwrap, seven hats, and six cowls/scarves. This my friends is too much stuff.

Two pairs of adult sized mittens and one pair of medium child sized mittens.

Two pairs of adult sized mittens and one pair of medium child sized mittens.

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Seven slouchy hats made from wool, alpaca, recycled acrylic, and acrylic. One ear wrap crafted from a silky bamboo/acrylic blend.

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Two baby afghans, one child sized afghan and one couch sized afghan.

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Four single wrap cowls, one double wrap cowl and one granny shawl scarf.

These items that continue to crowd my work space are those that could not be gifted to anyone or sold in my Etsy store. Now that I am approaching summertime I am scrambling to find appropriate storage for them all. I’d much rather use the space they are taking up to store new supplies instead.

Liebster Award

When I first joined WordPress I saw this little award everywhere. I did a little research to find out more and I really love the idea of it. Thanks so much to HKnits for nominating me for this award, I really appreciate the gesture! I love her blog you should definitely check it out if you haven’t already.

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The Leibster Award is given by bloggers, to bloggers, and it’s purpose is to highlight blogs with under 200 followers that deserve a look. Encouraging people to visit blogs that others enjoy seems like a great initiative. The rules for the award are pretty straightforward:

1. Post eleven facts about myself

2. Answer the questions given to me by the person who nominated me

3. Invent eleven questions to ask people whom I wish to nominate for the award

4. Choose eleven people (with fewer than 200 followers) to give this award to and link to them in my post.

5. Go to their blog and tell them.

Eleven Facts

1. I am a sophomore at Beloit College.

2. I am studying Creative Writing and Journalism.

3. In August I will be packing my bags and heading off to study abroad in Galway, Ireland for a semester. I am so incredibly excited to travel and study in Ireland.

4. This blog began as an assignment for a Journalism in Digital Media course.

5. Music is my other love in life (other than fiber crafts). I have a weekly radio show and am a music director for my college radio station.

6. My hometown’s population is less than 50 people.

7. Although I complain about the winter, I really love it because a snowstorm is the perfect excuse to stay at home on a Saturday night to knit and drink coffee.

8. I have been a crocheter since I was 8 and a knitter since I was 11 (I am 19 now).

9. My dogs are the sweetest animals in existence. I have 2 boston terriers named Yola and Roxie.

10. My boyfriend and I have been together since we were 15.

11. I really, really, really hate Jell-O.

Questions From My Nominator

1.  Do you prefer Live TV or DVR?–Live TV, it is much more exciting.

2. What makes you click the “follow blog” button on someone else’s blog?–Great photos and snappy writing.

3.  Apple or PC?–PC all the way.

4.  What was your favorite hobby when you were a child?–Reading and writing poetry about silly things.

5.  Coffee or Tea?–Coffee is my number one but I have recently taken a liking to tea as well.

6.  Where in the world is your favorite place to visit?–I love Sanibel Island, FL but I also really love to hang out in Madison, WI.

7.  How did you learn to do your craft?–My mom taught me how to crochet when I was little and I taught myself how to knit.

8.  If you could pick another craft to be really great at, what would it be?–I really want to learn how to spin yarn.

9.  Do you prefer paper books or e-books?–Paper books, there is nothing better than the smell of a new book.

10.  What is in your topics search on your wordpress reader page?–Books, Knitting, Crochet, Wool, Yarn, Art, Photography, and Travel.

11.  What is your favorite movie?–Sixteen Candles will always be my ultimate favorite.

Questions For My Nominees

1. What is your typical Wednesday night like?

2. Where would you like to travel to?

3. What is smell that reminds you of your childhood?

4. What snack do most often reach for?

5. What is your favorite store?

6. If you could have any occupation besides the one you have now, what would it be?

7. What is your favorite book?

8. Cats or dogs?

9. What action or moment in your life are you most proud of?

10. Who is the main person you lean on in life?

11. What is your favorite article of clothing?

Blogs I Nominate

1. Knitish

2. Keep It Simple

3. The Mad River Knitter

4. Knitterly Blog

5. Twisted Stitches

6. Travelling the World and So Much More

7. Like Purls Off a String

8. Worsted

9. Stockinette

10. Be Fabulous

11. Turtles on the Run

A Sweater Victory

After putting my sister’s sweater into time out for two weeks, I finally gathered the courage to finish it. Here it is happily blocking away2013-04-11 01.49.53

And here it is completely done and ready to be shipped off to my little sister for her birthday.

2013-04-11 02.58.24I know the picture is kind of weird but my white background is only so big.

In other news I have also completed a marvelous slouchy hat. I used Red Heart Eco Ways in Cinnabar. I can’t decide if I should block it into a beret shape or leave it as is. It is really soft and the yarn has a subtle color variation that makes the cables pop.

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I have also made considerable progress on my granny square stash buster blanket. I currently have 102 squares out of my planned 180. I think I will run out of my stash yarns that I have allotted for this project so I may have to supplement it a little bit.

2013-04-11 01.59.35My next big project is this lace-ish cardigan. It is called Fireside by Amy Christoffers.

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I have been wanting to try lace knitting but I really don’t want to dedicate a whole project to it so this sweater is perfect. I’ll be using teal Red Heart Eco Ways yarn for this project. I picked it up at Joann’s on clearance at $1.50 per skein. I almost felt guilty for paying so little for so much yarn.

Let’s Talk About Stress

April is National Stress Awareness Month. This is an incredibly fitting time for me, as I am a student and this is generally known as crunch time. Professors bring out the big assignments, the weather is questionable, and the necessity to get summer plans squared away are all too present in my thoughts.

I usually am able to function pretty well under hectic conditions, thanks to my favorite DSCN9878activities knitting and crocheting. My mind is hardwired to attach to little worries and blow them up into big ones. When things get to be too overwhelming my best approach is to take time to completely remove myself from the situation that is causing the problem. I will close the essay I am writing or the application I am filling out, put my headphones on and grab my nearest needlework project. The music blocks my anxious subconscious from dominating my thoughts and the repetitive motion of stitch making allows my mind to wander. This wandering clears any trace of the concerns I was fretting over moments ago. Many times, after completing a granny square or cable repeat I will emerge from under my giant headphones and realize that I had come up with a solution to eliminate the worry I had been fretting about.

It is easy to lose your sense of self when you are buried in work but if you take a few moments to ignore the world and reevaluate your thoughts in peace, it will all fall into place.

What do you do to calm your mind?

Frustration, Procrastination, and Taking a Break

First of all I’d like to thank all my new followers for following and commenting. I really appreciate it and love talking to you all.

My apologies for not posting as regularly this week. I have been swamped at school lately and have not had the motivation to do one more bit of writing.

Now let’s talk about that black and pink sweater I have been posting about. Technically I finished the knitting last Saturday evening. I say technically because I have to rip out the button band. Picking up stitches is the most obnoxious skill needed in the knitting world.

DSCN9894Obviously it is not a skill that I have mastered quite yet. The right side is fine where the left side is all bunched and scrunched and junky. I couldn’t tell that it was all bunched until I cast off the button band so it was doubly frustrating. I was so excited to have finished it but no, I must redo the most dreaded part of the sweater.

DSCN9892This disappointment has squashed my will to knit for now so I traded in my needles for a hook. I started a solid colored granny square blanket. I decided to use all of my low quality acrylic bits that I can never seem to use up all the way and make them into one giant blanket. I have calculated that I will need about 180 squares to make it the size I want (double to queen size). So far I have 22 squares done. I have all colors of the rainbow in my stash so I hope to incorporate them all in this blanket. It may be a little ugly but it will be durable and cozy.

 

 

The Stash

The stash. All knitters have one. Surprisingly what they have in it and the size of it, can tell you a lot about the knitter themselves. I have seen a lot of bloggers posting photos of their current stashes and I was shocked at how small a lot of them were. I thought I would post some pictures of my stash to make the other prolific yarn buyers feel less guilty about accumulating a large hoard of fiber. There is nothing wrong with wanting options, at least this is what I tell myself when I have to buy a new Rubbermaid container to house my latest finds.

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Currently my stash takes up one jumbo container and one medium sized container with a little left over. That little bit left over is usually set aside for my next project. I like to leave it out so I can get to know the color and how it looks in all different lighting. This blue Eco-Ways yarn fills this position in my stash. Perhaps it will be a sweater, perhaps it will be a baby blanket.

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These are all of my full, untouched skeins of yarn. They await the perfect project and have been waiting for quite some time. A lot of these were impulse buys that I purchased with no project in mind. The orange Bernat and tan SMC Northern Wool were leftover from a blanket for my brother and a sweater for my boyfriend respectively.

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This is my tub of balls. Yeah, I said it. I prefer to work with yarn when it is wrapped in a ball rather than straight from the skein. So, all of these balls are left over from previous projects or full skeins from frogged projects. Just so you know, this is the jumbo container. It is absolutely brimming with half skeins of yarn.

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Lastly I have my bits/half done projects box. The one half contains all of those little bits of yarn that are only good for granny squares and color work. I used to have them in the jumbo container but it got way too chaotic when I was trying to find a certain color (aka a tangled mess). The other half holds a few projects that I have completely lost interest in working on but I haven’t decided if I will keep them or rip them out and salvage the yarn.

I feel like I have just told everyone a huge secret. If you feel guilty about the size of your fiber collection just think about the absolute ridiculousness of mine to help you feel better about it.