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.

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Lackluster Spree

The increasing heat, moving to Chicago, and starting a new job have taken their tolls on my motivation to do anything productive lately which really bums me out. I’ve been thinking less, making less, and doing less which really is not so positive. I think it is an adjustment period that will dissipate soon but it is still pretty odd and annoying. And of course at the beginning of every summer it can be tough to reintegrate your body to the warmth so many things crafty fall to the side.

In hopes to reverse this lackluster spree of existence I’ve set some goals and bought some tools. This summer I want to make at least five really and truly wearable garments including one pullover sweater, one cardigan, one skirt, one dress, and one top. Sewing my own clothes is something I have been wanting to work on for a while and right now I just need to jump in and do it.

 

These two patterns are the top contenders for the project.

As for the two sweaters I’ve just upgraded my interchangeable knitting needles from the flimsy and melty plastic Denise needles to the sleek and pretty Knit Picks Rainbow wood set. These new needles have me itching to make something lovely but I’m lacking specific direction at the moment.

DSCN9984I’ve also completed spinning about 200 yards of springy thick and thin (bulky to dk) 2-ply Polwarth yarn so I am on the hunt for a pattern that will highlight the texture of the yarn. Any suggestions for what to make would be amazing! I haven’t knit much with thick and thin yarn so I’m not sure what it will look best as.

For now, I’m slogging through some boring projects in order to clear my WIP conscience so I can purchase some new patterns and materials and rekindle my drive to create.

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

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 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?

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.

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.

Adventures in Handspun

DSCN0058I just recently finished spinning the purple/blue fiber I acquired at the Knitting and Stitching show in Ireland and it is so soft and rich that I’ve been keeping it near my desk so I can occasionally pet it when the mood strikes. I ended up with one 50 gram bundle being 210 yards of fingering weight yarn and the other 50 gram bundle being 235 yards of fingering weight. The smaller bundle turned out much more blue than the larger one but they still coordinate really well and should make a lovely garment.

I’ve decided to make a shawl but I can’t decide which shawl pattern to choose. I feel like this is a really momentous decision because I have not made a usable garment from my own hand spun yarn before. I have made a small pair of rainbow hand spun mittens (child size) but they adorn my yarn board as decoration rather than a functional item. I’ve picked out a few patterns I might use and will spend the week deliberating. Let me know which one is your favorite because I need all the help I can get with this decision!

IMG_1366Henslowe by Beth Kling

I adore this delicate shawl and apparently so do 1562 other knitters. With so many projects it is easy to tell that this pattern is one worth making. The crescent shape of the shawl is really sweet and really compliments the soft lace edging.

 

 

 

 

The Birthday ShawlThe Birthday Shawl by Kate Twirl

I really dig that the lace edging is knitted onto the main triangle piece of the shawl because I am a newbie to lace work so the thought of ripping back, in case of a likely accident, a few stitches as opposed to hundreds is really appealing. It is also a really traditionally shaped and designed piece so it would be a nice addition to my collection of knitted items.

 

IMG_1610Momijigari by Beth Kling

The size of this shawl is great because it can be worn draped over the shoulders or as a scarf with minimal awkwardness. Shawls can be hard to pull off in an everyday setting because of their shape but this shawl would not be a challenge to wear at all. The lace pattern is also really intriguing.

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.