Polar Prep

For a lot of Wisconsin/Illinois/Minnesota residents last winter was a test of patience, stamina, and good old fashioned Midwestern stubbornness. The term ‘polar vortex’ was born and those who experienced it firsthand grew a new layer of already frostbitten skin. Throughout the summer I’ve run into people already complaining about the potential cold of the coming winter and they’ve run away from me in shock and horror when I respond with “I actually really enjoyed the cold last winter.”

Strangers don’t know the context of my liking of the cold weather and generally if you aren’t complaining about the weather in the Midwest you are seen as inhuman. Of course negative thirty degree temperatures are awful and undesirable but those days also gave me a few weeks of excuses for why I would rather stay home knitting and drinking coffee from the comfort of my bed.

IMG_20140906_191720Through these last couple of months of summer I have been prepping for the coming winter by both making garments to be worn in the event of a polar vortex sequel and building a stockpile of supplies to keep me entertained.

This extra wooly vest is made from my souvenir yarn from my trip abroad to Ireland. It is from Kerry Woolen Mills and is delightfully rustic and insulating. The flecks of blue and red tweed against the base purple color add warmth in a visual sense while those colors are complimented by rich leather buttons. The pattern ofIMG_20140822_165835 the garment itself is one I made up as I went along, my first wearable personal design of something other than an accessory. I love its simplicity because it lets the yarn take center stage and as a souvenir piece it personifies my trip to Ireland. I cannot wait to don it over a flannel button up this winter and have already picked out the outfit I will wear with it on the first really cold day of the year.

Apparently I am in a purple groove these days as my three most current projects deal with the entire purple spectrum. I am nearly halfway through with Hillary Smith Callis‘ design Hawkes. It is a youthful pullover with tons of IMG_20140906_155033texture. I’m using Berrocco Ultra Alpaca so the resulting piece will be beyond just warm. This is a really simple pattern and the broken rib texture is a test of my patience at this point but with four inches of the body left to go I think I can make it to the end of the piece. Plus, I know the work and slight tedium of one by one rib stitch rows over about 180 stitches will be worth it once it is blocked, dried, and tried on.

I have a few more sweaters for myself in the works, a sweater for my boyfriend and socks and hats for us both yet to make this winter. I don’t know if I could squeeze all that making into the coming season unless there is to be another month of paralyzing chilliness so bring on Polar Vortex Two, because I have work to do.

On Gender and Needlework: “Hey! My wife does that!”

“Is that hard?”

My headphones were blaring St.Vincent and I didn’t hear his muffled question. I was on a bus to Chicago and knitting away on the left sleeve of an olive green cardigan. Pulling my headphones from my ears, after finishing the row I was concentrating on, I replied, “Sorry, what did you say?”

He repeated his question while looking at the triangle my needles formed as I clicked away on the sleeve, “Is that hard?”

“Nah, it’s not really hard at all, it’s like a puzzle but is only really made of two elements. Once you know how to do those two things it’s easy and relaxing, therapeutic even.”

He nodded, a small smile on his lips. I couldn’t see his eyes behind his high-fashion shades but I’m certain they were still looking at the needles in my hands. “It looks relaxing.” He clicked his iPod back on, the bass resonated from his earbuds, and turned to look out the window as we flew down the highway.

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Old Women and knitting in popular culture

Knitting in public draws stares and questions from a lot of people and I’m always excited to feed their curiosity. Needlework excites curiosity because it looks really weird when placed in modern contexts like a coffee shop or waiting in line at the bank. It comes from unchallenged stereotypes of old women sitting by the fire with knitting in their hands. When someone sees me knitting a hat on the bus, at the library, or in the lounge outside my classroom, many of them have a lot of things to ask. In my experience, these questions rarely come from women. Women will smile in my direction or come to tell me about a project they are working on but they have never asked questions about what I’m doing.

Men will often approach me with questions like, what are you doing, how are you doing that, and what is that? These interactions are interesting and insightful no matter the gender of the person I’m talking to but I find the plain curiosity about needlework of males to be especially fascinating. I wonder if the curiosity is because they are less likely to be exposed to needlework while growing up because needlework has been deemed women’s work for hundreds of years. Or maybe it’s because they have never encountered a garment in progress. Maybe they’ve wanted to know more about needlework in the past but never had the chance to ask or learn about it because it was considered off limits to them as young boys.

The concept of needlework being women’s work is nearly as old as needlework itself with the emphasis on the word, nearly. Knitting was originally a male-only occupation. With the advent of the knitting machine in the Renaissance period, knitting had the opportunity to become a hobby for the wealthy with serious hand knitting only being done by country dwellers who either grew their own flax or raised sheep for meat and wool. The gender shift occurs when knitting became somewhat industrialized. The need for production handknitters dropped off leaving the traditional breadwinners of yesteryear to seek other occupations to feed their families.

The emphasis on needlework as a part of being an accomplished young woman became incredibly important to her development. A woman who was capable of intricate needlework and had a large collection of handsewn and embroidered linens, all made by her own hands, in her marriage trunk was a great catch. A woman’s skill as a seamstress determining her worth as a marriage partner lasted far too long. Needlework as women’s work closed off an entire area of creative expression to males and trapped females within its boundaries who did not want to be in them.

Though gender roles have happily deteriorated to a pretty high degree, men still have a hard time embracing needlework as a normal hobby. I’ve been trying to convince my dad to pick up a pair of needles for years. He and I experience similar anxiety issues and I know that the repetition of knitting would help him cope and relax as it has helped me but he refuses to learn. He says he doesn’t want to look like a ‘pansy.’ His words, not mine.

I attempted to teach my brother how to crochet. I let him pick out the hook–a giant blue one, and yarn–variegated camouflage. He picked up the basics in under an hour and loved it but immediately put it down when dad came home. He hasn’t picked it up since then and whenever I ask if he wants to try it again he says, “No, I think it’s too girly.”

It’s not just men who have issues with male needleworkers. Many female crafters show off a lot of discrimination towards these males who have made needlework a part of their lives. Recently I came across a blog post written by a middle aged woman who wrote about attending a yarn spinning workshop and said that she was floored when the teacher of the workshop was a twenty-something year old man. Her words expressed disbelief at the quality of his skills because he was a man. The tone of her piece clearly suggested that she saw needlework and spinning as a space for women only and too feminine for any man to come close to understanding. This is clearly not true and is incredibly harmful to any kind of gender equality progress.

Even on a semi-socially progressive campus like mine, there are odd reactions towards males breaking into the textile craft world. In a short-lived campus knitting club, there was one male crocheter among a group of twenty women. That one guy’s presence shocked half of the group members and became a really strange selling point when trying to convince new members to join, “We even have a guy in the group.” Though this is not exactly a negative reaction it is still inappropriate. Why should it be a selling point? Why should people care? In general, needleworkers of all genders should just be pleased to see a fellow textile lover rather than question if what they are doing conforms to the ideas of a restrictive society.

Thanks to a lot of movements and trends towards old things being cool again (knitting, vinyl, Ray Bans) things like needlework are enjoying a rebirth and is practiced by who ever pleases to do it. Gendered prejudice in needleworking exists and needs to be acknowledged and demolished.

 

The title is a quote from an older gentleman I encountered in Ireland, who shouted across the room while I was knitting a pair of socks, “Hey! My wife does that!” He then said, “You must be American.” I’m still not 100% sure what to make of those two statements but it makes a great title. 

Cartoon from lefthandedtoons.com

A Serious Series

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2014’s pile of pieces thus far

I’ve been working on a few short essays about certain aspects of craft and textile based skills as part of one of the final courses in my major, “Writing Towards Publication.” I think these essays will work best as blog entries because they touch on a lot of things that a lot of my readers and fellow bloggers (you guys) talk about as well and I think it is good to have a hearty mix of opinions out in the open for other people to judge and examine.

I have three or so in the wings ready for posting and hope to get them all out this week. Hopefully, they won’t be too droll. I really want to post these items here because I want to gain some feedback from other crafters, artists and skilled workers so feel free to comment or e-mail me about your thoughts on the subjects. I really want to get to know the people who read this blog and that includes your opinions.

So a little warning of what is to come:
For the Love of Texture: An Origin Story
Gendered Crafts
Art vs. Craft and Cultural Perceptions

I have a few more ideas brewing but these are the main three that will definitely be making an appearance here. I’ve got a few project updates and book reviews as well that will peep through the essays throughout as usual.

Documented Failure

I am afraid of failure. Terrified actually. I also abhor the possibility of other people knowing about my failures. But I think it is time to confront this fear and show off my most recent disappointment.

So even! I love this half and it looks eerily similar to the Cascade sport-weight in my stash.

So even! I love this half and it looks eerily similar to the Cascade sport-weight in my stash.

Behold the yellow merino of my nightmares.

So. I began spinning this four ounce bump on my trusty drop spindle. The first half went well, fantastic even. The first two ounces yielded nearly 300 yards of mixed fingering and lace weight yarn. While I spun this first half I noticed that yes merino needs a higher spin and tended to react better when I moved through the process as quickly as possible.

UGH. Look at all of those horrifying nubs.

UGH. Look at all of those horrifying nubs.

Then came the second half of the bump. For some reason I couldn’t keep the spin fast enough, the fiber was constantly breaking, the plying process resulted in tons of little twisted bobbles that I cannot get rid of, and the fiber continued to break as I plied so I ended up with a multitude of tiny overhand knots holding the fragile fibers together. There are a few stretches of unmarred yards of usable yarn but I am so angry at the sight of all of those little knots that this skein may be going directly into the garbage can.

Here are some more up close shots of the disappointment skein.

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Now what to do with 300 yards of nice yellow yarn and 300 yards of garbage yarn?

Masterpiece

This journey began way back in November 2013, in Dublin, Ireland. I picked up this glowing bit of BFL wool and started daydreaming about what it could be.

While with my family in Wyoming I began spinning the fluff into a simple fingering weight two-ply yarn. Each full wrap of the cop showcased a new hue of purple encouraging me to spin faster.

DSCN0058After a couple of weeks of intensive spinning I ended up with nearly five hundred yards of amazingly soft yarn. I let it adorn my desk area so I could pet it whenever I wanted.

I spent weeks searching for the perfect pattern that would stretch the labored yarn as much as possible. I landed on Henslowe, a popular pattern with a lot of detail. I cast on in March and the shawl kept me company through the homework, work, and interview speckled weeks.

DSCN9919On April 6 this piece was complete. This is my first real spin to finished product project and every second of it was completely satisfying. The final project is luminous with a fuzzy halo of comfort in person. There are a few mistakes in the lace and a few places where the yarn thickness changes drastically but I think those mistakes make it that much more exciting. This shawl feels like a masterpiece.

Details
Yarn: handspun fingering 2 ply 490 yards
Pattern: Henslowe
Measurements: 53″ in wingspan 18″ deep
Mods: added two repeats of the lace pattern

DSCN9916I ended up with about 4 yards left of the yarn and made it into a tiny skein and hung it on my bulletin board as a souvenir of the process.

 

 

 

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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!

Speed Knitting and Slow Spinning

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My Beurre

So my last post detailed the beginnings of my Beurre shawl. I started this shawl on February 2 and completed it February 10 and sewed in the couple of ends last night. This shawl is not a small piece of fabric with its final measurements being 68″ long and 17″ wide. It incorporated miles of garter stitch and should have taken me much longer to complete. What’s my secret weapon? Massive amounts of stress and uncontrollable business. It seems that on my busiest days I find the most time to knit because I need that time to take a step back from whatever I’ve got going on and just breathe. So stress+minimal time to spare=a giant shawl in eight days.

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Organic Polwarth

Since my life has been a little more hectic than usual due to class, homework, and preparing for the real world (resumes and applications) I crave simplicity when I need a craft to work on. Spinning fills this need perfectly. The repetitive motion and need for precision allows me to focus my energy and worry into something that I can control one hundred percent. Last week I purchased two new to me types of fiber to spin on as the semester winds up towards midterms. I bought a 4 oz braid of merino wool in the colorway lemon and a 4 oz braid of organic polwarth in its natural color.

 

Lemon Merino

Lemon Merino

I’ve begun working on the merino braid and am taking it slowly and am just enjoying the calm that washes over me as a work and think and sort out my life. I’ve not spun merino before and I am really loving the look of the singles. The staple is a bit shorter than I am used to but its still lovely to work with. I can’t wait to see what the finished yarn looks like when I complete this project but I’m definitely not rushing to finish.

Beurre In Progress

beurreLast Sunday I cast on for the shawl, Beurre by Hillary Smith Callis and have been hooked ever since. It combines super simple lace, garter stitch, and short rows so it is easy enough to work on while relaxing after class but retains my interest.

When I bought the pattern I was dismayed by the minimal instruction but I found that the simplicity worked as I went on. The most challenging part of the piece is the first step, casting on over 600 stitches. This really tested my patience and continually counting and recounting the stitches was such a hassle. After that step it was all smooth sailing.

IMG_20140208_151243I’m making my version out of some leftover beige aran weight wool/acrylic blend yarn so it is a bit denser than the original version (original is knit in dk). It keeps my lap warm as I work on it and the yarn is really shiny so it looks much more luxurious than it cost to make.

I’ve completed the lace bits and am about half way through the garter stitch and I’m sort of sad to see it so close to completion. I may have to line up a new yarn to make another version of this toasty shawl.

The Importance of Using Rad Project Bags

So I pinned a few tutorials on how to properly make a boxy bag and decided to make a few for project bags for my current WIPs. I’ve been using a drawstring canvas bag for my portable projects and though it has been functional I have been wanting something more flashy. I’ve been waiting all week for some free time to get cracking on these bags and today I finally had some.

I used some sparkly black material for the outside, red flannel for the lining, and a heavy duty jacket zipper not because it needs to be heavy duty but because it makes a cute little knitting project bag into a bad ass little knitting project bag.

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Outside

Inside

Inside

This little guy is the perfect size for a travelling project and a few necessary notions.

I’ve also got a finished object to show this week. I’ve been working on these socks on and off for a month and half. They are in the University of Wyoming colors for my Mom. She works at the University and the people of Laramie, WY are constantly showing their support of the school through their apparel. I made a reverse of this pair in November (gold foot and brown heel, toe, cuff).

DSCN0060They are a worsted weight superwash wool and are incredibly smooshy.

In A Funk

I haven’t picked up a needle, a spindle, or a hook for over two weeks. It has been a really long time since I went this long without some sort of project in my hands. Since New Year’s my life has been a little out of sorts and is finally reaching some normalcy now that I am back in my own space at school. Though I’ve been able to achieve some normalcy I am once again completely bummed out because I am at school. I can’t stop thinking about all the work that is ahead of me this semester and how far away graduation seems at this point. Being bummed out and anxious about work really puts a damper on my creative outlets. This apathy towards crafting has in turn forced me into a quiet blog spell, something I hate to have happen. To chase away the blues I’m going to pick out a few pieces that I hope to make once this funk goes away.

Grover’s Mill-Kristen Kapur Designs
Grover's Mill

I love the cabling on this sweater. It is the perfect combination of simple cables making it a great mindless but still impressive knit.

 

 

 

 

 

Uniform Cardigan-Madder Made
uniform

This cardigan is a gem. A wonderful, cozy, customizable gem. I fell for this pattern when Karen Templer of Fringe Association posted about it a bit ago. I’ve been coming back to the calm neutral photos ever since.

 

 

Iberian Discovery-Stephen West
Iberian Discovery

West’s designs are great because they are full of texture and unconventional design elements. This one looks entertaining and like it would be a really cozy finished product if it was made in the right yarn.

 

Now it is time to force myself to knit a few rows to see if it will cure me of the funk. I’ve got my fingers crossed.